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March 3, 2017

TACLOBAN: AFTER YOLANDA

After assessing the damage wrought by Typhoon Yolanda or Haiyan, we gathered our friends to pool resources to get generators, boats and what have you, but I never got the chance to check how our active Waray sister Julie A.H. handled everything about mobilization of donations.

Three years later we decided to surprise Julie with a weekend visit to her hometown, Tacloban. We then relived the stories of support during those difficult times. Our first stop was the San Juanico Bridge, the majestic link between Leyte and Western Samar. We did something dangerous—stopping at the middle and posing for a souvenir Instagram post for all of 60 seconds. I wish the local government could provide a shoulder for a vista point so tourists can indulge in taking photos, at least, and admiring the expanse of this tourist attraction (our version of the Golden Gate or the Bay Bridge in San Francisco).

Onwards to Western Samar where we were hosted by Wolf and Julie, we meet the community who gave us welcoming smiles as we entered the road towards another landmark, Pasqualino’s. This house, built some years ago, overlooks the San Juanico Strait (the narrowest navigable body of water in the Philippines, and maybe the world).

The view at Pasqualino’s is simply awesome! You see San Juanico on one side and over to the right you see a serene body of water that also gives livelihood to fisherfolk in the area. It’s good to be there around sunset on a Friday or Saturday and have a focaccia, cheese and olive oil, and a glass of Italian wine.

 

During the day, you can drive around Tacloban and Palo (the next town) where the famous MacArthur Landing is located. On that day some tourists even gamely waded in the pool almost standing beside the image of Mr. MacArthur, and pretending to be one of the actors in that historic landing in Leyte.

Should you want to do some good work, visit the Streetlight Foundation and meet Eldren and Neva. They’re the couple who made “saving children at risk” their way of life. Streetlight Foundation is a Norwegian-funded NGO and now welcomes other donors so they can continue their good work of seeing streetkids (abused youth and children at risk) for a better life while learning new skills. I suggested they start a social enterprise with their water station as one income generator and their deployment of tech graduates to companies in Manila and abroad as the other income stream.

When the NGOs who helped in Yolanda wanted continental food, they found Giuseppe’s. It’s owned by Italian Joseph B. and Tacloban native Cathy A. I found this place during my last visit in 2012 and was happy that Joseph served “the troops” even with no electricity and running water during the most trying times in 2013, at the center of Yolanda’s fury. Giuseppe’s served as the relief center where foreigners found homemade pasta, brick oven baked pizza, and fresh vegetables from Joseph and Cathy’s little farm. And wine, of course. Italians will never survive without wine and Joseph made sure his pantry was well-stocked.

I did not mind eating here three times in three days—you can go through the menu and theme your visits. They have good pasta, pizza, and a mean vegetable lumpia from a family recipe of the Añovers. You can also have prawns and scallops or Joseph’s homemade Hungarian sausages or chorizos.
What else can one do in Tacloban? You can visit the relocation sites and see the good work of Kapuso Foundation, Hand On, and many more who helped during the Yolanda aftermath. It’s almost like visiting Ground Zero in Manhattan. You recall what you saw in the news and almost feel like you were there, too. “This is where we saw a lot of dead bodies,” Julie says. Hearing about it sends shivers up your spine. But then again, you become thankful you’re just watching and not being in it.

She continues her driving tour by showing us “this is where the correspondents of CNN would walk,” she says. It’s like you were there, but now we see houses rising up even if the government has warned people not to build again on the tsunami path.

It’s like a walk or drive in history—from Mac Arthur’s landing to Yolanda. But as I sip my Merlot on the balcony at Pasqualino’s, I admire again the beauty of the Philippines. And it makes you forget that this town was ravaged and was almost annihilated just three years ago. There are no traces of tragedy except the relocation homes that dot one area. And the stories of everyone you meet, be it a truck driver or a prominent person, no one was spared. They all have their stories of how high the water was and how they managed to survive.

After buying our pastillas and Binagol (local Leyte specialties), we head to the airport with the thought that we are all lucky we can still tell stories when others did not live to tell theirs. Now, life must simply go on for the rest who made it.

Visit Tacloban sometime. The fares are inexpensive and the accommodations are aplenty, especially if you find a friend who happens to own a villa, like I did. It’s food for thought to make the best of life…because it is short, indeed.

 

 

 

Photos by Chit Juan

 

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