I can smell pusó from fifteen thousand feet. And chicken inasal as well. In a short while we’ll be touching down CDO airfield and the plan is to rush to the nearest grill asap upon arrival. They make heavenly pusó in this part of the archipelago and their inasal, fit for a king. Every good journey deserves a palatable spread. More importantly, an ice cold beer. A brutal-cold San Miguel is waiting for me down there somewhere.
The plane has just cleared Bohol Sea and now comes to mind why we are having this flight. Everytime I island-hop from Cebu To CDO I always take the cheaper 12-hour boat ride via Cebu Ferry. That would be crossing the turbulent Bohol Sea. Rough all year round. But now, it seems the waters are getting more and more violent by the year.
The last time I took the ferry ride — 2008, October to be exact and the fiercest time of the year — I was in for the worst nightcruise of my life. The usual big waves were slamming the boat non-stop as if it was being pounded by Howitzers from all directions. The “explosions” literally knocked me off my cabin bed. I stepped out and saw everyone up on their feet, huddled along the aisles, in the lobby and on the passageways, deprived of sleep. Every loud banging on the port or starboard side has a corresponding ear-piercing shrieks from passengers. I have been through this a number of times and, I can say, t’was the harshest, longest night in Bohol Sea. Crossing this expanse during the summer months is bad enough. In the storm season — hell.
And so today I fly instead. Not exactly out of fear of that perilous body of water, but I have with me on this trip, two ladies whom I’m not really fond of sharing the same inconvenience. Especially when one of them has the ability to go into a high-pitched scream at the slightest sign of danger. No, the waters don’t frighten me anymore. In fact I feel much safer traveling through water than air. Air pockets bother me more than rough waters. I think I share Jacques Cousteau’s fancy of ‘making love with the sea.’
Perhaps this is due to the fact that I have made an unforgettable acquaintance with the deep blue back in ’95: It was late in the afternoon of Good Friday in Talipanan Beach, Puerto Galera. The day after a night of heavy drinking. The gods were away. My travel buddy and long time friend, Dennis, and I went out for a snorkeling escapade. And this is what you may call ‘when good things turn bad.’ After free-styling a mighty long stretch, tragedy struck. My arms and legs suddenly went into a painful muscular spasm simultaneously! The cramps were so unbearable I can hardly move my limbs. My buddy, an arm’s length from me, sensing the disturbance, signaled me for us to go back. The way snorkeling works, I can make it to safety without trouble just by floating face down on the water. Problem is, just as I was starting, I received another blow — the snorkel’s mouthpiece snapped off from the tube! Lifeline slashed.
The first few seconds put me in extreme confusion that my initial reaction was to grab a hold of my buddy who is not really very good in situations like this thus putting him in the same frenzy as I am. The snorkel has become a heavy load and I had to tossed it away. A hundred dollars-worth U.S. Divers. Top of the line. But I have a battle to take. Second reaction, cry for help. But help is — judging by the size of the bodies on the shore — about 200 meters away. We shouted from the top of our lungs and our loudest yawp is just a faint cry to bystanders on the beach. Dennis scampered for the shore alright. No hard feelings, at least somebody’s got to make it alive. Leaving me all by myself. Tossed by huge waves. Gasping for air, but taking in only salt water. Struggling to keep me afloat long enough till somebody, crazy enough, finds the guts to risk his life for mine. Rolling for every wave and floating back. Drift and roll! Delaying tactics.
Isla Verde Passage is such a beautiful sea. I have always adored her sunset and never doubted her calm friendliness. But today she is nothing but death. Death disguised as blue bending splashes. They are altogether stealing me away right now and all I can do is at least make it hard for them. My mother, she was a great swimmer I have been told. What a terrible shame if I am to die of drowning!
More delaying tactics.
Now when everything seemed to spiral down to the devil’s own luck, suddenly a flash of hope. You see, I believe in angels. And I believe they are never too distant to hear me. Like a beat patrol: attention mobile one you have a four-one-five in your area and the guy isn’t due in for today so pls respond immediately. Through the surfs I see two bodies plunged. Two male caucasians! They’re racing towards me. This is it. What a beautiful sight. Salvation is assured! I will not die today. Death smiled at me and now I can smile back! Help is on the way.
The two made their way through the waters and brought with them a beach ball for me to cling to. (A beach ball! ) They’re like covering about four Olympic size swimming pool and back, plus a weight in tow, so they need something to make the job easier. Who’d ever thought beach balls would be a brilliant idea. The two men seized me swiftly. At this point my tummy felt like exploding with salt water. One of them hooked his arm over my chest and sidestroke back to shore, the other man trailed behind. Their voices inaudible. The delaying tactics paid off. There is this delightful sensation when you feel the struggle has ended. We stopped at waist-deep waters and I was told to wallow in there for a while, I have no idea what for. Too tired to ask. Or say anything. So consumed all I want is to collapse. Couldn’t even thank them enough for saving my life. I just sat there resting, with frightened faces around me. Not a word was spoken.
And just like that, I watched my two heroes walked away and melt in with the crowd. Didn’t even get the chance to know their names or what they are really made of. Except, I heard, one is a medical person. The big oversize guy with a bulging belly but powerful swimmer nonetheless. The other, tall and lean, strong as a mutant. If I wasn’t so lucky (with these two around) then I don’t know how else can I explain my deliverance from absolute death. I praise them for carrying me over. Never have I personally been sustained with such great kindness.
The next day, I walked up to this young boatman and ask if we could hire his banca or for somebody to dive for the fallen US DIVERS. After pointing to him the exact spot, the boy replied ” No way we ever go near that spooky area. Too dangerous. In fact yesterday, somebody nearly drowned there AGAIN, if it weren’t for the Americans.”
Or C de O. “Cagayan de Oro” as we please. We are too lazy to sound off the full line. We are too fond of corrupting everything: Bora for Boracay. Whatever. As for the Lumbia Airport, we will be seeing the last of this godforsaken terminal. Finally, innovation hit town and built a new, decent one, the Laguindingan Internationl Airport.
I shall have the beer and chicken inasal now.