If I didn’t believe in the above adage, I wouldn’t be putting myself through a detox again.
Here’s to me, beta version 112.0, by tomorrow.
It was called the 839 San Isidro Express.
It was old and rickety, with cracked leather seats and pink tinted windows. Decals of saints and Jesus fraternizing with the children lined its metal walls and somewhere in the secret recesses of its overhead bins wafted the faint yet cloying smell of drying fish.
Passage on board the 839 San Isidro Express from San Rafael to Puerto Princesa cost P60.00 per passenger. Abbey and I had canvassed the rates of various airport transfers and had found the following: P6,400.00 (from an online agency); P2,500.00 (from a local company); and P2,000.00 (from our resort). Because I refused (on principle) to pay such exorbitant fees for a simple, one-way transfer, Abbey and I ended up in a waiting shed on the North National Highway where, we were told, we could “commute” to the airport at a fraction of the prices quoted.
We were also warned that the waiting could stretch indefinitely. (“At what time should we start waiting if our flight is at 8:30 pm?” is what I asked one of the resort staff. “You should start waiting at 12:00 nn Ma’am.” I stopped asking questions after that. “Let’s just leave at 4:30 pm,” I told Abbey blithely.)
Thirty minutes after we’d left the resort, I started worrying. Few buses and vans rattled past, and none of them seemed remotely interested in carrying passengers. I’ll wait fifteen minutes more, I told myself. If we don’t get a ride by then, I’m returning to the resort and ordering a transfer.
Five minutes before my deadline expired, Abbey spotted a clanking and rattling dust cloud on the horizon and I waved an arm tentatively. Several yards after it had passed us by, the 839 San Isidro Express screeched to a halt.
We barely made it to our seats before the driver stepped on the accelerator and we lurched merrily on our way.
If there was a countryside, Abbey and I barely saw it (though the window next to her was large enough to cause her concern; “I could fall out of that hole,” she told me worriedly, and spent the next 70 minutes gripping the iron bar in front with white-knuckled hands). The driver hurtled towards the provincial capital with a jovial indifference to safety, mortality…and, well, gravity. We careened through hairpin turns, jolted over humps, floated over bridges and honked at everything that remotely looked like it could slow us down.
And so, Abbey and I bounced and slid on our cracked leather seats, while the little boy next to me—a young local who couldn’t have been more than eight years of age—sat quietly and stoically, apparently welded to his seat through the sheer force of his solemnity.
“I have to say,” I told Abbey through clenched teeth, “this is the most excitement we’ve had since we got here.” She shot me a look that said, “If you like the excitement so much, why don’t you sit next to the window?”
About 70 hair-raising minutes later, we clattered to a halt at the San Jose Terminal and exited the bus with admirably steady legs.
“How much from here to the airport?” I asked the tricycle driver who’d accosted us. “P120.00 Ma’am,” he replied. “That’s the same as our bus fare!” Abbey hissed into my ear.
Apparently, there was no beating the value of the 839 San Isidro Express.
Commuting. Definitely more fun in the Philippines.
It’s been busier this morning than it’s been the last two days.
The infinity pool in front of me has been slowly filling up (in mirthful defiance of its name). Bobbing heads and slanting tubes ripple across its surface. Every now and then I’ll hear a child’s wail followed by the shushing sounds of a consoling adult.
The pool is an unsubtle reflection of my mind. As my departure from this place looms closer, the ripples become wider, more frequent and more agitated. The voices in my head—uncharacteristically quiet for the last two days—have begun to whine and nag.
I’ve been trying to shush them without success for the last half hour.
In stark contrast to the pool directly ahead, the sea just beyond lies as tranquil as ever. As always, a few workers line its edges, carrying out work the resort manager rather ominously dubbed as “beach restoration.”
(I object to the terminology. The word “restore,” I pointed out to Abbey with some annoyance, implies the return to a previous condition. The work I was seeing on the beach, on the other hand, appeared to have the intention of bringing it to new and hitherto unseen conditions.)
At any rate, the sea continues its serene ebb and tide, indifferent not just to its “restoration,” but to all the foibles of the human beings designing, engineering, perpetrating or reacting to its changes.
I know I come from the sea. (We all do.)
But why are all my memories of belonging bound to this pool, with its tragicomically ambitious name and its futile aspirations to endlessness?
What would it take to remember my primordial belonging to the sea?
It’s relatively quiet here.
Just ahead are the waters of the Sulu Sea.
Just behind are the mountains of San Rafael.
So yes, I’m caught between rocks and what I suppose one could consider a hard place.
There are few other people around. Most guests leave the resort to tour the surrounding areas. I can hardly be bothered to leave my chair of choice.
(Not even to take a picture of where I am. Right now, I’m in an arm chair. Earlier today, I alternated between a chaise lounge and a rocking chair. Perhaps this is what aging is all about: moving around in furniture bound circles while gazing out towards distant horizons.)
As comfortable as my current chair is though, its attractions are vastly being overwhelmed by the lure of bed.
If this is aging, it ain’t that bad.
We took a cab, then a plane, then a tricycle, and then a van.
All told, it took about six hours for us to get to where we had to go. The traveling itself was smooth and uneventful. The bumps we encountered were constituted by rude children, overindulgent parents, obsequious touts and lunatic drivers.
(I almost never suffer from motion sickness, but today’s rides had me squeezing my eyes shut in futile attempts to control my nausea.)
But anyway, we made it, and the welcome buko shake with mango bits made up nicely enough for all the indignities endured (far more than the cowrie shell necklaces they draped around our necks).
So far, it’s exactly what we wanted: quiet, peaceful and far from the madding crowd.
Funny how we have to move so much just to find a place that’s still.
In a little over a month, I’ll be going off on a three-week long trip.
It’ll be the longest I’ll be away from the studio since it opened—a fact that makes the length of the trip seem even longer. When it was planned more than a year ago, just the thought of the sheer amount of work involved in arranging things so I could be away that long almost made me cancel the thing altogether.
And then, the customary defiance kicked in, and I bought my ticket with an odd combination of grim resolve and childish glee.
Because the fact is: my life would be profoundly easier if I didn’t go.
But the fact also remains: I need to do this for reasons that are beyond the calculus of convenience and pragmatism. I need to surrender the claustrophobic but comfortable (because familiar) straitjacket of belief that my current commitments preclude me from doing the things I used to (and still) love doing.
I need to find, in other words, a compromise that works for all my competing and conflicting selves.
Of course, it’s turning out to be BLOODY hard. (Hah. Story of my life.)
But that’s okay, because I’m slowly (and finally) getting the hang of things being BLOODY hard. There’s a resilience that’s being fashioned here—that’s being forged and crafted daily from my particular “school of hard knocks” (as my best friend J. put it so aptly).
So yes, I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out in a couple of weeks. It’s going to be a journey of discovery in senses that go beyond the merely geographic. Somewhere in the journeying, I’ll find a place where all my selves can meet.
If not with love, at least with respect.
It’ll be a start.