Thursday, November 1, 2012

№ 99. First Trip to Bicolandia

The Division of Public Schools used to disburse funds only from imperial Sorsogon, decades before ATMs became available in our sleepy town, Masbate. This meant that, to get their salaries, public school teachers had to travel for three hours by sea to Bulan, Sorsogon and another hour by land to Sorsogon City. My two aunts were no exception and had to make one of their long penitential treks to Bicolandia that summer.


I tagged along happily, of course. To a kid, any excuse to get out of his store duties for two full days was a welcome escape.

This was circa April 1983.

It was still a few months before the August 21 assassination. The country was still under the dying spell of an old regime. Just on February 9 of the same year, almost a third of our town was razed to the ground because, according to most elders, it was a "benediction." The "benediction" was, in fact, an incendiary cocktail of politics, a very dry spell (no waterworks system, no firetrucks), arson, and our luck that our Patron Saint wasn't a water bender.

We received our news about Reaganomics, Thatcher and the Falklands War and the Grammy's from Voice of America (VOA) broadcast over amplitude modulation. Our format of choice to enjoy Taps, Friday the 13th, E.T. and Annie was the Betamax. Yes, it was still the Dark Ages up until the late 80s, when Maselco turned off electricity at midnight.

We left very early. By 4 AM, we were allowed to climb aboard M/V Matea, probably a boat of World War II vintage. It was docked quietly in the dark corner of the pier, until "fuera visita" which roused the engine and almost everyone else (barnacles encrusted on the buoys included), to a noisy wakefulness. In my mind, I can still smell the burning crude oil mingled with the sea. It was a heady, salty sniff of freedom.

Despite it's rusty state, I was left without a doubt that the iron ship was seaworthy. Or, at least, unlike the outriggers dotting the bay, it was made of sterner stuff to ferry us successfully across the big gulf.

I recall hearing the news, many years after that summer, that M/V Matea sank somewhere off Ticao Island (Matea 2 was another experience at another time). Yes, the owner towed in a replacement vessel. Life as we knew it in our small island would, otherwise, have limped to a halt.

As an added treat, I also saw Mayon for the first time as we were sailing out of the bay to Ticao. The sight of the cone made the descriptions in our grade school textbooks dull, somehow.

Ticao, the second of the triune of islands that form our province, lies just across an even sleepier town---Bulan.

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