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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On the road: Bicol, April 07 (Chapter I)

Over the last year and a quarter that I began working with Gawad Kalusugan, one of the perks of our expanding work and relationship-strengthening with Gawad Kalinga stakeholders is the traveling involved. Only through GKal have I been to places that- pardon my ignorance- I never thought existed OR places I have only heard about OR I haven’t visited for some time.

Bontoc, Sagada, and Talubin in Mountain Province. The Banawe Rice Terraces. Naga City, Camarines Sur. Kasibu, Nueva Vizcaya.
San Fernando, Pampanga. Tacloban City and Dulag in Leyte. Sogod, Southern Leyte. Catarman, Northern Samar. Borongan, Eastern Samar. Dagupan City, Pangasinan. Cebu City. Legazpi City in Albay. And just last weekend- Kapatagan, Lanao Del Norte.

Whereas in our past trips we were always on the go, ticking items from a very long to-do list at lightning speed with barely a chance to savor the sights and sounds of locale, our April 11-14 trip to Bicol for the Bayani Challenge was by far the most fun and relaxed.

My fellow road trippers- Dr. Eric our Gawad Kalusugan national program coordinator and Tito Robert our assistant home office manager- and I shared driving duties from our office in Ortigas through Southern Tagalog provinces and Albay and then back, logging a solid 1095 kilometers, unfortunately not just on one full tank of gas.

They were very, very kind enough to indulge my passion for taking photos, a concession I believe I have earned given the fact that our ride was my Civic ’97. Here’s a peak at our Bicol Bayani Challenge sidetrip.

The almost flawless roads of Quezon soon dissipated as we entered Quirino Highway in Camarines Norte. On a weekday, at around 9am, no worker were in sight… I wonder…

The boundary marker for Camarines Sur, one of the 81 provincial boundary markers I hope to be photographed with. Two down (Cam Sur and Nueva Ecija/ Nueva Vizcaya along Dalton Pass) seventy-nine to go!

Serendipity. This bridge in Del Gallego, Camarines Norte was undergoing repair. Only one side of the bridge was passable so we had to halt since the oncoming traffic currently had the right of way. Boy, was I glad we stopped. There it was, across from where we stood, a metal bridge carrying railroad tracks. I wonder how many times did my grandfather pass through this structure as a PNR engineer back in the 50s, up to the 80s…

Our first meal of the day was at around 6am in a Tapa King branch along Turbina in Calamba City, just off the South Super Highway. We postponed stopping for our next meal, thinking that we’d find readily a place to eat in by lunch time. However, it was nearly two (or was it three pm?) that we got to have lunch, in what is arguably Bicol’s answer to Jollibee cum Gary’s in front of the PGH. Our oasis in the middle of an apparent nothingness was the Sipocot branch of Bigg’s Diner, the sight of which resurrected our flagging consciousness and sanity. The food is delicious, regardless of one’s state of being famished. The place was clean- and the comfort room had water! Enough said.

A good 40 or so kilometers later, in Naga City, we paid homage to yet another Bigg’s Diner to have our post-late-lunch snack.

Dan Eldon is right indeed: that windshield washing is one of the most important chores in car maintenance. If and when your car breaks down, at least you get to enjoy the view. Well Honda was and is utterly well-behaved as we drove on to our first major destination for GKal, Legazpi City, Albay. But on the way there, as we went through the towns preceding Legazpi, I had the thrill of a lifetime to see Mayon loom beside and steadily ahead of us- thanks to our relatively clean windows and windshield. I’ve forgotten how awe-inspiring this Lady is! Despite the apparent imperfections brought about by recent activity, it was MAGNIFICENT to say the least.

But of course, one man’s magnificent work of nature is another man’s symbol of pain and misery. We visited the Cagsawa ruins and saw first hand the topsy-turvy terrain carved by the flood waters which accompanied Reming late last year. It was a surreal experience, seeing the Cagsawa ruins again. I hardly remember it, much less the major upheaval manifest in the lunar-like eeriness of the former’s environs.

We eventually reached Legazpi and landed on a, um, 1.5-star lodge for travelers. Without further ado, as our backs came in contact with our respective beds, we were asleep. Only to wake up to this magnificent view:

We went to pickup from the airport our boss, Dr Joe Yamamoto, who flew aboard the first flight into Legazpi. While waiting, with Mayon providing an imposing backdrop the picture-freaks in us kicked in. Soon after he arrived, we proceded to Anislag, Daraga, Albay to do our bit in the Bayani Challenge being held in that area.

The sense of urgency of delivering the GK homes to these displaced families became all the more palpable when we got to visit the site where they are temporary living in. Tents that are invariably too warm for comfort day and night plus a very basic latrine provide more impetus that we work to bring dignity back to the lives of these weary wanderers.

Our work was done in Legazpi. The following day, we brought our boss back to the airport bright and early since he had to go back to Manila. At the airport, I spotted this very poignant reminder that while Bicol still has a lot of rehabilitation to undergo before the life of the Bicolano, can be said, is back to normal.

Other sights of note as we worked our way out of Legazpi and into Naga:

a still logo-less Jollibee signage in Albay, four months after Reming;

a short stop at the Albay cathedral which was unfortunately, curiously closed, and;

how I imagined a monkey would look and act like if it were riding a motorcycle wearing a flimsy, might-as-well-wear-an-eggshell-type of protective head gear.

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