Monday, June 29, 2009

Saving Sangyaw

"Behind the tough Waray exterior is a very generous heart. A Waray invites strangers to his home to partake of food on his table during a fiesta.

I regret having to leave yesterday, the eve of the city’s fiesta, a much-celebrated event in the Tacloban calendar.

But if ordinary Taclobanons are magnanimous, their leaders are petty.

Pettiness is nowhere more evident than in Mayor Alfred Romualdez disallowing the holding of the Pintados, a parade where participants, their faces painted, dance in the streets much like Aklan’s Ati-atihan, last Saturday, three days before the fiesta.

Romualdez did not honor a court order lifting his ban on the holding of the yearly parade.

The parade organizers, however, held the parade anyway in complete disobedience to the mayor’s order.

City policemen, ordered to block the parade, would have clashed with fellow policemen assigned in the province and the regional command who escorted the Pintados revelers, but did not.

Why did the mayor try to prevent the holding of the yearly parade?

Because he had his own parade similar to the Pintados—the “Sangyaw.”

Pintados is sponsored by the provincial governor, Jericho Petilla, whose family is an arch political rival of the Romualdezes.

Politics is supposed to make people magnanimous, but in Tacloban City, it has made a petty tyrant.

The great politician, Daniel Z. Romualdez, once a Speaker of the House of Representatives, a grand-uncle of the mayor’s, must be turning in his grave."

- Petty Politics in Tacloban City by Ramon Tulfo

Nothing like a controversy to spice up an event. My friends and I spent much of yesterday, June 29, sunbaked in the streets of Tacloban (with a few minutes of rain shower as we waited outside the Balyuan Amphitheater) for the Sangyaw Festival. This would be the second year running that Mayor Romualdez is reviving this event.

The conflict between the city and provincial government has somewhat split the fiesta celebration: the Petillas with their own events at the Pintados-Kasadyaan park and at the Leyte Sports Development Center, and the Romualdezes at the Balyuan amphitheater and at the Tacloban Convention Center. During the Ginoong Leyte pageant sponsored by the provincial government, the emcees neglected to mention the big event happening the next day- the Sangyaw, which is an initiative of the city government. In turn, the city-sponsored events also snubbed festivities sponsored by the provincial government.

This is so unfortunate, not to mention embarrassing for both government leaders. They all talk about unity and peace all the time, and yet their actions speak otherwise. The celebrations have been tainted by politics, and political giants joined in to push their agenda: Imelda hinting that Bongbong Marcos might run for the senate, Manny Villar and Senate President Enrile also made themselves visible for the 2010 elections.

Excuse me, but isn't the celebration to honor Sto. Nino? Isn't the whole point of the Pintados-Kasadyaan and the Sangyaw to showcase and enrich the Waray and the Filipino culture in general? With all the fuss going on, we must have forgotten what the events were really about.

In spite of everything though, both festivals were very successful. There were two categories for Sangyaw- the School category, and the "Open category". Nine local elementary, high school, and colleges vied for the championship where the winner will receive 200 thousand, plus more prizes in special awards. The Open Category- with contingents coming from neighboring Naval, Biliran and Basey, Samar- to as far as Isabela in Luzon and Surigao in Mindanao. The first prize for the open category gets half a million.

The Balyuan amphitheater was overflowing with people (another unfortunate consequence of the political rivalry- the only decent place that could hold thousands of people comfortably would be the "grandstand" or the Leyte Sports Development Center, which is under the provincial government, so the Sangyaw was a no-no there), yet most stayed on even during the rain just to watch the performances.

The most noteable were the ones from Isabela, Basey, and Surigao. The crowd went wild with Banigan (Basey, Samar) Festival's complex dance routine which was flawlessly executed, with costumes made entirely of banig (native mat from which the town is known for), and stunts which had the crowd shrieking to no end.

Hands down for me, it was Surigao's Bonok bonok Maradjaw Karadjaw Festival that was the winner. Their metallic costumes shimmered (they had the advantage of being among the last to perform at sundown which upped the drama factor in their routine) as they danced in unison to the drum beats. Their spectacular dance ended with a long banner which said, "Godbless Tacloban" to which the crowd clapped and cheered to.

