A Surreal Island Escape

There is something surreal about my recollection of Mantatao Island, just off the coast of Calape, as the images in my mind appear to be dour and dreary.

It was a Saturday in January 1984 during a Monthly Going Home. Our senior class received an invitation from Yves to an island in Calape. We thought it was a great time for our class to be together during the few remaining months before our college graduation.

Before we left for Calape, we brought a Jesuit priest to the pier. He was in Bohol to screen and interview Nox for the Society of Jesus. After seeing hi off, we took a bus to Calape, minus Jeffrey who said that he would follow later.

Yves was a great host. He knew how to provide for our needs. And so while waiting for Jeffrey, we drank beer. There were no cell phones yet in 1984. Not even a telephone line in Calape. Thus there was no way of knowing if Jeffrey was coming or not. We waited till 4pm.

Outside, it was drizzling, the sky overcast. It was not a good time to travel. We would have opted to just stay put in the house and cuddle up. But we had plans and had to go. So we went to the quay, at the back to the Calape municipal building. There was Soc, Gents, Mario, Chris and I. Well, of course, Yves, our host, came with us and a couple of his friends.

We boarded a pumpboat and were on our way to the island, with Nong Avid at the steer. The waves were high and bumpy. The wind was cold. Visibility was only up to a few meters since it was drizzling. Water would splash the boat. We were wet, but we never bothered. Missionary life in the future would be more difficult than this, we thought.

The driver had difficulty pointing the prow towards the wave so as not to hit the boat sideways. The motor engine would sputter as it navigated the crest. We thought it would conk out and wouldn't start. But it would miraculously recover as it rode the waves.

We should have been worried for our safety. But I never entertained those thoughts. I felt that God was present and that we had a great future as workers in Christ’s vineyard. No warm would come our way.

Ingents the most hardy of the group said he was drunk and had stomach ache.

It was dusk when we touched shore. It took more than 45 minutes to get there due to the strong current. We thanked God for the safe journey. Though the water was cold, Ingents jumped and dipped himself waist-high even before we dropped anchor. He told a joke and laughed at himself. His stomach ache, according to him, disappeared.

Mantatao Island was so small, and it was sparsely dotted with coconut trees here and there. There were only around 10 huts and you could see the shores of both sides of the island. There was no electricity naturally. Lampara and petromax were the only sources of light. But the people seemed contented with life.

We stayed in the house of Nong Mamer. While waiting for dinner to be served, for there was nothing else to do, Chris and Arce (Yves' friend) went to out for a chat and some food.

It was dark and drizzling and the wind cool. Ingents decided to jog around the island which took him only around 10 minutes. He was panting, probably from a stomache that refused to disappear.

Just before 7pm, we went to Nong Mamer’s house for dinner. But Gents was still out. So Chris and I volunteered to look for him. We found him in Nong Avid's house eating and laughing and drinking. We thought he had a terrible stomachache. They seemed to be having a good time. They invited us to join, so we did.

After a few minutes, Soc and Mario arrived looking for us. We also invited them to join. After a few shots of beer, we walked back together. We were starving.

We had lunch of tinulang manok and a few sea foods. We ate on the bamboo floor. Then we had more beer to protect us from the cold wind. Gents was bothersome. He was probably intoxicated. Stayed up till the wee hours until only Yves, Mario, Nong Mamer, a couple of islanders including one who owned the guitar, and I were left awake. At 2am we slept. We woke up at 7am for breakfast and thought of taking a dip. But the water was cold and the sky still cloudy and dark. We left the island at around 9am and gave P100 to Nong Mamer.

The boat ride was uneventful, the waves not as turbulent as the day before. At the quay, we rode dump truck to the market where we waited for a bus bound for Tagbilaran. We were all wearing dirty shorts and shirts. But we didn’t mind.

The bus we took was so slow. So we decided to disembark in Loon. We surprised, Tess, our teacher whose house was located beside the Loon church. We had lunch there.

After lunch we took another bus and went to the seminary. From there I went home, took a bath, and then went to the cathedral to hear mass with Soc, Chris and Mario. We dropped by Rose Restaurant for a quick beer. Then I went back home alone.

It was almost 5:30PM when Papa brought me to the seminary. I disembarked at the gate where I met local girl and her friends. I proceeded to my room in Dorm A to deposit my things.

Dusk settled in as the bells signaled the Angelus.

It must have been the dark overcast clouds that painted a dreamlike, almost Kafkanian, shade in my recollection of Mantatao island. (nox)