When I arrived in Catanduanes, I was met by the ARMY and as soon as I sat in the ARMY truck, the soldier said, “Mahaba-haba ang byahe natin ma’am, ah?” (It will be a long drive, okay ma’am?) And he wasn’t kidding about it.
It was fine, though, Catanduanes is unlike any other place I’ve been to. The only sign of development was a small stretch of “downtown” that housed a few establishments (like Jollibee, BDO and Landbank). The rest of the ride to the site was just a view of mountains, sea, cultivated land and trees. I immediately noticed the trees. The trees, if not barren, looked stricken, as if electrocuted. Of course I remembered that Typhoon Nina just struck the place, so I looked at the solider to ask, “Yung mga puno? Dahil sa bagyo?” (The trees are that way because of the typhoon?) and he answered, “Oo ma’am lahat po nakalbo pagkatapos ng bagyo” (Yes ma’am, almost all the trees lost their leaves after the typhoon). The news didn’t downplay it at all. Two months after the typhoon hit, the place is still recovering.
Just so you know, Catanduanes is 70% nature. The current commanding officer said that when he first arrived in the place, he thought he was going to lose his mind. After seven years, of course, he has already fallen in love with the place–and why shouldn’t he? Catanduanes is picturesque from every angle, with double rainbows sprouting from the skies, like it’s normal. In fact, rainbows are too common that he says, “There is no such thing as a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow”, he’s checked (so many times).
I fell in love with Catanduanes. I haven’t been to Batanes to declare anything definitive, but I’m guessing, this place could rival it without question.
As frequent as rainbows, typhoons are not exactly strange in Catanduanes, but the intensity at which Nina hit, definitely crippled the place–and we saw it in the news. On December 25th when it hit, the whole place lost power and did not resume until 3-4 weeks after. For days, all roads were impassable, so they had to carry relief operations on foot and on motorcycles–until the paths finally cleared.
The place and the people are still recovering. Apart from the trees, from time to time, you’ll find remnants of what used to be a home or structure, just lying on the ground. My team’s presence there, was pushed despite NPA threats, because the truth is… many areas still need medical attention (and this is true, to this day).
Hidden towns in a place like Catanduanes, often struggle in a catastrophe such as Nina. Because even though eight C130s arrived with relief goods from DSWD and other sectors, the boxes get repacked and distribution is controlled. If your town is a known supporter of the incumbent LGU, you are on top of the list. If not, then you wait. It’s sad. It’s unfair. It’s the reality. If I were from Catanduanes, this will not help with my recuperation, but this has been the norm and so we push on. We are resilient as people, because we are forced to fend for ourselves.
In places like Catanduanes, people have gotten used to this and if you ask me, of course I’m not okay with it. Because when relief arrives for the people, it needs to reach everyone (not only the favored).
Anyway, ever since I started travelling for missions I’ve begun to wonder if I can live in a place like this. Always the city girl, could I leave everything behind and live this way? My data connection was mostly reliable, when I was there, so maybe I’ll be fine. Simplicity I can live with but being devoid of internet-connectivity will be worse than hearing sounds of crickets at night. The charm of the provincial life is that it is less complicated. But maybe I am a complicated-kind-of-girl. I don’t really know.
I only had a few hours to leisurely experience Catanduanes. They say there’s more to see and I believe it. Hopefully I get to see more. Maybe to serve again, because there are more towns to reach and more people who need care. Maybe to just visit and spend more than 24 hrs.
Anyway, I know I’ll be back again…