Puerto After Dusk

Having wrapped up work late on the second day, I was resigned to the thought of an unusually boring getaway. But getaways are often punctuated with surprises, some pleasant and some dreadful as in the case of Zest Air passengers who were hurt when a Cebu Pacific plane rammed the departing (Zestair) plane’s side. I was just thinking of squeezing in a bit of fun and adventure on foot within city limits in an unpredictably packed day when caffeine-induced headache set in. My choices were extremely limited: either I go to sleep or head first to the bulalohan right across the hotel for chowlong (whatever that is and however it tastes like).

The relatively small Puerto Princesa airport terminal. Photo courtesy: skyscrapercity.com.

I had planned early on to go island hopping, but of course hoping not to end up in Sipadan and be an ‘unwanted’ guest of the late Abu Sabaya’s clan. I’d say unwanted because I don’t have the millions to pay for my ‘board and lodging,’ ‘security’ and my eventual release. But then work took longer than I anticipated that even a city tour was impossible to squeeze in, until some friends decided to venture into Iwahig. No, we were not going inside the penal colony; we were to try the firefly watching tour.

I only know of Iwahig as a penal colony where inmates in the minimum security row are slowly being reintegrated back into society whose members they once wronged. Iwahig is probably the only prison in the Philippines without walls, literally! Thanks to National Geographic and some local TV, I still have a faint recollection of a firefly colony that is increasingly drawing both local and foreign tourists and dollars, too. But I thought it’s somewhere in Bicol!

Photo courtesy: Joey Montalvo via Panoramio.

On our way to Iwahig, we decided to drop by Baker’s Hill where we spent a good 15 minutes mostly for the obligatory ‘kodak moments’ and where I bought a canister of peanuts—where else but from the only baker on the hill—for my beloved gout. Of course, I took some naughty photos of Marilyn Monroe. Yes, she’s a Baker’s Hill resident!

One of the beautiful houses on Baker's Hill.
One of the 3 cafes on Baker's Hill.
The closest thing to getting naughty on Baker's Hill: carefully examining Ms. Monroe's thighs for dark spots and any impurities. . .
. . . and a bit of mammography to locate some lumps and humps.

At the payment booth, I noticed the ABS-CBN Foundation logo displayed prominently for all the visitors to see. I would learn later from our boatman how Gina Lopez was instrumental in the organization and eventual operation of the firefly tours in Iwahig.

The tour is a 30-minute, one kilometer boat ride along the banks of the Iwahig River that pours into Puerto Princesa Bay from its source, the Salakot Falls, about seven kilometers from the boating station. Our boatman, Anthony Culvinar, kept the three of us on the boat entertained and from being scared by the thought of capsizing in the dark, brackish 30-footish deep river. He regaled us with his knowledge in astronomy as he skillfully explained the heavenly bodies that were just so majestic that night, pointing almost accurately to the constellations with his laser pen, mesmerizing us like we were kindergarten kids on our first science fair—in a boat!

Photo courtesy: Tom Conelly on Pbase.com.

As we reached the ‘turning point’ of the tour, as Anthony would call it, I couldn’t help but notice that the fireflies that draped a canopy of trees seemed to form a familiar shape and asked everyone onboard if they were seeing what I was seeing. The fireflies assembled themselves to form the Sarimanok! I jested that Ms. Lopez must have fooled us by installing the latest LED lighting technology for fireflies. Of course, I wouldn’t expect a kapuso seal in an ABS-CBN territory, if you get the drift.

Anthony would later tell us that he learned his stuff from Dr. Socrates, apart from the various training-seminars and, of course, from Google. Yes, he browses the Internet. And he paints, too! At the souvenir shop—our last stop before boarding the van that would take us back to the city—I saw three of the paintings done by Anthony on display. I learned that the lovely lady who welcomed us is Anthony’s wife! What a lucky boatman-painter this Anthony is! (Below are three of Anthony’s obra on display at the souvenir shop.)

And of course, we, too, were lucky to have experienced that rare visual feast with the fireflies although it’s unfortunate that we could not capture the sights on our plebeian cameras. But even the most expensive night vision camera may never capture that experience.

