Pawikan Encounter and Community Immersion in Morong, Bataan.

We had a three-day school trip in Bataan from December 19 to December 21. We were not tourists. We worked hard, and by work, I mean physical work. Even though it was like that, it was still fun, I’m happy to say.

Let’s start from the very beginning. I woke up at 1:30 a.m. Wow, that’s early. Yes, I know, when we were prepared already and went to the subdivision gate, it was still closed because it was still curfew time. When my mom and I were at the school, I dragged my luggage to the school entrance, which consisted of:

– a big trolley bag,

– a field bag with many colourful pockets

– a tent

– a red bucket from Orocan with my surname on it with a steel scrubber and a wooden scrubber

Once I got inside, I found myself in a maze full of students. I didn’t know where to go. Luckily, my bus mate, Iñigo, helped direct me to where I was supposed to be. I got inside the classroom, and I found myself with my classmates in jackets, jogging pants, and sandals. I saw one of my classmates, Franz, who wore a ski mask and looked like a future Abu Sayaff terrorist. Another one of my classmates, Karl, brought boxer shorts, which was against the rules for camp clothes. Ramon and Aki were talking about Clash of Clans. Rose showed me how many types of medicine she brought.

During departure time, Iñigo and I dragged our luggage with a bundle of books in our hands to the bus. Our big bags went under the bus with the buckets and brushes. Our field bags and  the bundles of books went with us inside the bus.

It was 3 a.m when we left, yet the bus time said 11 p.m. I was not in the window seat, that’s where Iñigo sat. On my left was a Grade 8 student, Ellie. In front of me was my closest friend Bettina. Beside her was her cousin and my previous crush Tiara. I was on the right side of the bus, 3rd row from the front. Behind me was another Grade 8 student Cheska. Beside her was Hannah Dy, who looked like Bob Marley with her striped bonnet and jacket.

During the trip, we were supposed to go to our stopover at NLEX. The whole trip to the stopover, my bus mate and I were struggling to sleep. When we got to the stopover, we ate at Jollibee. I chose a 1 pc. chicken value that cost 87 pesos with drink. It was only after I sat down and drank medicine that Bettina reminded me that we were not supposed to drink soft drinks. I threw my Coke down the sink. After that, I did something I regret. I bought batteries which were so expensive that I spent almost all of my pocket money.

Part 2 of the trip was to go to the mangrove in Subic. There was one incident I will never forget. One of my classmates needed to go to the comfort room. To relieve the stress, he peed in the bottle. We shared snacks in the bus. We passed snacks to each other in the bus. I was requested many times to pass this thing to this person and so on and so forth.

We had a comfort room stopover in Subic. Many people went out the bus to relieve the stress. I wasn’t one of the people who needed to do so. They all told me the male and the female bathrooms were so stinky they had to pinch their noses.

We got to the mangrove. Unfortunately we were not allowed to go inside. So, we went ahead to the Bantay Pawikan Conservation Centre.

When we got there, we were ordered to bring bags inside, regardless of ownership. We did. I felt sorry for the one who had to drag my trolley bag along the sand, as I imagined it was hard to do so. I also had a hard time finding my bag among the other bags.

We assembled in the auditorium. The shape was circular, which is the best shape for an auditorium because everyone can see and hear the speaker. The only problem is that it takes up lots of space.

The speaker was the founder of the conservation centre, Manolo Ibias. He and the other volunteers were exploiters of the pawikan before. It was only during 1999 that they turned around and became the protectors of sea turtles. They do all the hard work of protecting sea turtles without pay. They’re an NGO.

We were divided into committees beforehand. I was one of the pawikan caretakers. We might as well be named the janitorial committee because we had to clean the bathroom regularly, and we were supposed to wash the dishes, but we didn’t do the latter, only the former. Yuck, you say. Fun, we say, because we jokingly called our chore aqua hockey. You use a walis ting-ting as the stick, or any other thing used for cleaning, and water as the puck. The goal net was a gutter, which often got clogged. People got wet, either intentionally got wet, or unintentionally got wet. The other committees were the masons, who were responsible for projects involving concrete, the painters, who were responsible for painting classroom walls, the artists, who made a mural, and the carollers, which I was involved in, which I will expand later.

We celebrated when we had grilled pork chop for dinner, because it was a well-deserved break from the soup-based meals that we had to eat for 3 days.

We had a merit-demerit system. I remembered quite clearly that if your feet got wet by the waves, that was considered swimming. And swimming was prohibited, and would automatically get you 500 demerits for your house unless told by the teachers you can do so, a messy tent also got you demerits. Only prefects could give demerits, and only teachers could give merits.

