Still remember the Asian tsunami in December 2005? It killed 226,000+ lives per reference to the news released by the China Daily dated January 19, 2006. That year marked an unthinkable savagery brought about by nature. Yes, without doubt, nature is magnificent but behind its beauty is its deadly strength and vicious force which may end one’s life in a
matter of seconds. Let me then tell you a story why man should not underestimate nature’s wrath and why shouldn’t he be reckless about its unpredictability.
It was the near-end of April this year when Carlo, a friend from Colgate-Palmolive, willingly expressed his desire to visit my place – Biliran. What pushed him to pay a visit to Biliran are some enticing stories he heard from his sales agents who would go to Naval and the rest of Biliran to deliver some goods, goods that are of course products of the company they work for. In one of our conversations, Carlo told me something about Higatangan Island located at Maripipi, Biliran. He asked me bits of information as to how to get there and what makes the place worth visiting. I told him that the island is known for its silky white beach and shifting sandbar. With that, he told me he was much willing to go to the place. Thus, we did not delay his excitement.
Friday, May 01, 2009, Labor Day. Despite his busy schedule being the District Sales Manager of Colgate-Palmolive, Phils. – Eastern Visayas, we were off the road to Biliran at around 2:30 in the afternoon. We were supposed to leave at 6:00 A.M. as agreed upon in our itinerary but Carlo needed to finish something before going. Yes, it was a holiday but I guess, people in the corporate world do not observe such holidays especially when they are bombarded with workloads. With us was Manuel whom we often call Tawi, the Marketing Director of Bayan Telecommunications – Eastern Visayas. We were three all in all aboard Carlo’s blue Toyota Vios. We were supposed to be four if Randy, the District Group Manager of Colgate-Palmolive – Visayas Region, accepted our invitation. Randy is Carlo’s immediate supervisor and a good friend. He belongs to the group. But he did not go with us because we failed to inform him a bit earlier and that he could no longer accommodate the said trip in his very hectic schedule. One thing more, Randy is no longer based in Tacloban. He has been based in Cebu four months ago although he still visits Tacloban for matters related to work.
The trip was fun. We exchanged a lot of jokes on our way to Biliran. But most of the time, as we always do, most of the jokes we enjoyed with were “wet behind the ears.” Well, boys will be boys. When boys would gather together over some beer or whiskey, or are together in a trip, they would normally talk about nasty things that girls do or would enjoy doing. It’s a boy’s world after all. And girls are what men enjoy talking with apart from business, political and social issues, and the like.
We arrived in the municipality of Biliran at around 4:30 PM. We stopped at Biliran Bridge for some photo opportunities. Carlo remarked that the place was nice because it’s rustic and pollution-free. Well, what enthralled our eyes were the lush-green mountains and the blue-green seas and, as we went out from the car, we felt the cool sea breeze gently touching our skin. The horizon where the sky and the sea met was extraordinary. Seeing that and with the sun gradually setting in the West gave us an unparalleled serenity. It was an authentic beauty. Thanks to big-time investors who did not establish yet any big business in the province. Commercialization has yet to come to Biliran. It may have come but it hasn’t devastated yet this simply irresistible province which I call home – with its alluring beaches and springs and fertile mountains and lands. For now, people enjoy the ‘provinciality’ of the place and the simplicity of living.
We continued our journey from the bridge but we again stopped in one spot still located in the municipality of Biliran. Tawi got his camera and we again took some photos of ourselves. The exact term I heard from Carlo that described the place was “scenic.” Indeed, it was. And we took some candid pictures to prove that claim. We arrived in Naval at 5:20 PM. I bought some groceries and meat and then we were again off the road going to my hometown, Bool, our last stop.
We had fun while driving home. Jokes were still flying in the air. And mind you, the jokes turned greener and greener. We opened the car windows so we could feel the cool breeze from the mountains. It was soothing. But one thing quite inconvenienced my friends. It was the road from Kawayan to Culaba. Although there were some parts that were concreted, the road indeed was rough, but not as rough as before. Tawi even said the road was good for motocross competition. He was quite right. And I laughed. Well, they are not actually used to rough and tough roads although they enjoyed it in a way. One was based in Cebu before and a Carolinian while the other is a true-blooded Atenean.
However, I noticed some developments in the road. There were already parts that were finished. I thought it would no longer be possible to realize this project. Since the 1980s, we were promised by our local officials before that the road construction in all of Biliran will be completed. That was what my grandmother told me when I was seven years old; I was in Grade I then, year 1989. Now I’m 27 years old; 20 years in the counting and my grandmother (in my mother’s side) had been dead five years ago. Until 2003, the year I graduated college, that promise still remained a promise. But now, I see some hope in that long-time, frozen, ancient promise. The project is on-going and I think the province, through the leadership of the current congressman, is very firm and committed to finish the project of concreting the national road of Biliran on or before the target year. Thanks to our politicians who remain faithful and true in doing what they have promised during the election campaigns. At least, there still remain some advocates of one of Confucius’s teachings: “Be careful in giving promises and be cautious in keeping them.” Having them, I would not remain cynical about progress in our locality, especially when it comes to the development of transportation and communications.
