We had a black and white TV set. I remember watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color and thinking how great it would be to actually see the wonderful colors of the show, and how it would be a hundred times greater still to see Disneyland itself in glorious living color. I imagined the magic castle with fireworks shooting up from behind it and wished upon many stars; but for many, many years I had to content myself with the colors closer to home.
Two Norwegian boys came to live with us for a few days on an exchange program. We strapped on our small Work Education bolos and took them on a hike following a creek into the “jungle” of Mount Makiling. I recall very clearly what they said because to that point I had taken it for granted. They had marveled, “Your country is so green!”
Maybe my friends came from a snow-bound region of Norway or maybe they lived in a city. Whatever the reason, it was through their eyes that I first appreciated the countless shades of green presented by the plants and trees around us. Then, as if to lift me out of monochromatic boredom, everything I did seemed to highlight some accent of nature—catching purple caimito; squeezing yellow-brown santol; climbing to avoid angry red ants; even the tiresome chore of watering Mom’s lavender orchids. Red-black rambutan. White-veined dieffenbachia. Heliconia!
Summers we would spend on road trips with families from the tennis club. We camped on beaches in Batangas, Bataan, and Bicol, once in Pangasinan, often in Quezon. The days had skies that deserved to be called cerulean. Riding the waves on an inner tube required no tickets and could go on forever if we didn’t have to come in to eat. At night the Easter moon reflected on the dark water flecked with grey. Chasing hermit crabs by flashlight at low tide was our big adventure, until we thought we were old enough to sneak a few beers from our dads’ ice chests.
Or we would visit cousins up at Lake Caliraya. They had a speedboat and it seemed we could go anywhere in it. I never got a chance to drive, though, and my steely-eyed uncle once noticed that I couldn’t tie a proper naval knot. That kind of ruined speedboating for me. But on one chilly morning, one of the wild cousins from Quezon City woke me up before everyone else and convinced me to go down with him to “borrow” a banca. No wind had come up yet. Even the birds were still asleep. The lake was a perfect mirror, and in it we could see the perfect upside down image of the iron red clay hills as we slowly paddled farther away from the house. We went into coves where we had not yet been and saw places not yet seen, all in extraordinary silence.
Decades later we had a similar experience kayaking into a hidden limestone lagoon to have coffee on a bamboo raft in Palawan. Calm green sea, majestic gray green cliffs, early morning quiet. The trip back, however, was the more memorable ride. Somehow our kayak became waterlogged and began to ride lower and lower into the water. If not for our life vests, my daughter and I might have drowned. Now we know that those orange plastic kayaks can actually sink.
Beyond the thrill rides, Palawan’s undersea life is nothing short of spectacular. You can dive or you can snorkel or you can sit on the steps of the pier and stick your face in the water. Live coral and tropical fish are everywhere. Electric blue fish are not uncommon. Some have bright yellow stripes that belong on canaries. Pink marine versions of makahiya open up only when they think no one is looking and quickly go back into hiding when they feel movement in the water. Here, everyone finds Nemo and spends time with him live and in person.
In Bohol after watching dolphins play in their natural habitat, we had dinner on the white sandbar of a tiny, isolated, uninhabited island. Naturally, the sun had set well before we headed back to the mainland, but the night was unexpectedly pitch black. We seemed to be navigating by dead reckoning with not a single hint of land to guide us. As the minutes passed, the knot of fear in the pit of my stomach grew into a lump in my chest. Then, I happened to look into the forbidding water and saw the first few blue-green pinpricks of light swirl by the boat. Like something out of Avatar, the ghostly phosphorescence multiplied and kept us company until electric lights on land came into view. Unforgettable.
I eventually went to Disneyland and thoroughly enjoyed it. There’s nothing wrong with theme parks. They are extremely well designed entertainment machines, but ultimately they are simulations of reality, simulations of movies, simulations of simulations. Compared to the vibrancy, immediacy, and infinite variety of experiencing nature in the Philippines, however, theme parks are a little like, well, watching black and white TV.
Enjoy summer. Please help protect our mountains, lakes and beaches.