Monday, April 30, 2007

Rough Waters

Just a kilometer or so north of Lianga is Lawis, a small coastal community that would be unremarkable except for one thing; it is the location of a fine stretch of white sand beach fringed by coconut trees that would do justice to a tourist picture postcard.

The beach itself in long and wide and the sand a fine, grayish white that you can sink your toes into. One can run barefooted all the way from the shade of the coconut trees across the wide expanse of it into the waters until you would have to tread water and it would still be sand underneath.

The water is nice, not exactly crystal clear but clean and soft to the skin. The scenery is fantastic and during early mornings, the sunrises as seen from the beach can be spectacular. An altogether not mediocre beach at all and definitely a place worth visiting.

One then wonders why this beach has not become a favorite spot for the local tourist trade. It is located only more than a kilometer from Lianga and there is already a dirt road that gives easy access to it. A few small sea cottages for rental have been built and can be already used in one section of it but there is no other infrastructure development of any kind.

One reason perhaps is that the beach at Lawis is also known for its relatively big waves and thundering surf. Particularly during the storm season in the latter part of the year, the waves along the whole stretch of that portion of the coast particularly in the southern part can reach heights of four feet and more. That and the gently sloping sand bottom can produce white-capped monsters that roll in in ranks like white-veined walls of turbulent water that crash into the beach with a thunderous roar like runaway trains.

Even in the calmer months, the beach might not exactly be the ideal spot for families with small children to come to for a weekend outing. For the hardier and braver souls, frolicking in the water while coping with the frisky waves can be an exhilarating experience but also an exhausting one with no small element of personal risk involved.

I once had the temerity to try the waves last December and instantly regretted the decision. Four foot monsters topped by crowns of white, frothing and turbulent water all smashed into me and pummeled me even underwater. I ended up near the beach battered and sore all over while cursing my stupidity for even attempting what was obviously a foolhardy and even dangerous stunt.

A week or so ago I tried it again and although the waves were not as large as during my last visit, I still had a good workout dodging and jumping them while making sure that the undertow would not pull me out to deep water. Not exactly safe waters for children and even adults unused or unfamiliar with power and violence inherent in these white haired offspring of the sea.

I don't know if the waves are big enough to tempt surfers of various kinds. Perhaps they are not big enough or maybe they are unsuitable for other reasons and the beach in Lawis will never amount to anything except as a curiosity or a destination for the adventurous and foolhardy.

But that is precisely the reason why I like it.

Some places are just like that. Not that good or perfect enough to merit that much attention but also not too bad so as to be totally unattractive to visit. What is important is the place has character and the Lawis beach definitely has that.

It is a place that seems to be in waiting for something, something that may never come to be. There is a sense of incompleteness, of unrealized potential mixed with a great deal of indifference as if the place would not care less whether it would amount to something or not.

So in the meantime it broods, ponders and churns out the magnificent waves that seem to crash into the sandy beach with malevolent anger. Yet the anger is, most of the time, seemingly muted and subdued.

It is perhaps that ambivalence that marks it well and it is also that indecisiveness that may be the cause of it's own undoing.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Slowing Down The World

One of the better places to watch the day end in Lianga is in the municipal park just directly adjacent to the parish church and only a short distance from the choppy, blue-green waters of the Pacific Ocean.

Once in every couple of days, I make it a point to bring my niece and nephews there just as the day is ending and just as the sultry heat of the day fades into the coolness of the evening. So far I had no regrets doing that.

The park is just actually a small square of fenced-in greenery right smack in the middle of the town. It is slightly elevated and access to it is through concrete ramps on the eastern and western sides. The center is marked by the requisite monument to Jose Rizal, the national hero, and surrounded by four concrete circular rings that used to be fountains throwing water into the air many decades ago but now just filled with earth and planted with ornamental plants.

In fact, the base of the pedestal of Rizal's monument is hollow and used to house the water pump that serviced the fountains around it. The rest of the space is filled with concrete benches and cemented pathways bordered by plants and open spaces covered by bermuda grass.

