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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

entry arrow1:10 PM | A Bayle in Nauhang

Third of Six Parts

[read part 1 here | read part 2 here]

Sleep is one thing I have not done in abundance ever since my sojourn in Sugar Beach began. I catch up with little power naps stolen during late afternoon hours between a dip in the sea and a session of writing or reading. (Mostly writing. Sugar Beach is surprisingly conducive to writing.) Sprawled on a strategically situated lounge chair or hammock, with the requisite shade from the overgrown firecracker and palm trees that shield out the harshest of the warm sun, I find it easy to just drift out while the surf provides the soundtrack to what dreams I have. I don’t remember much of what I dream though: all I remember of sleep in Sugar Beach is a comfortable blankness that feels restful.

Most nights we spend drinking beer and having bonfires. Edwin has befriended a bevy of young locals to create a veritable architecture of dried palm fronds, a mere kindling of which set ablaze the whole thing into a towering pillar of fire. The sudden brightness illuminates the walls of coral rock that tower over us—and in the drinking that follows, they sing, they play stupid games, they talk nonsense. Most nights, I just watch them with so much amusement, or I simply lay down on the sand to stare at the moon and the stars. The light of the full moon gives the beach a ghostly glow that feels warm. I think: I have never really done this in a long time—to lie down on the sand and to stare at the moon, while a bonfire glows and crackles in the distance. The beer continues to flow as the fire turns to ember. They sing some more. They play some more. I close my eyes, I feel the beer buzz humming in my head—and when I open my eyes once more, the moon looks brighter, and the stars feel nearer. I could make out the Southern Cross, and the sight of it anchors me: Sugar Beach is a place, I think hazily, that readily gives our center a kind of wholeness—healing from the madding crowd.

I remember muttering, as my consciousness flitted in and out to the soundtrack of fire cackle in the distance: the stars, the stars… Nights like this can easily convert the most hard-hearted into willing romantics.

On our first night, we were invited to the weekend bayle just across the Nauhang River. We made our entrance into the dance aboard a bangka—a most curious thing, made more curious given the fact that the cruise down the river was almost of a dreamlike sort. Think of the gurgle of river water as the boatman paddles his way. Think of the moonlight-created silhouette of the palm trees lining the shore. Think of the moon and the stars above, and the calm water everywhere else. Think of the pumping sound of dance music in the distance, every beat a beacon for you to come nearer. They are playing old songs, banished now from the dj booths of bigger cities’ night life: an old Madonna, an old Cyndi Lauper, an ancient dance hit whose title escaped me.

“I haven’t done bayles for years now,” I told Moses and Edwin.

“Sometimes, we need to do crazy things we don’t dream of doing at all. We all must do one thing we never usually do, every day of our lives,” Moses said.

“You sound positively cheerful,” my brother told him.

“It’s a beautiful night—and look, we’re going down a river in a bangka! Who thought today we’d do that!”

The bayle was in full swing when we arrived. The dancing grounds, which was now littered with so many hangers-on and locals prettifying for the one social event to come in a long time in Nauhang, was actually a basketball court made from raised rectangular stretch of concrete. It was enclosed by a haphazard line of bamboo fences, connected by nodes to each other with bamboo posts, and it was with these posts that they had strung the decorative colored lights, for an effect that approximated the festive. Outside the parameter of the fences, the basketball court itself (and now the night’s bayle dance floor) was surrounded by makeshift stalls selling beer and barbecue of all sorts—from chicken pecho to chicken legs to chicken innards.

On one side of the court, a stage had been set, its back wall draped with large swaths of pink and red satin, and its perimeter dotted with ornamental plants that were now in bloom. Splashed across the satin backdrop was the event’s name in cut-out red paper—“Saint Vincent Ferrer Chapel Coronation Night of Queen April Joy.”

And the new queen herself—a smallish girl fully made up (but in desperate need of eyebrow plucking) and wearing a tan gown accentuated with a string of fake pearls—sat on stage with her escort, a bored-looking boy desperately trying to smile and be comfortable in his ill-fitting barong. Around her, also seated, are the other girls—the ones who fell short to be crowned as queen of this little barrio—who were also all dressed up to the nines in gowns of blue and red. Their dresses made them stand out from the rest of the crowd who came in shades of casualness—and from the distance, I couldn’t help but wonder: what good do these small-time beauty pageants do for small barrios of visible, aching poverty? And the answer soon came to me with a dash of realization about my own arrogance: they need events like this to raise funds, perhaps for the chapel’s new roof; they need these as a validation that there are glimmers of beauty even in wretched circumstances; they need these to feel that things are all right; they need these to have the only entertainment they know how—to crown a local girl as queen for the night, and then dance the rest of the night away in glorious drunkenness with good friends.

Near midnight, we go home in another bangka ride, this time crossing the boundary of river and ocean—a sandy mouth that protrudes like a small peninsula from mainland Nauhang—straight into Sulu Sea. Still under the moonlight and the stars. And straight on to the beachfront of our own resort. How many times can you invoke the word “magic” to describe a nighttime bangka ride? Beautiful things, I quickly realize, may be repetitive in description—which may be why the experience of it will always be more truthful than the second-hand grandeur of words. Still, one must try to write about it, I suppose.

(To be continued…)

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