In the middle of the crowded amphitheater overlooking Cancabato Bay sometime during sundown, I really got to realize how much religion is rooted in our culture as Waraynons and Filipinos in general. I said a silent prayer of thanks and smiled to myself- in spite of controversies and whatever trials we Leytenos face- we gather, young and old, rich and poor, to celebrate and pay homage to our patron who watches over us.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wow Leyte!

Since early June, tensions were brewing between the City Government (headed by the Romualdezes) and the Provincial government (headed by the Petillas). The word on the streets were: the Pintados-Kasadyaan Festival had been canceled. Let me give a brief history- when the Marcoses were still in power, Imelda started a festival for Tacloban named Sangyaw. After they were removed from Malacanang, the Pintados Foundation took over and held the Pintados festival the day before the city fiesta. Since we moved to Tacloban in 1988, I can remember the Pintados festival being one of the highlights of the celebration- I myself took part in the parade during our high school days in Leyte High.

Just recently, Mayor Alfred Romualdez tried to revive the Sangyaw- but understandably Pintados had become much, much bigger in scale and relevance, and Leyte had been known nationwide for the latter. This year, the date for the Pintados parade had been moved several times- rumors even spread that the city government refused to give permit for the parade (all roads within the city are pedestrianized, and only official vehicles and ambulances are allowed), and that if the Petillas insist on holding the festival on the 29th, a court battle would ensue.

It was settled then that the Pintados would take place on the 27th, and the Sangyaw on the 29th, preceding the June 30 Sto.Nino of Tacloban Fiesta. The night before, my friends and I were still asking around if the festival was really pushing through, and decided we go downtown anyway next morning to find out.

By 8am of the 27th, I was stuck in horrible traffic because all roads were off limits from the old Sagkahan junction. Right then and there, I knew the Pintados festival was going to push through. I walked the length of Real St. and as the drumbeats and trumpets sounded- the colorful parade began.

It was not until the parade was done that I was able to find my friends in the crowd, we were off to Leyte Sports Development Center ("grandstand", where the Palarong Pambansa was held this year) for the performance of the contingents.

The Pasaka Festival of Tanauan, Leyte was declared the champion- combining a flawless routine, vivid storytelling through dance, stunts, props, confetti, and believe it or not, a live Sto. Nino being hoisted above the near-hundred dancers using hydraulics during the finale. They won half a million pesos, and will be joining the Buyugan Festival of Abuyog- the defending champions of the Aliwan festival.

In my opinion, no matter how flawless the other dancers are, no one can beat the "cute factor" of the Buyogan kids. Imagine, seven year old kids dressed as bumble bees dancing on a beehive (and the stunts!). They were the last to perform, and from start to finish all you hear are either shrieks (from the stunts), oohhs and aahhs from the dance routines, and of course coos from the cute kids.

We'll see this Monday, if the Sangyaw can outdo the Pintados. Seriously though, if the Mayor and Governor are reading this- peace! Work together instead of competing, after all Taclobanons are Leytenos and these festivals are both in honor of Sto. Nino. Proud to be Leyteno, proud to be waray!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Extraordinarily Ordinary Story

Her story is the stuff of telenovelas. At a young age, her father died, and since her mother was also jobless, she was sent to live with an aunt who promised to send her to school. She packed what little belongings she had, and left her mother and siblings. Unfortunately the aunt lied, and she was instead sent to work in the fields.

After several years of enduring this, another of her mother’s siblings promised the same thing, and thinking she would finally be given the chance to continue Grade three, she went willingly to Alang-alang, Leyte. Alas, she was instead turned into a maid and yaya- and without pay! This aunt was even worse, maltreating her and leaving her to eat only rice and dried fish all the time- and sometimes their leftovers. There was even an instance where she was sent to sleep outside the house, upon one of her aunt’s whims.

Seeking to escape, she did the neighbor’s laundry and earned twenty pesos every time. When able to finally raise money for her fare to go back home, she ran away but her pertinent belongings which included her report card, were left in Alang-alang.

