Marooned: A Calayan Experience

When people talk about a trip to Calayan Island, the topic of being stranded there for days never fails to creep into every conversation. Well, aside from the occasional sightings of whales and dolphins by some few — which has become the envy of many and one of several reasons why people still want to make the trip despite the “odds”, including myself.

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When the boat that will take you home decides to make a “no show”.

Indeed, the prospect of getting marooned on the island municipality of Calayan is very high. While the main cause of “lampitaw” trip cancellations is bad weather, erratic boat schedules come in close second. To date, there are about five or six passenger boats servicing the island — the M/B Rosario and M/B Lance (from Aparri) and the M/B Lagadan 1, 2 and 3 (from Claveria) — each with a capacity of about 30-60 passengers. Smaller fishing boats doubling as cargo/passenger transport also ply the route.

Stranded in Calayan: A deconstruction

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First off, forget doing a Tom Hanks when you find yourself on an “extended stay” on this island. It is not going to be a Castaway story nor a Survivor game. In fact, one of the most inimitable place to be stranded in is this quiet town of Calayan — its rolling hills, fine-sand beaches, clean crisp air and the slow, quiet pace of everyday life seem to drown all memories of metropolitan Manila, or whichever city you are from.

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One of several neighborhood grocery  stores in the poblacion.

The town of Calayan is a vibrant municipality where commerce is very much alive. There are small restaurants (check out San Jose Inn) and eateries or carinderias in and around the poblacion or Centro.

Potable water is also not a problem. Small sari-sari stores and neighborhood groceries line the main street, selling bottled water and other beverages, as well as canned goods and other food supplies.

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Buying a “portion” of this freshly caught talakitok from a fisherman.

Sadly, there is no public market here (not yet, anyway); however, you can get fresh fish and other seafood directly from the fishermen. You just have to wake up early in the morning to catch them offloading their “loot” after a night of fishing.

While it is true that there are no ATMs in town, it shouldn’t be a cause for panic, as there are several pera padala outlets where you can have some funds sent your way.

And if and when you do find yourself without a ride home on your supposed departure date after you have seen the sights, don’t fret. Calayan still has more to offer.

You can:

play hoops with the local Mythical 5 (er, 3?);

cruise around town on a kuliglig;

 or just watch the sun set (I’ll never get tired of this one).

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So, what am I tryna say here?

Don’t be hindered by the possibility “of being stranded” — plan that Calayan trip already! Ooooops… since “plan” has been mentioned, do plan your trip within the months of April, May, June*, July*, August* and, if you’re lucky,  even September*, which is usually the monsoon break. In fact, why not go in August and join in the town festivities during the annual fiesta and be among the spectators of the Comedia, Calayan’s answer to Marinduque’s Pugutan

… you might also be among the fortunate ones to experience what we did: rappelling down Tapwaken Cove!

Thanks to Daryl Comagon for facilitating this activity and our sincerest gratitude to Mayor Al Llopis for allowing us to scale down Tapwaken Cove.

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The T’Embang Gang (from R-L): Harry, Daryl, Angel, Mayor Al, Eric, Lex and me.

 

 

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* According to most locals we’ve asked, the weather in Calayan is generally fine during these months, except when there’s a brewing storm somewhere in the country, which makes the waves go berserk (like the ones we’ve encountered during our trip).

The Dreamweavers of Lake Sebu

National Artist Boi Lang Dulay

Boi Lang Dulay (August 03, 1924 – April 03, 2015) elevated T’boli weaving into an art form, earning for her the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan in 1998 for her outstanding craft and masterpieces that made the t’nalak – and the T’bolis – famous the world over.

The T’bolis belong to the many indigenous tribes or “lumads” that live in the hinterlands of the southwestern part of Cotabato. The T’bolis of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato are famous for their dream-inspired and spirit-infused weavings, raised to the level of art by the iconic Boi Lang Dulay, the 1998 Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan Awardee. Lang Dulay has designed and woven over 100 T’nalaks. She stopped weaving in 2011 due to advancing age and concentrated on designing. The last design she made was bought by the NCCA after she died.

The T'bolis are also well-known for their ornate and intricate brass and beadworks.

The T’bolis are also well-known for their ornate and intricate brass and beadworks.

The T’nalak is a deep brown cloth made from “krungon” or abaca fiber, tie-dyed with intricate designs and produced mostly by the womenfolk of the tribe. According to T’boli tradition, T’nalak designs have been passed down through generations and are revealed to the best weavers in dreams, brought to them by their ancestors.

