Romblon Travel Memoirs

Looc: Home is Where the Heart is

Saturday, October 22, 2011Ryan Mach

IT'S ALWAYS THE UNPLEASANT STICKY FEELING on the skin that reminds me I'm home. The stickiness, which I suppose is a mixture of sea moisture and air, is augmented by dust and smoke from jeepneys waiting at the pier. The ferry has just docked in Odiongan a couple of hours before the break of dawn, an ungodly hour when everyone in the island, except those people at the wharf, is asleep. In this sleepy town, the monotony of the night is occasionally broken by the ship's signal - whistling, wailing, howling - as it makes its way to the docking area.
 It is almost the end of summer and I am home again. To get to Looc, a semi-quaint town south of Tablas where I spent my childhood and teenage years, I still need to take a jeepney from Odiongan. For the past 10 years I have found myself traveling regularly to Tablas, the largest island in Romblon nearly 200 miles south of Manila, to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and to simply enjoy a laid-back life even for a few days. I left Romblon in 2001 to pursue my college education in Manila but I have been coming back ever since - the island has given me sanctuary in a difficult and often volatile city life, allowing me to gain physical and emotional strength while putting myself back together.

While I enjoy the respite that Looc provides from the churning pace of Manila, I always hate all the inconveniences associated with traveling to this town. The constant threat of waves, the danger of ferry travel, and the long ship ride make getting here almost a nightmare.
The truth is, I am almost unconsciously in a constant lover's quarrel with Romblon : there's no doubt that I have mad love for it but at times, I do not like it. Progress happens here in a depressingly glacial pace. The economy is primitive. And the most depressing truth of all - a lot of people are brutally poor. Romblon is one of the poorest provinces in the country and whether its current standing has worsened or improved, I've no idea. Various politicians have promised change. Sadly, broken promises are the only things they can offer. In this poverty-stricken place, people leave to find better jobs away from home. Some have come back with few money while others have chosen to live some place else where life is much better.
But home for me is where the heart is and that small village in Looc where I get to sleep early at night and wake late during the day, eat to my heart's content and just while the time away by listening to mundane conversations of neighbors, I won't trade it for any place in the world. For what it's worth, I can honestly say that one of the critical things I have always liked about Tablas and Looc in particular remains as true as ever - that in more ways than one it offers me a sense of definitive purpose and quiet, rustic life, which the city rarely can. It's the texture and feeling reminiscent of Thornton Wilder's  “Our Town" that ultimately draws me in.
My favorite merienda.
TWO LOCAL AIRLINES (SEAIR AND ZESTAIR) have weekly flights to and from Romblon but ticket prices are always steep so direct ship routes from Batangas still remain as the best transportation option for most Romblomanons. Because I don't want to spend much on travel, I prefer to take the cheaper route. And since I'm already used to experiencing all the hassles of going home, I didn't have to prepare myself for this journey. After all, it's just one of those ordinary sojourns.

Fellow passengers from the same ship I boarded start hauling their stuff and head to the crowded parking area where various jeepneys are lined up. Drivers loudly call out for passengers, their shouts discordant amid the cacophony of horns and vendors roaming around offering hot coffee. Before I can decide which jeepney to ride on, one of the drivers snatch my bag and throw it carelessly atop the rusty vehicle. Fortunately, there is nothing fragile inside my bulky backpack. After every space inside and outside the vehicle has been maximized (luggage is placed on the roof, the rear part is occupied by the konduktor who cling and hold on to the bars effortlessly during the entire trip ), we're off for an hour ride to Looc.
With the kind of roads we have, it's impossible to sleep during the trip. There's no use watching the view outside either because it's still dark. Day trips can be much more exciting. It's fun to watch people stare from their houses, their arms draped over window sills and balconies. Kids wave at the passing vehicles; they sometimes try to chase them, running alongside as hard as they can, only to be covered in dust and smoke, their laughter trail off and overpowered by the roaring of the engine. The roads are one-laner, which is risky for overtaking vehicles. There had been a few incidents of road accidents, mostly a result of reckless driving rather than poor highway construction.
Many of our rural roads are paths more than roads, and it is regarded common courtesy and precautionary measure, when you're driving down a rural road narrow enough to accommodate more than one vehicle and you see a car or jeepney coming your way, that you pull over and let the other go by. With bad road conditions (dusty when dry and slick when wet, pocked with craters) in most municipalities around the island, butt sore as a result of long jeepney ride is inevitable. It can be a butt-whacking ride especially for newcomers. But the road improvement program from Looc to Odiongan has been completed just recently which means travelling to and from the two towns will no longer be an unpleasant experience as it was once.
Common scenery

The sun peeks in the mountains. We are about to reach our destination. I check the time - it's 30 minutes past 6 in the morning. I welcome the cold breeze as it hits my face rather forcefully. Outside, we pass by electric-green rice fields and carabaos pulling wooden carts. In the distance, there is smoke emanating from a small hut, possibly breakfast is being prepared. The thought of freshly cooked fish and smoking hot rice makes my stomach grumble. Few minutes later, the jeepney turns left ready to roll up the slope into a much narrower road. Fishermen on their way home from the sea turn to gawk as we pass. I collect a few curious stares as I rub my face vigorously with a handkerchief  to remove the stickiness and the dust off my face.

I smile. It's great to be finally home again.

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