Monday, June 18, 2012

Windmills of Bangui

WHAT’S here and not here, goes the riddle I always found easy to answer.

The wind, of course.

I felt less cocky standing at the foot of the towering turbines lining the coast of Bangui Bay in Ilocos Norte.

The wind turbines rise to 230 feet. Twenty turbines are ranged along nine kilometers of the Bangui shore.

Completed in 2008, this wind farm is called the NorthWind Bangui Bay Project.

Finding the place during a late weekday afternoon, I found it easy to believe the local impression that the windmills are only sidelights for visitors seeking the white sands of Pagudpud at the northwest tip of Luzon Island or straying from the Unesco-declared world heritage city of Vigan.

We missed the turn because the roadside marker mentioned a windmill café. Bushes obscured the sign. After a steep, circuitous route, we reached the Bay of Bangui, facing a sullen, white-capped South China Sea.

No café. The windmills are there, of course.

For sightseers, they offer a lot of photo opportunities. My older son asked me to pose as if I were holding a paper windmill and blowing to make the blades turn.

The memories of childhood are stirred by the feeling of diminishing as we left the road and walked down to the shore. All five feet of me, sinking in the shifting sand of fine stones, had to bend back at the torso, not just tilt back my head, to gaze up at a turbine’s 230 feet of whiteness.

Unlike that comforting childhood riddle of an omnipresent but unobtrusive wind, the turbines radiate power. It’s not only because the 20 wind turbines generate 33 megawatts. This electricity is exported to the Luzon grid, reportedly “plagued by expensive and unreliable power supply,” according to the World Resources Institute (WRI).

These state-of-the-art windmills cost about US$35 million, almost 90 percent of which was shouldered by the Danish International Development Agency.

The WRI notes that the Bangui wind farm will displace “highly polluting diesel-based power generation thereby reducing emissions of (greenhouse gas or) GHG.”
Despite their out-of-this-world presence, the wind turbines are all about sustaining the earth. Wind power is a source of sustainable energy.

Overlaying the sound of the sea pounding the Bangui shore is the regular whish of the turbine blades scything through the air.

Does the community hear the sound of the future?

Bangui is an oddity in the Amianan. While other northern Luzon towns and cities boast of sprawling plantations of tobacco and rice, or rely on agricultural products, crafts, heritage churches, natural wonders and other inducements to appeal to tourists, Bangui has to work harder to court transient favors.

The coast is harsh and forbidding, a raw profile of rocks carved by the relentless, ageless battle with the sea and elements. Yet, like its neighbors, Bangui strives to eke a living through tourism.

Vehicles stop at roadside stalls, selling the same garlic and shallots sold in other northern Luzon towns. Then we spot what Bangui alone sells: rocks.

Molded by the sea into a pleasing smoothness, rocks are sold by the color: reds, greens, greys, blues, blacks. Parts of Bangui that end up in gardens, aquariums and Bangui’s souvenirs.

At 13, Rafael still has the height and open face of a child. The incoming high school student runs to cars arriving at the wind farm. For P50 and P70, he sells wooden replicas of the turbines. He says his father carved these.

Near the turbines is a scraggly cluster of stalls, selling more desktop souvenirs and keychains. All look like the ones Rafael says were carved by his carpenter-father.

The desktop souvenirs have plastic flowers. The native bushes only grow long, cruel thorns; perhaps it wasn’t the season yet for their flowering.

The variegated pebbles and stones adorning the tokens are real. It must be a home enterprise: the children and women gather, glue and apply lacquer on the stones. The wooden windmills are made by the fathers.

Which of Bangui’s two windmills will answer the riddle of the future?

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s May 27, 2012 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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