Travel By Heart: Lamitan, Basilan – Part 05

One by one the soldiers boarded the truck, 4 of them in total including the driver. They were incredibly serious, no smiles or jokes they didn’t even talk to each other that much. The wooden gates opened and the engine started, “This is it” I told myself. Once I leave this camp I will be in the hands of the 4 soldiers in the truck in front of me.

The drive was quite fast, it only slows down when it encounters a checkpoint. There were a lot, seemingly manned by different types of uniformed men. But the truck was never halted, it just went around the barricades sometimes to the point of ignoring the men assigned there. But I never felt that they did that a disrespectful manner, all of the checkpoints gave way to them. I guess it’s because the Special Forces is well known here.

Concrete turned to brown dust, as it did the checkpoints became fewer and fewer and the truck went faster and faster. I slowly glanced at my speedometer as the paced picked up, “Fuck, I’m doing 80kph on a dusty road and I still can’t keep up. That means they are doing around a 100kph”. I was literally eating dust, I really had a hard time catching up to them, it is evident that they sometimes slow down to let me catch up. I think I get it now, from a security standpoint it is easier for them to monitor me if I was in front of them instead of behind… covered with dust, playing catch up.

The drive slowed down, I’m guessing we were reaching our destination. Then one of them signaled for me to go ahead as he pointed to an entrance. As I entered I immediately saw a very unusual site, a very short waterfall. I did not “wow” me at first but as I got closer that’s when I realized that it was an extraordinary waterfall.

As I went down from my motorcycle that’s when I realized that the place was empty except for 3 men with half of their body submerged in the shallow part of the waterfall. I heard the truck park, I signaled to the soldiers if it was ok for me to go on. One of them nodded so I proceeded to approach the 3 men, then one by one the soldiers took different positions, all watching my next move.

My assignment was really to take a photo of the waterfalls, but it would be really rude of me if I ignore the 3 men. So I smiled and approached them. They were keen to know who I was, as my grand entrance was anything but discreet. I held out my hand and introduced myself. One of them said, “I knew it was a VIP the moment I saw the military truck.” I quickly answered that I was not, not even close. I told them a brief story about myself and what I’m doing just to clarify everything. Then I told them that I will leave them for a bit to shoot the waterfalls.

I got the tripod and took a couple of shots, the sun was high so there wasn’t really an overly amazing photo to take. I did make sure that I got the detail that made the waterfall unique. The sharp angular rocks that look as if it was carved by a mechanical tool, I have read from somewhere that it is a very rare occurrence in nature to see right angles. It was really amazing, I have never seen anything like it.

I went back to the 3 men after shooting. One of them asked “Do you want to try this?” referring to a liquid stored in a plastic jug. “What is it?” I asked. He answered “Tuba!”. I was warned by a lot of people even before I started the PH tour to ignore invitations by strangers to drink. As there is this some sort of urban legend, I guess in this case “rural”, that it might be laced with poison and the cure can only be provided by the men who invited you but for a cost. I did remember it as I hold the glass in my hand… then just told myself. “Ah, fuck it!.” then drank it.

It was really, really good it had this really fruity sweet taste to it, the taste of alcohol just comes after. I honestly wanted more, but I didn’t want to get intoxicated in front of the soldiers who were watching me closely. Then they offered me their food, I asked what it was… one of them exclaimed “Cured wild boar!” I just went in with my dirty fingers and grabbed it, It was insanely delicious. Probably the best-cured meat that I have tasted in all my life.

Then one of them asked “Why not go for a swim? You look like you need one.” I think he noticed that my black motorcycle gear is now brown, because of the dusty road that we took to get here. “I’m not sure about that, those guys might be annoyed that I’m taking too much of their time.” I said. “I don’t think that they would mind after all they were assigned to guard you, they know what they got into.” he replied.

The day has been a total rollercoaster, I woke up planning to go to Basilan. Now here I am escorted by soldiers on a very unique waterfall. It has been really intense, I think a swim would wash it all away. So I summed up the courage to ask the soldiers if I can go for a swim, then their leader nodded. The man who invited me blurted out “I told you so.”

I stripped down to my compression shorts and submerged myself in the cool running water, just the reset that I needed for this crazy day. I took my GoPro and swam to the steps of the waterfalls, I made sure I was able to take a very close video of it. To remember how it looked like and show how unique it was. The soldiers were watching me closely as well as the 3 men, they were even smiling. Then the man who invited me to the swim shouted, “Do you want to jump from the top of the waterfalls?”.

The question caught me off-guard, to the point that my only answer was “I can?”. “Sure you can, come I will show you how.” I followed him through the steps of the waterfalls, he clearly has done this before. At one point I was struggling because of how slippery the rocks are, then he gave me his hand. He helped me up to get to the highest point, then he said “I go first, then you.” and he jumped. After double checking, if my GoPro was recording, I jumped soon after. It was not as high as the cliff jump that I did in Samal but it felt great. After jumping we both swam near the soldiers, then one of them said. “If I knew you were going to swim, I should have brought a change of clothes.” “You have never tried swimming here?” I asked. “No”, I felt bad by his answer. I told him to join us, he just smiled and said: “Maybe some other time.”

I went back to the 3 men, who by now I’m very comfortable with. I asked them casually about the safety here in Basilan. That’s when one of them opened up about who they are, what they were doing there and their not so good experience growing up in Lamitan.

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