Monday, October 26, 2015

San Juanico: Emerald and Crimson

Five years passed before I could return, and it meant repeating myself trying to cross over San Juanico bridge riding on seismic waves left by vehicles, big and small, zooming by.

The first was a huge letdown when I later realized coursing through the full span of the iconic structure was water and sun to a plant. I did half-step. It was in 2010, a futile attempt at smuggling myself into the provincial border of Leyte and Samar. I had to leave Leyte for Samar that day, even for just a short while, like a commuter on some hurried lunch break, yet on foot. That was the bravado of the then-youngish, amateur traveler.

Regrettably, I did not make it, as I succumbed to the sweltering and parching afternoon, the audible gusts with which I wrestled every second, the approaching produce-laden trucks on convoy, or the packed fears with nameless triggers. I listened to my instincts, and stopped mid-bridge. I couldn’t go on with a mind grappled with doubts, even though the heart was pouncing hard on the former for me to reach the finish line.

The traipsing redux was a stark 180-degree turn, poised at the other end of the bridge, ensuring that I would be at the gate of Samar, first second, no matter what. So, from a Tacloban jeepney, an hour prior midday, I alighted at the Samar side of the bridge.

I asked permission from the officers stationed at checkpoint, all three of them, if I could pass under the bridge, to the land jutting on my left. I was curious to know what lay there. One of them retorted with an enthusiastic yes. All dressed up with a self-styled adventurer look -- accessorized with grimy rubber shoes, soiled cargo pants, dri-fit singlet, backpack sided with bottled water, and camera hung from my neck -- nothing was thought of as suspiciously terrorizing of me. I guessed I just had the right ingredients.

I walked over a cemented path. I had realized then that the bridge coated itself with crimson paint, for better or worse. It was never painted last time, or not that I know of. But if you ask me, the cloak change complements perfectly with the emerald waters of the strait and the lush green landscape set as backdrop; red and green are the color pair that makes us all merry. The bridge looked fiery arching over the narrow gap between the two islands.

The bank of the strait exploded into life as I drew closer to it. Bursts of laughters saturated more the already breezy, cool air down low. Mothers, fathers, a grandpa, and over a dozen children, young and old, went for a dip, cooling themselves down and asking me to take several snaps of themselves. Those children were especially calling my attention here and there, posing for my camera. Anywhere in the Philippines, cameras are indeed notoriously kid magnets.

Climbing back to the threshold of my rambling, a whiff of déjà vu penetrated my senses. I thought I felt a familiar baggage of fears resurrected itself. But it’s all imagined and no mistake. I put on prudent eyes, swift hands, and stealthy feet amid distracting grinning and waving bus passengers, Korean tourists stopping over, expectant tremors, and spastic winds.

I walked and walked and walked until I reached Leyte.

No half-step no more. I had San Juanico bridge ticked off, at long last.


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