Saint Nicholas Inn is one of the many inexpensive yet finer hotels right at the heart of Cagayan de Oro city. My only heartache here is the TV channel selector is busted so I am stuck with an old Martin Nievera Concert Show — of all the channels. I am actually far from being a television lover and much farther still from being a fan of the Philippine Concert King. I would rather stick needles in my eye, actually. The only time I recognize a TV set’s real worth is when inside HEADWAY, a barber shop. Today, however, is an exception. I’m misspending time with the boob tube at the moment, waiting for some colleagues. We’re off to find The Gardens of Malasag.
The original plan was to take a side-trip to the wicked Camiguin. But the order of business is very prone to revisions effected by the two usual domineering agents: time and money. Two-riffic twins. The plan, not really a carefully-laid one nor given much serious thought, thanks to my inherent spontaneity. I always prefer traveling on impulse. Almost all the trips I enjoyed so far in this life are made on a snap. And so today I realized we can’t spare the money nor the time, therefrom the spontaneous decision is — sadly — to abort.
Camiguin remains a mystery to me.
And so here’s the aftermath, meekly stuck to the TV set. I’m thinking as I watch the Concert King overdoing his overly dramatic performance: this guy’s voice has been earning him millions since the ’90s. No doubt he’s got all the time and money to get to Camiguin.
Coming immediately after him on the stage is a young butterfly who, I remember, helped Celine Dion’s “To Love You More” became a big hit in the Philippines about a decade ago. Now, a grown-up Miss. The last time I took note of her she was like a pueblo amateur singing contestant. A very long time ago. She must be one of the luminaries in the country’s entertainment scene today. For all her worth now, she can fly to Camiguin without trouble anytime she pleases.
Later in the afternoon we were already sweating it up the irregular landscapes of the Gardens of Malasag. I am confused. The place is a mix up of a resort and a theme park and a cultural center. In any case, this is our fallback position from the Camiguin flop. Not too distant place. Around 20 minutes from CDO proper. Not beyond range and no need to loosen up the purse strings here. In other words, the place is just within the boundaries of our comfort zone in terms of time and money.
Talk about comfort zones. Many years ago I was invited to a camping expedition at the Subic Bay Forest Reserve. The forest (opening up to Filipinos for the first time after the Americans left) turns out to be unlike the harsh jungles I have seen before. They have roadways inside the ‘jungle’ there, and parkways too. They even have Aetas all around ready to assist visitors, or pitch a few jungle survival tips etc. Worse, the place is littered with US military craps which gives you the feel of being more in an army base rather than in a woodland. Subic Forest is not my ideal place for adventure. It’s a comfort zone I don’t want to be shut in. I believe it to be more of an excellent ground for children’s educational tour.
After just a short while of hiking around, I bid the camping party goodbye. Everyone in disbelief. Caught a Victory Bus and rode back to Manila. Since that day I have never made a visit to Subic Forest Reserve again.
The Gardens of Malasag is nothing short of Subic Forest Reserve. It also has the amenities of a theme park and none of the traits of a hostile jungle. Certainly not a wonderland for pathfinders. More like a hideaway for soul searchers. You can bring the whole family here, take photos, climb hills and try the hanging bridge. Those of us who missed the boat to Camiguin, bitter and all, we shall wretchedly content ourselves in spending the whole afternoon here. Still much much better than being glued to the boob tube though!
Now what have I been looking at here today in this God’s leafy forest? It’s really not the woods, the birds or anything. It’s my goddamned hiking shoes.
Today I have been thinking, my audacious pair have abandoned me a looong, long time ago. The Camiguin plan gave in to that overbearing duo, time and money. If I were still in those gung-ho shoes, nothing would mean anything and I’d be sunny in that island by now. But the reckless days are over. Been so busy all those years and never took notice something has died along the way: the free-swinging idiosyncrasies. I have been nailed flat to the aging process alright I forgot to stop and smell the roses.
You know when they say your age is the number of times you went around the sun? Just recently, I’ve made another lap and have just turned — never mind. Let me keep my age to myself. Some might say I’m too young, and some might say I’m too old. In any case, to avoid the verbal fight, let’s just say I belong to the New Wave era. Yup, the days of the second British Invasion. A not so long time ago, see? It was only yesterday actually.
The other night, I stumbled upon A-ha on youtube. Live performance. First time in nearly thirty years. My jaw dropped. They all have totally aged along. Paul Waaktar’s wrinkles looked like corduroy pleats. And Morten Harket is so time-worn I thought he went through some kind of debilitating disease that I quickly googled whatever happened to morten harket. It’s as though the band went through some sort of Time Machine. That was it. What a way to see how I have advanced in age just by merely seeing how the years has taken its toll upon those who — once upon a time — seemed so immortal.
And then, I trained my eyes back to my pair of shoes again. Gone are the days. Now you get my drift: I used to be young. Wet behind the ears. Now I need excuses.
I used to be so carefree. A girl once deplored my lightheartedness. Now I’m duty-bound!
I used to be a dissident. Now I’m adaptable.
I used to be a daydreamer. Now I don’t have the time.
I used to kill time. Now I’m paying for it.
I used to be Alexander Supertramp. Now my feet are on the ground.
I used to be in hiking shoes. Now all I have are bedroom slippers.
Parting shot — the monalistic smile of the Gardens of Malasag Hanging Bridge’s young warden.