April 29, 2007

Gone Whaling

For the longest time I had scheduled, cancelled and re-scheduled trips to Donsol. Blame it on proximity. I guess I was not really that keen on discovering a place that was only an hour or two from where I am.

Three Wednesdays ago, I finally (and almost literally) jumped into butanding bandwagon. It was a trip that didn’t take that much planning. The day before, my brother said he wanted to see the whalesharks. My sister got in touch with a cousin, and the cousin made all the arrangements. I was iffy about the whole thing. Up until the last minute a least, when the thought of a day out of the office proved really irresistible.

We woke up at five, took off at six and took the path frequently travelled: the Maharlika route from Sorsogon to Castilla to Pilar. A little past Putiao we turned left and started up the curves leading to Pilar’s interior hamlets and eventually to Donsol. Everywhere are reminders that it’s election season again: campaign materials hanging from electric wires, tacked on gates and (sadly) trees and posted on post-no-bill fences.

We got to Donsol at past seven, and, after heavy snacks at an auntie’s house drove off to Dancalan Beach. We were supposed to watch a briefing video prior to jump-off, but the electric company chose that very day to schedule an outage. Doused in sunblock, and lifejackets secured, we boarded the banca for what is touted as the best animal interaction in Asia. (A banca for a maximum of seven has a flat rate of P3,500.)

Barely five minutes out at sea, our spotter alerted us to a humongous black outline in the emerald waters. There it was, our first butanding, lumbering its way in search of plankton. It was still a “baby,” said our guide, but I have to say that the sight of something “bigger than big” is quite a jolt.

We encountered nine other butandings, all within minutes of each other. At one point, there was this really huge fish, swimming alongside and under our banca. It could have easily overturned the boat if it wanted to. Instead, it went on its gentle way, disappearing into the calm waters. One wonders: how can something so big be so gentle.

In our party of seven adults, I was the only one who did not dive in for that very, very close encounter. My sister, a non-swimmer, swore it was a really moving experience: it almost brought her to tears. I understood. Sitting in the banca, while everyone else were out diving, and with the gigantic butanding bobbing up every now and then, I felt so small—a mere dot in the vastness of the sea. At our old house in Molave, my sisters and I would climb out the window and into the roof, gazing out at the starry skies. It is, I realize now, the same heady high: of being lost in the great void. If anything, an encounter with the gentle giants puts things in perspective.

Back in our aunt’s house, we traded stories about the butanding. Apparently, the big fish have been appearing in Donsol as far back as my cousins can remember. Only then it wasn’t that hyped up. In fact, my cousin said, when the butanding became an attraction in the late 1990s, they would flock to Dancalan not so much to see the whalesharks as to see the celebrities that they were attracting.

Obviously, proximity has its rewards.

April 26, 2007


Call me dense, but I don’t get this Filipino fascination for the Guinness World Record. I mean, just what is the point? Will the biggest bibingka plug up the hole in the ozone? Will the longest longganiza promote world peace?

In just about every festival, there is the showcase of the longest “this” and the biggest “that.” The longest ihawan, for example, or the biggest chineles. I can understand the marketing side of the matter: the need to promote the product, the festival and ultimately the place. But to go to such great lengths as to gun for a Guinness?

Trust me, it has nothing to do with the noble aim of “fostering unity.” I have been a token participant in two attempts, and “unity” is the last thing on one’s mind as one stews in sweltering heat, waiting for the cameras to roll.

The first time I was required to join was in 2004, when somebody broached the idea of our city earning a world record of sorts for the longest nut cracking. For all its worth, things did go perfectly well. Except that the organizers were probably so wrapped up in the prep work they actually forgot to notify the Guinness people!

My second stab at fame (ha!) took on an even more ambitious coverage: the whole stretch of the Maharlika Highway from up North to down South. It was supposed to be the longest tree planting ever. It could have been. The thing is, eight months later, I wonder where all the trees have gone. I don’t even know if we even set a record.

I remember the first time (or was it?) the Philippines tried to get a Guinness for the longest sausage or something. Way before the signal was given however, hungry participants—who had been in line for an hour or so—had already wolfed down the better part of the sausage.

And then, just last year, a town tried its hand at a Guinness for the longest grill. The smell of the inihaw, however, may have proved too much for the would-be record holders. They carted off just about everything, grill, charcoal and yet-to-be-grilled fish included.

On May 2, my beloved Pinas will again go for the gold: this time for simultaneous breastfeeding. Will “Sabay Sabay Sumuso sa Nanay” work? Or will the babies—and the mothers—decide that it’s just not worth the effort? If it doesn’t, well, we can always earn a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the country with the most number of Guinness attempts.

April 22, 2007

Touching Base

I got a call from the past today. Berna, my friend from a decade ago, from when it was fashionable to be young and angry, phoned in to say that she’s in town. That she’s alive. That despite a near-aneurysm from stress, she’s still taking life as it comes.