A recent addition is a community stage on the northern end that is the venue for many forms of public entertainment, government programmes and, during election time, political rallies and gatherings.

As the sun sets, the park becomes crowded with people, most of them children playing in the grass or chasing each other through the concrete pathways. Teenagers huddle in groups around many of the benches gossiping or just fiddling with their cellphones. The rest are adults either watching their kids, simply stopping for a breath of fresh air on their way home from elsewhere or carrying the occasional infant or toddler while strolling through the park, occasionally sharing the latest gossip or simply chatting with friends and acquaintances.

There is usually a soft and cool breeze that wafts through from the ocean which is a welcome relief from the searing heat of the afternoon. As the day cools and the shadows lengthen, the gathering darkness in the eastern sky is offset momentarily by the sudden burst of flaming colors in the mountains beyond the western mountains. It is a sight I never get tired of. And as the sun sets in the midst of fiery colors and hues, a rich yellow light floods through the park, seemingly for a moment, coating everything in glowing gold. Then it is gone and darkness swiftly falls.

The sudden and mournful sound of the church bells tolling the Angelus at exactly 6 PM is the signal to go home. Parents begin calling their children who with great reluctance heed the summons and dejectedly abandon their unfinished games. The teenager crowd usually linger a little bit longer still talking and giggling among themselves but they too soon are soon gone. So too are the bystanders and passers-by. The park is soon deserted as evening comes swiftly.

When I was younger going to the park would not be on my list of fun things to do in the late afternoon. Now I would put it near the top of my list. After all, in this fast and hyperkinetic world, what would one lose by pausing once in a while, slowing down his pace through life and taking time to sit in a park bench, relax and watch the scenery of the world pass him by.

After a while he can get up refreshed, renewed and ready once again to confront and challenge the vexations and frustrations of this world.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Like all things significant it all started innocently enough with a first time foray into the realm of the internet chat rooms. Some twist of fate or perhaps coincidence, they met in the virtual world, two people fighting boredom and looking for something they felt they needed but did not know what.

From the very beginning their conversations had pizazz and more than a little excitement. A mysterious connection had been randomly and magically made and their digital talk hummed and sizzled with the fervor of two souls finding each other's mate across the virtual void.

She asked for his mobile phone number and to his surprise he gave it to her, something he thought he would never do for a stranger he has never met. The die was cast and they began texting each other, more frequently as the weeks passed.

She was persistent and relentless. He was hesitant, cautious and unsure. And for many months they grappled and groped, trying to know and feel each other out. Then as one year ended and a new one began, the ice broke. She called him finally and and when she did some mystical bond between them began to weave its magic.

He called back after a week's time and from SMS messages they graduated to phone calls and eventually to video chats back on the internet. They finally saw each other and while gazing at each other's digital images, they dreamed dreams and talk of the future.

But fate may soon deal both of them a heavy blow. Circumstances have developed that will see her leaving these sunny shores for the uncertainties of a foreign land. She sees no choice but to make plans to go and he, despite his reservations and fears of losing her, accepts the hard realities of the path she has chosen for herself.

So they stand trying to hold each other's hand in the edge of this limbo of undefined dreams, unsure of tomorrow and desperately holding to the promise of the present. The future is a quagmire of doubts and the intrusions of a cold and unsympathetic universe seek to undermine the tenuous and gossamer links that bind them together.

But hope, they say, springs eternal from the human breast and need to be complete in each other's company drives them on the bittersweet end of it all.

Perhaps there is a place and time for their loving and it is in the here and now. For such things are the stuff of dreams and what is life without the dreaming. Such a thing of beauty, for what they have is indeed beautiful and precious, deserves to live, survive and grow.

All it needs is a chance to be.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Car Blues

The mechanic looked up from his position in from of one of the jacked up front wheels of the pick-up truck, turned to me and said with finality, "Your front suspension bushings need to be replaced. All six of them." And all I could do was sigh with resignation and nod my head.

For I suspected what the trouble was even before I came into the automobile repair shop. The fact that my suspicions have been confirmed did not in any way reassure me. The truck was staying for repairs in the shop. About five thousand pesos worth of it.