The T’nalak is so ingrained with spiritual meanings that its production and use is surrounded by a variety of traditions and beliefs.  It is believed that in order to maintain the purity of their art, T’boli women must abstain from “worldly pleasures” while weaving a T’nalak. During weaving, one should not step over the loom, for doing so is to risk illness. Also, cutting the cloth, unless done according to the prescribed norm, will cause sickness or death; and if a weaving is sold, a brass ring is often attached to appease the spirits.

T’nalak production is labor-intensive, requiring both skills and knowledge, and learned at a very young age by the women of the tribe.

Along with the its world-famous T’nalak, T’boli music and dances are also among the indigenous cultural heritage being showcased in Lake Sebu.

The Taong Putik Festival of Aliaga, Nueve Ecija

Forget colorful costumes. Forget fancy dance routines. No streetdancing. No drums. No parties. This is one somber festival.

Devotees burn candles as offering to St John the Baptist.

Devotees burn candles as offering to St John the Baptist.

The Taong Putik Festival is an annual event held in Brgy. Bibiclat in Aliaga, Nueve Ecija. Celebrated every 24th day of June — on the feast of St. John the Baptist, who is also the barangay’s patron saint — the Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

As early as 3AM, devotees flock to nearby ricefields to bathe in the freezing waters and rub their faces, arms, legs and body with mud. Now draped in mud-soaked dried banana leaves or water hyacinths fashioned into cloaks — usually hiding their faces — the “taong putik” (loosely translated as “mud people”) go from house to house to receive donations of money and candles which they would offer during the mass.

The solemn celebration culminates in a procession around the small community, where the image of St. John the Baptist is paraded. In the afternoon of the 24th, the fiesta atmosphere begins, highlighted by a carabao race and other games.

Nature’s wrath or Divine intervention?

The Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

The Taong Putik Festival commemorates an event, which if wasn’t averted, would’ve been one of the bloodiest massacres in the annals of World War II.

1944. In retaliation for the killing of their soldiers by Filipino guerrilla fighters, the Japanese Army gathered all adult males in the village of Bibiclat for execution. Held in a small chapel, the men, fearful for their lives, began praying to their patron saint, St. John the Baptist, pleading for deliverance.

Before noon, the scheduled time for their execution, the men were led to the plaza where they were arranged in a single line, ready for the firing squad. As the executioners took their positions, a crowd of women and children gathered to witness the carnage. And as their lamentations and cries of woe echoed throughout the village, torrential rains blotted out the midday sun and drenched everyone in attendance. To the Japanese, this phenomenon indicated that even their gods did not approve of the massacre; thus, called off the firing squad, saving the men from certain death.

The people of Bibiclat erupted into jubilation, thanking St. John for causing the rain and saving the men.

And so began the “Taong Putik” tradition.

The Colors of Ati-Atihan

Hala Bira!The Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo is just one of many similar feasts* in the province of Aklan honoring the Santo Niño.

“Ati-Atihan” means “to be like the Atis” — the original settlers of Panay Island — and is characterized by a town-wide merrymaking and revelry, led by various “tribes” in colorful costumes and weapons and dancing to the beat of loud drums.

The Barter of Panay

Participants smear their bodies with soot.

Participants smear their bodies with soot.

Popular lore tells of a group of 10 Malay “datus” or chieftains fleeing from their homeland of Borneo and seeking refuge in the island of Panay. The group’s leader, Datu Puti, appointed Datu Makatunaw to negotiate a trade with the Ati chieftain: a golden salakot or kudong (native hat) for the Ati chief Marikudo, a long pearl necklace for Maniwantiwan, his wife; and brass basins and bales of cloth,in exchange for a parcel of land by the seashore for the 10 datus and their families to settle in.  Thus, the Barter of Panay was struck — a pact that transcended cultures and skin color.

Grateful for the Atis hospitality, the Borneans smeared their bodies with soot and ash from their cooking utensils to mimic the Atis complexion and to show their appreciation for their kindness.

The Infant Jesus and Ati-Atihan

The Ati and the Sto NiñoThe Ati-Atihan was originally a purely pagan festival practiced by the Atis and neighboring tribes.

When the Spaniards came, they began colonizing Panay and converted the natives to Roman Catholicism. The new faith was embraced enthusiastically by the Atis, where thousands came to be baptized — hence the town’s name, “KALIBO”, meaning: isa ka libo or one thousand, referring to the number of Atis baptized.

The event was celebrated with dances and loud banging of drums, with the Sto. Niño as the central figure.

