Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Flood Waters

If there ever was a clear, consistent memory I have of my childhood days in Lianga, it would have to be of how predictably rainy and stormy were the months of December and January. I can easily recall many instances when my siblings and I would be huddled together most of the time for days on end in the living room of the family house, shivering from the delicious cold despite having thick blankets wrapped around us while outside the tightly closed window shutters the winds howled madly and the rain poured down in vicious and seemingly never ending torrents.

During those days in the early 1970's and until just a couple of years ago, the primitive gravel roads and the wooden timber bridges that were the norm in this part of the country were extremely vulnerable to harsh weather conditions and floods.  That meant that travelling around the province and the region was not only hazardous but prone to long delays as excessive rainfall turned gravel roads to viscous mud traps and flash floods washed away bridges or caused landslides that would block critical road sections for days.

Going back to school in Cebu after the Christmas holidays at that time was, more often than not, a logistically troublesome and dicey proposition as well as mind-numbing, physically challenging ordeal.  Not only has one have to deal with flooded roads and washed out bridges but also with cancelled airplane flights and, if one really had no choice but to endure it, a wave tossed and stormy night at sea on-board any of the small inter-island ferry ships brave enough to make the sea crossing to the Visayas.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

No Dingy, Little Town

A dingy, little town.  That was exactly, word for word, how a foreigner acquaintance of mine who was on a whirlwind tour of the Caraga region called Lianga when he passed by my town recently.  I stared at the e-mail on the computer screen and had almost made up my mind to reply with a blistering defense of my hometown when I decided to hold off for a moment and reflect for a moment if this visitor's description had any merit at all.

I have always considered Lianga to be quaintly beautiful in its own way, if not exactly picturesque (although many locals will certainly disagree with me on this point).  Like many truly old, coastal towns all over the country, its real charms are not patently or immediately obvious.  Its old houses and narrow streets do not come out well in most photographs.  "Just like another tired, third world, ramshackle town," wrote a reader of this blog from Europe not long ago after looking over some of my pictures of this town.

Lianga has to be experienced in order to be fully appreciated.  One has to walk its streets and alleyways, amble through its marketplace and public places, seek refuge in the blessed coolness of its lovely, old church, loiter in the rickety yet historied corridors of its schools or walk barefoot on its lovely beaches before the real magic sets in.  It is definitely not one of those touristy show towns where one glance is enough to convince a visitor to kick off his shoes, rush into sandals and shorts then start running for the nearest hotel resort.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Stormy Endings

December has always been traditionally considered a month for wet and stormy weather by the local people here in Lianga.  But as as 2011 drew to a close barely two weeks ago, we here had to admit that we did not expect the last month to be more stormy, in more ways than one, than we had bargained for.

First, Typhoon Sendong (international name Washii) caught us by surprise when it made landfall late afternoon on Dec. 16 near Hinatuan town on Surigao del Sur's southern tip. Hinatuan is just over an hour's drive from Lianga and the typhoon, packing winds of at least 60 kph near its center, struck our area hard just as dusk was gathering.  Power lines snapped and electric posts toppled over plunging much of the whole province into darkness.

Many coastal houses especially those built with light materials sustained damage and at least one motorized boat was reported missing at sea.  Last minute voluntary evacuation, however, by many local people living in coastal areas vulnerable to storm surges and heavy seas did prevent the great toll in human lives and massive damage to properties that the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan would suffer later in that night.

Most Lianga residents were spared the worst of the gale force winds and flooding that ravaged many areas in Mindanao along the typhoon's track that veered north and west of Surigao del Sur.  For most of the local folks, the storm only inflicted the inconvenience of going through almost a day and a half without electricity, clean water and mobile telecommunications as all mobile cellphone service were cut off almost immediately during the initial onslaught of the storm.