Monday, June 15, 2009

At Aloguinsan

Suroy Suroy Sugbo 2009: Explore the Midwest – At Aloguinsan

Arrival at Aloguinsan
This is pronounced as \a'-lO-gin-sa'n\ (note that the “a” is pronounced as in father, the “o” as in go, the “gin” as in Guinness and “san” as in son). Top this... people from this town are called Aloguinsanons! A tongue-twister for me but not to others hehe!

Ah arriving at Aloguinsan was my first indicator that Suroy Suroy Sugbo is no simple commercial guided tour! As the bus slowed down to a halt, Tony announced we were entering the very first barangay of Aloguinsan and that a local tour guide would join us! I excitedly thought, OMG this is fantastic! The townsfolk made a beautiful bamboo arch to welcome us. Sigh, I wasn’t able to take a pic of that since I was in the middle of the bus. And OMG again, the place (a very rural and hilly part of the locality) was littered with bright little bannerettes. And OMG too, school children, barangay officials and residents lined both sides of the road waving little flags to welcome us! Wow!

“Gooood Moooorniiing! Maayong pag-abot dinhi sa lungsod sa Aloguinsan” was the cheerful greeting from the “local tour guide”. She introduced herself as Susan and gave us a briefer about the town. She then said “I will distribute some pamphlets about our town and sorry your bus has no player so I cannot play this CD that has our town’s Kinsan Festival jingle”. When she approached to give me a pamphlet, I asked what it was that she did for a living. The answer was… “I am a school teacher”! OMG again! This time I came to terms with it, this is not just a simple run-of-the-mill tour.

In my mind, I was clapping and applauding Gwen (yes the governor) for arranging things this way. BTW, in the entirety of these stories, I prefer to keep calling her “Gwen” than the usual “Honorable First Lady-Governor of Cebu Gwendolyn Fiel Garcia”, okay?! Reason is, I feel it makes her look old calling her all those honorific names, which never even fit her aura and physique. She’s just a down to earth jolly girl with a brain. Only difference to most of you my female readers is… she is sexier and more beautiful at her golden age. Tanggapin nyo na yan, governor naman sya e! Okay, back to Aloguinsan.

All the way from that first barangay to center of town, roads we passed were decorated with blue and white buntings that I think were made from plastic bags or something similar. Susan wore a yellow shirt printed with the Kinsan Festival attractions – which I was already sure was their “uniform” for the day. She would usually interrupt her descriptions of the town’s attractions to tell us who were those kids or older folks waving at us as we passed by their areas. Fun!

In no time, our bus stopped beside the church. Susan declared we were in town and the first order of the day was to visit the church – it is a custom amongst Filipinos, for those of you who don’t know yet (and in whatever religion/denomination we are) we go to our respective 'houses of prayer'.

We could hear the hard beating of drums even before the bus doors opened for us to spill out. And OMG why were there so many folks around? It was like we were performers that everyone wanted to see! But aside from the “Hello, Welcome to Aloguinsan” or the “Maayong pag-abot”, townsfolk young and old were just there waving and smiling at us. As we entered the walkway leading up to the church, some ladies of the town (probably Susan’s colleagues) welcomed each of us with native woven hats ribboned with a maroon colored abaca sinamay clipped with a chip of wood inscribed with “Suroy Suroy 2009 Aloguinsan, Cebu”. Beautiful! And beautiful to look at all of us visitors wearing those hats!

Hey, all the while, children in yellow-and-green costumes danced to the beating drums. They lined both sides of the pathway where we entered the church. What a welcome!

So we were inside the pink church. After prayers, I wondered what we were supposed to do next. Saw Gwen and her daughter (yes, the lawyer) also still praying. Took the moment to sneak out for a view. Whoa! The church is perched on a hill with a pathway that inclines all the way down to the new municipal hall and the sea! I was tempted to walk down there but was ashamed to break away from the tour. But what a wonderful place this church vicinity is! And there is a big grass lawn with nothing but the statue of Mama Mary. Some big trees too! Looked at the church again in its entirety... too bad I couldn’t take an “immaculate shot” of it since the whole fa├žade teemed with a lot of people who were our well-wishers. I just told myself… “I’ll be back, promise”!

Hey this church is distinctly pink on the outside but a combination of yellow, pink and blue (mostly yellow) on the inside. Hah, I know a story told by Tony recalling his conversation with the bishop as to why the church was painted pink! No am not telling you… go there and have Tony Flores as your guide to know more hehe!

