“We are all whitewashed,” Shane admitted. Godo dismembered the bihag we bought from the cockpit. He poured water into the basin, rinsed the meat, and poured the water into the sandy ground. The boys stared at the meat in all its grandeur. Or gruesomeness: bones, flesh, blood. While for them—Tupe, Freyal, Godo—it was just the usual bihag they had every Sunday. It was nothing short of ordinary.
Poultry, on the other side of the world, is boneless—the boring tenderness of meat, they said. Years ago, someone spitted out the tinolang manok upon feeling the hardness, the finiteness of a bone.
“There’s a bone!”
I met his surprise with my own.
Jordan, one of the fine young Canadians, mused they must be too used to their banality—the Western kind of banality—that other worlds’ grossed them out. Like the dismembered bihag we were preparing for adobao. The essentials were present: a portable charcoal-fed hearth, a sooty wok, a pail of water, onions, garlic, oil, and sili. The Canadians took turns in riding the horse and grating the coconut. Freyal had a hard time explaining “kudkoran” to them: this object, like many others, that does not exist in their world.
I wonder how we ended up here in Dancalan. All of us came to Donsol for its whale sharks. Jordan left college to travel the world, which I thought a wise idea. He occupied the room next to mine. We met Jason and Shane at the short bridge to watch the fireflies. It did not come as a surprise anymore—how an ordinary summer scene on the malatamban tree in our yard became a P300 attraction.
I could not remember the last time I saw a constellation of fireflies. It has been a while. We abandoned the house, and the malatamban tree had been cut down.
The stars from the surprisingly clear Sorsogon sky one April night and the fireflies shared the same luminance. Some stars from the galaxies must have decided to fly down, mortalize themselves into fireflies, and constellate on one mangrove tree. The tree was too fulgent it felt like Christmas in the night of utter darkness among nipas, mangroves, and bewildered tipsy tourists by the estuary.
Shane, Jordan, and Jason in their early twenties pursued exoticness such as the tagays, fireflies, and cockfights.
Freyal, the Rastafarian-looking among the drivers, educated the Canadians on the ways of betting. It was either they really understood or they were good at pretending.
“This is exotic!” Jason, the youngest of the three, exclaimed. He was on a winning streak. He just won another P500 for betting on the inilog, the advantaged cock. We stationed on the makeshift bamboo benches by the mango tree with a bottle of Red Horse in one hand.
It was a masculine cacophony of “Biya! Inilog!” Jugular veins jutted out. Fists flew in the air. Peso bills were passed around. Roosters performed their very own death ritual.
It is a sport of sheer luck. After all, the roosters are not learned on how to employ the tari attached to their left foot. It is a sport banking on coincidence—hitting the enemy’s neck first. I then learned how Westerns defined exotic. The brutal, the real, the brutally real is exotic. Like cockfights. Or perhaps their pursuit of exoticness is my pursuit of sublimity.
While the young Canadians marveled at the sheer exoticness of the experience, I flinched everytime a rooster collapsed, or everytime blood gushed out from its neck. That look of death—too sudden, fleeting. The rooster’s body trembled uncontrollably: the seizure of death. While the gamblers shouted their lungs out, the body furiously bleeding suddenly stopped moving. It was the only stillness in a cockpit of swears, sweat, and shouts. Stillness is the definite claim of death.
Cockfighting is not, can never be a sport for the weak.
The cock’s owner shook his head and handed a thousand to the masyador, the middleman, Kristo, the Christ of the Sunday school of gamblers. A cockpit is not the rightful place for regret. There is no middleground, no what-ifs, no afterthoughts. It is the place where shaking one’s head is an admission of one’s defeat. End of story.
I wonder how we ended up at the cockpit here in Gura. All of us came to Donsol for its whale sharks: Shane and Jason from CamSur, Jordan from Bulacan, me from Legazpi. We were outside our resort when the tricycle drivers invited us for a tagay: a concoction of gin and powdered pineapple juice. To cleanse the interior of the bottle, someone lit it up with a lighter. Tambays know their bottles well. Alcohol, according to the boys, was expensive in their country. It was dirt cheap in the Philippines. It was just apt for them to stay intoxicated all day long.
On our way to Godo’s place at Dancalan, Jason rode atop the tricycle and went ballistic that momentarily reminded me of the dying rooster in the cockpit. Later that night, they looked for ghanja, and Freyal thought I would find them offensive. The young Canadians allowed themselves to be crazy. Why would not I? We were traveling.
There are versions of ourselves that we completely allow, accept when we are on the road. The road becomes a theater or Hollywood, and the traveler is an actor who assumes varied characters along the way.
I wonder how we ended up at Dancalan, eating adobao that Tupe cooked for us. All of us came to Donsol for its whale sharks. Yes, we did. Yes, we did encounter Donsol’s butandings.
The boat glided patiently on the water. Two boatmen were at the vantage point—at the top of the boat—looking for the bus-like shadow lurking underneath. For the past two hours, the gentle giants were elusive. It would only surface for few seconds before disappearing into the great abyss. Their elegance was sublime. An encounter with the butandings was so sublime it terrified me. How could too massive a creature, as big as a bus, glide into the water without creating any turbulence? How could it swim effortlessly, silently? Is weight not a burden?
It was difficult to swim along with it. It was too fast for its size. It was too swift I momentarily doubted that I really saw it, if not because of the blurry pictures from my unreliable underwater camera.
On our way to this part of Sorsogon waters, it was equally sublime to see a butterfly flying across the bay, against the wind, flying alongside our boat. How could so small a creature have the arrogance, the grit to cross the bay with its fragile wings? Is vulnerability not a burden? We were all floored. Everything felt so surreal then: the butterfly above the bay and the butandings underneath.
While lounging in our individual room’s bamboo veranda in our first afternoon here, Jordan said the water was beckoning for a swim.
“Look at that! Beautiful,” he said.
“Yeah. But,” I paused, “Wait, till you’ve seen other places like Coron,” I smiled. He might get Philippine-washed: too used to the beauty of our white sand beaches that it takes a second look or three to appreciate places for their physical attributes.
I wonder if I could apply this to myself: I, the one who easily falls in love with places. After our chitchat, Jordan went back to his room while I waited for the dusk: the moment when everything turned golden, the moment time seemed slower, the moment everything was at its most vulnerable. The sun turned into a dot and cast an elongated line ashore. It looked like an i. The sun glazed Sorsogon’s fine black sand with its honey-like hue.
We turn the banal into the sublime and sell it to the foreign and to ourselves.