Two phone cards later, we are back to being talking friends. As if the silence of the past ten years was never really there.

There are, of course, the telltale signs of the times: Sheena and Liam are no longer babies. Sheena, who’s entering college this year, models for Hollister. Liam is 16 and is with the varsity volleyball team. Flighty, activist Berna, who used to list her pastime as “reading 100 books a year,” has settled into her job as crime analyst in LA.

I, on the other hand, am no longer “blissfully” detached. I actually have two attachments: Papa G and our two-year-old Gianna. I have since chucked a stressful writing career for the stresses of motherhood. And I have unflattering curves to show for it.

Still and all, some things are pretty much the same. Our friendship, for one. Funny how 30 minutes of burning telephone lines can erase all those years that we have been in absentia from each other’s realities. We still have the energy to laugh over the foibles of the past and the recurring stupidities of the present. We can rewind the recordings of our lives and go fast forward to the here and now both in the same breath. We remember the exes—some with fondness, others with the compulsion to reach for the barf bag—and exchange notes on the loves of our lives.

We are friends. We are sisters. We are re-connected. And in the tapestry of life, it isn’t so much the number of times you unplug, so long as you keep the connection going. Who’s counting anyway?

April 7, 2007

Semana Santa

I joined Sorsogon’s Good Friday procession after an absence of two years. There was the initial discomfort of going barefoot on the highway, of navigating through a sea of equally sweaty bodies. But after stepping on chewing gum and God knows what else I knew that things were back the way they were.

This year’s procession had an even more ritualistic feel. I took Gianna with me, and somehow I felt that we were starting our own tradition. The little girl took in everything with wonder: the carrozas, the girls dressed up as angels, the candles, the crowd. She didn’t want to be carried by Papa, so it was practically me all throughout. Talk about penitencia!

Going around—on sidestreets that I have not been to for two years—I couldn’t help but marvel. Some houses are the same: my favorite green house along J. Reyes, the white house near Colegio and the Chacon compound near Pilot. Others have obviously embraced change: the house that Tita Terry once lived in is no longer the wood-and-nipa bungalow of my childhood. Milenyo, which ravaged Sorsogon in September, has also irreversibly altered some neighborhoods.

I myself am not the same. The Santo Entierro doesn’t scare me anymore, and I have gone from uprooted to firmly rooted Sorsoganon. I have wavered between two opposing ideas of Holy Week—of Holy Week as piety and Holy Week as pleasure—and see the merits in both.

For the better part of the year, I consider myself a lapsed Catholic. On Good Friday, though, I walk the walk, talk the talk. I pick my way through rough concrete, rosary and candle in hand. I stay on the safe side as fanatics elbow out each other for a flower or a leaf that adorn the carrozas. And as the procession winds down at the Cathedral, I say a prayer.

Tomorrow, I will be crossing over to the other side of Holy Week: school reunions, cholesterol-rich indulgences, a trip to the beach.

For now, I savor the stillness. The marble floor soothes the feet, and the hush soothes the soul. I have made it through another Semana Santa.
(Thanks, John P for the photo.)

April 5, 2007

To Blog or Not to Blog

I used to keep a diary. I don’t know how or why I started, really. I guess I got tired of “dedications,” of “defining” love in autograph books and I needed to rant and rave, gloss over and gloat.

I remember my first diary: a 50-page Patty-and-Jimmy notebook that was eventually reduced to 20 pages or so. Back then, neatness counted and penmanship mattered. Patty and Jimmy has since been replaced by others: My Melody, those with allergy-inducing perfumed pages, Fly and Free, logbook, leather-bound, electronic.

The contents, too, have varied. They are, of course, but recurring themes in the web of life. My grade school diary immortalized puppy loves, training bras, Nancy Drew, petty quarrels. In high school, there were secret crushes and secret kisses, girl friends and boy friends, I-wish-I-were-a-Regal-Baby hopes and silly dreams.

My college diary carried on about life away from home, Varsi friendships and coming-of-age angst (it was the era of the exaggerated eyeliner, and it was perfectly all right to look mean and to think dark thoughts). Post-college, it was about adventures and misadventures in the “real” world, relationships, travels, decisions, life as I saw it. When I turned 30, the entries became less and less frequent. I was too busy experiencing life to write about it.

Which brings me to the question: “to blog or not to blog?” On the one hand, I am still busy with life. I got married at 36, had a baby at 38 and am still doing things I should have been doing ten years ago. I run by my own internal clock, and churning out something on a regular basis is something that I may not be able to handle. I have never been and am not one to run on routine. If truth be told, routine stresses me.

On the other hand, I want to chronicle my life again. I am turning 40. I have a two-year-old daughter. I feel the need to keep the faith.

In any case, I’m taking the cue from a dear, dear friend and am taking one day at a time. I’m not sure if I will find it in me to keep this blog going. For now, welcome to Anna’s Tasa. I will try to brew an interesting mix.