Hampas ng La Paz: Arriving in San Narciso, Zambales (Part 1)

Summer pottery lessons at Clay Ave ended in the last week of May. Last year, I spent summer with my sister in Italy. This year, I have decided to spend my clay holiday in San Narciso, Zambales. A four-hour trip north from Manila and with the scenic SCTEX on the way to the province, I couldn’t wait to be in the countryside any longer.

The rain has started pouring in the city. “Should I continue going out of town?” Rain or shine, I will take everything in, one day at a time.

Seeing the South China Sea from Subic, I get more excited. I’m coming back to my province for the third time this year. With all honesty, I have not revisited a place this often.

As soon as I arrive in Barrio La Paz, I uttered, “Let your will be done here, Lord”. This is a prayer I would often say when I feel like I am going ahead of myself sometimes. With boldness in saying these words out loud, my prayer is answered in unexpected ways.

San Narciso, Zambales, is the hometown of my late grandfather, Luis Q. Abiva. I am thankful for the elders in my family, for keeping the ancestral home intact. Thanks to the supervision of our relatives from the town, who are caretakers of the property. Manang Ines is an aunt of mine, whom I must say, cooks the best pork dinuguan! Not a lot of people eat this delicacy, but to those who have tasted it, would always ask for more.

I’ve spent all my summertime growing up in Zambales. My mom would always accompany me and leave me for a couple of weeks in the province. She would  let me play with my cousins, who are locals from Barrio La Paz. She wanted me to see, that life in Manila, is not the only kind of lifestyle, a person could experience.

Life in the barrio is simple. People are able to eat three times a day. If there’s no fish in the market, they can always eat the vegetables they plant from their backyard. The husbands go fishing in the daytime, the wives sell goods in their little store, and some of them work for beach resorts, or sell fish in the market. It is a simple kind of lifestyle. It is probably the most basic way of surviving life without being hungry. Most of the locals have left the town for greener pastures abroad.

During fiesta on the first weekend in May, we would watch the dance contests and gay parades and play games in the “peryahan. In the evening during our teens, we would meet our neighbors and go drinking with a bonfire near the sea shore. We all get drunk and end up sleeping on the sand. The sunlight wakes us up to a new day. I’ve always looked forward to summertime. Now, I am excited to experience another town fiesta in 2014. The last time I went to the fiesta was ten years ago!

It’s been five years and I am looking for a place to go to in the country. Instead of traveling elsewhere outside The Philippines, I’ve decided to go back to Zambales. Going back to one’s roots is like reliving the past and creating better memories today.

I brought more than two tons of clay with me. All set to get my own hands all dirty with clay again. After teaching Pottery in Clay Ave for four straight years, I feel the need to create my own pots while being on a holiday.

I’ve set up my little pottery corner in my Uncle’s property at Villa Kiana Inn. The Inn can accommodate a group of at least four people in a room. He also has a beach front property where I spend my afternoons with the locals. (Summer pottery lessons in 2014 will be organized in Zambales for several groups at a time. Tours in nearby towns will be available too. More details about this will be posted on this blog site).

I hired a local from La Paz to assist me from time to time. Most of the people here are “on-call”. Simply send them a text message when you need them, and they will come with smiles on their faces. They look forward to working and having extra income. They work hard.

In the morning, all I can hear, is the sound of the tricycle passing by. In the afternoon, students from a nearby public school, walk home with their friends. I hear kids teasing one another, talking about their crushes, and I hear them talking about funny things. They make me laugh too.

After making pots, I ride my bike, and head straight to the beach and watch the locals play with their skimboards. They run fast, drop their boards, hop on them, and slide on the shallow part of the sea. Their good and I am envious. For now, biking, walking, and swimming are my exercise routine.  I enjoy my afternoon as I ride my bike through the barrio, waving at locals whom I’ve known since I was a kid. One afternoon, two dogs try to chase me.  I pedaled my bike as fast as I could and got away safely. Who says spinning class in the gym is fast?Try being chased by two dogs!

It’s fun to see the locals enjoy their daily exercise! Without any gym membership to pay for monthly, they are able to run, bike, skate, skim, surf, play billiards, tennis, and basketball, all for free! Life here is simple. But the locals are free to do what they want and they are good at it.

There are days when the strong rains could not be escaped.

One day, while looking for clay, we walked through rice paddies with waist-deep water. The sand between “sabangan” and the beach is not open yet. All I can do is to enjoy the company of the locals while laughing through the rain. One step, we’re on top of what may be, the walking path of farmers on the rice field. Another step would take us a few feet deep, and we often feel slimy things under our feet. Sometimes it feels like we’re stepping on clay. Across from us are tall pine trees. It seems like they are waiting for us to come closer to them. They protect us from the rain as soon as we finish crossing the rice field. We were all having fun as we cross one rice field to another. Clothes drenched in water and mud.

After looking for clay, we go back to the main road. All wet, we continue walking until we find a tricycle. We’re all hungry and ready for dinner. The rain continues to pour. With wet clothes, I sat right behind the tricycle driver and headed home. I look at the rice field where we crossed and I sensed a great kind of happiness that I haven’t felt in years. The happiness of being in a simple place with simple people. These bring me so much joy. I’m liking my province even more.

I arrived in Zambales during an inter-tropical depression. What a bad time, some might say. It’s the best time, I think. Clay doesn’t dry easily. I wait for days before I could even move a big piece off my marine plywood bat. Whenever I am frustrated in not being able to create anything, while waiting for a big piece to get dry, I head to the beach, which is five minutes away only from Villa Kiana Inn.

I have not seen Zambales this wet and I have never enjoyed the company of rain this much. I’ve never seen the waves this wild. I’ve never felt the wind this strong. I’ve only seen this town in the summertime. Now I am seeing it in a different season. I am longing to see the difference. I want to know if I will still like it. I am in love.

I came to San Narciso with a plan. After meeting the locals and hearing about their lives, what they are passionate about, and the interest they have in learning something new and creative, my own plans got divided into several parts. I got caught up by being with passionate people too. Who am I to resist their eagerness to play and interest in learning something new? Who am I not to impart what I know? Who am I not to support them in any way that I can? For the very first time, I start to think outside of myself. This is what Zambales has done to me and more.

My personal plans got shattered. This normally happens to me when I travel. As organized and as structured as I can be, I get my list of things to do, I crumpled the paper and threw it away. I know that greater things are about to happen. And just like broken pieces of pottery, the shards are all scattered. Shards of other people’s lives who are also sincere in what they do and what they can learn. Broken or whole, we have two things in common: the love for the sea and clay.

To be continued…

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