Have you ever felt an experience so precious you wish you could physically bottle its essence and keep it on your bedside table forever? I have, lots of times. Mostly it’s related to eargasm from new music and non-stop bookscapades, but I do pull myself a notch away from being a total social pariah from time to time. And it’s always worth it. The last time I wanted this proverbial ‘bottling’ is when we went to Bolinao—finally, after seven summers.
Here are some of the highlights from our two-day vacation at the province.
Dipping at the beaches.
We all know it: beaches are places that can give you some kind of lacunar amnesia. They can temporarily rub out your brunt of cosmopolitan stress and responsibilities. When you’re caged within city walls for a very long time, you get to treasure the littlest things that a tropical paradise lets you to bask in, yes?
Everything was a gem, of course. I love how the powdery golden sand got stuck between my toes. I love how the film of water rushed under me when the waves lapped on the shore. I love the coolness of the waves when I first plunged. I love the sun’s kissed on my skin. Honestly, it seemed like everything on the beach was a sensory treasure.
Before settling in our humble abode in Pilar, we beach-hopped the last few hours of our first day in Bolinao: we went to El Pescador, Puerto del Sol, and of course, Patar. It was in Patar where we went back to swim on our last day.
Last March, I spent three days at Puerto Galera’s White Beach with my friends and officemates. We had unadulterated fun, but I had to admit it was a different kind of enjoyment when you’re spending your vacation with your family. It wasn’t everyday that I get to bond with them and from then on, I swear that I’d rectify that soon. That epiphany, too, is both a treasure worth keeping and a promise that begs to be kept.
Letting out the inner kid.
Actually, my inner kid always shines. She’s out when I’m doing art, when I get overly enthusiastic about the simplest things, when I’m about to learn something new, or just when I let myself be completely carefree. But being in the city gives me a mute order that she must be tucked in as much as possible, because exposing little bits of childlike delight can be misinterpreted by the narrow-minded as immaturity (not that that fact ever got in the way, but you get my drift). The province just opened the floodgates for the kid-in-me.
I climbed trees again. I’ve always been awed by panoramic views of just about everything: skylines and metropolitan vistas, city lights at night, the off-kilter chess boards of the metro’s tree-clumps and stucco establishments. The views calm me for some reason, more so if it comes with an undisturbed solitude.
But climbing trees and admiring the view from the branches? It’s all a different beast. The joy starts when you hook your foot in crevices and dips in the trunk, grab a low-hanging branch, and haul yourself up. The repetitions of the process, the roughness of the bark against your skin, and that little gasp you let out when you accidentally touched an insect or a trickle of sap…they are priceless.
The tree I climbed that time wasn’t very tall. I even think I could jump without breaking my legs (well, granted that there are layers of dried leaves on the ground to cushion the fall). All I could see from the branch are portions of the woods and our little house. But I was happy all the same. I sat on the branch, slid my headphones snug on my head, and admired the fragments of sunshine falling through the breaks in the tree’s foliage. I would’ve stayed up there for hours if ma’s voice telling me to go down didn’t break through Natalie Walker’s syrupy singing in my ears.
The province life + chillax mode.
It’s some kind of a more general sister of the above item. Our house stands at the mouth of the baleful-looking woods—there is electricity but there is no network signal for Globe or Sun; there are wells and septic tanks but no NAWASA taps. The TV doesn’t get enough signal most of the time, which doesn’t matter much because we don’t want to fry ourselves inside the house. The whole thing emits heat like an h-e-double-hockey-sticks hole on earth. True story.
Goats, cows, and peacocks loiter everywhere, especially on the sides of the un-cemented roads (see above image). I also found there the fattest chickens I’ve ever seen in my life. When you wake up, the first thing you’d hear are the cicadas’ summer screeches, nature’s songs that I missed terribly from the last time I went here. Walk a couple of meters from the sidewalk to the other side and you’ll get to the shore. We used to stay on our house by the sea but since it can’t accommodate us that weekend, we have to take the other one near the woods. Fine by us because it’s shadier there.