Uniquely, right after you enter the front door, there is a circular thing on the floor that looks like a jaccuzzi! Never got to ask anyone on what might that be for, but I imagine it should be a baptismal area. Oh just outside, I saw a brown float that was made to look like a boat named M/V Gwen! I thought “hmm, maybe something they used at some ceremony sometime ago”.

When I re-entered the church, a man with a wireless microphone (was that the vice-mayor?), walked up front and gave us another briefer about Aloguinsan. After his short descriptions, he asked us all to walk the path leading down to the Municipal Hall. I almost shouted in glee that we were actually going down to where I wanted to go! Yep yep, children, mostly teenagers lined the pathway just to greet us “Welcome to Aloguinsan”!

The ‘main” welcome
OMG again! As we entered that part of town, there were more people and more dancers lined along our path! This time they were all dancing to the “One Cebu” tune. Fantastic!

I saw a jolly gay dude walking by with a curiously beautiful black umbrella where the cloth was made to look like a lace. I approached and asked him where he got it. I was surprised at the reply: “we made it”! While I touched the flowery cuts/holes of the cloth, he told me “those are what we call laser-cuts, you will see more of these upstairs”. I said “okay, thanks” but did not actually bother on what he meant by “upstairs”. And I proceeded with tour mates to where the dancing kids were leading us.

Ah, two little gay kids caught everyone’s attention as they danced with gusto. Their faces were animatedly made-up! Am sure they were just the ones who did their faces… yknow… little kids… when they get hold of mom’s cosmetics! That’s how they looked! But their ultra graceful dancing was the main attraction to everyone.

Moving onwards, another set of dancers still dancing to the same tune were in front of the municipal hall, their backs to a big big field of sand and gravel that also had more dancers. There was some kind of a festival queen at the entrance to the field. How cute, they even made temporary bleachers on both sides of the stage. But most of us were asked to go up and occupy the many seats upstage. They just saved 5 or so chairs at front-middle which I instantly knew was for Gwen and other big names. It was almost 11AM under a hot sun but the dancing continued. Across the field directly from the stage was a big backdrop like a Sinulog final showdown was to occur. And beyond that, from the stage, the exhilarating view of the Tanon Strait. Hey I could even see the island of Negros as a haze in the horizon!

Soon a voice announced the arrival of the “Aloguinsan Mayor Cynthia Moreno and the First Lady-Governor of Cebu Gwendolyn F. Garcia”. Then came the boat float rushing with the two women on board. I thought WOW and OMG! They made that float just for this? Really Wow! And as the two ladies waved at the crowd, the float made its way inside the field and dropped them to join us onstage! Mayor welcomed us once again and did not anymore do a litany of what to see in her town. Her message was more of “I hope you’ll feel the warmth of our sincere welcome, and the warmth of our delight that you came here and visited us”! That short and crisp! Another OMG, they actually prepared a sampling of performances that occur during the Kinsan Festival (which was to be 2 days after our visit).

And the two gay kids merrily and gaily stole the limelight again. People and the media were captivated at the animated movements of those two little boys!

Balwarte Feast
After the “snippet” of Kinsan Festival performances, the mayor invited everyone up to the Balwarte for lunch. Wherever that was, I just followed my tour mates. And ah, it is a hill behind the Municipal Hall. The pathway going there is lovely, laid with decorative tiles! There is a garden at the base and a faux waterfall. To my amazement, many of the performers were already by the pathways, dancing the “One Cebu” thing again. How did they do it? I think they all ran to those new positions immediately after dancing at the big field.

The Balwarte is a hill where a watchtower against pirates was located in the olden days. There is no tower anymore but the hill (now a park) still has great vantage of the sea and the town. This place teems with trees and flowers and breezy and is a very good place for photo-shoots! Oh, there are three kiosk-like cottages strategically located on separate ridges with even more majestic views!

At the Balwarte, music this time was not the drums but Philippine folk songs played on strings. At the main entry point was installed a live tableaux with handsome guys and beautiful gals of the town as models featuring a Spanish-era inspired Filipiniana collection of a popular couturier in Cebu who hails from this town. Grand, really grand with the models in their ternos, umbrellas etc amidst the trees! Oh now this is the “upstairs” that the guy told me about. I saw the umbrellas with the “laser-cut”. And as announced by the voice-over host, that guy I talked with earlier was actually the featured couturier himself – Dexter Alasas!

No further ado! As every one of us arrived at the Balwarte, guides showed us to the buffet tables that had a deluge of delectable fares of the town. OMG! The whole town seems to have colluded at just one objective – that none of us visitors must leave their place not full to the forehead with all their delicious food! Ahhh! I thought one whole lechon went rather fast, but more kept coming. For an instant, greed came over my royal self hehe, I scooped the 5 remaining ube-tarts in a tray and braved not to care if there was none left for others, but when I glanced back a few seconds later, the very same tray was again brimming full with it! Shame on me?! Not really! They were just all too ready to fill us!