Back home, it was the same story- extreme poverty which rendered her and her family hungry. Sometimes, they would make a few pesos by going into the fields to collect fallen coconuts and sell them at the market. Her mother remarried- but to a part-time laborer who beat her mother when he was drunk.

A distant relative of Nanay, an old maid who lived in her town took pity on the girl. They both decided to work as maids in a middle class household in Pastrana, but after three months and never receiving a single cent of their wages, they once again decided to leave.

Nanay pleaded our distant relative’s case- this old lady was hardworking (she once worked in Manila as a seamstress, according to Nanay) and could help around the house. The only thing was that she had the young girl in tow.

At first I protested at having to hire two people when we already had one maid at present. But Nanay said that we only had to pay minimal amount for the girl since, officially it was the distant relative we were hiring and that she just took pity on the girl’s situation.

I finally consented. They started working at our house in Tacloban- this girl looked shockingly young (because of the previous malnutrition, she has not developed normally, much like a nine year old kid who still looks like a pre-schooler because of poor nutrition) and dressed shabbily. My late mother took pity on the girl and bought her new clothes- she had in her possession only three underpants, two tattered shorts, and a few threadbare t-shirts.

And so she stayed with us- withdrawn and very shy at first, but eventually warmed up to our family, especially after taking active care of my year-old nephew. Of all our previous helpers (they’ve come and gone), she was the one who stayed. Honest, hardworking, and respectful of Nanay.

We’ve increased her wages several times- and just today, upon handing over her wages, she asked permission if she could go visit her family. She does this on a regular basis- buying rice, food, and toiletries for her family, and give 2/3 of her wages to her mother, keeping a mere 1/3 for herself. Now, she even is already sending two of her siblings to school, and told them to do well, as she never had the chance to finish even her Elementary education. She’s now 16 years old.

I persuaded her to continue her studies at the public school a stone’s throw away from our residence, but for a number of reasons she refused- partly, according to her, she’s too old, and is embarrassed to continue at this age.

A large number of Filipinos live in extreme poverty just like her family, without even having the chance to get an education and break the cycle of poverty. I count myself lucky to have been among those fortunate enough to have gone to school- and she certainly is a daily reminder to me that nowadays education is more of a privilege than a right.

I just thought sharing her story would be one way of helping people become aware of what the true state of our country is- as seen through the lives of ordinary rural folk. Her name is Angeline, but as she would gleefully insist, she still wants to be called by the nickname people at home call her- Umbang.

photo by: Harmut Scwarzbach

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Somewhere between nostalgia and my haste to move on, I got stuck. There was a time when the world was nothing more to me than a playground of my whims. Gone are the seemingly consequence-free days of adolescence, and the exhilarating first taste of freedom during one’s early twenties. What was once a seemingly endless pursuit of fun slowly gave way to the drudgery of work and responsibilities. When did it stop being fun, and start being burdensome?

Somewhere in a dumpster near my orthodontist’s office are my molars she extracted before straightening my teeth. Some skinny model in an ad reminds me I used to be able to eat as much and never gain a pound. And somewhere in a pile of mementos at the bottom of my closet are my old planners reminding me how busy I was with my old job- and photos to prove how happy I was. Remnants of things past.

Oh to be 24 again. When every Saturday night was spent either in a bar or in a resort, when every date was an exciting prospect, when I was willing to try the most outrageous outfit for a laugh…

Somewhere out there my first boyfriend still flashes that endearing yet empty smile. I wonder if he still travels a lot. And I wonder if they ever found the blanket I hid in the cabinet of the hotel that reeked of vomit one drunken night in Galera. My best friend and I have always planned to go back to the island where, back in the days, we were notorious party goers. But it never happened again.

Days of promiscuous dating. Of failed relationships and bad apartments. Of conversations over coffee with friends and officemates, comparing notes and trading gossip. I guess I should be past all that- after all I’ve survived everything, albeit a few scratches and heartaches- and with a few life lessons in tow.