We capped the night with a Vietnamese-style noodle treat at Phan Chaolong along the city’s main road. Nothing fancy, this spartan carenderia is teeming with hordes and hordes of Palaweños enjoying the cheap yet flavorful noodles served with fresh basil. I could tell from the satisfied looks of its loyal diners and the endless throngs outside waiting for their seats that the carenderia’s owner’s financial future had already been secured.

The chaolong...
...served with bean sprouts and fresh basil is a real treat for its price.

Surely, there is much more to Puerto than the fireflies in Iwahig. And if Puerto is beautiful by day, it is so lovely at night. Indeed, beauty reveals not only in the full glory of the sun but also in the muted glow of a moonless night.

(A plain text note is available at https://www.facebook.com/tony.igcalinos)

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An Inconvenient Truth (About Going to Ilocos These Days)

Photo by the author.

We trek up north Wednesday night for the MLE forum and launch of Sukimat. To save your precious time, let me just paste here the portion taken from the blurb for a preview. Here we go: ” . . . Sukimat—the work of scholars, academics, and cultural workers committed to the exchange and diffusion of knowledge and information on Ilokano and Amianan Studies—offers a way to rethink of education to democracy and freedom.”

A few weeks before, I had been to La Union on a related business, and thought the Ilocos trip was no different, except that it would take five more hours on the road. I took the Partas bus to La Union and it was relatively a good ride, except that, again, I could not and will probably never sleep while travelling by either bus, car, or plane. Maybe my insomnia or probably some unresolved psychological issue has something to do with this inability to sleep during travel, except by boat on a long trip.

I assumed then that the longer the trip takes, the more comfortable the ride is. I was darn WRONG! The four of us had purchased our ticket about 10 minutes before departure. It turns out we got the last four seats on the de luxe bus that was to take us to Laoag. Except for Dr. Agcaoili who had taken seat No. 24, Dr. Nolasco, Lucy, and I and a lady passenger from Paoay had the misfortune of occupying the last four elevated seats with defective backrests and recliners. WORST, the seats are too high that our legs were hanging like columns of chicken feet being drained in a Mongkok kitchen. The “ottoman” or the leg support was defective, too, making it extremely difficult to stretch our already tired hanging legs.

Photo by the author.

Minutes before rolling along EDSA, I had asked the conductor if he could lend me something to keep my back from being reclined too much and he was kind enough to part with his still unopened inflatable pillow that looked like he rarely used it. I had no choice but demand some comfort. After all, I paid not just the miles but for a comfortable ride. Remember it was “de luxe,” whatever that means to Lakay Chavit. The defective seats, I learned from the conductor, had been left unrepaired for weeks already and I was given the lame excuse that repairs can only be done once the parts–purchased by bulk–arrived from Mars or Jupiter!

Will someone blow this bus into pieces, please? I’m sure, replacement will come faster that they can claim insurance.

Photo by the author.

That inconvenient seat had me behaving like a little boy who has yet to undergo deworming; I could not settle down my seat from Manila up to Rosario, La Union. I must have tried all possible seating positions just to make myself calm, collected, composed, and comfortable to my supreme frustration. I had to keep my cool although I could smell blood and gunpowder already!

After La Union, I thought my ordeal was over because early on I had psyched up for a sleepless day or two and kept telling myself to get a full doze in my bed on weekend. I was wrong again. As soon as we hit Tagudin, signs of more inconvenience were all over the roads.

A few months back, the region had been battered by storms, and its network of national and provincial roads took the beating to the worst. Bad timing!

The bad roads and the ongoing repairs along the southern stretch of Ilocos not only lengthened travel time by more than an hour; it kept most passengers awake as the bus negotiated with potholes and had to tilt left and right more often than we could curse DPWH and the bus company management.

The mighty Abra River. Photo by the author.

By the time we reached Santa Maria for stopover, I was too tired to complain of my misery and resigned to the fact that I didn’t have enough vision to appreciate the majestic Ilocos coastlines at sunrise. I had to give up taking shots of the mighty Abra River as it pours into Bantay. Though weakened by my misery, I still managed to take some shots of the inconvenient bus and its inconvenient seats that gave me my most inconvenient ride to date.

July 20, 2009