Friday, December 26, 2008

Going to Christmas Mass soaking wet

Probably the only time we were ever wetter in church was at our own baptisms. We found out on Christmas Eve evening that a banca was going to Cabcaben, which is a city in Bataan, on Christmas morning, and that there were masses one after the other at the church there. Gilbert, Jun, and two ladies were invited to be godparents at a baptism in Tarlac Province, so they had arranged to be picked up at 5:00 A.M. and taken to Bataan where they would finish the journey on land.

Because we had not been to Mass since our move to Corregidor – rosaries on Sunday mornings being the best we could do – we jumped at the opportunity to go to Christmas morning mass. Ronilo said he would go with us. Perfect. But this meant we had to set an alarm clock, something we had not needed to do yet in our new home The roosters and monkeys and sun wake us up plenty early for most days. Having no schedule, we could probably sleep until noon without anyone noticing, but after years of being up early, we both are awake by about 6 o’clock.

So at 4:00 we were up and at ‘em. Showered and dressed, bright eyed and bushy tailed. Well, not really, but we drove down the hill to meet up with the gang. At 4:55 we parked and walked over to the place we knew Maynard would dock his small banca. No one in sight. No banca. At 5:15 we texted Gilbert and Ron and got no response from either one. Strange. Then we figured that maybe they were running on island time, which tends to be 15 minutes early or late from world time, and just maybe the baptismal party was already gone. But we didn’t figure Ron would go without us.

We called Gilbert: again nothing. We called Ron, and on the fourth or fifth ring he said he was putting on his shoes and was on the way, which probably meant we woke him up and all it would take for him to be on his way would be to put his shoes on. Ron arrived a few minutes later, and explained that Gilbert and Jun had been still sleeping, and that maybe the boat (banca) captain was drunk after Christmas partying, and not coming.

Around 5:45 Gilbert, Jun, and the ladies showed up, but still no banca. Ron started to make arrangements with Randy, who owns a bigger and thus more expensive boat. About the time Randy had pumped out the bilge water, along came Maynard in his banca. There were no seats, so we wondered how all of us were going to sit. We climbed aboard, carefully stepping on concrete pillars that were just above the water line. What looked like a boat without seats suddenly sprouted boards across the width, and voila, seats! We finally shoved off at 6:15.

The ride across was uneventful, meaning we did not sink or run into an ocean freighter, although we did cross paths with two of them. However, it wasn’t long until we were in two foot waves, approximately the height the banca rides above the water. Maynard skillfully steered us into the waves, gliding us over and through them. Being a double outrigger, there is nearly no chance of capsizing, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll stay dry. The waves kept hitting the rigging tied to the outriggers, and the wind occasionally directed the resulting cascade into the front of the boat, where we had the seat of honor. Steve’s right sleeve and left leg, along with Marcia’s skirt, were the wettest. But it was warm, and we knew that we would eventually dry out, it being clean salt water.

The ride took longer than usual because Maynard had to continually speed up and slow down to time the rolling of the banca with the waves. The diesel motor went from brrrrrrrrr to putt-putt and back again, with an occasional backfire. Maybe an hour or so later we were pulling up to the breakwater at Cabcaben. We disembarked, walked over some boulders, and once again set foot on solid ground.

The baptismal party headed for a bus, hoping to make the connections in time to be at the mass. According to Gilbert, godparents here can number up to 30 per each child, so if they didn’t make it, it sounded like there would still be plenty to go around. Ron led us on foot up the street a few blocks, and then turned left, and we were at the Catholic Church. It was just after 7:30, and not knowing Tagalog well, it took us a couple of minutes to figure where they were in the mass. As it turned out, we had just missed the entrance. There was an overflow crowd, and we weaseled our way so that we could stand at the back of the church.

Inside we were impressed by the number of young people, including very young children, who were present. Also the choir was outstanding, and this being Christmas Mass, quite involved. We were pretty much lost when it came to the readings and the sermon, but were able to figure out major events like the Gospel, Consecration and The Lord’s Prayer. Communion seemed a little disorganized, as people from every row got in line whenever they felt like it. We were just happy to receive Communion after so long. Maybe we will go more regularly if we can figure out how to time it so we have rides back and forth.

After mass – we were finally dry – we walked a mile or so to the city market, which looked like business as usual, although we did get to say Merry Christmas to many people along the way. We bought three large chickens, some vegetables for chop suey, a bunch of bananas, and two apples and two pears for the first time here. We then hopped into a tricycle. Actually, Marcia got into the small sidecar first, with the groceries. Next, Steve set the backpack inside, and then sat down next to Marcia, a feat quite amazing because the seat is about as wide as one and a half of our two butts. Ron hopped on the back of the bike. The fare was 30 pesos (50 cents) but Steve gave the driver 50 pesos and wished him a Merry Christmas. Steve got a very big smile and “Thank you, sir.”

The banca ride back was just Ron and us, our market purchases, and a huge (50K) sack of rice. Since we were now going with the wind, we stayed dry, and Maynard had very few speed adjustments to make until he got near the Corregidor shoreline. The tide had risen at least a foot and now covered the concrete, so we were able to get a little closer to shore, and thus getting off was easier and safer than getting on had been.

We hope we did not give the impression that we were ever at any risk while on the banca crossing Manila Bay. These are expert boatmen, and the bancas, although they may appear flimsy, are well built and very sea-worthy. With coast guard on the island, word spreads quickly if conditions are not safe, and then everyone stays where they are until the waves are calmer. We look forward to many future rides on bancas.

A good part of the rest of the day was spent relaxing, which was easy due to it being a cloudy, sometimes rainy day. In fact, it looked like a Michigan day this time of year, almost like it could snow at any time. There were no tours so the island was even quieter than usual. We finished the day at Ron’s, eating chicken suspended on a bamboo stick rotisserie and roasted over homemade charcoal, while drinking Red Horse Beer. We also had a couple dishes made with goat, a coconut fruit salad, and rice. A late text message told us that Gilbert, Jun and the ladies were going to have to spend the night with friends in Cabcaben since they returned too late for a ride back. They’ll probably come back with Maynard at 5:00 A.M., so we will hear about their adventure later.

All in all, we had a very nice day for our first Christmas on Corregidor.

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