I hadn’t gone biking in a long time, so it was with almost feverish excitement that I set out from my grandparents’ house on Saturday to do some exploring. We had arrived the day before at around lunch, and I would’ve taken off on my grandfather’s (t)rusty old bicycle that same afternoon if it hadn’t been for the prusisyon and the penintensiya.
Sta. Maria, Laguna, is the only “province” I have known. It’s obscurity is matched only by it’s land area (third largest in Laguna according to Wikipedia). 95% of the time people don’t really know where it is, because they think of Laguna as only limited to its more well-known cities and towns, like Calamba, Los Baños, and Sta. Rosa. Worse, they always assume that the only “Sta. Maria” is in Bulacan.
I had the chance to rediscover the place last Saturday because there was really nothing else to do, and I hadn’t done anything physical yet the whole week.
The town’s layout was typical–all the roads converge to a plaza where the church and city hall are–so getting into the outskirts was just a matter of moving away from the busiest places. In no time I was biking amidst vast rice fields. For miles on end only the creaking of my bicycle could be heard. Everything was peaceful.
I biked and biked and biked for what felt like maybe twenty kilometers (there were no signage anywhere, and the only company I had was the occasional brood of ducklings swimming in the irrigation canal, which ran along the road) until I finally reached the irrigation dam. I ‘ve been to that dam before but I could only vaguely remember the directions, so it was such a relief that I found it. The dam sits at the foot of the mountains, where it holds the water flowing from an upland river. It’s a small dam, and the water levels are at their lowest since it’s dry season.
When I got up to where the huge control wheel-and-axles are and started taking pictures, a group of young boys (they were maybe fifteen or sixteen) came up to me and offered me a piece of their soursop. They were really nice, and I almost felt guilty for never accepting their offer because they just assumed that I was just being too polite to say that I don’t eat guyabano. The truth was I didn’t really feel like eating. I just made small talk, and commented how cool the whole dam is, and how I don’t often get to see such places. They asked me where I’m from, and I told them that I’m staying in the bayan area but lives in Manila. They couldn’t believe I just biked my way to the dam from bayan! Instantly I felt proud that even among the locals it’s quite a feat. When they heard what my name is, they chuckled and said I was a “school boy”. I found it really funny! I made a mental note to try to avoid giving my kids Anglo-Saxon names as much as possible.
I got down from the dam and moved upstream to get to the river bed, where the ankle-deep water was clear and lukewarm. The pebbles were really large and the ground so uneven that my my right slipper tore! I had to pedal barefoot on my right on my way back.
I needed to take a leak, so I went back to the cluster of huts that stood around the clearing where I had parked my bike, and politely asked one old lady to let me use their toilet (I didn’t dare to just pee by a nearby tree because, well, I wasn’t brought up that way). Her husband even accompanied me around their small yard where the toilet, detached from the rest of the house, stood. It really saddened me to see that despite it being hardly a toilet–it didn’t have a bowl!–they were still so willing to share it with me. I could only give profuse thanks in return.
After a five-minute rest I decided to call it a day and make the long way back to town. I was burnt to brown and sticky with sweat and tired like hell, but I also couldn’t have been more sated. I was smiling and humming as I pedaled my way back across the golden fields.