Somewhere between now and the future, is an arduous journey I am willing to take, because I know it is time to move on. When I was very young, I made a list of varied jobs I had wanted to try (which included working in advertising, media, medicine, management) and one of the last on my list is to work in a cruise liner. That still sounds so incredibly exciting to me even now, but I know it is already far-fetched. Time has come to focus on a definite career path in the field I have currently, and finally chosen, and the time has come to work on long term goals.

I turn thirty next year, and that terrifies me a little bit. Ok, it terrifies me a lot. But for the record, I am ready to move in the right direction- as for my whims and those dreams of working as a seafarer? Let’s just say that ship has sailed.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Of Unconditional Love

We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved
Washed the dishes and put them away
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day
As the moon sets its sails to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still

You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're gone

There are girls who grow up strong and bold
There are boys quiet and kind
Some race on ahead, some follow behind
Some grow in their own space and time
Some women love women, some men love men
Some raise children, some never do
You can dream all the day never reaching the end
Of everything possible for you

Don't be rattled by names, by taunts, by games
But seek out spirits true
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
They will give the same back to you

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're gone

"Everything Possible" Words and music by Fred Small

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Life as an Econo-fare Plane Ride

A few days before classes officially start- and as the school year begins, it brings with it new pressures and hurdles. But for today, I was my usual wicked self- I was bored traveling by myself so I tuned in to my monologue:

Kaloka talaga it Econo Travel. Sugad it Business Class- dagko it seats, mahusay. An kanan Econo didto ha luyo, kulang nala Monobloc it am lingkuran. Bis man an mga sakay, baga nala gihap hin waray la. An usa nga Kano, naka shorts ngan sando nga buho-buho la. Lugar, ira ngay-an adto balay?

Harumamay kala nga an babayi nga ak sapit gin kuha an usa nga side han ak seatbelt! An iya la, kun mag crash hiya la masurvive kay tulo iya seatbelt. Karasa duklaton.
Magla-laptop unta ak, takay pag abre ko barahiboon pa- an kan Cindy, an ayam nam nga may Cataract. Waray ko nala ituloy- naggamit nala ak han notebook ko. Tutuo an ak usa pa nga sapit, sigi an kita ha ak. Gasi niya nagno-notes ak han demonstration han mga Flight Attendant. Bun-on ko pa hiya han ak tauyon nga fountain pen, bangin lugod hiya ma-tetanus. Eklavu! Nagsusurak gad la ak kanan research nam.

Pagkada han pagka-on, maupay an kapakiana ha Business Class. “Coffee, tea or juice, Ma’am?” “Would you want some crackers, Sir?” Uday, pagkadi ha am, gin labay-labayan la kami. Waray man la magpakiana kun gusto nam hin tubig (an dida la ha gripo).. Charing! Balit, maaram man ak nga tungod Econo an ticket waray talaga pagkaon.

OA gihap an iba nga kasakay nam. Para gutiay la nga turbulence… Nalisang lugod an Flight Stewardess, nasiring, “We’re just experiencing a bit of turbulence Ma’am.” Kun ako pa adto, sugad ti-crash na an eroplano mapasig-unahay ngahaw ak han parachute. Balaha nala kamo dida! Balit…

“We are making our final approach and will be landing shortly.”

Back to reality.

As I felt the plane descend, I felt both a twinge of fear and trepidation. I know in three days, I’d be back home, facing the unavoidable- ready or not. I also know there is a chance we could plummet to our deaths this very moment. But the silliness in me gets the better of things, and I try to think of the comic side of the situation.

Some people think fates determine the outcome of every situation- and that failure is sometimes inevitable. Some people believe it is all simply a game of luck and all they could do is dream of winning. I personally believe it’s simply a matter of keeping one’s head above the water. We cannot predict what’s in store ahead, and a bothersome Econo ride may be in order now and then, but as life reminds us- everything gets a little bit easier when you have a sense of humor.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Of Dewy Mornings and Impatient Patients

I am a morning person. It is the only time of day I can sit quietly in content, or feel the gentle breeze against my face when I go jogging. Early morning hospital duties and last-minute readings however, are constant interruptions to this rather peaceful habit of mine.

