Crazy friends, Crazy adventures: Remembering Linantuyan edition

When I was in school, I had a crazy life. I was a journalism student and a member of the university student publication. Juggling my schedule is the least crazy thing in my life back then. I remember going days without sleep and forcing myself to function like a normal, non-zombified student. I go to class, conduct interviews, scout for news, edit articles for the publication, write a column, work on projects and study (sometimes all on the same day and the same time) with little to no sleep. I was always sleep and rest deprived. But fortunately, my whole years in Negros Oriental were not limited to all these.

In hindsight, I am glad I chose to take up Mass Communication. I will probably have a different set of experience which will most likely be filled with boring, gossip-filled memories.

One distinct memory I have is the making of our final project for one of our major subjects. We went to Guihulngan, a town three hours north of Dumaguete City. The specific place we went to was a remote village in the mountains of Guihulngan. The military tagged it as a red zone.

Of course, young as we were, we didn’t realize how dangerous the whole thing was until months after when a group of soldiers were ambushed on their way to the town proper. In our young minds, our trip there was all adventure. We were young, excited and we will live forever!

When I was studying in Dumaguete, Guihulngan had a rather negative image attached to it. People associated the place with the New People’s Army so much that just suggesting to someone to go there is met with “ayaw adto didto! Daghan NPA didto!” (Don’t go there! There are a lot of NPAs there!) Which is actually a pity because Guilhulngan is a rather pretty place.

Anyway, the documentary was supposedly a group project. Half the class backed-out because of the town’s reputation. Funny enough, the only ones who chose to proceed were the ones who were not from Negros Oriental, the four people who are not even that fluent in Bisaya. Probably because we did not fully realize how bad the rebels ruined the image of Guihulngan for those who had to grow up in the province and hear tales of rebels terrorizing the countryside.

It’s not like we didn’t hear these tales in our province. We just probably have different tales, less scary than the ones they had to hear. Besides, as my grandmother puts it, the rebels are just all around us all the time that I practically grew up with them around. Besides, we did ask the army if it is safe to go up there so we weren’t scared.

Anyway, back to Linantuyan. We went to this place so far and so remote that we had to pay a lot of money so the habal-habal drivers would agree to take us there. We had to ride a habal-habal and travel through roads that seldom see vehicles, through places where people are seldom seen you begin to wander if anyone actually lives there until you see a lonely carabao grazing in the fields. The road was so rough I thought my internal organs will be all jumbles inside before we can get to out destination. Sometimes, you go through a long stretch of road with only grass and trees and then you turn round a corner and a goat or a cow is blocking your way. Believe me, the journey alone to that place is an adventure. Just imagine a road where even the army’s vehicles can’t pass. They go there by chopper.

The farm to market roads were under construction at that time, so hopefully the people there have easier ways of traveling now.

I remembered how exhausting and exciting the whole thing was. I remembered how we almost end up fighting each other because we didn’t know how to set up the tent. It took us hours just to set up one tiny tent.

I remembered walking under the sweltering heat of the sun to get from one detachment to another, climbing the steep hill and be totally floored when, upon reaching the top, we discovered they have cable tv. That was an amazing discovery. The last thing I expected to find out there is a clear picture of Cartoon Networks.

I remembered how, when we arrived, we climbed up to this really steep hill where the CAFGU detachment (if I’m not mistaken) was located to try and locate the village captain. We thought that was the detachment of the 11th IB’s Charlie company so we were so happy when we got to the top only to be told that the detachment we were looking for is on the other hill and the village captain is not there.

The search for the Charlie company and the village captain almost made me cry. It was midday and people kept telling us how these places we were looking for were all “walking distance”. I learned that day never to underestimate the locals definition of walking distance. Seriously, if they say it’s near, better ask for an approximate distance.

I remembered the people and how cautious and distrustful they were the first time they saw us. I remembered how the soldier accompanying us vouched for us and they still won’t believe us. They only relented when the then battalion commander of the 11th IB, Col Gacal called and assured them we’re not rebels or members of the rebel’s front organizations.

Looking back, I can’t help but smile at how crazy we were in going there. There are moments when we can’t understand the people. All four of us were ilonggos and our vocabulary in Bisaya is limited. There was a time, the morning of our last day there, we were looking for a place to take a bath. We were given directions and were told, “naa atabay didto.” We looked at each other confused. Me, I was imagining monsters and other scary mythical creatures until we got there and found out that “atabay” is a well.

Oh well!

That trip was really a cherished memory for me. I had traveled with my friends before and two of them were with me in Davao del Norte where we spent our OJT but this trip was different. This one tested and bonded us. My fondest memories were spending the night in that tent with them, writing our script while eating ding-dongs, taking a bath in the middle of a field in the full view of the village, and doing an interview while the three of them were goofing around.

If I can go back and do it all again, I will definitely do so. The trip to Linantuyan was difficult, exhausting, risky but very very exciting and memorable. I sometimes wish I could go back there if only to see how the people are now. From time to time I would remember these things and nothing can make me miss my friends so much more than this.

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