Owning private transportation in a rural town like Lianga is both, unless you are filthy rich like Bill Gates, can be both a blessing and a curse. On the plus side, you have the freedom to go anywhere you need to go at any moment and your mobility is limited only by the needed travel time to go where you want and the amount of fuel you can afford to load into your gas tank. And for most Filipinos, owning a car is a status symbol and a sign of financial prosperity and success in life.

But the car, like any other form of complex machinery, needs maintenance and repairs from time to time. And it is when the engine starts knocking or sounding weird or when something starts rattling underneath the floor when you drive that you start having headaches and begin worrying about the high costs of repair and whether you can really afford to have your own vehicle in the first place.

The fact is the situation for car owners in Lianga is not exactly normal. This part of the province of Surigao del Sur has one of the roughest, worst maintained roads in the country. Just a short distance out of the town are kilometers and kilometers of dirt and gravel roads whose dilapidated condition would make the city driver with is brand new SUV tear at his hair in frustration and curse the government and the Department of Public Works and Highways to high heavens.

Maintaining a private vehicle, therefore, or even one used for business purposes in that situation can be a daunting proposition and a very costly one at that. Only because you absolutely need to have wheels in order to be able to move around or make a living in this part of world do you spend so much time and most of your meager resources in ensuring that your car or truck is in running, if not in perfect condition.

Our family's wheels did get the repair job it needed and after a day or so it was back in service again. Now I spend, as usual, an inordinate amount of time, as I travel the rough, dusty and bumpy roads, listening for the next rattle from the body or the next hiccup from the engine. I know they will come in time and when they do, it will be another stressful and expensive trip to the repair shop.

So when you want to travel in Lianga or Surigao del Sur for that matter, take the bus or jeepney. And if you have your own car do leave it at home. Trust me, it will be a less stressful trip and you will live a little longer.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Dawn Break

Recently I took up, as a form of exercise, brisk walking in the early morning hours at least three times a week.

That meant waking up at about five o'clock in the morning, shivering in the cold morning air while your body is practically still asleep and your will to get up is at its most weakest and most pathetic. Then you have to grope your way out of bed, dress up and stumble out of the house into the chill of the still dark streets.

In Lianga, most joggers and walkers like to take to the main highway that bisects the town. Vehicular traffic in the early hours of the day is very light so running or walking beside or on the edges of the concrete pavement is quiet safe. In the murky air of early dawn, you can see the huddled figures often moving in groups occasionally talking among themselves but all intent on getting as much exercise before the light and heat of the coming day drives them indoors.

Personally, I like to do my walking on the streets of the town itself and along the sea that borders it on its eastern side. That way the activity involves not just the physical effort of burning calories and promoting cardiovascular fitness but also carries with it the added bonus of being able to be there and witness the town come alive as the dawn brightens into day and the townspeople wake up from the stupor of the night and rush about to greet and start the new day.

There is also the added attraction of being able, if you will time it just right, to catch the morning sun rise in the eastern horizon just beyond the mouth of Lianga Bay. Most mornings, unless it is rainy or exceptionally cloudy, the sunrises can be spectacular and feeling the first warm light of the day caress your skin as you head home can be both an invigorating and exhilarating experience.

Then there are the friends and acquaintances you meet or pass by as you do your thing across town. More than often, you exchange just a few words of morning greetings but occasionally you may suddenly come upon a old friend you have not seen for some time and somehow the early morning and the freshness of the day adds to the poignant intimacy of the chance meeting making it extra special and memorable.

I do wish that I could do my morning walks more often but laziness and the sometimes the other demands of life, usually strident and immediate take their toll. But when I can do it I intend to spare the time and make the effort to wake up early, sweat it out a bit and experience these pleasurable interludes.

Waking up early to exercise while necessary can be often a boring and not so pleasant task, but it is always nice to be able to combine it with the chance to greet and enjoy, even for a brief moment, the magic and wonder of the dawning day. All you have to so is see beyond the mundane and accept and welcome it for the wonderful thing it really is.