We arrived in Bool at around 6:30 in the evening. We ate our dinner, had some bottles of beer and went to sleep at around 10:00 o’clock. We were indeed exhausted from that long trip. Our bodies were flat-tired by the road.
Saturday, May 02, 2009, A Day of Reckoning. This was the day where Carlo and Tawi became so excited to go to Tinago Falls. Our plan of going to Higatangan was postponed because of the southwest monsoon. The sea in Naval was very turbulent. We decided for Tinago, instead. I got a bit excited too because it’s been a year that I haven’t visited the place. Before, I was wondering why the falls is called Tinago perhaps because I didn’t bother to map its geographical location. Now I know why it’s called Tinago, in English, hidden. The reason is that this falls is situated in the heart of the mountain. You need to drive uphill and then take a sharp descend to reach this magnificent wonder of nature. Hidden, indeed. And please take note; don’t go there with your Civic or Benz. That would be futile. To walk is much more exciting. But, with my father’s motorbike and another one from a family friend, we went to Tinago despite the inclement weather. It was raining the whole day and the wind was so strong. My mother even told me that it had rained in Biliran for over a week before we arrived and blatantly said it was a bad idea to go there. One folk told us too that there was low pressure in the western part of Visayas, the reason for the stormy weather. However, all set for an adventure, we tried to challenge the weather with all our might. And I disregarded my mother’s advice not to go to the place. I was thrilled by the escapade ahead of us for we will be exploring one bucolic water form that nature can offer.
We reached Tinago at 10:00 o’clock in the morning. Carlo again remarked, “This is nature in its rawest sense. Very scenic. Very phenomenal.” I just smiled. It was a compliment I have to be happy with, a compliment from a friend, a nature-lover who comes from the bustling city of Quezon. I told them that the place is a good escape from the busy, corrupt city and the sickening demands from work. To me, Biliran is home. I long for this place every time I go back to the city where my work is based. It is here I can breathe the cleanest air, it is here I can climb the tallest mountains, and it is here I can bathe in the coldest rivers. This is the kind of ‘home’ I grew up with.
With Tawi was the basket full of food. Well, before we arrived, Nanay and Tatay with my aunt and cousins already prepared food for us. There were biko and iraid plus ginatang isda, sinigang na isda, sinugbang isda, and nilagang baboy. We filled our stomachs with the sumptuous food prepared before us that morning before going to Tinago. More or less, they witnessed and appreciated the local hospitality my family has offered them.
When we reached Tinago, there were only two persons around. Minutes later, they went home for it was very cold and the rain was inexorable. Only the four of us were left and the only people who were there, no more, no less. We chose to stay in the watchtower so that we could clearly see the falls. Guards? Officers-on-duty? There were none.
No doubt, the falls was amazing! It was a splendid place to chill. And because I did not want to lose a speck of time, I climbed the stone walls that form the basin of the falls. I used the vines attached to the stones so I could reach the falls. Carlo was even taking shots of me with his Sony Cybershot camera and Tawi warned me of any accident that might happen. I was planning then to plunge to the water in the basin of the falls. I always do it when I’m there. But I was hesitant because the water level was high and it looked so violent though convincing. While I was doing that, Tawi, in all innocence, went near the river and dipped himself while gripping his right hand to a stone. Perhaps, he was so fascinated by the water although it was a bit muddy. But suddenly, he was carried by the current of the river. It was so strong that he underestimated its force. Tawi was struggling to get out of the water. I could see him going up and down the water. He called me for rescue. At first, I thought he was just kidding. But I saw the fear on his face. And I saw the face of death in him. I was alarmed but I couldn’t get to him easily for I have climbed the stone walls quite a distance away from him and it wasn’t easy to go back. I became inert.
Suddenly, my cousin, Lyndon, came for a rescue. He was with us for he was the one who drove the other motorbike we borrowed from a family friend. I saw some hope that Tawi would be able to get out from the water with my cousin’s rescue. But in a split of a second, both of them were carried by the river 60 meters away from me. They were like logs carried by a flash flood, so powerless, so weak. Carlo and I got so worried something might happen to them. The situation was helpless, pathetic. It happened so quickly. We had nothing in mind as to how to help both of them. It was a rush. And based on statistics, when it comes to accidents in water, only a few would survive unless the victims are professional swimmers. But not even. I was very afraid a life might be taken by the turbulent force of the river. Would they survive or would they die? That was the vivid question I had in my mind while watching them struggling for life. The incident was definitely “for the books.”