For someone who has not taken the Nursing profession to heart, I was not at all prepared to give up the easy delights of sleeping till late morning, or having some time to lounge about and watch television. I thought to myself: if I do decide to give those up, what do I stand to gain? Higher grades, or maybe a glowing recommendation? Unable to commit, this left me reluctant to face the rigors of Nursing school. But days spent learning the ropes in the hospital, of endless auditing and vital signs taking, of hurried lunches, or irate patients uttering unreasonable demands seems to have, if anything, found its way into a corner of my heart. Though I wouldn’t dream of feigning affection during an indwelling catheter termination or maybe a teeth-gritting skin test, I have come to understand and empathize with my patients.

They are human beings in various stages of illness, and as part of the health care team, I am there to assist in bringing them back to wellness (no matter how puny a student nurse’s contributions may be). I’ve learned to look past blunt and sometimes uncalled for remarks, because beneath that, I know they are simply afraid. Sickness manages to rob people of their vitality, and sometimes the sense of dread in them permeates into my guts. You can’t be a Nurse if you have no strength to empathize with someone who has cancer, or have the patience to deal with a squirming toddler who is terrified of a thermometer, or have the fortitude of going through a sixteen hour shift and still attend to the needs of your own family afterward.

Whoever said “Nursing is easy” was lying. The reality of the situation is that the profession is among the most underpaid and overworked in our country. But money matters aside, the real value of the profession is providing care to the sick in spite of dismal conditions.

I’ve learned to be a little bit stronger and, applying the concepts and principles taught in school, have the constancy to monitor my grandmother’s health, and be more patient of my two year old nephew’s tantrums, as I am aware that this is expected in their developmental stage. I’ve learned to clean bedpans and sputum cups, and I’ve learned to tell patients like it is, in order to orient them to the reality of the situation without sugar-coating. I’ve learned to do tasks that could otherwise be considered nauseating or even scary, but I do them anyway because it is necessary.

I guess those lazy mornings would never lose its appeal to me, but I don’t mind forgoing the extra hour of sleep, so long as what I do is fulfilling- never mind the side glances from some patients.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Photographs and Memories

I once remembered receiving a text message from an unknown number on my cellphone:

"I'm at the airport now, pick me up here."

I replied, "I'm sorry, your number is not on my phone book, may I know who this is?"


I was literally floored by the reply. Leave it to my Mom to give me a good surprise- she was on a two week leave at work and she decided to go home without our knowledge. Nonetheless, I was happy to see her at the airport that strangely sunny day in December.

I know the fare from Louisiana all the way to Tacloban wasn't cheap, so she must have had a very good reason for going home unexpectedly like this. Either I forgot the reason, or all I could remember was that she must have missed us very much, traveling thousands of miles just to see us.

I got my Mom's imprudent spending habits and this sentimental (sometimes to the point of being ridiculous) regard for family. You should hear us when we used to talk over the phone- more like a couple of friends than mother and son. One indicator of the bond between two people is the flow of conversation- and boy we could talk about anything and everything- from interior design tips to resorts, recipes to relatives, career paths and relationships...

Her mom, known to us all as Nanay, 83 years old and still kicking, considered Mama her favorite. Nanay was so heartbroken of Mama's passing that only months after, she collapsed from severe hypertension and was confined for two weeks at the hospital. I thought we were going to lose her too. She dreamed of Mama constantly, and we tried to comfort her- what pain must it have been for a mother to bury her daughter.

While I was looking at Mama's old photos I couldn't help but get a little misty. Her black and white photos from the sixties as a child till those college photos in the seventies showed a curly haired girl with a big grin slowly transform into a woman. She was thin (and with a pregnant belly- carrying the six month old Thadie) when she got married, and slowly gained weight as she got older and had four more pregnancies. I've seen her short haired, long haired, with make-up, no make-up, with people, and alone- smiling, frozen and forever smiling in those photographs.

Her laugh captured while she was slicing the two-tiered cake with Papa tells me she must have been so happy at that time. More memories come flooding of happy times with my Mom.

