February 20, 2006
Onboard Cebu Pacific flight 5J340, I was quite anxious about my first domestic flight, and neither the pandesal I ate for breakfast nor the trip to the comfort room could cure my uneasiness – the worst case of aviophobia I’ve had since I could remember.
The arrival time had been 30 minutes delayed. Turbulence, as we began our descent, woke me up from my nap. I could see Ms. Lampa reading The Economist, whilst those who had won the “Hand Me” game earlier were relaxing on the neck pillows they got as their prize.
The 80-peso tricycle fare from the airport brought us to Kalibo Pilot Elementary School , the registration area for contestants from NCR. After much ado about lodging provisions, Ms. Lampa and I had thankfully met other delegates from NCR, one from UPIS and one from PSHS, who directed us to Villa Atong Atang, an inn roughly a 12-minute walk from Kalibo Pilot.
The broken cabinet doors, the ceiling cracks and the small bathroom were far from home, but at least it had air conditioning!
Under the scorching pre-summer heat, contestants from various regions – and the different tribes of Aklan – gathered in Pastrana Park in preparation for the Ati-atihan Parade which was to be celebrated alongside the opening of the 26 th National School ’s Press Conference (NSPC).
That was another first in my life – the first parade I had attended!
Upon arriving at the ADL Sports Complex, I sat beside Florianne, an acquaintance, while waiting for the opening ceremony to commence. Ms. Lampa had detoured to the airport during the parade to reschedule our flight to Wednesday morning.
The one-hour tread to the complex left us utterly exhausted.
Finally, it ends. After having heard Rizal quoted thrice – not to mention my incessant note-taking imperative – I am allowed a moment to breathe in some air.
While I could talk about my skepticism over the sincerity of this year’s theme “Responsible and Quality Journalism: Gearing Up to the Challenges of Schools First Initiative,” I would rather recount the things that were genuine that afternoon – the gregariousness of the tricycle drivers, the assembly of different people from the 17 regions of the country and my conversations with newfound friends.
Ms. Lampa begins calling me a “brat.” I would exempt myself from the label, but my behavior revealed otherwise.
Earlier, Ms. Lampa and I walked to a nearby Jollibee branch, only to find out that it closed at 8:00p.m.! Forced to return to the “hotel,” we strolled in the suburban streets of the municipality of Kalibo, noticing that its quietness was the equivalent of late-night Manila.
Upon knowing that Villa Atong Atang offered a menu, we jumped at our relief. The dilemma was Ms. Lampa was “pesco-vegetarian,” and the only option was a tapsilog.
I would have been satisfied with free TV, but the inn amazingly had cable. Cable or not cable, the television was broken. If only static and noise were entertaining…
I was full, my appetite satisfied. Blest with our new friends, not only was I able to eat fried rice from Chowking, I was able to catch a glimpse of Pinoy Big Brother as well. That had at least bridged me over to the next day.
Ms. Lampa was off to sleep, and so was I.
February 21, 2006
Someone grabbed me by my ankle. Ms. Lampa was waking me up. The sessions begin at 9:00a.m., and my eyes were still shut.
She eventually tells me that she had actually gone for a walk at 7:00a.m. It was nice of her to have bought me fries and burger when she herself only had pie for breakfast.
We reach the venue for the talks. Defying the instructions of the dishonest organizer who prevented me from attending the session, I sneaked in a room. Embarrassed, I would eventually find out that I had gone inside the wrong room, so I sneaked out and went to the room for my category, “Pagsulat ng Balita,” had been assigned.
For a reason yet to be understood, NCR representatives were being told that the sessions were “only for non-contestants,” a statement readily contradicted by what could be seen inside – a roomful of contestants from other regions.
Lunch at RML was quite refreshing. The six of us, UPIS, PSHS and XS contestant-moderator duos, ate our last lunch, at least the last before the contest proper begins.
My heart is pounding. The competition should have started 11 minutes ago and there was no sign of commencement.
Come to think of it, I did not prepare for this competition. I did not read the newspaper then or during my stay. That was partly due to the fact that newspapers arrive in Kalibo at the afternoon.
Of the many weeks I could’ve trained, Ms. Lampa had only given me three fact sheets and I only accomplished two.
Prayer was my reprieve, but even then, I had to reinforce that prayer with the wish that prayer were enough.
The ringing of the bell of a nearby church resonated. I had written the last word of my piece, and there was no contentment in my heart. A 10 minute extension was given, but it seemed as though I had already given up. No, perhaps I just felt that with the time left, that was the best I could do.
Ms. Lampa and I traveled to Chowking to eat dinner. We forgot that Jollibee, which was more proximate to the inn, closes at 8:00p.m. It was a hearty dinner that at least replenished the energy I used while buying pasalubong after the contest.
February 22, 2006
We will be leaving the next morning.
I just realized some of the many firsts I had done or experienced through my junket, which doubled as a hiatus from my problematic school life back in Manila.
It is my first time in Kalibo, my first domestic travel via plane and my first time to board on Cebu Pacific Airlines.
It is my first time to eat a Dewberry and eat danggit.
Also, it is through this trip that I first bargained in a local market.
Indeed, this trip is a first – a first of many things and a first in itself.
My first national competition, which at the very least, witnessed slight changes in my person, but changes nonetheless.
Last minute pasalubong purchasing as I encountered some last minute reminders of this small municipality.
On Manang Linda’s stall, she had generously given us a discount whilst marketing her store of course. She reminds me of how Kalibonans were kind and friendly.
As we were about to check out from Villa Atong Atang, I saw Inday, an employee of the inn. I pitied her, for no reason but her morose countenance that somehow smiled to us whenever we approached her. She symbolizes the hospitality I have doubted, until I came to Kalibo.
Two minutes from the airport and I have already finished my travelogue before it had been created.
I am about to leave a town, which was not as close to the island paradise as I had thought. I had walked on cement and rock, instead of sand and shells, where the fresh sea breeze was black of urban smoke.
I stayed in a place where Jollibee closes at 8:00p.m., newspapers arrive in the afternoon and tricycles have replaced cars, cabs and jeepneys as primary means of transportation.
Far from the world of the beach yet not quite the same as the gritty world I was heading back to…
“Aalis na tayo,” I said, with the sober tone of regret or perhaps a whine of a brat that has yet to grow up.
I was reading The Economist when the captain announced that we were taking a different route. It triggered a familiar fear, but I have nonetheless stepped onto the grounds of Manila.
The baked chicken pie on my dad’s car, the traffic, the malls and the highways tell me that I have indeed departed.
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