Thursday, September 20, 2012

Main Street

In Lianga even today, we have little use for street names even if they do exist.  Directions for finding a particular house or any other location are always given in terms of the nearest prominent landmark or simply by diagramming through words, gestures and hand signs the general direction that had to be taken and the twists and turns that have to be made in order that one can get to where one is supposed to go.  It's a small town anyway where everyone virtually knows everybody.  Even strangers and outsiders are not expected to get really and hopelessly lost unless, by sheer stupidity or the lack of even any modicum of common sense, they deserve to.

That is why it was only when I was in my late teens when I learned by an accidental glance at a street map (yes, Lianga did have a street map even then) mounted on the wall of one of the offices at the municipal hall that the main street of the town, on which southern leg our family house was located, was named Rizal after the national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal.

It actually stretches straight and true the entire length of Lianga from south to north and runs parallel to the national highway just a short town block to its left.  On the opposite side lies a narrow strip of land mostly reclaimed over the decades from the sea and now cluttered tightly with residential houses except for the middle part right across the town's parish church which has always been set aside for the major structures and buildings that constitute Lianga's business and commercial center.

Rizal Street inconspicuously begins as a narrow, one lane road that abruptly starts from the town cemetery on the extreme southern end of Lianga which suddenly widens into a two lane, concrete paved roadway as it approaches the town center.  From the front of our house, I can see it emerge from the southern end of the town as it intersects at right angles with the tip of Layno Street (named after the once politically dominant local political clan) and actually part of a long section of the national highway that comes out of the east from all the way out of town. Travelers going north of Lianga make a sharp left turn (those going south make a right) just before Layno meets Rizal and then they push on along the continuation of the highway parallel to the latter as mentioned earlier.

From the south and just past our house and right after the old Layno ancestral home, Rizal shifts a little to the left to accommodate, on the seaside, a newly completed, long concrete block for housing commercial offices and businesses.  This new structure sits on the same site and closely copies the dimensions of the old, decrepit and now demolished Bol-anon building (check my old post on it) and its warren of retail stores then owned mostly by migrants from Bohol, hence the name, that used to sell everything from nails to textiles and slippers to fishing supplies.

If you see Lianga's main street as a seesaw, the Holy Child Parish Church and the municipal park beside it would have to be the fulcrum, the pivot point.  This is where Rizal becomes a nexus for the town.  Still going north it slides through the front facade of the church with its landmark bell tower and the inclined ramp that is the entrance to the park.  On the the sea side and right across the church, it meets the access road that leads to the bus terminal, the public market, the new, two-story Lianga Market Mall (see previous blog post) and finally the rest of the  wide expanse of still undeveloped reclaimed public land just adjacent to the sea. From the main street itself and looking east from the entrance to the church, one can have a nearly unobstructed view of Lianga's iconic pur├┤, the lighthouse islet that guards the entrance to the deep water channel that gives access to the town from the sea and ocean beyond.

Northward, Rizal Street then crosses over a short concrete bridge that spans what remains of the Tigis River that drains into the sea. This is Lianga's major traffic chokepoint, if in its quiet and subdued way, it ever has one.   Here the houses and a group retail stores begin to hem in the street itself, their outer walls skirting the edges of the street itself.  The residences here are mostly old yet quaint wooden structures, many of them more than a few decades old and evocative of the sad yet timeless, nostalgic appeal of all things aged yet still stubbornly and defiantly resisting the ravaging and weathering effects of time.

The concrete paving in this northern part of the main street is dotted here and there by potholes, some of them becoming shallow mud holes after even a short downpour.  Yet the impression of dilapidation and neglect is softened by the Old World ambiance of this part of Lianga.  Strolling through here, the first time visitor cannot shake off the sensation that time has stood still and that he is being, for a moment, deluded into thinking he is seeing and experiencing not the Lianga of today but the town as it was decades ago.

The other short side streets that cross over from the highway still running parallel to the main street have names like that of Rizal itself that pay tribute to the roster of heroes of the Philippine Revolution like  Burgos, Bonifacio and Mabini.  Others like Ronquillo and F. de Castro honor prominent local residents of the past. Bonifacio, in particular, branches off to the left of Rizal, crosses the national highway and leads to the fenced-in compound of the municipal hall and beside it the Lianga campus of the Surigao del Sur Polytechnic State University.

The main street suddenly ends less than a kilometer from where it began.  The concrete pavement widens a bit then abruptly ends just as the final side road to the highway meets it just a short distance north of the MEDEVCO Training Center which now occupies the lot that was once the location of the old Lianga hospital.  In the 1980's, this health facility was relocated further south along the national highway on the outskirts of town and is now known as the Lianga District Hospital.

It barely takes a measly half-hour to leisurely amble from one end of Rizal Street to the other but it is a must for the first time visitor to Lianga or for the Lianga native who has been away for a long time and wants to reconnect with it.  Do it in the late afternoon when the heat of the tropical sun is mostly gone, the salty sea air blowing cool and fresh from the sea and the townspeople out on the streets and strolling about.

Lianga is luckily one of those small towns you can still get to really know, experience and get the feel of by just an hour or so of relaxed exploration on foot.  I seldom do it anymore, of course, because it is where I happen to live but every time I do it there is always a new and different revelation of sorts.  There is always a fresh detail, fact or aspect of the town that I always manage to discover.

To illustrate this point, I have always known that much of the backyard of our house was reclaimed from the sea by my father in the 1960's following the example of the town government then which was itself creating new land along town's shoreline.  Thus the old Bol-anon building and the old public market (now replaced by the Lianga Market Mall) were actually standing on land that used to be part of the shallow coastal sea.

That meant (and I realized it only as a young adult) that Rizal Street must have been built upon what used to be the original shoreline of the town and located just a few meters inland from the high tide mark of what must have been a beach or rocky coast.  Thus the location of the old town church, the municipal park and the town hall just behind them (which remained unchanged to this very day) make sense for what must have truly been a fledgling coastal settlement that eventually expanded and became a town.


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