“Ingon sila silot daw nis Ginoo nato. Pero para nako, grasya ni,” Tatay in his ’50s claimed after taking several gulps from his glass of tuba.
“Daghan kaayog grasya naabot human sa linog,” he further shared. The tuba vendor scooped a spoon of lilong doused in native vinegar and spiced with onions and sliced siling hangad sa langit for me. Her two relatives removed the gut of this small fish on a bamboo bench next to her table of small trading. A fellow market vendor complained why the anchovy-looking fish were not halved and deboned like kinilaw should be. Nanay played a deaf ear and concocted a glass of tuba and Pepsi for another customer.
We surrounded a small table of kinilaw, tuba, and boiled camote at Sagbayan Public Market. Everyone in the market had stories of cracks, collapses, and survival to tell.
“Kujaw lang kay sa Tagbilaran, murag naay dakong sinkhole,” Tatay informed.
“Ha? Unsa nang singhol?” asked a worried bread vendor innocently. Her naivety elicited laughter in Tatay, resembling the tremors we experienced every now and then.
“Kigol ka diha! Sinkhole!,” he then explained what a sinkhole was, like a geologist.
It was a Sunday, a normal tabo day at Sagbayan—the epicenter of the 7.2 quake that shook Cebu’s legs but brought Bohol to its knees. As of writing, it had been three weeks since the strongest quake in the past 23 years.
“Ang akong bay nahugno, pero ang akong kasilyas nagpabilin,” laughed another old man who shared the glass of tuba with Tatay. He found it rather fascinating that his toilet was stronger than his house. He fetched water for Manding, a balikbayan who lost her comfortable house to the quake as well and now had a small tolda next to Hazel and Elmer’s, the couple who adopted me for the night.
The night before, somehow intoxicated, he boasted that he got the black jogging pants and the upper pajama from the relief goods sent to their quake-stricken town. The top, which obviously belonged to an elementary kid, hugged his small frame. He turned around to show off his newfound gems.
“Gitigaan sad kog bracelet. Gold!” he exclaimed.
“Nya, ang singsing kay gamay man, di ma-igo!” He excitedly showed his pinkie with the ring stuck at his middle node. It actually looked like “pakapin sa bubot .” Despite the fact that he lost his house, his face beamed with merriment with the help he received. He felt loved. Boholanos felt loved.
I found similar characters in some parts of Bohol. At Tubigon, at the terminal fronting the quake-raped municipal hall, a cheeky jeepney conductor kept on bugging me to give him my phone number like it was a normal scenario at another island in our archipelagic nation. At Inabanga, young mothers scoured heaps of ukay-ukay while exchanging humorous tales of running towards the basakan on that fated day. At Clarin, a jeepney passenger was astonished at the amount of relief goods his family received.
“Nakatigom gyod mig bugas!” he broadcasted. At Loon in front of the church rubble, lads laughed so hard when the sepak takraw’s ball bounced on the player’s forehead. At Sagbayan, an old man tried to make a Freddie Aguilar move on me.
This was the Bohol that I was looking for, the one that was not only geographically but also characteristically close to Cebu.
The pursuit of a local’s smile and laughter must have been the reason that pushed me to travel to our sister island 10 days after the quake. I got fed up with the photos and stories of distress and remains on print and online media, tired of the donors-focused relief operation photos, annoyed with the perfectly groomed politicians being interviewed. I was looking for a Bohol that interjected whistles in its sighs, guffaws in its sorrows. My mind was somehow conditioned that I would have to look hard to find this. But that was not the case.
Contrary to the cold facts flooding the news, Bohol provided warmth.
We—removed from the actual Bohol—shook our heads looking at the historical marks reduced to rubble, grieved at the grotesqueness of crippled houses, mourned at the lives lost, were perturbed by the surfacing sinkholes.
But Boholanos did not dwell on the things that already crumbled. They hung on to the things they could build, rebuild. Two signs were erected surrounding Loon Church: “Guinadili ang pagkuha sa mga bato gikan sa naguba nga simbahan kay kining mga batoha ang atong gamiton nig patukod nato ug bag-ong simbahan.” Locals put up a signpost guiding the curious to the newfound fault and emerging sinkholes. They already thought of building houses made of amakan and wood, but they feared the high demand of these indigenous materials might result in heftier prices. A bamboo bridge connecting Tubigon and Calape to Loon, as an alternative to the partly damaged Moalong Bridge, was almost done.
Forgotten for many years, the only working water pump at Sagbayan suddenly became busy all day long. By the collapsing structure of Sagbayan Municipal Hall, I passed by a man who was on the phone: “O, kujaw diri. Pero mas naa pay dagkog peligro sa ubang lugar.” Ironically, he sounded like he was comforting someone on the other end. “Wa may nagmahay diri,” he confided with the certainty of a man who survived the most tormenting yet.
The citadel of Boholano’s resilience remained intact, sturdy, and it is something that is best admired, applauded in person. So for the fellow wanderer consumed by wanderlust, the curious, the instrumental, it is the best time to travel to Bohol to see how the whole island dusted the quake’s crumbles off, steadied its footing, and worked at rebuilding itself anew.
Because, really, there is nothing more meaningful for a traveler than being part of an island province’s rebuilding.
Jona Branzuela Bering scales mountains, treks rivers, combs beaches, hops towns, takes photographs, saunters city streets for stories and poems. She always travels with a backpack, books, pens, and notebooks. She blogs at https://backpackingwithabook.com/.
For inquiries and suggestions, email her at backpackingwithabookgmail.com.