If you’re wondering about the houses I mentioned earlier, this is what you should know. We were divided into houses. A house was a group of students from each level in the Bataan trip. Our houses were named after names of turtle in different languages. The houses were Penyu (Javanese), Kura Kura (Indonesian), Rua bien (I don’t know what language) and Tao (Thai). My house was Tao. My bus mate was in house Tao too.

I participated in the Christmas program, since I was one of the carollers. I sang Jingle Bell Rock with Grade 8 students: Eldrick, Luigi, Ash, and a Grade 9 student, Jeremiah. I gave my gift to a boy named Ayin. He was in grade 3. He peeked through the hole  in the brown bag. He seemed excited. I felt great sharing something and the smile on his face.

We got to see a mother pawikan laying eggs. It was during the wee hours of the morning when a motorcycle came and told us they spotted a pawikan laying eggs. We lined up by house and started jogging. One thing you should know about jogging in the beach: It was tiring because each foot seemed to sink in the sand while you jog. I was struggling to keep up with the group, but I got left behind with Athena and Zoren, both Grade 8 students, who were also struggling to keep up. Zoren is asthmatic, but he was able to keep up for a while. Athena stayed by my side while she kept moaning about how tiring it was. In the end, we saw the pawikan laying eggs with the group. The pawikan was laying eggs that were the size of a table tennis ball, only a bit smaller. When it was done, it covered the nest with sand and went to sea. We had to quickly get the eggs and put them in the insulated egg bags or else the eggs would die from the cold. They used my egg bag and someone else’s insulated lunch bag.

Some eggs hatched and hatchlings came out. The teachers said they would prioritize the Grade 8, since they will not go to Bataan next year. However, they included some Grade 7 students, as long as they woke up from 5 to 6 a.m. I was included. I named my hatchling Amber and set it free to sea.

I participated in the sandcastle building contest. Each house had to make sand pawikans, and the words “Help save the Pawikans”. I think our house won 2nd or 3rd place because of the wrong punctuation mark. Iñigo, Francóis, Cheska, Melody, and I participated as house Tao. The group assigned me to find shells for decoration. I diligently searched the sand for some shells. Some were small, some were big, some were pretty, and some were just plain white.

I liked swimming in the beach. Don’t worry, there were times when the teachers allowed us to swim. We loved high tide the best. There is something about the beach that lets you enjoy being dragged and pushed by the waves.

That wasn’t the whole trip. When we left, we headed for Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valor). When we got there, we saw writing on the wall, about The Battle of Bataan. It sends shivers on your head as you read the true story that ends on another wall. Inside were war remnants of WWII. They showed pictures of what happened during WWII, guns that were used by the US and Filipinos, a 3D replica of the war map with lights showing where the Americans and Japanese were. I can only write about what’s inside the place because you’re not allowed to take pictures there.

After that, we headed to our last stopover in NLEX through San Fernando. To take our minds out of the length of the trip, the driver played a movie titled “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. It seemed as if I’ve seen it before, but my bus mate, Iñigo, saw it for the first time. I wondered if Naomi Watts starred in that movie because it seemed so. The hero seemed familiar, as if I saw him in another movie, but I forgot his name.

When we got to our stopover at Jollibee, I learnt my lesson and ordered iced tea instead of Coke. I sat with a Grade 8 student, Enrico, my classmate, Pipo, and someone I forgot. We were talking about this and that, which I will not mention to save privacy. I ate the same thing I ate last time during our first stopover. I moved to Bettina’s and Tiara’s table, and we talked about Instagram, our experiences in Bataan, gossip about this person who did that, and so on.

Thus, this trip came to an end. We ended our trip with a prayer led by Sir Henry. When we got off the bus, we greeted and hugged each other Merry Christmas. Then, we got our bags and went home to celebrate Christmas with our family. On January 5,  we’ll see each other again, and make the most out of the little time left in school because others will transfer to other schools.  The bad news is that I am among those who will transfer to another school. The good news is that I’m moving to Philippine Science High School(PSHS), known as the most prestigious public school in the Philippines. I passed the PSHS test!

So, goodbye and thank you, dear reader, for finding the time to read this post. I’ll see you again with my next post.

Lessons learned:

– Don’t throw plastic bags into the sea. A pawikan will die if it eats a plastic bag.

– The best reformers are those who have done seriously bad things and saw their errors.

– Trust your mom.

– You don’t appreciate what you have until they’re gone.

– It’s better to bring too much than too little.

– Pawikans play an important role in the sea ecosystem.

– Be proud of your race and their participation in history.

– A pawikan cannot retract his head and legs inside, unlike a tortoise.

– Other people don’t have the luxuries that you take for granted.

– War has a lasting effect on not just the country, but also on the families of the fallen soldiers.









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