Then, after a few seconds, I saw my cousin struggling to get out from the water. He used his knees and hands to clutch to a big stone and pushed himself to the edge of the river, opposite our location. I was motionless. All that I could do was to stand in my place but I was shouting to ask him if he was okay. He gave me a sign that indicated he was fine. He just got some scratches on his knees. I was relieved. Few seconds have passed and we saw Tawi. He was down the second basin of the river. He pushed himself up the surface after being pushed down to the river base. The current was like a turbine. “It would whirl you down the base and you need to fight against its force for you to go up, breathe and survive,” Tawi uttered. We were fortunate enough that the water in the second basin was a bit placid. Any swimmer could manage to get to the edge of the river basin and save himself from drowning. Good that Tawi and Lyndon are swimmers and they did not lose consciousness. It was a blessing they did not bang their heads on the stones because if they did, we might bring home their corpses. And I think, I will not forgive myself for granting their wish to visit the falls. They are not professional swimmers but their swimming skills saved them from the face of death.
I managed to get back from the stone walls and ran as fast as I could to go to Tawi’s location and check out his condition. Carlo remained still from shock. He was immovable. Yet he was calm to give Tawi directions to swim to the edge of the river. Being a Manila boy, Carlo is not used to swimming in the river and running through the stones. When we got there, we were even laughing at him because he would crawl on the stones instead of walk. It was so funny and I couldn’t help but tag him the title “The Crawler.” Good I was raised in a province where running through the stones in the river is one past time we do with my cousins especially when we stay with our grandparents in the farm to harvest the coconuts and crops. The river was one rejuvenating place for us. We would immediately take off our clothes and bathe in the river nude.
I went to Tawi and checked out his head, arms and legs. I would consider it a blessing if he just broke his arm or leg. But it was a miracle! He just got minute scratches on his legs and right arm, the same with my cousin. They were very fine. They were conscious and were very able to stand and walk after the incident. No bones were fractured. No deep wounds. No blood. Minutes after, we started laughing. The fear and tension were replaced by josh. We were laughing at the expression of their faces when they sought for rescue and teasing them was unstoppable. What Tawi did was unimaginable. He took the river’s current too lightly. But all that we could do was laugh after that near-death incident. We may call it stupidity but we are sorry to say that even until now, when we see each other in our apartment or go together in the gym, we would just laugh about the incident. But of course, we did not forget to thank God for giving Tawi and Lyndon a second life. Tawi immediately called his friend in Tacloban and requested her to offer a thanksgiving in the church. We ate our lunch afterwards for that was the only thing we could do while watching the vindictive force of the river which nearly took Tawi and Lyndon’s life. However, Tawi and Lyndon could not eat much for they lost their appetite. Who would not lose appetite after that incident? Then, without delay, we went home, still smiling, still laughing, and still joking with what happened. Enjoyment prevailed despite that startling event. But the feeling of fear and anxiety was still inside of me. What if one of them died? Or, what if they both died? I think I couldn’t forgive myself if it did so. And I’m sure, their parents and families will not forgive me too. Good thing, they’re alive.
It was indeed an unforgettable yet terrifying moment. It was worth the price if the scene was videoed, submitted and shown via Amazing Videos at the National Geographic Channel or at AXN’s Video Zonkers. Carlo was just late to take a video of the incident. Well, everything happened so fast.
Lesson Learned. It is indeed stupid and dense to underestimate the force of nature. Man indeed should not challenge nature unless he is a mutant and possesses supernatural powers. Well, mutants only exist in X-Men movies and other films of that sort. When nature releases its brutal force, it is certainly a deadly force. It is hard to control and stop. Life will be at stake when nature strikes. One thing more, children should have the ears to listen to their mothers. Mothers know best as most people believe in. They give advice not for our ruin but for our safety and well-being.
“Next time, when you go to Tinago Falls, keep safe and be sure not to challenge its might and valor”. This is a statement that came from Tawi, the one who underestimated Tinago’s atrocity. But despite that incident, and when I asked them if they enjoyed their visit to my place, they remarked “It was all worth it!” and said that there would be other future visits if given the luxury of time. Well, by that time, we will be more cautious and watchful. Man learns after all.
I hope so.
Note: Upon arrival in Tacloban, my aunt who knew of the incident gave me a call and informed me that there were already three cases of death that happened in Tinago falls. Even one water buffalo (the locals call it ‘carabao’) which was carried by the water sometime in March didn’t survive. It is when it rains hard in Biliran that the waters in the falls become vindictive. A lesson to learn.
Nimrod L. Delante is a graduate of BS in English & Literature at Leyte Normal University Magna Cum Laude. He also holds an MA in English Language & Literature Teaching at the Ateneo de Manila University. He worked in LNU for six years as a college instructor. Currently, he is connected with the University of Cebu – Main Campus, Cebu City teaching both in the undergraduate and graduate classes. He hopes to finish a doctoral degree abroad.