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After 3 months and 8 typhoons, Diwata ng Lahi finally arrived at the port of Butuan City around noon on the 28th of November amidst a celebratory welcome by Butuanons. As she slowly sailed her way along the historic Agusan River, escorted by vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard and some well wishers on bancas, there was a feeling akin to nostalgic, of being home at last, to the birthplace of her heritage, the land of the ancient balangays.
My flight landed on Butuan as tropical depression ‘Urduja’ was still in the vicinity of Surigao, where the balangay team was also anchored 2 days prior to their departure towards Cabadbaran, our rendezvous point some 20Km from Butuan City. Gray clouds and a light drizzle greeted me as I step out of the plane, but nonetheless a great feeling of relief as I set foot on the ground from a less than smooth ride due to turbulence.
Narra Hotel, located in Luna Compound at Brgy. Bading used to be the pinnacle of Butuan City some 25 or so years ago. The hotel, constructed mostly of wood is testament to the province’s lumber industry during the 1950s. It is in this same sprawling compound beside the Agusan River, surrounded by aged old acacia trees, grazing cattle, crawling fresh water crabs, eerie daytime bats and night croaking frogs, that Butuan’s balangay is being constructed.
Spearheaded by the Butuan Global Forum, an organization that seeks to promote the province in terms of history, tourism, economy and as a link to Butuanons worldwide; a balangay entirely constructed herein and to be manned with select Butuanon crew certainly bring pride and heritage full circle.
Guided by master boat builder Ibrahim Abdulla and Prof. Jubail Muyong, a team of Badjao from Tawi-Tawi is again at work; this second balangay of 20 meters long by 3 meters wide (5 meters longer than Diwata) will be completed in around 45 days, in time to accompany Diwata in her continuing voyage of the Mindanao islands.
During my stay in Luna Compound for the first 2 days while awaiting updates on the schedule arrival of Diwata in Cabadbaran due to unfavorable weather; I had the privilege of the friendly Badjaos as company; I dined with them and watched them meticulously perform their boat building craftsmanship with keen precisions.
On to Cabadbaran
It was about lunch time on the 27th that we got confirmation of Diwata’s nearing approach at the seaside community of Cabadbaran. Some 30 minute by land from Butuan City, we drove towards the impending rendezvous site with eagerness; as the last time I saw her, was in the port of Sangley Point at Cavite City.
The original idea is for a banca to take us to the balangay in mid waters and sail straight to Butuan City without docking for a pending celebration on the same day. But due to lack of suitable wind and directional currents, the team made it to port already past 4PM.
So with night fast approaching and sailing conditions deteriorating, a decision was made to dock the balangay in Cabadbaran and just set sail the following morning.
The team, with this writer in tow, traveled by bus to Butuan City that night to join the birthday celebration of the City Mayor’s wife and concurrently bestowed by the members of the city council as honorary Butuanons for their feat and contributions to the province of Butuan.
At Home in Butuan
We left Cabadbaran around 7AM the next day en route to Butuan City; the weather was exceptionally sunny, visibility good, the sea calm, but very little sailable wind. With a schedule to keep, Diwata was assisted by Tiririt, the ever reliable little motorboat, her sine qua non in this epic voyage.
As we approached the mouth of Agusan River, an outrigger boat with welcome banner came along side; follow soon by two patrol vessels of the Coast Guard as they guided us in entering the shallow passage of the river.
With human padding overpowered by the out-flowing currents of the river, another fishing boat was called to tow the balangay up stream. With the speed of the boat being more or less constant, I decided to jump over to one of the Coast Guard vessels for a better shot of Diwata.
As the flotilla got nearer to the port of Butuan City, children along the shores can be seen waving Philippine flags. A particular student waving a full size flag caught the eye of Art Valdez, a rush of feeling which he later shared as “emotionally heart warming.”
Drums and sirens accompanied claps and cheers as Diwata prepared to dock at the Philippine Ports Authority wharf. Local city officials were at hand in greeting the crew; a program was given, native dance performed, baskets of fruits and local delicacies offered, a grand welcome indeed!
The following days saw the crew lead by Doctor Ted Esguerra conducting disaster management seminars to the local members of the auxiliary.
Out of Water
Being in the sea for over 3 months can take its toil on a wooden boat, especially one without the benefit of any marine paint. From the polluted waters of Manila Bay, tamilok worms had bored into the exterior hull, encrustations are also evident, as well as wave and storm compressions that lead to cracks in some support sections of the boat.
To maintain the balangay’s sea worthiness, Diwata ng Lahi was completely pulled out of waters for repair and maintenance. Several planks will be replaced and her overall integrity assessed. She will be under the care of the Badjao boat-builders, whose skillful hands crafted her birth, the same sets of hand that are building her new sister nearby – Butuan’s own balanghai.
All VRs taken from November 27 to December 1, 2009. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org