I just recently visited Marinduque, for the third time in 12 months. And once again, Poctoy White Beach in Torrijos became my haven for several days. And the island of Maniuaya, off the town of Sta Cruz, which I hope will not develop into another Boracay.
A good friend read about my travels to Marinduque and shared with me a story that won her second prize on a travel story competition. And as you might have guessed, she is also a fan of beautiful Marinduque. With her permission, I am posting her story for everyone to enjoy.
It is pitch black. The moon, now on its last quarter phase, lends some illumination. From where we are sitting, the sea shimmers now and then with what looks like a sequined serpent bobbing up and down. The waves whisper, the wind seems to gasp. Suddenly the silence is disturbed by two men carrying what seems to be a banca. The grating of the wood against the sand mixes with the bassy voices of the men. “Bilisi at baka kita’y maabutan ng ulan,”(Hurry up, I can smell rain) the older man says. “Ay, paano, inaayos ko lamang ireng pana.” (What can I do; I’m just fixing the spear) the younger one retorts. In a while, the voices grow faint until we hear a big splash. With just a faint light contraption on his head (much like a miner’s hat), the older man dives to hunt for fish. The younger man sits it out on the banca. We wait, too. In about half-an-hour, the older man surfaces with his catch. It takes him another 30 minutes or so to come up with more. Much later, we are partaking of the man’s catch.
Around a little bonfire, we take turns to check on the fish which we are now grilling
. The aroma is whetting our appetite for a late pica-pica.
As soon as it is cooked
, we swap stories with the two men. We learn that they are father and son. The fish (or what is left of it) is their family’s breakfast the next day. If the sun shines nicely tomorrow, the young man says the other fish would be dried. It’s a pity, the father says, that they don’t have tuba
wine) with them. It goes best with inihaw
.Later, we walk with them back to the barrio where we are staying. Fortunately, they live nearby. We only have a flashlight with us. It wouldn’t beat the torch they made. It is made of uyo
(dried receptacle from which the buds grow) with some dry coconut husk inside.This is a facet of Marinduque not too many people know. A heart-shaped island south of Manila, Marinduque houses some of the most beautiful beaches in the Philippines. The naivete of the people here is a blessing for they have preserved the virginity of its seas while its nearby neighbors scamper to make resorts after resorts of its beaches, thus opening it up to pollution and abuse. Although some of the landed families here have started to offer their once private refuge to tourists, there are still others who have kept their beachfronts pristine and untouched. It is on one of these beaches, close to my parental homes, where we experience not only cool, clean waters but a life (even for just three days) so rich, it is destination itself.
Everyday the sun’s glorious rays wake us up. The singing of the birds, our alarm clock. Mostly we eat fish in the morning; freshly caught fish simmered in hugas bigas (the water from which rice is washed) with some slices of tomatoes or kamias, whichever is available. They call the dish sinabaw or sinaing sa kamatis. It goes without saying that the steaming hot rice is harvested from the nearby fields where we usually go after the morning meal.
The trip to the rice paddies is short. We just cross the asphalted road and climb over some rusty barbed wire. Immediately, the smell of palay pervades the air. Over us birds try to hover. The palay leaves sway with the summer breeze. Because it is the dry season, crossing the paddies is easier. The path is more solid and there are no leeches to watch out for. It’s a pity though that we cannot harvest some snails (kuhol) which abound in the fields when it rains.
As we get closer to the foot of the mountain, we are called by a neighbor who is harvesting some watermelons. As we step on the clearing, our feet almost get caught in the many twists and turns of the watermelon vines. Our neighbor opens up some and offers us the reddest of all. With no spoon or fork, we attack the juicy slices. Never mind the juices dripping down the sides of our mouth. The watermelons are sweet and cool, the perfect reward for sweaty bodies.
We decide to go up the little mountain farther up. The kids in the barrio often talk to us about the rows and rows of guava trees there. The birds, they say, were the ones who planted them. Talk about pollination the easy way. We are not disappointed. The guavas flail from the ends of the branches as if saying, “take me, take me now.” Of course, we take everything that would fit into the big of our shirt. We find out that eating guavas under the coconut trees can really be this enjoyable. The only problem is we forgot to bring drinking water. It is now time to search for some water. An artesian well in the mountain is out of the question. We look up for the answer. Buko juice or coconut milk.
Just around the bend a group of men are removing the husks of coconut. Beside them is a pit with pile upon pile of coconut meat inside. On top of it lay banana and coconut leaves. In a while, the whole mound is being smoked. The men are making copra, the province’s top source of livelihood. It’s just natural as every inch of land here is dotted with coconut trees.
The men, finding out that we are thirsty from exploring the mountains, offer us cool sabaw ng buko. First, they chop off a small side of the young coconut just to make a hole from which to drink from. Once we’ve finished the juice, we are given a spoon made from the young husk of the coconut. This we use to spoon out the young meat. As a bonus, we get to bring home tubo. It’s sugar cane, succulent and fibrous and prized among kids.
Before we know it, it’s time for lunch.
To talk about the hospitality of our hosts would be a cliche’. Vacating the master bedroom for the guests is somehow expected. Bringing out the Canon bedsheets and pillow cases bought through installment is also not surprising.
But somehow the true measure of being the best hosts is serving the place’s trademark dishes. Their biggest challenge: to make guest finish up a meal so new to them it is like an initiation. This lunch is no exception. Although it is no feast, the table looks full with all the food. There is chicken, vegetables and of course fish.
The chicken – salted and skewered – has been cooked inside a large Baguio Oil can with hot coals around it. A hole on top has been left for the stick to be turned around so all sides of the chicken will be done evenly. It cooks the way the turbo roaster does in modern kitchens.