Even if we have hardships nowadays I never lose hope. Mama taught us family was always worth fighting for- and if I falter a bit now and then, I just look at the image of this smiling woman who loved us very, very much.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Queen of our Hearts

Forget Gretchen Barretto. Forget Angel Locsin. Forget Bea Alonzo. Those commoners pale in comparison with the dazzling creature known as Madame Auring. A pity they left her out in Preview Magazine's Manila's Most Beautiful Campaign two years running- the crime of the century!! No, they should reduce Ruffa and the others to 1 x 1 ID pics by the margins and have our pristine goddess at the center holding a scepter, and by scepter I mean penis.

Here she is on the cover of FHM, giving Katrina Halili a run for her money. After this, the magazine should devote itself solely to worshiping our naturally beautiful idol. Put her on every calendar! I won't be surprised if you see men jizzing in public places at the sight of her natural endowments. Hell, I bet she would be the next target for every pervert in the country to star in their next sex video!!! The NBI and police MUST join forces to round up these criminals before they lay a finger on the most beautiful Filipina alive.
Madame devotes herself to public service, here she is on a radio show that suddenly came alive with her presence. As a modern day oracle, she gives accurate predictions such as who would win Miss Universe. Sure, she said "Miss Valenzuela", but those imbeciles who chuckled should know- the joke is on them! Obviously they were too half witted to realize our all-knowing goddess have seen Valenzuela's imminent destiny of becoming a separate country.

The goddess' generosity is simply unparalleled. Unlike you and me, Madame spends time with the needy- in this picture, she stands right next to a plebeian. Our golden haired diva is not one to make judgments, she won't utter a word that your cheeks are too fat or you have body odor. Instead, she keeps that beautiful smile that can make angels sing.

We should forget about Loren Legarda as our candidate for the next woman president of the Philippines. Vote for Madame Auring! Heck, vote for her as Queen of the Universe!!! For a campaign song, she can use her Grammy winning classic "May Asim pa". The selfish bastards at the Grammys were too jealous of her beauty and melodious voice that they kept the awards to themselves. Preposterous!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Naked Chef Meets Fear Factor

Who said you need to spend thousands to experience a sumptuous meal fit for your epicurean taste? What I'm about to tell you is top secret- as in Maxim's in Paris have been begging me for this but I told them no, this is exclusively for my friends. If you are planning a lovely supper for a special someone, a friend, a nosy neighbor, or perhaps your most hated enemy, you're in luck.

Whip out the lampara and set the table for a simply divine dining experience. First, of course you have to prepare the following things:
1. Tokeneneng and kwek kwek
2. Lucky Me Noodles and Payless Pancit Canton
3. 4 sticks Isaw and Helmet
4. 2 sticks Atay, 2 sticks Adidas (don't forget to ask for sauce- usually pronounced "sows" in the streets)
5. Achara
6. 1 indian mango na may bagoong
7. Monay and dirty ice cream
8. Sarsi
9. 2 extra rice

To begin with (assuming you are already wearing your gown, or perhaps your shower curtain cleverly draped on your body like a Vera Wang cocktail dress), serve the Hors d'oeuvres- I mean the tokeneneng. Share the sauce or "sows".

Compliment each others appearance, blah blah blah. Now it's time to bring out the soup- the delicately flavored Lucky Me Noodles. Try not to eat too much because the pasta is coming next- and you now that instant pancit canton is the new ravioli!

The main course is Foie gras and some fancy meat, with very fancy red wine. Ok its really Atay, Isaw, Adidas, and kwek kwek with rice- but who cares about petty details, right? Enjoy, try to look poised as you bite off the helmet. Try not to look at the poor chicken's half-opened left eye. Don't forget the sows.

Continue your magical conversation over achara. Then for fresh fruit, have a slice or two of Indian mango. Share the bagoong. Then top off the exquisite meal with dessert- but nothing too common such as tiramisu or creme brulee. Yuck! Peons are feasting on those plain things in 5 star hotels- you are simply too jaded to be satisfied. So you settle with Monay ala mode. Yummy!

After supper, if you still haven't thrown up, or experience the symptoms of Shigellosis, or even had severe diarrhea and consequently had hyponatremia, you can savor the feeling of being a true food connoisseur. Bravo!

