2006/03/07

Our Tour of Bohol

When we were in Second Year College, we decided to go on a tour to visit the home of each member of the class.

It was the start of semester break in 1981. There were nine of us including Ram, who was already a Manila boy having transferred to UST Central Seminary that year. The members of the class were Jeffrey, Soc, Nick, Chris, Junior, Gents, Mario, and me.

We planned our itinerary by identifying the host in each stop: Nick in Duero, Mario in San Miguel, Soc in Sevilla, Jun in Bilar, and Nox and Jeffrey in Tagbilaran.

But first, before the tour, we had a class requirement to hurdle.

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The Stage Play. Both our Pilipino and English class required us to write a full length play and to stage the play in the auditorium as part of our first semester requirements.

In our English class, our teacher divided us into two groups for the staging of the play. In our Pilipino class, we suggested to your teacher that we divided ourselves into two. Writing and staging one play for English and another one for Pilipino, we thought, was too taxing. So we had better ideas.

It was one of those moments when I was inspired to write. I wrote the script for our group. The other group asked if I could make a slight variation of the script for their group. Well, I decided to write another one for them. We then collaborated to translate the script to Pilipino for our Pilipino class. And that was how we hit two birds with one stone.

I cannot recall the titles or the exact storylines of both plays. But both were love stories--something we were poor at and sorely missed. Too bad we never bothered to keep a copy of the script for posterity.

But, I remember, our teachers were very pleased with our scripts and presentations, even if our minds were somewhere else.

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Night swimming in Duero. Our first stop was Duero. We stayed in Nick’s house. To make our stay a little more memorable, he organized a basketball game against the locals. We thought it was a simple friendly game in a private court. We were not prepared for what greeted us. The basketball court was jam-packed with people anxious to see their local bets compete against the seminarians from the City. The first thing we noticed as we were warming up was the board and the ring. The ring was higher than usual. And it was much smaller than usual. The board too was narrower than usual. We couldn’t even hit the basket even while we were warming up and nobody was guarding us. We were already terrified at the prospect of losing. But we couldn’t back out for we were right smack in the middle of the spot lights.

In our team, only Jeffrey, Mario and Gents could really play serious basketball. The rest of us, because of our height, were only good at intimidating the opponent before the start of the game. In actual play, we were good substitutes when nobody else could play. Ram was intimidating because of his height and massive extremities; Nick, Junior, and Soc because of their looks. Chris and I were the lean players that neither looked intimidating nor competent to play.

Before the start, the locals wanted a 30-30-minute game time. But we protested and asked for a 20-20 because, we said, we were extremely tired from the trip. Ahh . . . pasumangil!

We put up an extremely good fight in the first two minutes. But after that, it was disaster. As expected it was a lopsided game . . . in their favor, of course. We couldn’t even hit the ring from the free throw line. As the minutes ground so slowly in the first half, we silently agonized and prayed for the clock to tick faster and faster and get it over with. On the bench some of us must have been dreaming of time travel. But there was the second half to contend with. As the locals exhibited their master at our expense, the cheering gradually subsided. Probably, pity must have settled in its stead. I don’t remember how it ended, but I remember feeling humiliated.

So we vented our frustration on the food and beer and tuba served by Nick's family. And we drowned our humiliation in the cold rough sea that greeted us that night. We stayed on the beach for a couple of hours only since it was so cold even with the bonfire.

We slept soundly that night, dead tired after a long trip and an embarrassing game of basketball.

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The Walk to Tumok. Our next stop was San Miguel, which in mid afternoon was a ghost town. The place was literally deserted. We disembarked and looked around. It was so quiet. “Are we there yet?” We didn’t even know we had arrived. “Is this the town proper? Is this the market place? Where is the crowd?”

Mario pointed towards the west where a balsahan was “parked”. Balsahan was a crude cart with wooden wheels drawn by a huge cow. He told us that the balsahan would take us to Tumok. He estimated that if we were to start walking immediately, we would reach their house before sundown. (In my own estimate, a good two and a half hours walk.) I immediately noticed the way they measured time not by the hands of the clock but by the movement of the sun. I knew then that I was in another world.

A huge white cattle pulled the balsahan with our bags on it. I never thought cows could pull such a heavy load. Sometimes we would even ride on the balsahan. But we pitied the cow. After all, it was sacred in other parts of the world. We should also respect it.

The scenery was so stunning. It was so peaceful. We enjoyed every minute of the walk. Since the cow was so slow, we would walk ahead of the balsahan and scout the area looking for a beautiful spot. There was a slight mound where we could see the blue waters of Talibon. Some of us spent a few minutes enjoying the view, as the cow inched its way towards us.

The breeze was soothing as the sun moved down the horizon. San Miguel rested on high elevation. The road we traveled was gravel and meandering. There were no houses on the road side. I didn’t even recall encountering a single soul on the road. The afternoon was undisturbed. Except for the creaking sound produced by the balsahan, I swear that the other sound we heard was the rustling of the tall cogon grass.

The road winded through rolling plains. Near one of those hills, hidden by the tall grasses, Ram left a souvenir of himself. And he was quick enough to reach the balsahan before it turned the next bend.

It was almost dark when we finally arrived in Mario's house. We were famished, too. Chicken was hastily cooked and served. It was full moon and the wind was cold. The hot kinutil after dinner was superb. It soothed the tired mind to a restful sleep.