Actually, being still full from the on-board snack and the sausage mcmuffin earlier in the morning, I concentrated on the uncommon that I saw on the table like the various kinds of rice cakes & root crops, the different-looking vegetable concoction that looked like pakbet but was not, fish fish and fish AND I feasted on the mangoes. I did not even touch rice! And am not sure if I just had 3 bottles of Coke. It could have been more.

Hey, tables and chairs were daintily spread at various points on the irregular terrain of the garden/park. And the setting looked like there was a wedding reception! A widescreen TV was playing the sights, products and festivals of the town. Staff were always on hand to bring water, drinks or even food to those who were already heavy enough to stand and walk to the buffet table. Hands down, this setup and organization has (for me) just toppled a popular events caterer in Manila!

I kept roaming the Balwarte as I ate. Over at the southern edge of the park I saw a big house with red roof that perched even on higher ground with a better vantage of the Tanon Strait. I asked one of the many policemen in the area and I learned it was a house of the mayor’s relatives as her’s was farther down the hill! Straight down below the red house was a white-sand beach where locals were either swimming or tending to their fishing implements. Glorious place!

Then someone got on the microphone and the tableaux started moving about the place in what you might call a garden fashion show as he described the Filipiniana wears! Whoa! They looked great in those outfits with the trees and the sea as background. Enchanting… even nostalgic as it did brought to life how our forebears looked during the olden Spanish era that we only see on books!

Without anyone telling them to, some of my tour mates started heading down to the buses. Slowly others followed suit. I looked at the time on my phone and realized that indeed it was almost 12NN – our departure time for Pinamungahan. I silently smiled and admired at how prompt and disciplined my tour mates were! On the way down, one staff even asked if I wanted to take some mangoes with me. I wanted to but politely declined. For some reason I felt a bit shy that time hehe!

As if someone wielded a wand, the costumed performers, town officials, teachers and other crews suddenly appeared on the pathway again thanking us for the visit. I wanted to shout THANK YOU FOR THE FEAST! It was not just lunch, it really was a feast celebrating nothing hehe! But I just kept smiling and returned the thank yous as we passed by all of them townsfolk.

Oh, our buses also came down from up the hill near the church! All were already lined up in front of the Municipal Hall as we emerged from the Balwarte. Then again, the “stars of the day”, the two gay kids that grabbed everyone’s attention were also by the sides to see us off! We talked to them for a very short while and realized how shy they actually were talking to us, contrary to how energetic and flirtatious they were during performance! Both are yet in the 3rd grade and are already as flamboyant as bar girls!

The common expression that local folks usually muttered as we said goodbye was “balik balik lang” which I gathered means “please come back”.

Back on the bus, Tony advised all that we would immediately start rolling to Pinamungahan. I thought I might as well dose the short way off to that next town. But I was surprised when Susan came on the microphone again! Many of us thought she was also gone since we were done at Aloguinsan. She merrily explained that her job was not done just yet. She was still to be with us until the last barangay of her town where a new local guide from Pinamungahan would replace her! Grabe!

She continued on discussing the beaches along Barangay Bonbon. This time it was becoming a Q&A session but she was all too ready with the right answers. Topics were as hilarious as “when will there be a mall in town” to as serious as “how much per square meter are the available beach-front lots being sold”. This place is a good candidate for eco-adventures and dive safaris. There are caves and springs but the sea is more inviting. And there are mangroves too! My take was, and I maintain that for the moment… “I hope to see a boating tour along that river with its mouth near the open field” and “I hope the vendors at the public market (under construction across the municipal hall and at the very mouth of the river) won’t throw their trash and waste to the river and the sea”. Hmm, that latter wish seems to be an impossible dream and many of my tour mates agree. If its any consolation… I/we have seen how green the river at Aloguinsan is (at least before the public market becomes operational).

Ma’am Susan gladly discussed the many curious things we asked and I did notice she was taking notes about our comments. Bright tour-guide eh! she's a school teacher after all! Then we arrived at the boundary of Barangay Bonbon (Aloguinsan) and Barangay Tutay? (Pinamungahan)… the bus stopped… we said our final thank yous and goodbyes and she was off to join her fellow guides from the other buses…

Oh well, so long Aloguinsan and Aloguinsanons!

Click here for the video clip!

For a chronology of the stories in this trip, click the following numbers:
01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12


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