That man is the
richest whose pleasures
are the cheapest.
Henry David Thoreau
US Transcendentalist author (1817 – 1862)
Hands down, there is no debate that we live in a poor country. In Quezon, we have meager resources. Yet, if one looks around, there is something still for everybody. Our marine life is bountiful. We are bounded, enviably, by the great oceans, the Pacific in the East, China Sea in the SouthWest, and the munificent Tayabas Bay, Lamon Bay, Mauban Bay, and Ragay Gulf. Our land is fertile. You can plant anything in Mamala, gather shells in Montana at low tide, or raise some flock in San Andres. We send or we have the best and the brightest anywhere in the world.
For three straight days, I was in Quezon, Quezon last Holy Week. One may ask, where in Hades is Quezon, Quezon? It’s in Alabat Island, accessible by boat from Calauag or Gumaca. It’s our answer to Boracay in Aklan or El Nido of Palawan.
I acted out as one of the apostles. It was a moment of reflection. I always choose Quezon, Quezon for my annual Holy Week retreat. One feels the unbelievable solemnity of the occasion. It was not a social call. It was simply finding refuge within yourself.
The procession on Holy Wednesday was a re-enactment of the Station of the Cross. On Holy Thursday, I always look forward for the serene Holy Mass. It was there where the good priest washed our feet, all twelve of us, a gesture of Christian humility. While that on Good Friday was the interment of the Santo Intierro, the dead Christ. The procession was endless, long, and solemn. One could hear the old fashioned litanies, the murmurs of silent prayers and the hammering feet of multitude. At procession’s end were the self-flagellating penitents. In that religious thread, it was there where the cura parroco introduced for the first time a new image- the Ecce Homo, translated freely according to him as, “here is the man”, a reference by Pontius Pilate to the suffering Christ, brutalized the night before, adorned with crown of thorns, whom Pilate found not guilty at all and yet the crowd wanted crucified.
On Glorious Saturday we celebrated the much awaited Salubong. The mother of Christ was met by the risen Christ. The image of the resurrected messiah was held aloft by the men who comprised one segment of the procession, while the other image that of the expectant mother of the risen Lord was carried by the womenfolk. From the church, the procession broke into two parts, only to be conjoined later where the two images finally met. It was a sight to behold, complete with arias in Latin recited and sang by little girls.
By Sunday morning we were back in Calauag. In the evening of the same day, we were in Manila.
But what exactly happened in Quezon, Quezon in those four days? I still had those simple pleasures that I enjoyed in all my years that I have known them.
For starters, on Wednesday’s dinner, we had pinangat at tinadtarang hipon and binurong santol. I use my left hand when I am lamano, and the smell of balao lingered in my fingers even the day after. How do you hasten your metabolism on an unusual night like that? Take a walk, pound the street with your old feet aching for contact from the old soil, and savour the old salatan wind from Hondagua. Hear the usual greetings from friends from way back, and touch base with relations whose affection never wavered. Take deep breaths of pure concentrated oxygen in the pantalan and whether the breeze is kalampinay from Calauag, or maapon from Mauban, is of no moment, and feel the blocks in your cardiac veins dissolve in smithereens. Exhilarate in the the gipaw of balawis nearby.
Thursday’s breakfast was the famed sinangag Quezon, cooked in rare langis ng niog sautéed in bawang Tagalog paired with inihaw na kalapato. Of course, we had the choice between the old fashioned kapeng barako and binatidor na tablea. I take the tableang malapot hands down. Its to-die-for aroma reminds one of his grandparents. Breakfast won’t be complete without the famous Quezon pasingaw (steamed rice cake or puto made from the immaculate fragrant pearl while rice (kahit hindi mag-ingaw) of Cometa).
And get out fast, or you miss the legendary morning sunshine of the island. At six in the morning, delight in the sun’s rays little bites. Waking up was no effort, as the gentle peals of the church bells took care of that.
By mid-morning Kuya Dever was so anxious like the Biblical Martha. He said he just reserved from Bising Ipin a 6-kilo Sebo (Talakitok). That was enough to last us until Sunday. We had piniritong pinalang na Sebo, sinigang na Sebo, at pinaksiw na Sebo.
The following day Inang Intang came knocking in and she had with her the cheapest and the best oyster found in the island. For thirty pesos you have the freshest oysters the island can offer whipping the finest oysters of the famed Via Mare. Not only that, Kuya Awel prepared the top delicacy of the island comparable with the scallops of the best hotels in Manila, the sil-it. He had it kinilaw or ginam-isan and its usual recipe, ginisa with kamatis. On days on end that we were there, the spoons and forks were left untouched.
Not to be outdone, Elisa, the town’s accountant brought with her the superlative of all fish sauce, binagoong na matalos. Matalos is a dwarf fish variety, anchovies in these parts, a miniature galunggong or mackerel no bigger than 4 centimetres. Of course, Tuan, the great, bragged about his mala-awoy, or one-day old dried fish, and his famed tinocino, or dried pork. In the island, tradition has it that for lack of cold storage, the folks invented their own version of ham, the tinocino: freshly cut liempos treated with salt and some spices and left to dry in the summer sun. On rainy days, you find the tinocinos hanging by the abuhan enhancing much more their sweet-smelling aroma.
In one dinner we had with Tia Luz and Kuya Oyu, they served us with tinuto, a variant of pinangat, sinigang na lapu-lapu, steamed talbos ng kamote, and ginataang dalungyan with tuyo.
While awaiting the Salubong, the boys had some trickles of the meanest lambanog irok, and as finger food, sinigang na balakwit , a shellfish peculiar only in the island and gathered in the far end of Guitis and Roma with the premium fragrant luyang dilaw in town, courtesy of Kagawad Apiong and Billy Jean,
But you can’t have an unending vacation. You have to leave sometime, and hopped we rode the first trip to Gumaca at 6 am on Pasko ng Pagkabuhay. And we ask the thieves in our midst: how much cabanes of rice can you eat? You don’t have to steal from our people blind to make you happy. Just be in Quezon and savour the simple pleasures I had. That didn’t cost millions.