The fish is not your ordinary market fish. It is called ganutan or porcupine fish. Usually grilled, the fish is also cooked in coconut milk with dilaw (ginger family which is orange in color) and tender buko strips. You can say it is very close to curry in taste and consistency. The thing is you need a lot of ganutan to be able to make a dish for people. Care in cooking is also observed as its spleen when not handled properly tends to burst and can make the dish bitter and fatal.
The vegetables look ornamental. They are after all from the fern family or pako, as they call it. The tender tips of the fern is picked. It is then boiled in coconut milk. Usually, snails are added for a more exotic taste. This time, however, smoked tinapa has been put in for flavoring.
It does not take long for all the food to disappear. Everybody eats heartily. Maybe it is the food, maybe it is the company. But we can say that the meal like this in a Filipino theme restaurant in the city can run into thousands of pesos. Here, it costs as little as appreciation and some smiles.
After a good siesta, food greets us again. This time it’s for merienda. It seems that while we are sleeping, our hosts are cooking non-stop. “Nais sya, paminsan-minsan lamang kami nakapaghanda ay,” (Never mind, it is not often we get to have a feast) one of the older women says. How can we refuse? The food not only smells good, it looks particularly interesting, too.
There is sinalab. It is like a paper-thin pancake consisting of overripe saba or latundan mixed with flour and some buko slices sandwiched between two banana leaves. It is then placed in a big carajay and turned over from time to time until both sides of the leaves are brown and wrinkled. It is a sign that the sinalab is cooked.
Another one is the niyubak (or nilupak in some Southern Tagalog provinces). Boiled green sabas are pounded with a lusong (pestle) together with grated coconut and sugar. For a sticky consistency’s signal of a good niyubak, the bananas are pounded one by one while the coconut is gradually mixed with them. Brown, not white, sugar is best because it provides a thicker, more molasses-like taste to it.
It goes without saying that we all enjoy the food. Downed with buko juice or gulaman (they always give us options), the merienda proves to be heavenly.
|Tall Tales Under Tall Trees
With nothing much to do that afternoon, we decide to hang around with our hosts.
Talking to people, they say, is the best way to know them. And as bonus, you get to learn about their culture, too. Besides the beautiful beaches, Marinduque offers its own peculiar lifestyle.
Sitting under the tall mango tree, we exchange stories about life. As barrio folks, they are particularly interested about the city. And because we’ve stayed in the city for a long time, we wonder how life in the countryside goes. They marvel at the traffic, the buildings, the planes, the elevators, the restaurants in Manila. Stories about people who win lotteries fascinate them. Kababayans who make good there and come back aloof and snobbish annoy them. But tell them about the stressful city life and they are quick to realize how much more calm and simple their lives are.
Ay na, pakiramdam nami’y anong daming pera sa Maynila. Kaya pag may nagpunta dining tagaroon ay agatingnan ka talaga!” (We feel that the people who come from the city have a lot of money. That’s why when they come here, they get stared at.)
We really don’t mind being stared at but we prefer that they tell us more about their province, we say. We add that although the city folks like us seem to believe only science, we miss out on the mystical, mysterious side of things. And that’s how the stories begin to tumble one after the other.
Maigi’t hindi kayo naengkanto noong uwi nang anong gabi na.” (You were lucky no one put a spell on you when you went home late.)Our female host is referring to the night we came home late with the fisherman. She continues to say that many of their neighbors have lost their way back home. Surprising because that’s the road they take everyday to work and back. What happens is that while you feel that you have been walking to your destination, you’re just going around the circles. Lucky if somebody sees you. But the only other option you’ve got is to wear your clothes inside out.
It is our last day and we cannot leave without going to the beach.
The beach is quiet. The waves as if matching the mood are like ringlets – rolling but not rumbling. They create a glockenspiel-like accompaniment to the sea breeze that happilly blows this day. The sky is a friendly cool blue.
What we love so much about the beaches in Marinduque is that shells abound by the shore anytime of the day. We have monopoly of them now, especially the moon-like ones which move when you put them in a dish with vinegar. The pebbles are now out, round and smooth so that walking on them feels like a massage. The sand is equally friendly to the feet. It may not be the whitest but it is so far the cleanest we have seen.
The water is another treasure. It is cool; cooling may be the right word. It seems not to absorb the hot rays of the sun when it is at its peak. It is like there is a separate underground source for the water.
It is very clear too, not the white-clear color of some beaches. It is cool green. To the right of the beach when we face the sun, we see the outline of the reef. So blessed are we that we don’t have to go far to enjoy the marine life in the reef. We can just walk to it. We even sit on top of the gigantic corals there. And we feel a little bold, we skinnydip. The schools of fish act like shields from the ticklish feel of the weeds. It is here where we also wait for divers for their catch. More often than not, we get rewarded. The fish abound.
Lunch is brought to us. We eat with our hands. Food is laid out on two layers of coconut leaves. Like a luau, it offers us a chance to eat slowly while breathing in the breeze.
Towards the afternoon, we stay in the waters until our skins are wrinkled. We hie off to the nearest artesian well and rinse off the salt from our bodies. The nearest hut becomes our lodging; we doze off and awake refreshed.
It is nearing sunset. The colors in the horizon are now in chaos. Purple, red, orange, gold and yellow all at once mixing with the skies. The glimmer of gold lines the sea. The waves are beginning to rumble, screaming for attention before dark sets in.
We are misty-eyed. We start out only wanting to embrace the beach for ourselves. But we leave embracing a life that is now a part of us. – Wilgrace P. Maglalang (Second Prize, Travel Now Contest)