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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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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

entry arrow11:00 AM | Pockets of Small Pleasures

Fifth of Six Parts

[read part 1 here | part 2 here | part 3 here | part 4 here]

By the time we got back, it was almost nighttime, the full moon was already in full force, the shadows have fallen fast on Langub, and the interiors of the huddled nipa houses were now the brightness of fluorescent light. In the house that stood immediate guard over the docking entrance, the karaoke music had started ringing. It was a man singing, in a strange diction, Barbra Streisand’s “Woman in Love.” We smiled at the choice, and at the juxtaposition of music and the scene of full moon night in little village by the river.

“Do you think your father has caught enough fish good for sinugba today?” Edwin asked Tonton, as we prepared to disembark from his bangka.

Tonton said he was not sure. It was the full moon after all, he said, but his father will be back around 7 o’clock, and he would know by then if the day’s catch was paltry. Still, we arranged for a sinugba dinner that night by the beach. Or, if not the beach, then this karaoke bar. “Do what you can,” Edwin said, “I still hope for a good catch.”

It was a poor catch—but the dish of medium-sized fish was delicious in its grilled freshness. We ate with gusto, downing the rice and the fish with San Miguel Pale Pilsen and Sprite—and when we were buzzed enough for a little more frivolity, we sang. I sang “Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin” and “Someone That I Used to Love,” and Edwin sang “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” and “Close to You.” We warbled with the melodic gusto of one who had no care in the world—we sang to our hearts content, knowing that in this small village far away from everything we knew, nobody knew we were wearing our hearts on our sleeves with these songs. That night, back in my private cottage, I arranged for a good massage, and afterwards quickly fell asleep, certain the world was a perfect place.

The following morning, we had arranged with Tonton to give us a tour to the other side of the cove, where the other mangrove was. He took us in his father’s pumpboat—and made quick beeline for the open Sulu Sea, and soon turned around towards the small islands offshore, which led to the mangroves. Here, the water was a little more brackish than the romantic mangroves of the day before—but there was no discounting its own personal stamp of natural beauty. The river we were on snaked inland for a few more minutes, and finally we docked at the dead end, to a pool where a swarm of small tambasakan hopped around in the shallows. From there, we trekked inland on a dirt path that led to a beautiful hill, which seemed like the very rooftop of this side of the world.

It was a religious experience being on top of that unnamed hill. Save for a small nipa house at one of the rugged edges, it was a clearing of carabao grass that gave us a 360 degree view of the distant mountains and the sea, a vantage point to see hidden valleys, rolling plains, secret farm houses, and pockets of banana forests. Deep in one gulf, I saw two men building a circular structure of bamboo in the middle of a banana patch. “What’s that?” I asked Tonton. “What are they doing?”

“They’re making charcoal.”

They leave me for a while as I took off my shirt to welcome all of the sun. I felt the delicious pricking of the heat on my skin soon working hard to make me brown. I wanted the tan—the very symbol of a summer well spent. That it was only the beginning of summer bode well for the rest of these days, indeed.

I went around the hill, taking in the view as the sound of Safri Duo’s “Adagio” and Chicane’s “No Ordinary Morning” from my iPod pipes in strikingly meditative music straight from my earphones. And there it was: a surging of slow epiphany. There was something about this hill that touched me quickly as a kind of spiritual fulfillment—as if I was meant to be here, at this moment, to realize that I have reached a crossroad in my life that I had prayed so hard to achieve. And it soon came to me that only a year ago, in the exact same month, I was also on top of another hill, in the mountains of Sagada, praying hard to the heavens for a change in my life.

And I realized right then and there, in this hill in Sipalay, that there was a God, and he had indeed answered my prayers. For there was only beautiful change, so much of it—and I was grateful.

It was with that sense that I soon joined Edwin and Tonton on our walk down the hill, back towards the river, back to our boat—to spend the rest of the morning hopping from one secret beach to another. And Langub was full of that: the long stretch of Sugar Beach aside, the place was a veritable treasure trove of unspoiled, gloriously undeveloped beaches—many pockets of it, secluded from each other and from the rest of the world by walls of coral rock, accessible only by boat riding in from Sulu Sea. Their sand was as fine and white as polvoron, and each site had a magnificent view of the sea and the small islands offshore.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to own one of these?” Edwin said.

“If I had one, I’d never leave it for the rest of my life,” I said, half-jokingly.

Because this place suddenly felt like home.

And the Holy Week rolls on, as it must. The beach does not become crazier as more people straggle in to Sugar Beach for the annual vacation ritual away from the sudden silence of cosmopolitan places. The arrivals are not a swarm—and the long stretch easily accommodates the number. Sugar Beach tantalizes still, and in most pockets of this long stretch, the usual comfortable quiet pervades. The days and nights remain virtually the same. But also emotionally different.

The grand adventures here are small-scale, and that is its beautiful irony: to appreciate moonlight or sunsets; or to take in the rhythm of rivers and the silent magnificence of mangroves; or to feel the fine sand crunching between our toes; or to listen to the breaking of surf on the shore; or to have bonfires and beer-laced talk and beauty pageants in a bayle… Such small things that we don’t—and can’t—do when we go back to our ordinary lives in the city: they are adventures for our kind.

Happiness is always an elusive thing. But for the seven days that I have been here, I have the best approximation of that, at the very least.

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