25-Jan-2004 -- On a holiday break from teaching English in South Korea I was able to spend 10 days travelling around Luzon; the Northern island of the Philippines. During my preparation for my visit I consulted the Confluence website and was delighted to see that there were a bunch of sites yet to be completed. I left frigid, icy Seoul and touched down in soupy, smokey, sticky Manila. I spent a few days in the cool mountainous provinces and then finally hit the beach. It was after a night bus with the air conditioner cranked (confusing my internal thermometer)and a few hot local busses stacked with people and animals that I arrived in San Antonio. I quickly hired a tricycle (a motorbike with a small side car) and bounced down a dirt road to Pundakit. Pundakit is really just a couple of hotels and guesthouses on a long sandy beach. I decided to set up my own tent instead of paying for a room, kicked off my shoes and stood with my toes in the sand to survey my potential adventure.
The confluence was 11 km out from where I stood. The surf was pounding the beach, but I could see bancas, also called pumpboats, riding the waves and catching fish. Each time a boat returned to shore they would build up speed and let off a loud boom to alert the other fishermen. The boats were really just long steep canoes with outrigger pontoons driven by two fishermen and a small propeller. These small crafts would ride a breaker onto the beach and immediately any available person would rush down to the beach to haul the boat in. It was a frantic battle against the waves as the fishermen lifted and pulled the boat to safety. Then the rest of the people on the sand would hurry over to examine the catch.
I solicited some help in finding a good captain to take me to the confluence point and was introduced to Elmer and Melody. Captain Elmer is a 33 year old fisherman renowned for going out to sea in typhoons and Melody is his brave 21 year old accomplice. I left all but my camera and GPS on shore and once again attempted to explain my plan to all the curious fishermen. They thought they knew the spot I was going to but I assured them there was nothing there but water. We tugged the canoe down to the water and shoved off. Melody paddled against the crush while Elmer started the motor.
The next hour and a half was spend crashing, banging and soaking over and off gigantic waves. We would enter the troughs and I would not be able to see anything but blue: dark blue water walls ahead of me, and light blue sky above. Elmer was an exceptional skipper and knew the exact moment to throttle the motor and burst through a salty swell, or when to let off and submit to a bubbly monster merely washing over its brobdingnagian bulk.
I was having a wild time but it became increasingly apparent that in an ultimate battle between our banca and the sea we would lose. Elmer told me that we must return to shore and I grudgingly agreed. I snapped a couple of photos and he skillfully turned us around a mere 1 km from my goal. The return voyage was much faster because Elmer was able to surf along the forward (downhill?) slope of the waves. The front half of the boat and I hovered over the sea with only the back half and the propeller in the water.
As we approached shore Elmer made it clear that he was going to build up some speed and when we hit the beach I was to jump out and help heave the boat. I was a little slow disembarking but I was eventually out and able to aid in the frantic splashy task.
I bought Elmer and Melody a couple bottles of Coke and we relaxed in the shade to watch a tumble of children gleefully allow themselves to get jounced and upended by the incoming surf.