A Stark Gray Carpet

Many years back I had a dream. I was walking along a series of pools along the banks of a rushing mountain stream. I remember seeing a butterfly, a red hibiscus in bloom. In my dream the riverbank opposite was a cliff. I remember the mountain stream flowing vigorously, all along its length were foaming rapids and huge boulders. Then the dream gave way to a new one. I gave the dream no further thought, and it was soon tucked away in a corner of my mind, liable to be dreamt of again, as some of my dreams are like TV shows that get reruns.

Years later, in 2011, my uncle took me for a quick trip to New Bataan in Compostela Valley, a sleepy town lying along the road going up to Maragusan. We stopped further up at the village of Andap, where a cluster of resorts were laid along a river. It was afternoon when we went there, but I remember it seemed like morning; overcast and with a clear fog lurking in the steep-sided river valley. Clearly not the best conditions for a quick dip.

We got settled in, and I decided to take a walk around the area; take in the sights and sounds, and breathe the refreshingly frigid air. A bit further down the river, I could see a couple of unfinished pools that the resort owners were putting up by the riverbank, mere walls of cemented-together rock at that stage. It was as I was walking down along the riverbank towards these pools that a visceral feeling of familiarity made itself known. I have been here before. Somehow. I keep walking, and I pass a hibiscus plant. As I reach out to touch the red flower, a black butterfly flits past. It was then that the penny dropped. Déjà vu.

What to do now? Laugh? Scream? I settled on quiet appreciation. It only lasts a few seconds, better savor it. I carried on taking pictures. The rest of the afternoon carried on normally, though there was the lingering aftertaste of those few seconds.

This is the spot; the déjà vu did happen. Barangay Andap, Compostela Valley

Little did I know I was never to return to the place.

At least, not in the same state.
A year later, New Bataan was lying in the path of Typhoon Bopha (Pablo) and was ravaged. The same river that provided the livelihood of many in Andap took lives, and took it in spades. As the days unfolded and the isolated New Bataan was once again reached, news filtered through. Andap was gone. The road was washed out. Everything was now covered deep in sediment and boulders. People were missing. Some were not even from Andap. As I heard later, several groups of people were in the same resorts when the wall of debris flowed down the mountain, some of them families on day trips. The area looked like a moonscape, the freshly-laid debris looking like a stark gray carpet on the valley. People I knew who went on relief missions told of how the smell of death hung in the air; how the sand smelled of decay, telltale signs of a buried body.

It’s been several years. I never got the chance to go back, though it’s always on my mind. That place is always on my mind.

If I can still find the spot, though undoubtedly I may have to use GPS and a healthy amount of fudging, I’d love to go back and do one more panorama photo. A before-after comparison. And maybe light a candle and say a little prayer, in aid of the search for closure and resolution.

Though it’s been years, recovery efforts are far from over, the effects of Typhoon Bopha/Pablo still visible in the landscape, and undoubtedly, if one is to stop and ask, still visible in the people; still fresh in their minds. Lessons from that event came hard and fast, and are still being processed.

I have a few more Pablo-related photos set aside for future posts; I’ll most certainly be revisiting this topic, sharing more stories.
Until then.


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