The sweet Samareños are the province’s come-ons
- Dot Ramos Balasbas-Gancayco () - April 8, 2007 - 12:00am
I love traveling. I always join my gorgeous husband Paul when he attends conventions abroad, where I get a good taste of different cultures in my interactions with foreigners, sightseeing, museum hopping and the like. Still, nothing beats exploring my own country and being with people who are just like me — Pinoys in the real sense of the word.

Last week, I accompanied my 84-year-old Mom to pay our last respects to my uncle Tio Peping Balasbas (my dad’s younger brother) who passed away, at 94 in their hometown of Catbalogan, Samar. Although my hectic schedule would drive a normal person to lunacy, I volunteered to go (to the utter disbelief of my assistant Ms. Ann, also a native of Samar) as it has been quite some time since I last visited my Daddy’s province.

We took the Cebu Pacific flight (astoundingly cheap at a round trip rate of only P3,500) with its very exciting games of Name That Tune (which I always win), General Knowledge (which I also always win) and Bring Me (which I never won, ha, ha, ha!).

When the stewardess started singing, "All my bags are packed I’m ready to go," I did not even give her the chance to go on the second line, raised my hand so high that my shirt sleeve almost tore and blurted out in a piercing soprano shriek, "Leavin’ On a Jet Plane!!!" that the other visibly irritated passengers stared at me with that "if-we-could-only-kill-you look." Of course, as always, I gave away my prize, a kiddie wallet, to my Mom (who was trying so hard to act like she didn’t know me), to be passed on to one of her 14 grandchildren as pasalubong.

We landed safely in Tacloban City (where I was born. Yup! I am a Waray-waray so beware.), rode the Isuzu Highlander of first cousin Baby Cuenco for our drive towards Samar and passed the magnificent San Juanico Bridge that connects the Island Province of Leyte to the Island Province of Samar.

It was a delightful drive from Tacloban, passing about three towns of Samar, and then the torture began. Unfinished roads, marked by holes and cracks with scattered stones and gravel (as the roads were supposed to be "presently being constructed or repaired," yet, with no one in sight (to man the improvements) made me feel sad for my Dad’s beloved province. How could there be economic development and tourism in this province when the roads are so bad? Oh well.

After the burial, it was time to get to know Catbalogan once again for Mana Eudy (another first cousin) and me. We would take our meals at other eating places, but when we got a taste of Ohayo restaurant with its P30 breakfast (with free mineral water), we were hooked. Not only was the price so cheap, the food and the hardworking staff were also great. It was just a few meters walk from Roulet Hotel where we stayed for only P900 plus per day, with two beds and a hot shower — a very convenient place to lodge in when you do not want to be disturbing relatives for temporary quarters.

There really is not much to see when you go out. Except for a few cars, the owners of which really did not mind the fast wear and tear inflicted by the bad roads, one would only see bicycles, pedicabs, tricycles and what the locals call "The Pajero," a classy tricycle you could hire for a quick go-see of Catbalogan.

We visited the Samar Provincial Capitol Building, which was imposing by itself and the beautiful park in front of it. We took a quick look at a mall (yes, they do have a mall), then visited an ailing cousin, Mano Iskot, before calling it a night.

It was on our third day when we went island hopping, at the urging of my mom, to some family-owned islands in a motor banca that I found to be an unfathomable joy. I have had several trips to Boracay in the recent past, and had done a lot of island-hopping, also in a motor banca, but the feeling is different when you are reunited with long-unseen relatives, caretakers, former nannies and helpers you have always treated as family, together with their families, sporting their sunburned skin and toothy smiles.

In Baras, Buri Island, said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in the country where my Mom has built a small cottage, I was amazed at how the simple folk there seemed to enjoy life despite poverty and the lack of the amenities of city life. The sincerity in their faces, reflecting genuine happiness at seeing us, serving us whatever they managed to prepare for lunch, giving us plenty of buko and buko juice until our tummies bloated, tugged me at the core of my heart.

When they pleaded a song from me, to which I would always say "no" in Manila, I gave in and went with them to a videoke hut (how time flies, huh? From no electricity, to karaoke and videoke huts!) and sang not only once… but twice!

During my last night in Catbalogan, it was off to another videoke and dancing party with my multi-talented cousins, including balikbayan Claro and Manuel, at my first cousin Mano Baby’s architecturally-exquisite house on top of a hill, that I started wondering if all Samar residents had a videoke in their homes. Ha, ha, ha!

It was a short but memory-filled visit to my unforgettable hometown, Catbalogan, Samar. Now, back to my crazy schedule in Manila, I take a deep breath, relax and think of Samar once again. A smile crosses my face.

There were no great entertainment places to visit, no big monuments nor museums to see; no high-falluting trying-hard-to-appear-intellectuals to debate with.

But there were simple, fun-loving people who loved the sea and who choose to stay because they are content and happy with their uncomplicated lives. For these lovely people — I am going back. Again. And again.

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