Saturday, June 18, 2011

Survivor's tales

WE crossed the sea between the south of Cebu and Negros Oriental while a storm was whipping up little white, wild horses and flinging these with skeins of water against the side of our fast craft.

In the lower deck, we sat and watched a white wall. Three hangers held men’s shirts, used from the way these were turned inside-out. For nearly half an hour, we watched the shirts tilt left and right and tilt left again, in consonance with the frenzied waves.

It was very trying, doing my best to prevent the breakfast and lunch sloshing inside me from joining the sea spray that covered our persons and everything else except for the imperturbably dancing shirts.

Aside from thanking the laundry gods that men’s briefs dry so quickly, we also considered the lower deck as superior to the upper deck. While it did have a limited view, the lower deck was where the life vests were stocked, still in their original sealed plastic packets.

Tourists in this country fall under two types. Those who expect surprises planned like the itinerary; and the others who find them when they find them.

Being in a deck full of virgin life vests while a mean old storm tossed us still compared favorably to one pumpboat of recent acquaintance.

It shook my complacency when my shortsighted eyes focused and I realized that someone had nailed down the lifeboats. Aside from wondering if the crew carried a hammer to pry those nails in case of an emergency descent below the waves, I was rendered speechless by the carpenter’s design predilections: the wooden lifeboats resembled floating white coffins.

What a convenient duality of purpose: if the vessel fails to save you, it will still ferry you to the River Styx, where all souls wind up.

What lies beyond this life is not always the major preoccupation of travellers. Often, it’s how to survive the restrooms, or the lack of such, in the country.

Local governments have tried to get business establishments to cooperate and make clean restrooms available for stopovers.

If you see too many Hollywood movies, restrooms, though squeaky clean, are often the scenes of so much violence: holdups, rapes, dismembering, sneaky attacks by the outerspace blob that lives inside the toilet.

But innerspace invasion by outerspace aliens notwithstanding, a clean restroom is a wonderful sign of civilization. A dozen restrooms or so means the Golden Age of Tourism is upon us.

Land trips often mean a bus disgorging dozens of passengers with urgent zipper business to consummate. In the best of times, Pinoys have to be convinced to fall into orderly queues. In a natural emergency, only copiously flowing water and several free cubicles can avert a disaster.

When I first began to ride buses for the countryside, a restroom break lasted as long as it took the bus driver to have his meal, use the john and stand outside the bus, picking his teeth.

As a form of return courtesy, passengers could even ask the whole bus to wait while he or she drank his tsokolate, brushed his teeth, and kissed goodbye everyone, specially the beloved cocks.

Times have changed. Either bus drivers have gone into multitasking or their seats are programmed to eject the driver if he’s not back within five minutes of taking a break, but one should be adept at piss-and-go if one wants to finish the rest of the trip in the same bus. Twice, I had to holler the dialect version of “man overboard” because the hubby had not yet returned from a restroom visit and the bus was pulling out of the station.

What if restrooms are not existent or, to sanitize the description, beyond a state of grace?

Men, lucky devils, can always look for any desolate spot: outside a cadena de amor-trailing cemetery, say (just look twice in case you miss the lapida-maker chipping at a gravestone for so long, he’s blended with the stones and moss).

Although women don’t have the male perpendicular advantage, they can take a cue from the manangs who wear loose flowing dresses or skirts, nothing else. When the call comes, they squat and look, to the rest of the world, busy, counting the ladybugs doing their business on the ground.

While waiting for the Golden Age of Tourism, let’s take our surprises where we find them.

( 09173226131)

* First published in the June 19, 2011 issue of the "Matamata" Sunday column of Sun.Star Cebu

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