Soldiering On at Seco Island

Thursday, May 23, 2019

where to go in antique

Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

To be still when all is in flux, to not move when all there is is motion, is a pleasure not everyone deigns to suffer. But that day, in the secret hours before dawn, as the fishing vessel sliced through the temperamental waters of the Sulu Sea, I let myself savor the calm.

It was dark. The steady drone of the boat’s engine and the messy splashes of the waves came together like needle and thread through cloth. There I was – on a frayed tarpaulin out on deck, tucked in the warmth of my friends’s bodies – a year older.

I didn’t think much about this fact during the beginnings of that three-hour boat ride to Seco Island. For the most part, I tried to sneak in more sleep, but by the time I was comfortable, a barrage of rain started hitting me on the cheeks. All of us scrambled for cover.
jon to the world

It didn’t last long though, the rains. Eventually, it eased up and as soon as it did, the sky bled rouge. Flames – it was all I could think of. We lived in a fire-breathing world with skies ablaze. The serrated silhouettes of mountains dripped vermilion. Scarlet. Ruby. Blood. It all burned and it was painfully magnificent.

boat seco island

I rested my arms on the gunwale, the scent of the sea filling my lungs. The breeze was warm and hinted of storms, and the water a silver mirror.

Happy birthday,” said a soft voice behind me.

I turned to look and found Mariane sitting on the boat’s edge. She had her phone held up to the sky and she was smiling.

I propped both my elbows on the gunwale and breathed. Briny breeze and strands of Kara’s hair tickling my arm.

Thank you,” I said, grinning.

Look that way,” she instructed, pointing back to the direction of the celestial firestorm.

I let her take my photo, and found it really sweet. When she was done, I kept the pose, imagining myself flying straight to the fire and letting it consume me. That’s how insane the scene was.
boatride to seco island

You know what else is insane? I used to dread it, turning a year older. I hated my birthday, would’ve done anything to prevent it from happening. But something happened along the way that made me look forward to it. It grew on me, growing old. It feels like my age is catching up with my soul, like I’m finally bulking up to fit myself, you know what I mean?

In any case, after what felt like the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy, complete with a cameo by dolphins (yes!!), the form of Seco Island appeared on the horizon. It stretched into its one-and-a-half-kilometer glory, with one end curling to look like an elbow, or a comma in a serif font. We were stalling quite a distance from its shore, which meant we had to get on the small flat boat to reach it. Oh boy.

A few men had already gone ahead to the island, laying out ropes that would haul us in. One by one, we climbed down unto the shaky vessel. It lurched with every movement. The waves did not help.

What do we say to the god of death?” I hailed, trying to make light of the situation. Some of my companions had gone pale and quiet.

Not today,” they replied, like a chant.

Not today indeed. We made it to the island a little rattled but safe and sound.

I dumped my things on the ground, which was glittering and so, so white. Immediately, I took my sandals off and dug my toes into the sands. I shook my head in disbelief. I’ve been generous with my use of the word “powdery”. None of the beaches I’ve been to, I realized, had actual powdery sands. This here was powdery – soft and fine and looked almost like formula.
white sand beach philippines

The water, too, looked delicious. Glasslike. Ultraclear.

Gatorade blue,” Kara offered.

Milk and energy drink – who knew they’d look so beautiful together. So beautiful in fact that I couldn’t stop myself from coming in. The mountain is home but I’m 70% water.

My fun was cut short, however, as we had to walk all the way to the tiny hut on the far end of the island, to get ourselves settled. It was a long walk, made longer by the blaring sun.
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When all was set, I wasted no time and hurried back to the water. Along with my friends, I swam.

Happy birthday,Jon called out.

I chuckled, waved thanks in response.

I was grateful. Incredibly. Not everyone gets to spend their birthday on an island with good company. I knew how lucky I was. But I was also tired. Not from the trip, not entirely. I was exhausted from life in general.

All these traveling I like because it gives me stories, but all the moving only made me realize that all I want is to be still.

I’m like a seed,” I would tell my husband a week from now, “blown by wind and circumstance, longing to settle and take root.

Translation: I am ready to die.

Any moment, I am ready. I’m OK.

I am done.

The only reason I’m still here is because I don’t want to hurt those I love, and I’m arrogant enough to believe that they will get hurt when I go. So, I’m staying.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy. In fact, I think I’ve never been happier. I’m fit. Productive. Healthy. And I believe I’m looking my best. It’s just that I feel there’s nothing left for me here anymore, except the people that tether me.

When I think about my crowd, I forget what I lack. The hollowness inside, the vacuity within, does not hold so much power. My husband, my friends, my siblings – they represent the best parts of me, and when I look at them, I am at peace. There is joy.

Sometimes, I reign this feeling in because I’m afraid the sorrow that would come later would be just as much. (And it is. It always is.) Yet here I also go, chasing sensations without really taking into account the consequences. I work out. Eat good food. Meditate. Sleep early. And then get shitfaced and jump off cliffs and run barefooted and get wounded and bruised. It’s like I want to be saved, but not really. Like I want to be alive, but actually no. This shit is wild.

I closed my eyes and pulled myself down the water. This life is a mess. Beautiful, but what a damn drawn out mess.

The sky had turned a menacing gray when I came up for air. And soon, there was rain. We didn’t mind as long as our things were secured, and they were, so we remained submerged, watching raindrops prick the ocean’s face. Laughing. Talking. Having a genuinely good time.

The great swell of affection – for my friends, old and new – that surged through my veins found me unprepared. (Thank god for the rain, made wiping my face less suspicious.) I really am lucky to be here, to have people in my life who make me believe I’m worth the space, that I’m worth the trouble.
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I may have been entertaining dark thoughts but I wasn’t stupid to not notice this light.

It’s a good day to be alive,” I told them.

I meant every single word.

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