The first time I visited Lanao, it was raining and a dense fog blanketed the lake that afternoon. After dipping my hands, I felt a connection to the lake that was hiding its vastness then, deeper than the countless stories I have heard about its majesty and mysteries.
As a writer, it was not the first time I tried to encapsulate moments into words. Nor the first time I touched nature to be reminded of the ageless connection of humans to the physical world—of us being a part of nature and of nature being the backdrop of our lives.
In one summer, I was fascinated with the intricate patterns on the shells of the baby turtles being nursed in the Pawikan Sanctuary in Maitum, Sarangani Province. I imagined how the town’s fisherfolks had probably held these gentle creatures in their hands when they had decided to protect them instead of cooking their eggs for food.
In another summer, I was dipping my hand in the waters of the Celebes Sea while aboard a motorized boat heading to one of the islands of Sarangani, Davao Occidental, a municipality just a few miles away from the maritime border between the Philippines and Indonesia. I remember the feeling of the water getting a little colder as its blueness deepened from light to greenish to dark. I then used that description as a metaphor in a story I wrote about children navigating their identities amid their fluid multicultural society.
As travelers, we navigate the world by touching other humans – tapping a shoulder to ask for directions, shaking hands of new acquaintances or linking arms with travel companions as they explore a place. I like touching creations made by hand, such as when I examined the thickness and softness of the colorful textiles sold at Canelar Barter Trade Center in Zamboanga City.
As shared with me by some of the merchants, woven and dyed into these fabrics are the stories that span the waters of the Malay archipelago, as most of the items they were selling had sailed across the waters of Indonesia and Malaysia before reaching the Philippines. That trip ended with me bringing home a malong with a floral batik pattern.
In another trip, I visited the Grand Mosque of Cotabato City, the largest in the Philippines, and scrutinized by hand the unique curvatures and carved designs that make up its grand architectural plan. In a conversation I had with the driver of the motorcycle that took me to the mosque, he explained how the Grand Mosque connects them to the people of Brunei Darussalam as the latter’s sultan helped fund its construction, hence, it is officially called by the sultan’s name.
He also said that the mosque is a symbol of openness, as although it’s a Muslim structure, people from all walks of life are welcome to enter—an apt description, I think, of how the diverse makeup of their city works. I recalled this conversation in one of my poems by describing the estuary near the mosque based on the driver’s observation, “nagsasanib dito ang alat at ang tabang,” this is where the saline water of the sea and the freshwater of the river meet.
Past travels, I emphasize, because I have not travelled for months now since the pandemic began. As someone who writes about moments of touching objects, places, and people, I found myself unable to write. I look at objects I’ve collected during my travel and look forward to a time when I can freely travel again, for now I hold in my hand the malong with a floral batik pattern and remember Zamboanga. I begin to plot the other destinations within Mindanao that awaits travelers like me.