Friday, May 25, 2012

On the road

SOUTHERN Luzon is a strange place to endure a waiting.

The plains stretch as far as the roads will take a traveler.Accustomed to the sere shadows of mountains back home, the eye is startled by lushness. A wild orchid confronts, without coyness, from a roadside perch. Egrets descend and lift as clouds of dazzling whiteness blanketing farms.

A fine tracery of narrow roads dissects the heart of these southern towns. Unlike the south of Cebu, though, the intimate layout of towns is awash with the impersonal, inexorable tidal currents of commerce.Here, strangers come and go, uncommented.

In this traffic of transients, the most interesting are the places of convergence. From Laguna to Naga City in CamSur to Daet, Camarines Norte to Lucena, Quezon Province to Lipa, Batangas, the flow of traffic is controlled by road improvements.

While a portion of the road is being repaired, vehicles wait for the signal that they can use the available lanes. Often, the wait is as long as 15 minutes.

The alternating intervals are used by residents to sell food-on-the-go. Hard-boiled chicken eggs and quail eggs, boiled peanuts and boiled corn, native sweets.

While Cebu roadside vendors hawk the merchandise—one food rap has become a joke, a ditty and a movie (“Itlog, Manoy,Orange”)—the locals here say nothing. They simply hold out their wares or carry it around, not caring that others sell the same stuff.

Men outnumber the women selling food. Does this account for the silence?

At Quezon National Park, a route involving several steep inclines and sharp turns, members of the community work from sunup till sunset as traffic marshals. They wave green or red flags to signal a vehicle to proceed or halt. Some marshals hold out a hand or a cap, asking for a dole-out. Many are women and the elderly.

This gesture, done in complete silence, speaks volumes of,to me, the gender difference.

Outside an airbase in Lipa is Rose’s, an eatery that has grown from a roadside shack to a cafeteria whose reputation is sealed by only one dish. When we stopped for late lunch, the place was packed with silent men.

When my bowl of lomi was placed before me, I understood why. The lomi I had in Daet was, compared to this, a teacup of soup topped with crunchy vegetables. Food for a doll or a grasshopper.

The Lipa lomi was served in a much scratched, pot-bellied ceramic that held fat noodles, slices of kikiam, four whole quail eggs and a slice of liver as long as a rock star’s tongue. Every customer received a bowl of large red peppers, chopped onions and exactly three calamansi.

The calamansi was squeezed and mixed with toyo. It was not a “sawsawan (dip)” but a chaser. I placed a few drops so I could sip and swallow, sip and swallow the cornstarch-thickened sludge. At about the exact moment the deceptively pretty pepper seeds kicked in and made me sniffle, my tongue grappled with the viscous soup, thick with unmentionable imaginables.

Somehow, I mastered the rhythm (sniff-sip-swallow) and downed every bit of my lomi, as silent as the machos drawn by this P40 per bowl challenge.

Though I don’t see the end of the road yet, I’m liking the challenges.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 20, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

No comments: