Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wading In

Lianga is a coastal town directly facing the Pacific Ocean on the eastern edge of the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. But when it's low tide and you are standing on the seawall that now marks the boundary between the town land and the coastal sea, you do not see the blue-green waters of the ocean but the wide expanse of the tidal marshland uncovered by the receding tide.

Except for a single, relatively deep channel used by motorized boats to gain access to their docks on the town's shoreline, much of Lianga's coast is a wide expanse of rocky and marshy flat lands at low tide that extend almost uniformly a kilometer seaward. It ends in a sudden break like a cliff that falls suddenly into the depths of turbulent waters and frothing surf forming a shallow, reef-like barrier that shields much of the town from the thundering waves of the ocean sea.

When I was young boy, much of the summer days I spent in Lianga was used up exploring this fascinating transition zone between land and water. My siblings and I together with friends and playmates would spend hours skinny-dipping amidst the sea grass, rock flats and tidal pools underneath the blazing heat of the afternoon sun, searching for exotic sea creatures to load into plastic pails we lugged with us. Edible or not, animal or plant, it did not matter. It was just a fun, exciting way to spend much of the day.

Not even the fact that our pails would remain almost empty when we got home would dampen our enthusiasm. We did not even care or mind when our skins would be toasted brown and even sunburned by the relentless sun. All that seemed such minor things, small sacrifices for a couple of hours of fun, excitement and adventure.

Nighttime excursions were even better. At night, the tidal zone is a surreal, exceedingly dark and mysterious place. We usually carried with us a kerosene pressure lamp carried on a short pole slung between two guys. The lamps would cast a bright yellow circle of light that would envelop our small group and supposedly attract the attention of small fish and other sea creatures which we would try to capture with long knives and homemade spears. Our pool of light would be just one among the many scattered all over the shallows and from a distance the effect was similar to that of watching a flock of fireflies flitting through the foliage of unseen trees.

Our usual haul after a night foray on the tidal marsh would usually be composed of small fishes, a dozen or so sea cucumbers, several small lobsters, a bunch of spiny sea urchins and a starfish or two just for the heck of it. Certainly not worth even the amount of kerosene we burnt up or the nuisance of the occasional cuts and scratches but that never bothered us. There is always something magical and exciting about those nightly expeditions.

Nowadays, very few go about exploring Lianga's tidal flats just for the fun of it anymore especially at night. Perhaps better and easier fun can be had elsewhere, the kind of fun that does not involved the indignity of getting wet and broiled red by the summer sun or cut and scratched by an unseen rock in the darkness of a moonless night.

A couple of months ago, a young nephew of mine wanted to do some skinny-dipping on the sea just when the low tide was at its lowest. "Too hot!", his parents cried out. "Too dangerous! Stay in the swimming pool." I kept my peace and wondered.

Has the world changed so much?


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