Anchors and pitstops

December 30, 2018


Tito William, a stubborn diabetic in his 50s, drove us from our home in Manila in the early morn. Four hours in, he took a left turn on a dirt road. We rolled down our windows, squealing like maniacs at the sound of familiar waves.

Long before San Juan became a surfing mecca and before San Fernando fashioned Christmas Villages, there was Bauang. On it gray shores lied a flurry of resorts, mostly packed during weekends. Long Beach Resort Hotel was Tito William’s favorite. He was a traveler whose favorites were anchored on the familiar feeling of home rather on escaping from it. On his list were go-to  resorts in Luzon: Trigon Resort in Iba, Zambales; Crystal Springs in Calamba, Laguna; and this. He brought us to these resorts over and over again on vacations.

Long Beach Resort rests on a massive beachfront property, surrounded by grass and greenery. We had sizable connecting rooms, each with its own veranda and TV. In the middle is an al fresco restaurant and bar that overlooked the sea. My mother exclaimed, wide-eyed, “They have a band playing at night! By the sea!”

During sundown, while she and Tito drank at the bar, I’d sit by the veranda – cigarette, beer, and journal on hand - watching the sun turn a fiery red. Many stories were borne of those sunsets.

In between swimming, we shared meals there. He usually ordered his favorite bangsilog – sometimes, two: one for him and one for me. After breakfast, we would stick our heads out the restaurant's wooden ledge, eyes closed, letting the day’s salty promises sink in.


*****




Lia and I hailed a tricycle along the National Highway after checking out of our hotel at noon. “Saan tayo? (Where to?)” the old driver asked.

“Long Beach Resort,” I replied.

He looked puzzled.

Bukas pa naman po siya, di ba? (It’s still open, isn’t it?)” I inquired.

He shrugged his shoulders as he turned on the ignition. Within five minutes, we came up to the same dirt road. Moss has made the resort's large cemented signage almost inconspicuous. Like many of the resorts along the strip, moss here seems devoid of life, parched to a bleak gray instead of green.


Twenty, 14 years ago, this place was abuzz with the chatter of families and expats. Today, it is whisper-quiet. One can hear dry leaves crackling and waves that sound weary of waiting for people to return. There were no cars, and by the absence of tire and shoe tracks, it seems no one else has arrived in a long time.

A middle-aged ladycame out of the dark reception hall.“Check in?” 

Hindi po, pero puwede ba ‘ko umikot to take photos?” (“No, but can I go around to take photos?)

A dark pickup truck arrived at the parking lot. A stubby woman and a small boy unboarded and went straight to the empty restaurant. The lady excused herself and followed. Maybe they do have guests. Who wouldn’t want an air conditioned beachfront room for P750 a night?


*****




I walked to the garden fronting 12 rooms. The entire building, like everything else surrounding it, looked beat. Wooden ceilings and walls slowly being taken over by mold; roofs brittle and pale. Attached on a few are manual-type air conditioners - albeit rusty - but in most, they are missing. Other edifices have windows whose wooden panels are dangling out or nowhere to be found, or rust-covered roofs that are barely holding on. Plastics and a broken umbrella are scattered on shrub-covered shores. Time, people, the world has forgotten that this place exists. Even it itself no longer knows the meaning of existence.

The lady returned. “Boss namin ‘yon. Tinatanong niya kung magche-check in po kayo. (That was our boss. She wants to know if you're checking in.)”

I shook my head and reiterated that we just want to take a look. “Naga-accept pa po kayo guests? Sabi nila under renovation kayo (Do you still accept guests? People said the resort is under renovation).”

Opo, pero hindi na po yata ire-renovate. Ang alam ko po binebenta na ng boss ko. (Yes, but we’re not renovating. From what I know, our boss is selling the property.”)



She leered at me and began to probe. “Para saan po ba ‘yong picture, ma’am? (What do you need the picture for, ma’am?)”

“For a blog feature," I said to keep her from delving further. I wasn’t really planning to write about it. Lia and I were on our way home after a work assignment in  San Fernando’s new Christmas Village. But we dropped by because Lia has no memories of Tito William, her angkong (grandfather). He died when she was only a year old. She saw him just once, and she doesn’t even remember it.

I want to show her, not just tell her, “This was your angkong’s life”, so she’d still have a piece of it even if he is no longer here. Show her a map of all our pitstops, because we wouldn’t know where we are going if we don’t know where we’ve been.  

*****


We stood on the shore. Railroad vines sprawled endlessly beneath our feet. “Madalas kami rito dati,  Lia. (We used to frequent this place.) Angkong loved it here,” I related. 

I took Lia’s hand, and we took one last close look at the sea. We are here, Tito. Do you see us? I hope you know this place matters to me, even if I didn’t know it then. A piece of me is anchored to it, even if it is no longer what it was. And now it’s part of Lia, too.

“Happy ba kayo no’n? (Were you all happy then?)” Lia asked, playing with dead leaves and a stick.

“Yes, we were,” I answered, smiling wryly. “We were.”

This was a pitstop, and there are still plenty to tread a first time and come back to. To get our bearings realigned. To repair the wounds. To refuel the courage, so we can walk the longer road ahead. To be able to move on. 

If we are lucky, we might find these pitstops just as they were when we return. But sometimes, we will find they no longer exist.

You will find the world has moved on. You have moved on. Still, it matters you’ve come here, where you can only have remnants, not the whole. Because one remnant, one memory, is always enough. It’s enough ammunition to confront the grief of losing the place it is anchored to. Enough fuel to drive you for the remainder of the road. Enough wealth to last a lifetime of impermanence.

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