Thursday, December 09, 2010

essay flashback: blathering 'bout Batangas

[while backing up files, i stumbled upon some more of my old essays, most of which were published in (RIP). i wrote this essay in 2001 – long before my say-yes-to-anything phase, during which was coerced into climbing a mountain, going white-water rafting, zip-lining over giant trees, parasailing, and so on. i still don't think i can call myself adventurous but at least i am more willing to go out of my comfort zone. if anything, it ensures that i will never run out of stories. *booking the next flight out*]

Mesavenir: To chance badly
August 2001

Main Entry: mis·ad·ven·ture   
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English mesaventure, from Old French, from mesavenir to chance badly

I used to think that one of the best jobs in the world had to be TV host of some travel show, where he or she is paid to vacation (the concept drives me insane if I think about it too much) in exotic lands and experience various cultures firsthand. Of course, an even better job would be to get paid for becoming a veritable root crop subsisting on sodium-infused pseudofood, lounging on ultra-comfortable furniture that can double as a bed at any given time of the day (note to reader: this is a really nasty trick to achieve the desired word count and avoid the phrase “junkfood-addicted couch potato”). However, I seriously doubt that there is a big demand for this type of specialization.

A few summers ago, my sister and I discovered what would turn out to be one of my favorite travel shows on cable. It was called ‘Travelers’ and although there were just a few episodes that the Discovery channel just kept showing over and over until you couldn’t stand to see one more parade, I still watched every time. ‘Travelers’ featured six hosts – three males and three females – who were assigned to go all over the world, try to blend in with the natives and spew out witticisms every now and then. This child of the media was thoroughly entertained.

I haven’t really been all over the world, but I sometimes imagine I’m one of the hosts, presenting my travails with much spirit – anyone with half a brain would have a field day criticizing my misadventures. Looking back at the limited travel I’ve taken, I have to say that, all in all, I’m glad there were no cameras around. I admit it: I have chanced badly … and all too often.

I’ve observed that most of my mishaps involve just trying to move from one spot to another. Since when has getting from point A to point B gotten so taxing? For an urban-raised female such as yours truly, international travel is a breeze compared to traipsing in the native hills and fields.

In college, one of the courses required the class to spend a number of weeks in a rural area to carry out surveys and do a little medical work here and there. We were assigned to live in Laurel, a Batangas municipality that Tagaytay overlooks and from where you can almost smell the foliage off the side of Taal Volcano. Forgive me – my poetic license expired a year ago.

Looking back, I’d have to say that my whole Laurel experience was like an unplanned, low-budget Traveler’s episode. Sure, we weren’t really there to lounge around, but technically, there WAS some travel involved. To this day, I still cringe at how I made a fool of myself in what was supposed to be a simple trip to the province.

Now, in true ‘Traveler’ form, I reduce part of my life to subtitles, hoping that these would lend some mystery to an otherwise clumsy existence.

The joyless ride.

Laurel was still a good half hour away when I felt an all-too-familiar sensation in my intestines. All adjectives escape me now as I reminisce the horror of the longest car ride I had ever taken in my whole life: I felt like I was going to die.

My friends and I had each ingested – inadvertently, of course – a fair amount of a spoiled kaldareta (lamb stew?) the day before. Consequently, some of us had to wake up in the middle of the night just to purge out the evil spirit that was dinner. A few did it just before breakfast. Sadly for me, the exorcism just had to kick in during a bumpy ride with no promise of running water within 5 minutes.

With nothing but houses and trees in sight (I was expecting a gold-plated toilet bowl in the middle of the road), I considered the options. Should I a) drown in my own cold sweat and pray that my friends wouldn’t reveal the cause of my demise at my funeral? or b) abuse the kindness of total strangers by polluting their humble abode?

You can guess which choice won. I pulled it off successfully, with the help of a fiercely loyal friend who animatedly distracted the homeowners while I was transported back to the land of the happy.

I suddenly remembered that I promised to take this story to the grave. Too late for that now.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls. 

During the third or fourth week of our Batangas stay, my friends thought it was a good idea to go to the hidden waterfall everyone was talking about. Wary of any form of outdoor activity, I asked if we would have to hike to get there. I was assured by my foster parents that the number of people who trek to the falls every day have already cleared a nice, clean path. I grudgingly joined my nature-loving friends.

As sure as my step is not, I found myself half-crawling, half-falling on moldy rocks and sharp wild greenery only meant to be looked at, not to be used as an indigenous substitute for dermabrasion. The “nice, clean path” was nowhere in sight and so were all the gentlemen.

Finally, someone noticed that I was lagging by about twenty paces behind. It was my gay male classmate who I barely knew. It was a rather endearing vision: my skinny companion telling me, someone twice his girth, where to put my foot next, catching me when I’d take a wrong step, encouraging me that our goal was nearby. With his trusty walking stick – a sturdy branch he found earlier, he looked more like a starving hermit than anything else, but to me he glowed like any personal savior would. I offered him marriage and my lifetime admiration, but something told me he wasn’t really interested.

P.S. The waterfall was okay. Wet rocks. Clear water. Soap suds from weekend laundry.

An ant-ic that brought the house down.

It was a windy morning. Together with my groupmates, I was trying to get to a teeny house in what seemed like the middle of Taal lake. We were conducting a survey of the area and unfortunately (for me), that residence was included in our area of responsibility. To reach the isolated family, we had to cross narrow soil walkways (no, that’s not what you call them), surrounded on both sides by fish pens. I suddenly knew why I had nagging doubts about wearing shorts that particular day.

I bravely took my first few steps and realized that I was swaying dangerously in the rough winds from the lake. “I am a gymnast. I am a gymnast.” I repeated those words to myself as I kept my eyes on the serene volcano nearby, hoping against all futile hope that my body would be convinced that I can saunter effortlessly across. Going at the rate of a step a minute, I watched my classmates take the last few steps and land on the patch of land where the house was. At least I wasn’t alone – I was clutching the shirt of my friend in front and my other friend behind me really had no choice.

Without warning, my right foot slipped into the murky water. Trying to regain my balance and whatever was left of my poise, I scrambled back to the path, this time finding my damp foot wedged squarely in the center of a huge anthill. With a piercing scream that drove most of the Batangas chickens into catatonia, I, along with my two friends and a couple million blazing red ants now affixed on our bare legs, bounded across what was left of the path. It took us around three huge leaps. And I thought it only happened in cartoons.

As I always try to learn from whatever situation I find myself in, I focused on what falling into an anthill has taught me. Sure enough, my mental efforts paid off. I discovered that isopropyl alcohol does a better job of increasing the redness of each ant-bite wheal than it does delivering stabbing pain throughout the length of both my legs. To celebrate the moment, my two forgiving friends and I took an unflattering picture of our lumbering polka-dotted legs to remind us of why we should always give our farmers and fishermen the respect they so deserve.

After 3 years and several other out-of-town disasters to my name, I can say that there is so much more to experience in the world. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what the Discovery channel is for.

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