For a town with a coast laced with glorious beaches, balanced with an ecological terrain and a historical past, nothing could still aptly describe Argao more than the hospitality of its people. It is through them that I petrified my love for the others.
I left Carcar at about 10 in the morning and boarded a bus to Argao to the end of its route. I was the last to disembark. For eight pesos, I hired a good-old tricycle to Argao Nature Park. I expected a spectacle of rope courses and caged animals. I got both, but not in full bloom. The water in the man-made lake had dried up, green in its decided apathy. The boats suspended on the side. I had to withdraw my ten-peso boating ticket in the end.
I ate there, with the caged macaques and the shade of the trees. Not many people were around. I felt alone (by this, I probably meant a little bit sad) so I decided to leave for the beach.
It wasn’t easy to get a tricycle from the park so I had to wait for one to pass by. I conversed in brief with the local woman selling goods just outside. She asked me if I was alone and I confirmed.
“Foreigner imong uyab day no? Nganung wa man nimo dad-a? Imo ta tong gida.” (Your boyfriend is a foreigner, day, right? Why didn’t you bring him along? You should’ve brought him.)
In a nearby bench, two men who were talking a few minutes earlier approached the woman. We exchanged polite smiles. They introduced themselves: Enrique and his friend, whose name now escapes me. They asked me the same questions and I echoed the same responses I gave to the woman. Then Enrique offered to ride back with them to the city, given I return by five, they said. They were having a training seminar nearby and will be heading to the city at the end of the day.
The generosity struck me. I politely declined since I still didn’t know if I will stay overnight in the town or the next or head back home. A local boy offered to call me a tricycle.
It is an understatement to say that riding tricycles can be a way of knowing a town. It is also a clever way to get acqauinted with its people. And Argao never disppoints. From Argao Nature Park, I curiosed with ‘Nong Miguel. A middle-aged man, with a confident voice and an inquisitive spirit. Through the singsong of his Agrawanon accent, he talked about life, writing, and local quaintness. My few trivial questions were easily returned with a litany of whimsical analysis.
“Mao lage Nong. Mura sad ka’g nangilad.” (That’s right, Nong. It’s also as if you cheated.)
He had psychology classes in his college days. Too bad he’d been a victim of circumstances, he said.
He reminded of a college friend who part timed as a jeepney driver to send himself – and his siblings – to college. He shared a fair amount of things – I laughed all the way to Lawis Beach.
A little after 12, with the sun screaming up ahead, I braved the sea and enjoyed the heat, the sand and the beach for two hours. Not daring to go too far, since my swimming ability is still far from real (but practice makes perfect, they say) and my things are on the shoreline, I kept to myself to a part of the beach where there was no other soul. The sea and I were in a kind of compact. I think it liked me and I enjoyed its company. It felt like the perfect date; the belfry of St. Michael imposing from a distance.
It was about my tenth dip when I saw this young chinita girl approaching. She said her hello and I asked her if she was alone. Yes, she is, she said.
“So nag-unsa man ka diri day?” (So, what are doing here day?)
“Wala lang, laag-laag lang. Loner man gud ko te.” (Nothing, I just wander. Should you know, te, I’m a loner.)
Solitude is a weird thing. It is too often associated with disconnection; but for those who harbor it, solitude can be an automatic magnet for connection. Something akin to complicity, a truce spoken in a language that is not communicated verbally.
Patricia is fourteen, her mother doesn’t know she was here. For an hour, we talked about friends, school, books and enjoyed ice cream together. Her thirst for breaking free appaling her shy and quiet eyes. I wished she’d find what it was she was looking for.
Tired from hours of swimming and my natural morenaness even more accentuated by the tan, I decided to just catch the bus home. Not out of exhaustion but out of fund shortage. Yet it was a full day. Stories on the road can do that. The authentic and the banal could often be a wonder to a vagabond outsider.
What was it I was straining my eyes to see and my ears to hear? It was something that I learned can be seen and heard only in transit. It was beautiful, a transcendental ecstasy that will keep haunting the smitten soul. But it asks for some necessary sacrifice and as of now, I can only lay down a few. Perhaps I will content myself with brief stops and hope that someday, I could live in that impermanence itself. Uncertainty, instability, unknowing. Transience. It’s beautiful. Addictive. Fascinating. And I ache, always ache for more.