One Ticket to Paradise, Please

There is an urban myth in Leyte about a beach- better than Boracay, isolated and pristine, and teeming with marine life like dolphins and sea turtles. Last May we found out, it was not a myth at all but a sanctuary- a marine sactuary that is. The islands are known as Cuatro Islas, a friend told me, and they are off the coast of Inopacan, Leyte. During the last days of summer, me and my significant other, and a few friends decided to find this piece of paradise.

From Tacloban, we traveled by van to the town of Baybay, which is adjacent to Inopacan. The reason for the detour was that Baybay offered more choices when it came to hotel accommodations (unless one has camping equipment and would prefer to stay in the island- but more on this option later). The transport cost was 2,500 for the 14 seater van- although we were only eight people, but we didn't want to waste time by waiting for other passengers. We arrived at 8:30 am at Palermo Hotel after the one and a half hour travel.

The rates were reasonable at Php600 for four people (bunk beds), with hot and cold water, TV, and airconditioning. We dropped off our things and hurried to the port area. At this point, other than the prior reservations we made at Palermo, we no longer knew where or how to book the trip itself to the island since that kind of information is not available via the internet.

We ended up wasting more time asking pedicab drivers if they knew where the outrigger boats to Cuatro Islas where. In halting Cebuano, I managed to get the needed directions- go to the terminal to get a multicab to Inopacan, then from the wharf we can negotiate with boatmen.

The group was getting a bit frustrated by now. We ended up haggling with jeepney drivers of the price of "pakyaw" (meaning we pay fpr the entire trip, and again won't wait for other passengers). The final price was Php350, and so once again we hauled our beach gear and food to the jeep and got going.

It was 10:00am by the time we arrived at Inopacan. The next "tribulation" was haggling for the price of the boat trip. Initially the man told us Php3,500- which I promptly dismissed as bull. I mean, we once hired a small outrigger boat in Samar for island hopping for Php500. I'm not falling for this tourist trap. After a few minutes of Oscar winning acting, they finally agreed to Php 2,500 (that's a thousand off!). I wanted to push for Php2,000 but it was going too far, I mean they would all still be splitting that with the owner. Besides, our boatmen were nice enough to allow us to borrow a cooler for our drinks, and after buying ice, chips, and roasted chicken- we finally on our way.

The boat trip takes around 45 minutes. As it made the approach toward the islands, my breath was caught in my throat. The sandbars floated like illusions on the crystal clear waters. Right then and there I wanted to jump ship and wave goodbye to the others. But oh well, we managed to control ourselves and had enough patience to get off at the farthest, smallest island called Digyo. There were nipa huts in the island already, and the caretakers lived on the other side of the island (You can walk around in around 15 minutes). But from our hut, with the sandbar extending out to the clear waters- it seemed we had the entire island to ourselves.

The sights were certainly worth all the trouble! After taking about a thousand photos, we went snorkeling. Turns out, the marine landscape was even more arresting than the surface. The corals were alive, I've never seen so much live anemones and starfishes. And oh, in just waist-deep waters we met Nemo and friends (that's what we called the clown fishes and other brightly colored marine life). There were a lot of sea urchins,too so one had to be careful not to step on them.

The five hours we spent in Digyo proved too short, but at 5:00pm we had to pack up. The jeep we hired to take us to back to Baybay would be waiting for us by 5:30. And so we bid goodbye to the gorgeous island and our "colorful friends". And just as we thought the trip couldn't get any better, three dolphins swam alongside the boat. How's that for escort?

If you are planning on a trip to Cuatro Islas, the approximate cost per person is Php700 if there are 8 in a group- that is excluding food (we decided to bring our own for the picnic, although we did buy extra food at Inopacan town). If there are more people, then the amount would be a little smaller. Camping is not prohibited, but you must have your own equipment and most importantly your own drinking water because there are no fresh water sources here. And of course, there is no electricity so once your cellphone drains its battery that's pretty much it. Feel free to contact me for details, heck, I can't wait to go back there!


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