As expected, there’s no house in Pilar that doesn’t shelter either a fisherman or a hunter (Pa is technically both before he went to Manila about two decades ago). I left my hammock when I saw these men setting up fish top be dried under the sun. They’d totally make for a good, appetite-whetting viands.
You don’t think I’d forget the chow, do you? When we arrived on Thursday, I almost forgot what their dietary routine is like. It’s customary for people in the province to eat bread and swill cups of coffee or tea at dawn’s break, have a full meal of breakfast at 10:00 AM, get ready for lunch at 1:00 PM, and prepare for dinner at 5:00 PM. We adjusted easily though. We set up a wooden table under the tree’s shades and helped ourselves to the meals there all the time.
Considering our location, the easiest ways to put edibles on the table are to fish and to pick fruits and vegetables. One of my aunts served us sinigang sa kasoy on the first night. I liked its unconventionally sweetish tang; the cashew flesh made me want to pick armfuls of the fruit again, just like what I did seven years ago. We also opened the canned luncheon meat and hotdogs that we brought for my kid-cousins.
On the second day, Pa prepared a grilled swordfish and a pair of flying fishes dipped in soy and mango sauce. There was a gamut of vegetable-strewn, soupy seafood recipes that our grandmother served in our whole stay. Apparently she’s just experimenting and there’s really no names to call these dishes, but they weren’t bad at all. I asked for seconds in every meal.
Hungry is perhaps a word they seem to forbid there. They’d feed you every two hours at the most. For merienda, we ate rice cakes cooked straight from bamboo stalks, crabmeat, anything that we can make from freshly picked mangos, and even the mouthwatering jackfruits. They abound in our yard, so the only thing you need to do when your stomach rumbles is to stand on your tiptoes or climb trees. Ah, the easy life.
The stories + the memories.
Allow me to slip into my notorious sap mode, please? All the things we found there would have a boring pallor were it not for all the stories we shared and the new memories we made. From our eight-hour road trip to Bolinao right up to the long drive we took on our way home, I could say that every minute was colorful. Banters, discussions, teases, and anecdotes galore—they all made the vacation totally one for the books.
We’ve imbibed many stories during our stay in Pilar. We leafed through photo albums and laughed at them; Pa re-introduced me to my aunts and uncles in the pictures and accompanied them with funny tales. We learned about the ways of the province. I even learned loads of new stuff from my kid-cousins! We visited my grandmother’s sister about two “blocks” away from our house, and she shared with us as many stories as she could, starting from her daughter working in Brunei to our twenty-year-old cousin who committed suicide. It was a medley of all things tears-of-joy-inducing and heartbreakingly poignant.
What filled our boat rides and road trips? Mini-discussions about Hacienda Luisita when we passed the place, the Aquinos, the elections, and politics in general; funny moments during our stay in Bolinao; endless joshing and joking around; sketches that we weren’t able to tell each other in dinner tables back in Manila because of the incomplete attendance of its occupants; abstract things that we leave in Pangasinan, and the things we’re bringing to the city from it.
We stopped to eat in random diners in two towns miles away from Bolinao. If we hadn’t found the nearest Chowking right away, perhaps we would have continued our diner stops and I could imagine we’re in a different version of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road-ish pancake tour of North America. Haha!
Well, good things come to an end. We arrived in Manila at about 9:00 PM on Saturday. We’re too tired to even get our unwashed clothes to the laundry basket. I was glad to see the house again with all its heaps of books and comforting atmosphere that I wouldn’t find anywhere else. After playing with my grand-niece for a couple of minutes, I went to my room and hit the sack.
Confession: I’m a little saddened the next morning when I woke up and saw the hard shapes of the roofs between our venetian blinds. I honestly thought I was still in Pangasinan, and it confused me a little when I realized there were no cicadas singing or why we weren’t summoned to the wooden tables for coffee and stories. We’re back to the city again, back to our responsibilities, back to our realities. But that doesn’t mean the magic of Bolinao has to end, right? In my mind, all those moments will always be alive. And perhaps same time next year, I’d be able to revel in its glory by visiting the province again.