On the way to Laoag, we drove past a little port town called Currimao. Aside from shipyards, there was nothing much really. A signage that screamed “subli-subli” beach warranted laughter from my Ilokano family. I was told the term translated to “balik-balik” but I never really understood why it was funny. A subtitle on the resort signage said something like, “a morantic (sic) place for lovers.” Whether the beach catered just love, or more, I never found out.
Around 8 years ago, on a ship from Iligan to Iloilo, I chanced upon a group of young student sailors from Ilocos Norte. One bloke stood out: Abet, a ship captain’s son. He was the one who put Currimao, a name that I found achingly hilarious then, on my map.
The trip was only overnight, and I would have to say goodbye the next day when I’d disembark in Iloilo and the ship had to sail on to Manila. Abet asked if we could stay up, so we did, on the ship’s rooftop, outside the captain’s den. It smelled of grease and brine, with conversations whirling its way around the roar of the vessel.
Unlike most Ilocano, Abet was fair-skinned and soft-spoken. He looked at me with eyes that gleamed under the moonlight. He wore a shy smile, and spoke very highly of his roots. He told me about his home in the northernmost portion of the country: a country of green fields rimmed with white shores and blue waters. He also told me about the beaches of Pagudpud, the Spanish-era churches of Ilocandia and Chavit Singson’s yellow submarine. I pressed for stories, because it seemed then, his part of the world was too far too reach.
Driving past the very beads of one Ilocano’s string of stories that afternoon was surreal. I felt tears welled up my eyes, like how it welled in his that morning we were in my cabin the day I had to get off the ship in Iloilo. Abet was young, innocent and hopeful. I was calloused by a young heartbreak the year prior. I guess I was a bit wild and reckless, and he felt the need to somehow, take care of me.
Nevermind that all these unfolded in less than 24 hours,.Youth is gifted with special pocket of moments that changes lives forever, no matter how fleeting. That’s what Abet and I shared. For what chance would a boy from the North and a girl from the South have? Almost none. Until the ocean made it possible for us, even for just a little while.
I guess I didn’t feel as strongly as he did for me back in the day. Then again, I guess I kept tabs on his kindness; on an attraction and affection of that magnitude. Because a few years later, I found the same in another Ilocano, in a country also divided by a “North” and a “South”.
That road trip to the Ilocandia was one that I took with the husband. I told him fragments about Abet; about his stories about the place. He held my hand as we explored “the beaches of Pagudpud, the Spanish-era churches of Ilocandia and Chavit Singson’s yellow submarine.”
I stopped pressing for stories, because it seemed, right that very moment, that part of the world wasn’t too far too reach anymore.