 

The Ati-Atihan Today

Currently celebrated in honor of the Sto. Nino, the Ati-atihan has become a very lively and colorful fiesta!
* The towns of Ibajay and Makato also have their own Ati-Atihan Festival.

Ciao 2015! It has been a wonderful ride.

When asked, most people would say that the principal value of traveling is that it breaks the monotony of life and work.

Y’see, life, for many of us, is a mad rush. A dash from home to the office–from one place to the next. A sprint from one client meeting to a waiting company presentation–from one money-making deal to the next career-breaking move. Day-in, day-out we try to accomplish as many stuff as possible. Thus, traveling becomes a form of escape for the likes of us–a time to relax, reflect and ponder. Traveling gives us the opportunity to disconnect from our regular life and, for a fleeting moment, not think of any problems or issues for a few days (or weeks). Being away on a weekend can also afford us the much-needed time to help us figure things out that we would not have understood without the distance traveling can give. We all have crazy schedules, work, and a family to take care of and going away alone or with some friends gives us that break we rightfully deserve.

Very few find a great deal of informative value in traveling. More often than not, our focus centers on the promise of a fun-filled R&R, of selfies and jump shots. This is where I realized that a lot of people don’t seem to share some of my views about traveling. For me, it is very important to see and experience the places I visit from a local resident’s perspective. Traveling is an avenue for me to open my heart and mind to new things and explore different cultures and traditions; thus, experiencing life in new and exciting ways–widening my perspective about life, especially the life I have in relation to how other people live. If viewed with an open mind, it can help us change some of our habits or even create new ones…

Before I totally bid adieu to 2015, indulge me as I look back at the highlights of my adventures and travels:

Got on a road trip from Iloilo City to Cebu City, passing through Bacolod City, Sipalay, Dumaguete City and Badian.

“Traversed” North and South Mindanao, bringing me to Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel, Davao Oriental, Lake Sebu’s Seven Falls in South Cotabato, Asik-asik Falls in North Cotabato; as well as allowed me to revisit the majestic cascades of Maria Cristina, Mimbalot and Tinago in Iligan, and Tinuy-an in Bislig.

Scratched off a few more things from my To-Do list

Brought home these wonderful ‘loot’

 

Had some of my travelogues published

The year 2015 has indeed been one helluva ride!

Hmmmm…. now, where am I in the Lakbayan map:

My Lakbayan grade is A+!

Talakudong Festival: Wear Your Hat

The Talakudong Festival in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat is a neo-ethnic cultural extravaganza celebrating the city’s rich and diverse cultures and tradition. The spectacle is highlighted by streetdancing and a field demo competition, participated in by various elementary and high schools across the region. Dancers in colorful costumes don the traditional “kudong“–the Ilonggo term for salakot–adorned in indigenous trimmings, and comes in various hues and sizes.

Celebrated every 18th of September, this week-long festivity opens with a float parade and agro-industrial fair, showcasing Tacurong’s best agricultural and industrial products.

This bull’s for fighting

The Racuh a Payaman, popularly known among visitors as Marlboro Hills, is one of many communal pasturelands in Batanes.

The Racuh a Payaman, popularly known among visitors as Marlboro Hills, is one of many communal pasture lands in Batanes.

Livestock raising is one of Batanes’ major industries, apart from farming and fishing. Cattle, goats and carabaos, sometimes horses, freely roam the countryside–by the hundreds in some areas. That’s one reason why communal pasture lands, the most popular being the Racuh a Payaman or vast (racuh in Ivatan) graze lands (payaman) dot the Batanes landscape.

As in Masbate and Bukidnon, Batanes also boasts a rich ‘cowboy’ tradition; and in Brgy. Sanakan in Sabtang, instead of having a rodeo, bullfighting is one of the highlights of the local fiesta.

Each time they butt heads, a loud 'THUD' can be heard throughout the 'arena'.

Each time they butt heads, a loud ‘THUD’ can be heard throughout the ‘arena’.

I know, I know…. I also thought the ‘bullfighting’ the locals were talking about involves a matador. I was mistaken. Instead, their version of a ‘bullfight’ features two, well, raging bulls egged to fight each other until one quits or runs away.

The bull-fight ‘arena’ is set against a backdrop of the raging waves of the Sabtang-Batan Channel, away from more populated ‘centro’ (Oh, by the way, the term ‘populated’ is a misnomer in Sabtang, as the island municipality has only about 1,500 residents–men, women and children–as of the last Census of Population).

 

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