I have always been fascinated by mangroves since I saw a whole line of them along the river banks in Donsol, Sorsogon. So when I got a chance to bring up projects and activities for our new movement -Kilos Kaayusan, I suggested planting Mangroves and some other measures for the environment. I then contacted my hubby’s fraternity brother, Capt.James Layug who heads Reef Conservation Initiative in our country. He suggested that we go to Pollilo Island in Quezon where projects for mangrove plantation and seedlings are situated. Having lived in Manila, I was used to city living and all its luxuries became a necessity for me. Which is probably the reason why I look forward to “off the beaten path” vacations most of the time.
On a Friday, At 11:00PM I took a cab to Legarda st. in Manila to catch the hourly trip of private vans driving passengers to Real Port in Quezon. I was told that I have to leave at that time so I can take the first trip of the ferry to Polillo island at 5:00AM.
I arrived in Real Port at 3:00 AM. I expected a more shabby terminal. So far the existing structure was better than what I had in mind. They just need more manpower and information materials for tourism about that part of Quezon for the visitors.
At 4:30 AM, employees started selling tickets and everyone excitedly lined up. I can not understand why people were struggling to be the first in line. But I had the hunch to just get inline before everybody else. I was lucky I got a seat near the ticketing table so I was one of the first 50 passengers to be listed in the manifesto.
I paid my ride (P200) and P10 terminal fee, grabbed my bags and headed onto the boat. It looked more like Noah’s Ark. First come first served. Good thing I got in early so I have a good seat that alternated as my bunk bed.
All sorts of vendors came in and convinced me to buy a breakfast because it’s going to be a three hour ride. So I bought a cup of coffee, I know headache is going to kick in anytime soon. I asked if I can have a life jacket near me. Err I forgot to mention, I do not know how to swim. The vendor complied and got me a life jacket happily. I looked out into the sea and the sun is just about to rise. I stared out at the blue horizon. Just what I need to sort out all the cobwebs in my mind. The lethargic movement of the boat, view of the Pacific ocean and soothing wind were enough to make me relax and go to sleep.
As the boat started maneuvering, I placed my bags on the bunk and laid down to stretch my aching spine. I can not quite grasp how some people can catch a nap in any uncompromising position. I on the other hand can never get sleep without a comfortable bed, and a snuggly pillow. So i tried to sleep when lo and behold I heard a loud thumping noise commanding the boat to stop. Instinctively, I grabbed my life jacket, hoping against hope that I will float when the boat starts to capsize. I looked around me and noticed that everyone was relaxed and unmindful of the terror that was about to happen. I asked the guy behind me what the noise was all about and he said that some guys on the boat caught a big fish. Whoa! And I thought we were going to sink. So I went down and checked out how big the fish was. Damn, it was a yellow fin tuna about the size of my thigh. I cajoled the guys into slicing it up, it seems very appetizing. I haven’t had a decent meal in 24 hours, sashimi would be very good for my stomach right now.
I met some more guys in the lower deck offering me food and coffee. We had a small talk. I was waiting for them to start cutting the poor fish. Instead they opened a can of sardines for their breakfast. I then joked around telling them it would be heavenly to have sashimi for breakfast, but they would not budge. I guess they were reserving it for lunchtime. I went back up to my bench and looked at the calm pacific ocean. I should so this more often, I thought to myself. Just be alone. Away from people. Away from work. Away from a place where internet and cellphone signals exist. I checked out my phone and I was happy. No messages no missed calls because there was NO SIGNAL! Yippeeeeee!
Finally I can see a structure indicative of land, I guess that’s Polillo. After a few more minutes, the boat came to a halt. People started going down. I haven’t been to a place as provincial as this town, I’m already loving it.
As soon as I reached the hotel, I got more happy news. No electricity from 8AM-5PM. Wonderful! That means no TV. I am totally cut off from civilization. If I can get stuck in a place, I would choose this place. James and the rest of the guys are from the military, I figured they must be strict with time. I was given 30 minutes to have breakfast and freshen up. And I complied. As soon as I finished my morning ritual I stepped outside the hotel, and true enough, they were all waiting for me. Things were already loaded on the tricycle, they were just waiting for me to board. So I hopped on and looked at the lovely farm lands beside the road. I noticed the uber rural appeal of the island. Carabaos lying lazily on graze lands, the mountain was still covered with trees, and the endless farm lands as far as the eyes can see. All sorts of herbs and vegetables were growing sporadically anywhere there is soil.It was a thirty minute bumpy ride until we reached our site.
We all went down and met the locals who will help us clean the area before planting mangroves. They all looked excited and happy. It’s been a long time since I saw that kind of aura. They were simple folks looking for a more comfortable life. They did not complain and all of them were enthusiastic about the coastal clean up. They seemed richer and more at peace despite the lack of necessities in life. I wish I had their contentment.
After the clean up, we then proceeded to the other side of the island for our lunch and the mangrove planting. It was a tiring morning as we spent the past hour picking up trash that were stuck in the roots of the mangroves. It was also challenging to go through the mangrove forest.