Tatay and Tagkawayan
by Laguna Lupie
It has been four years since Tatay died and I haven’t visited his hometown since the year he left for good but last October, I finally took the trip back home. Back to tatay’s happy place.
We left at the crack of dawn, cooking up a picnic feast the night before in anticipation of a hearty breakfast and lunch on the road. We had snacks and chips in abundance and CDs of favorite music were chosen to make the drive pleasant for the whole family. It was a nice sunny day–we were lucky considering all the rain and typhoons of the past month. We got lost at some point, but quickly found the newly established diversion road in Tiaong, Quezon and it was one of the highlights of that morning drive because the countryside there was spectacular, with rice fields, carabaos and white cranes dotting the landscape. It was very early in the morning when we drove past that picturesque highway and the sunlight was a light yellow that hit the grass at just the right angle and it made the morning dew shine like tiny jewels by the roadside. It was beautiful.
When we reached Atimonan, we chose to go up the Quezon National Park, carefully threading the zigzag road of that famous mountain. The prize at the top was the jungle-like rest stop for travelers. We decided to have breakfast there. As you get off the car, you will smell the moss and rotted wood smell that’s peculiar to jungles. The air up there was cool and clean and it was a blessing to be staying in that well kept mini-park with it’s nipa huts and grotto and man-made pond with colorful campy sculptures of Filipinos fishing around that pond. They had potted plants and bonsai plants displayed beside the huts, all of them for sale to the tourists. They also had a restaurant blaring loud music and a sari-sari store selling overpriced coffee and candies. We had our own packed food though so we hauled out our heavy picnic hamper and started the early morning feast that Ambal and Jackie worked so hard at preparing the night before. After breakfast, we rested, took some pictures, enjoyed the jungle mountain air a bit more and then went on our way.
After the mountain comes the ocean. The highway will wind down to the coastal town of Gumaca and many beach resorts dot this highway. Years before, when we would make our annual pilgrimage back to Tagkawayan and Naga, we always ended up having lunch or breakfast here at the beach. We never swam though, Tatay was always in a hurry to get home, but lunch on a beach was one of the treats of the trip, it was one of the signs that there were more good things to come.
This is the beach resort in Gumaca where we had our lunch during our last trip home with Tatay.
Nanay and my Tatay goofing around at the beach on our last (and Tatay’s final) trip home to Tagkawayan.
One of my favorite pit stops here is the famous mermaid on the beach. It’s really just a sculpture of a mermaid perched on a rock by the roadside. I took a picture of her on the way home on our latest trip. She’s still there. Quite old and I’m not sure the local government is doing much to maintain or improve this beloved Quezon landmark but the fact that she still stands mean much to older folk like myself. Sadly though, my boys were not impressed.
After Gumaca comes the long hot countryside road leading to Tagkawayan. This was always the hardest part of the trip for us. It always felt hot because it was almost always midmorning when we reached the towns after Gumaca– and we were almost always antsy to get to Tagkawayan, impatient and bored with the endless road. Of course toward the end, when you start hitting the hills and see the views of the Ragay gulf, when you see the citrus trees along the road and the vendors selling the dalandans at dirt cheap prices, we knew we were almost home and everybody would start to get excited.
Then tatay will turn right on that dusty road and we’ll see the tree lined Main Street of Tagkawayan. We would see the railroad and the familiar station and then stop right in front of that station, at Tito Jun’s (my father’s best friend) house. We get off the car to cheers and laughter. A lot of hugs and handshakes and my father’s booming voice signaling how happy he was.
Tagkawayan’s tree lined main street
The old train station
Of course now, when we turned toward that road down the main street, I realized we knew no one around. The house that tatay bought when we were in college and sold soon after I got married is now a Rural Bank. My eldest boy amazed and confused by the thought that Lolo’s old house is now a bank.
Going toward Tito Jun’s house just made me sadder. Tito Jun and his wife are long dead, the youngest child that remained in that house a stranger to me. The busy train station of Tagkawayan was nothing but an abandoned building now. The trains stopped running a long time ago, the train system a victim of the corrupt and useless government administrations of my country.
We soon left the main street and went to a relatively new beach-side resort on the outskirts of town called the Villa Aseea to spend the night. The kids loved the pool and the beach at this resort and they had small but air-conditioned beach huts for rent overnight. The rate was P2,000 per night for the big hut with two double deck beds that could accommodate four to seven people. The hut was small and dark (since you couldn’t open the windows because of the air-conditioning and no, they didn’t have sealed glass windows to let in the light). It wasn’t really comfortable for a big group. This resort is near the beachfront called Mataas na Bato, a special place for my father (and for most Tagkawayenos I believe). He always told the stories of all the outings he had at the Mataas na Bato beach with friends, how he learned to swim there as a kid and later as a young adult, how that beach was the scene of many of his young life’s hidden pleasures and debaucheries.
The beach huts at Villa Aseea, Tagkawayan, Quezon
Pool at the Villa Aseea Resort in Tagkawayan, Quezon
Sunset at the Villa Aseea Resort right beside the Mataas na Bato beach.
Before Tatay died, he told us he wanted to be cremated and his ashes strewn out onto Ragay Gulf, where he had his best memories, where he always felt at home. Mother, of course, refused to honor that wish. Being deeply Catholic, she felt that burning the remains of her beloved was just too much like the fires of hell for comfort. So Tatay was buried here in Calamba, in the mausoleum my mother bought in the 80s. I don’t want to judge or blame my mother for her decisions after Tatay’s death but I realized that a dead person’s wishes are hardly ever honored if it doesn’t fit the interests of the living. It made me sad. I always believed the dead and their memory should always be honored. I wonder if my dead wishes will be honored by my children? I wonder if my memory will endure? But maybe in the end it won’t matter. I’ll be dead after all.
It has been four years since I last visited my father’s hometown, it took me that long to go back and the visit was a literal trip down memory lane, it was also sad and profound. But I’d like to think that coming back, even though I knew almost no one there anymore (most of my father’s friends are either dead or have moved elsewhere), was my own way of honoring him and his memory. I may not have been able to defy my mother and bring his ashes home to the waters of his childhood but maybe he’s forgiven me that.
I do know one thing though, I will always go back there. Take the pilgrimage home for as long as I can. I imagine him looking down on me, and being quite pleased to know that I go home to honor him and his memory.
Shells Anton collected at Tagkawayan’s beach. 🙂
My nephew JV and my son Anton at the beach in Gumaca (2009).