Monday, August 2, 2010

Act Three: Romblon in the Bronx

(I’m lump-summing my vacation days and taking a three-week-plus trip around Luzon and the Visayas. Instead of synthesizing it all and writing a complete travelogue, I’m taking the easy way out and just posting notes I jotted down along the way. They’re grouped by location and are not necessarily chronological.

Part Three: lovely Romblon province and my return to Iloilo. Contains no Bronx.)

After seeing that Romblon town is little like I imagined I realize that actually it’s just as I expected – pretty and everything lowkey, graded streets leading up to lush hills and a coastal road hugging cliffs to the west. A very clear contrast between the reaction of people in the town center (indifferent) and those just outside (curious and unfailingly friendly). An overzealous mother has already offered her daughter to me (“She likes you,” “She doesn’t know me” – my standard smile not missing a beat of the familiar rhythm) but my favorite part of the day was the formal and practiced “Good afternoon, sir” from a passing schoolgirl walking home with a shyer buddy.

A startling moment in the ferry CR last night when I turned my head and caught a blazing orange sunset through the open porthole – and if the door’d had a more reliable lock I might have stayed a few minutes to catch the light sink below the ocean horizon. But my presence on the ferry from Batangas (which came complete with three bagged roosters courtesy of the rider directly in front of me) was already conspicuous and I wanted to give them no extra reasons to snigger at the outsider.

Of the towns I‘ve visited on this trip – and possibly of all the towns I’ve been to in the Philippines – Romblon is already my favorite. I had coffee at a (more or less) seaside cafe this morning, the Romblon Deli, and watched the locals go about their business. After a long stroll along the coast I’m lying now on the sand in some unmarked cove – there’s a little island jutting out of the water just offshore and I’m dying to explore it, but swimming out would mean leaving my stuff behind on the shore and I’m not about to risk that. In any case, it’s still pleasant to look at. The coast here is more like El Nido than Siquijor or Pagudpud, with islands drifting offshore in every direction. As a result, the water is calm and flat – fairly rocky too – and the islands create a beautiful panorama.

Just finished The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse, a bad popculture novel in the sorry tradition of most music writing since the 60s. Preying unapologetically on played-out celebrity caricatures – the phrase “pulled a Federline” grated particularly – and culture/trivia nuggets notable only in their blandness and general irrelevance to the story, the author builds a case of edginess betrayed by its own desperation. Nothing fits, nothing surprises and, worst of all to a book that attempts to be a comedy, nothing is funny. Books whose back covers purport them to be collections of contrived and absurd characters and situations…. are usually faithful to those synopses.

30-second exposure; the spots are the lights of Romblon town at night
But I have read some good books during this trip. Herzog was the first work I’ve read by Saul Bellow, and is excellently written even if its messages are somewhat doubtful. Brick Lane by Monica Ali manages the rare trick of undermining expectations without going through silly contortions to do so. Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos is infuriating and thought-provoking. I could never get into Nabokov’s Pnin, though, and Cup of Gold – Steinbeck’s first novel – had none of the depth of his masterful later work. In-between the new stuff I also reread Big Sur, my favorite by Kerouac: it’s a book that dredges the depths of human paranoia perhaps better than anything else I’ve ever read. I found The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay on a book-exchange shelf here in Romblon town and I’m fighting the urge to add its bulk to my luggage; much as I love it, I have my own copy at home and it won’t be that long before I can read it again.

Add to the list of things I won’t miss about the Philippines: ratty possibly rabid dogs aggressively guarding the best bits of beach.

And to the things I will miss: outrigger bangkas, whether they’re puttering along cutting through the sea or moored in the harbor with a troupe of kids fishing off the pontoons. Maybe nothing is more Filipino Modern than the jeepney, but give me the ropes and bamboo of a bobbing bangka for a symbol.

Left Romblon town this morning with a real twinge of regret – even walking to the port I half-hoped the boat had already left and I could spend another day relaxing along the waterfront with coffee from the Book Cafe. Seems a bit daft, I suppose, to be leaving a place I like for somewhere else, especially when I probably won’t be able to visit Romblon again – but then, I won’t be able to visit other places at all if I forgo them now, and somehow that seems the greater error.

I literally don’t know where my ferry is headed. I’m pretty certain of the island, but it could be docking at any town thereof. Now, that’s fine. Two years ago it would not have been so.

Kind of a lovely damp ferry ride this morning and at the end a big barracuda hauled up by the crew to much fanfare – nothing but grey drizzle on all sides until the coast loomed up out of the mist. And the owner of my current accommodation hosted a Peace Corps volunteer back in the 80s.

It’s all just regional bias, I’m sure, but I can’t help but feel confirmed in my preference for the Visayas over Luzon. Even though I enjoyed much of my trip up north, the central islands have a different feel. Maybe it’s just because they’re broken up by water, but they feel more varied. Luzon was one identical town after another, particularly in its interior – I missed the ferries, the trying to figure out how to get from one place to another without a simple bus solution. And the Visayas are frequently and undeniably gorgeous.
Bought my ticket for Japan on Friday – or rather, Chris did at my request. Cebu Pacific of course chose the one stretch of time during which I’m far from a booking office to start (and end) their promos. So I’m flying to Osaka on November 9 and spending all the money I saved with the promo ticket on an extra day in Japan, since the tickets for Nov. 10 were already sold out. (But compared to what I would have spent on a Northwest ticket straight to Tokyo on November 11, I saved over $200.)

And now I’m back again at my little house in Iloilo, with three months of service ahead of me and lots of weird, fun, exasperating and interesting experiences behind. Some bits of my long trip flew by too quickly, and other times an hour seemed stretched into ten; the amount of time I spent traveling by bus, ferry, bangka, jeepney and tricycle would be ridiculous were I to sum it all up. (I did, and it is.) But “ridiculous” is just an observation, not a judgment. Of course in some ways it’s certainly a relief to be back at site, where I can already feel the tendrils of routine winding around my life. As is generally the case, though, I picked up a lot on my way up and down the country.



Naquillity said...

your photos and writing are so nice to sit down to. your adventures seem to be shaping into a nice memory or two. hope all is well.

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