The 31st of May is always a day for me to be alone with nature and to celebrate the colorful culture of my country. In the past years, this day was spent spelunking in Legaspi, on a Taal Volcano conquest, boating in Lake Mainit, an art tour in Palawan, a carabao ride in the slope of Mt. Apo, on a date with the sun in Boracay, a vegetarian spirit-cleansing in Sagada, hearing the past in Batanes, on a nostalgia in Dapitan, a habal-habal ride in Siargao, a “peace” mission in Jolo, big-bike ride with friends around Camiguin, clay-art session in Bukidnon… and last year, with the kiss from the cool mountain breeze of nearby Canlaon. It’s actually investing on sweet memories on my birthday. It’s a way of rewarding myself and giving the inner senses a new energy. Looking fast forward, I know for sure that on my rocking-chair days, my happy heart will have so much mind-boxes of memories to open and cherish.
It’s really not that expensive to go on a nature trip when you travel with the spirit of a backpacker. My recent trip was on a low-budget just like my previous escapades. The beauty of traveling with the style of the regular pinoy- in-the-street is experiencing the countryside culture with all its honesty. I was truly one with nature and with the realities in the lives of the people in it.
May 31, 2005 is now on my file of sweet memories. It started with an early morning boat-ride from Sibulan to Liloan for only 35 pesos, the sea was so calm and most of those in the boat are students with their back-to-school excitement. My 75-peso ride on a van brought me to Siargao where I had a an 80-peso German breakfast at the Bamboo, a seaside resort. Then, I paid the habal-habal 25 pesos to bring me to the Talolot port to catch the 9am boat to Loon, Bohol. There was still time to drop by the old Boljoon Church, this southern side of Cebu sanctuary built by the Spanish priests in the 1599 is now listed as part of the world heritage. Boljoon is a beautiful glimpse at the ancient pseudo-baroque-rococo grandeur with intricate carvings and relief.
And finally, on a barge to Bohol, you get to see a number of islands on this 40-minute ride. We were anchored at a port with the welcoming promise of nature’s bounty – the shoreline dotted with mangroves and the fishermen’s boats were all over.
With a 25-peso bus ride, I was already in Tagbilaran and at BQ mall, I had my favorite chicken oriental salad from Pizza Hut. Then, I walked towards the old Church in Tagbilaran where I waited for the jeepney that will bring me to the town of Loboc for the morning river cruise. I paid only 20 pesos for this jeepney ride where I had fun studying the profiles of the passengers in it: a fat lady who could be a vegetable vendor for her eyes were always at her basket of tomatoes, a young public school teacher who was discussing the enrollment procedure with the policeman who was inquiring for his son who has a big tummy like his tatay, a farmer who was complaining about the price of the kilo of rice in the brown paper bag that was on his lap – portraits of the Filipino challenged by the country’s economic crisis.
To save, I waited for a family who might want to try the Loboc River cruise. The 400-peso boat rental was to be shared with a family from England but when I gave them a hundred peso bill, the father of this family of three said, it would be a free ride for me. The boatman was so quite in the entire 45-minute boat ride. It was me who was talking about the Cesar Montano film Pagnahoy sa Suba. My sharing somehow gave them a World War II account on the river. In my heart, I actually felt like Moses on a royal boat down the Nile. Relaxingly cool with so much green from trees and shrubs on its banks. The cruise had Busay Waterfalls as highlight. Floating restaurant trips add to the festive river ride. I told that boatman to make a stop at the Nuts Hats where I planned to stay overnight with a 400-peso room rate.
I had lunch in one of the riverview restuarants were I tried carabao meat adobo and ginataang native chicken. It was to be a 45-peso meal. For siesta, I explored the Church of San Pedro in Loboc, the second oldest church in Bohol. Built in 1602, this Church is known for its remarkable paintings on the ceiling. The presence of the Spanish coat of arms found in the stone wall near the entrance of the convent brought back images of the old colony. While on this spot, I heard the angelic voices of children in a choir. I went upstairs, I was happy to see the Loboc Children's Choir rehearsing. This group brought the Philippines honor when in 2003, they garnered two major awards at the at 6th International Folksong Choir Festival, which was held in Barcelona, Spain. After two songs, the lady director acknowledged my presence. And some kids also recognized me. They remembered the kuya from Silliman who brought them around Dumaguete after their concert at the Luce. I told them the reason of my visit and they serenaded me with a Tagalog birthday song. The moment was so memorable.
Then, a 30-peso bus ride brought me to Carmen where I had my reunion with the famous chocolate hills. Some foreign tourists were on the same bus. I salute them for discovering the way of the locals in getting to this famous destination without the help of an agency, they just had their bankable Lonely Planet guidebook.
For nite life, some friends brought me to dinner at Bohol Tropics with live band entertainment. But the sharing of Mike Ligalig, a poet who writes in Cebuano, of the choices he made in life had reduced the live music simply as background to his love story.
Now, I can count myself more fortunate. The memory of a scenic river, of a song from a children’s choir in an old church and of all the lowly rides is a beautiful commentary of the humble spirit of life in its abundance. Have the joyful soul of a wanderer and conquer three islands in one day!