A most enjoyable vacation during the war
With so many resorts offering the same or similar amenities and food, the barrio with its nipa houses and carabaos and chicken are becoming more and more attractive to me. I spend most of the hot summer days with a glass of ice-cold beer or soft drink under a shady tree and look back at the vacation places I have loved.
Vacation during my younger days used to be only in the towns or barrios of my classmates. As a city boy, I envied my classmates going home to their provinces as the summer vacation approached.
One of the vacations I enjoyed most was during the war when I was just a little boy. It was really an evacuation, but to me it was a long vacation.
The parents-in-law of my oldest brother had evacuated to a farm in Lingayen, Pangasinan. They returned to Manila to fetch and bring their children and their families, including my brother, to Lingayen. My brother decided to take me and two younger brothers with them. We were to walk all the way to Pangasinan, as many other evacuees were doing.
They built two pushcarts which were to carry our clothes, beddings, cooking utensils, food, and all other things we needed. One pushcart also carried the tubercular sister-in-law of one of the sons, and the other carried my brother’s wife and their baby boy.
We started out very early one morning. The adult males took turns pushing the two pushcarts. We children were spared the chore; we just walked alongside them, picking up firewood along the way. There were a few other evacuees with their own pushcarts. Now and then, there would be a carretela pulled by a horse or a cart pulled by a carabao.
We slept in the abandoned houses along the MacArthur Highway (that was not yet its name at that time). We cooked our food under the houses. If there were no houses, we slept on the grass, in the open, beside the highway.
We would resume our journey very early the next morning, before the sun was up, after a breakfast of ginger tea, and rice gruel or bread if this was available. For viands, our elders went to the nearest market and bought the cheapest food available. When we passed a sweet potato field, we gathered some camote tops. When we passed a sugarcane field, we broke off some cane stalks and chewed on them while walking. When we passed an irrigation ditch or pond, we gathered some kangkong or snails if there were any.
Somewhere in Pampanga, we saw a Japanese collaborator assassinated by two men who we assumed were guerrillas. It was starting to rain and we took shelter in a group of houses away from the highway. We were followed by three men in a “tibourine” (a horse-drawn, three-seater carriage). I went up one of the houses and lay down to rest.
Then I heard a shot and a shout. I sat up and looked out the window. I saw one of the men, his front shirt red with blood, falling backward as another man held him. The third man was stooping over him, holding a pistol. Then there were two more shots.
I dropped to the floor, fearing they would see me and shoot me so there would be no witnesses. After a while, I looked out the open door and saw the two assassins running swiftly up the tiny road.
The elders summoned us and we left the place running, pushing our pushcarts as fast as we could. We were afraid that Japanese soldiers might have heard the shots and would come and see us and think we were involved somehow in the murder. A truck with Japanese soldiers did pass by on the highway but obviously they did not hear the shots because the truck did not stop.
Finally, we reached a barrio along the highway, past the town of Tarlac, Tarlac. We stopped to rest beside houses under coconut trees. The curious residents gathered around us to ask where we were going. We told them we were going to Lingayen, Pangasinan.
About 15 minutes later, two American planes swooped low over the fields, so low we thought they were going to land. But they only threw out leaflets. We ran after the leaflets as they fluttered in the wind.
The leaflets contained instructions to Filipinos living along the highway, with illustrations of American soldiers carrying rifles.
The instructions said American forces have landed in Lingayen Gulf and are driving toward Manila. They told Filipinos to get away from the highway so they would not get caught in the crossfire between the American and Japanese troops.
When the barrio folk read this, they told us not to proceed to Lingayen anymore as we would surely meet the advancing American soldiers and we might get killed in the ensuing fighting. They invited us to go with them to the inland barrios. The barrio captain said he would assign us houses.
Hurriedly, they hitched their carabaos to carts, piled their belongings on them and we started crossing a shallow but very wide river. The river bottom was sand; it was so hot under the sun that it burned our bare feet. The barrio folk taught us how to escape being burned by the hot sand. The sand was littered with clumps of talahib, and they told us to run from clump to clump like baseball players running from base to base.
In the middle of the river was a stream that was only knee-deep, and we were so grateful for its cool water that we stayed there for as long as we could. But we had to cross another stretch of hot sand to get across. So it was once more running from one talahib clump to another. The other side was lined with kamachile trees.
At last, we reached Barrio Sta. Maria. There were two other barrios nearby—Sto. Niño and San Jose. That was the beginning of a year-long and most enjoyable vacation for me.
(To be continued)
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