The following day, we were again scheduled to play a game of basketball against the locals. Not again! This time, we were well rested and didn’t have an excuse. Well, we thought we were in a strange world that measured time through the movements of the sun. They probably didn’t know much about basketball, too.

The locals were warming up at around 10AM when we arrived at the court. They stopped playing, obviously intimidated by our height and bearing. They literally gawked at us as we scrutinized the battlefield and kicked some dusts.

It was getting hot. The cement floor was uneven. But the basketball ring and the board were of the right height and size.

Ram stood out for his height. When he came to our side of the court, he jumped high to reach the ring and it quivered hard when his fingers touched it. He hasn’t even touched the ball yet. And the locals watching, gasped and gaped. They couldn’t believe they would be playing against an obviously superior visiting team.

We warmed up the way professionals do. The locals couldn’t get their acts together; they fumbled, for they were watching us. They were even ashamed of touching the ball. They just wanted to ogle.

Ram played center. The other team could field no one even slightly above his chin. Naturally, when the game started, we took first possession of the ball. I think we even scored the first shot. Now we were playing serious basketball.

Unfortunately, if I remember it correctly, that was the only time we threatened them. We never thought that, in such a far away place, they would play a good game of basketball--and teach us a lesson or two.

The rest of the game was easy--for them! Again, it was lopsided--in their favor. First half we wanted to surrender, but pride prevented us. We blamed the home court advantage. Then we blamed the heat of the sun at a high altitude. We were not used to it. It affected our bearing. Half time, they served cold buco (coconut) with milk (which must have been a specialty). We realized it was not good when you’re exposed to the heat of the sun. Our stomach churned. Napasmo intawon! But we held on to our pride. We could blame the ice-cold buko on a hot summer day, but we couldn’t quit.

I do not know how we finished the game, but all throughout we were all praying for a swift conclusion.

We shook their hands after the game, like real sportsmen. But deep within we were nursing our wounded pride. We promised never to show our face in that place again. That was also the last time that our batch played basketball as a team.

I can’t remember the hour of the day when we started our walk back to the sawang or poblation for I literally lost track of time. But it was afternoon. The walk back to “civilization”, as we joked, was quick and uneventful, except for the conflagration that Nick may have caused. A bush fire was said to have occurred that afternoon and into the night, the origin of which has remained a mystery to the people of Tumok until today. Luckily it was contained to a limited area and didn't cause any damage.

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The Busay of Sevilla. Our next stop was Sevilla, where according to common belief the only flat surface is a table. We discovered for our selves that it was true. Even the Mesiona residence that stood a few meters from the roadside was hidden from view. For it was on a slight elevation a few meters from the road. And to get there, you have to climb a winding footpath. The area was forested and shadowy. The huge trees seemed to muffle the sounds that we made.

Fortunately for us, there was no basketball game scheduled in Sevilla. No, it was not because of the terrain but because Soc probably thought that we have had enough of humiliation in court already.

We visited the home of Soc’s friends. I am not sure if it was during this particular trip when I recall visiting a house at the farthest barrio of Sevilla. It was almost 6PM when we reached the house. I can’t remember whose house it was. But I remember hearing the distant clang of the church bell signaling the Angelus. There was a distinctive character in its sound with each peal prolonged, accented by another before the previous one totally faded. It was calming. The most beautiful church bell sound I had ever heard.

The highlight of our stopover in Sevilla was our picnic in Busay. It was the same river that dissected Loboc and emptied into the beaches of Loay. There was a white water rapid. But the current was not that strong since it was not raining. I really didn’t want to swim in a river, since I always had the impression that a muddy carabao somewhere upstream was bathing. But it was fun seeing the entire group in the water. I wanted to have a piece of the fun. So who cares about bathing carabaos upstream? Well, we had lunch there, and really had a great time.

On the road to Bilar. We were excited to visit Bilar since Junior had always been a good host and would provide an unlimited supply of cold beer. In general, the visit was uneventful since by then we were already tired from our trip. What I recall from this trip to Bilar was the overcrowded bus that we took going there. It rained hard when the bus started to negotiate the dangerous winding road with a deep ravine on the right side. An old man with a sack of goods boarded and couldn’t sit. The good-hearted Ram offered the old man his seat. The old man thanked Ram, “Ang Dios lang ang magbayad sa imoha, doy!” Ram who was always quick with a repartee joked with the old man, “Ngano man diay, Nong? Utangan ba diay ang Diyos sa imo nga Sija man ang imong pabayron?” Junior heard the comments and the boisterous laughter was unstoppable, if not scandalous. The old man also laughed upon seeing them laugh.

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Last stop in Tagbilaran. Our last stop was Tagbilaran. We didn’t plan to stay overnight. But it was there where we planned to split up and go on our separate ways. I am not sure if it was during this time when Ram, Soc, Jeffrey and I were at my house in the afternoon. If I remember if correctly, we were supposed to hear mass at the Cathedral. A nice, fitting activity to end the fun-filled tour. We changed to more decent clothes. Ram and Jeffrey borrowed leather shoes from me. We were walking towards the Cathedral when Jeffrey complained about the stones on the road. He moved away from the edge of the road. He felt the same way and when he looked at the pair of shoes he was wearing one was flat and black, the other light colored with high soles. We started laughing as we accompanied him back to the house to change shoes. We reached the Cathedral in time for the mass. We met the others there. I guess that was how we culminated our tour that semester break. (msa)