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“Logon?” An old man asked me—like others did—where I was going.

I shook my head.

“Leyte?”

“Malapascua,” I answered, somewhat tired of the guessing game.

“Ah, Logon,” he said—a fleeting delight like a beautiful memory—crossed his face. Locals especially the old ones, he then shared, insisted that Malapascua is Logon.

“So nganong gitawag man siya’g Malapascua? (So why it is called Malapascua?)” I asked interested in the two conflicting names.

“Ambot anang mga poreners, day (I don’t know with those foreigners, day),” he said with resignation in his voice.

“Magdive ka didto, day? (Will you go diving, day)” Tatay then asked. I answered no. Malapascua was only an excuse to leave the mainland Cebu, a sudden alternative after the scheduled Mt. Igcoron climb in Antique, Panay got cancelled due a typhoon—the same typhoon that hit northernmost Cebu.

I left the city at two in the morning and arrived at Maya a quarter before six only to be told that the first boat to Malapascua leaves at half past eight unless I hired a boat for myself, which would be equivalent to my entire budget for this island at Cebu’s tip.

Early in the morning, Maya’s port was all male—fishermen and port workers welcoming another day with a hit from a cigarette. I found a makeshift bench under a Talisay tree and tried to have a cat-nap. But the early male banter around me were not conducive to one.

“Mag-unsa man diay ka didto? (What would you do there?)” Tatay further asked. Whereas I would consider his asking intrusive back in the city, prying or plain curiosity of one’s plans and whereabouts is a countryside character in Cebu—a quality I packed with me when I started studying and working in the city.

“Wa sad ko kahibaw. (Even I don’t know)” I then smiled. Despite knowing that there might not be something else to do in Malapascua but seeing thresher sharks and manta rays, I still trusted my gut that an island has an inherent character of its own—something that has escaped the eye of the common tourist, something that Google could not provide me, something that does not need diving.

After the old man left, time dragged further. Even the sun lazed behind the morning clouds. Another bus arrived. A young man got off and opened the four cages he was carrying, timed it, and let the pigeons fly, find their way back home.

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***

“Wa man nagdahum nga in-ato kakusog ang bagyo. (Nobody anticipated the typhoon would be that strong.)”

While having breakfast at the eatery, I heard a boat owner sighing. Wrecks and damaged boats lay on the sandy shore. Lucky were those who took extra caution and hid their boats—the island people’s lifeline—in secured places.

But the boat owner’s sigh was the mechanic’s whistle. Under the shade of a Talisay tree, he tinkered with the boat’s machine, his hands greasy, his face sweaty.

With several damaged boats in sight—some capsized, some half-buried in the priced sand—his coming days would surely be busy while locals and resort owners distressed about the damages and repair cost.

But there is nothing better for an outsider than the renewed radiance of an island after a storm. Everything looked bluer and clearer. I found the wrecks, remaining debris, and unrepaired boats rather picturesque in front of an inviting sea and sky. They gave—or added—substance to the shore reduced to being tourist consumption. Their presence, I could say, made the shore somehow alive.

On my second day on the island, I walked the whole stretch of the beach hoping it would lead me somewhere. It did. On the southern end, there were more floating coconut husks, dry elongated leaves, a fisherman scooping water out from his outrigger, a father and son fixing their net, a young man collecting wood floated ashore and chopping them for firewood. I could see the Bounty Beach from where I stood, silent and empty, even though it was the very beach that made this island popular in the early ’90s.

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I walked toward a small path—which the fishermen said—was the way to the barrio.

Some houses were as small as the cheapest room of the resort I stayed. Some had patchwork-like walls from scrap wood and boats’ bodies sometimes with a lover’s or daughter’s name or Malapascua painted on it.

Every island’s center is stripped from its coastal endeavor for elegance and indulgence. Here were shirtless boys playing bastketball, young girls looking after their younger siblings, women doing laundry in front of their houses.

Here was Logon that Tatay fondly talked about.

***

It did not resemble a ship or plane at all—the wreck by the lighthouse. Blurred by the foggy goggles and from too much saltwater between us, the wreck looked like huge strips of metal that small fish sometimes checked for food before swimming away. There was no Adrienne Rich kind of moment. No seeing “the damage that was done / and the treasures that prevail.”

I came for the wreck that was not there. Something that was still whole, complete despite its wreckage, despite the history the sea surrendered to it.

It was, according to our boatman, a Japanese World War II landing craft bombed before it landed.

“Way laing wreckage diri? (Is there no other wreckage here?)” I asked.

“Naay uban, pero lawm na, (There are, but they are at deeper places)” he said, scratching his head. Seeing how novice I was at snorkeling, he probably thought it would be very unlikely for me to see them. Perhaps there lay the problem. It was not the wreckage that was lacking but my ability to get close to it, to examine it, to feel its texture.

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Perhaps it takes diving—and not snorkeling—to have an epiphany among the wreckage.

Perhaps it takes greater depths to understand all the wreckages found underneath and on this island—yet another whose name changed after a colonial incident: malapascua, malas ang pasko.

Published on Manila Bulletin | July 21, 2013

 

 

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