Walk I did a few weeks ago. Before the super storm made landfall in the Visayas, and my feet were still eager to see sights that evade me. From the walled enclave of Intramuros to the choke full of trailers below the Del Pan bridge, all I did was walk; walk towards the mouth of the river that flows not far from home.
You may consider me a riverine. A kid raised next to the river. My earliest memories of my dad include crossing the Nagtahan bridge on foot with him. I still recall that sense of wonder, as huge barges pass beneath the bridge; creating ripples that slosh along the banks, parting water lilies in their procession towards the sea. I remember holding my dad's hand, as tugboats pull the behemoths toward their destination. I would get drowned in my imagination, as I see myself boarding the same boats as we chug our way towards parts unknown.
When I turned older, I would sit on a floating terminal while the Metro Ferry boat unloads passengers heading to PUP. The swirl in my head, as waves stir the pontoon used to force me to flee to the banks. Soon, I would look forward to these fluxes as they have become a well-spring of excitement. In moments of stillness, I would spot bubbles on the water's surface. Little movements that lead to solid evidence of life. It seems, and I was told, by the birds circling above my head that the river is still alive. Dying, yet giving life to creatures hardened by the ebbs and tides.
There is no denial that the river is stinky. Sometimes, dead animals float along the water's edge. Its surroundings have turned lifeless, its waters a vial of death. But the river remains a romantic retreat. In high school and college, part of my urban stroll is to ride the ferry going upstream, where city lights and skyscrapers change the backdrop of my beloved metropolis. And there are days still, when I cross the historic bridges or sit in crumbling walls of the Santiago fort, I would imagine a time when people used to wine and dine near the river's edge; when children take a dip in its sparkling waters, or when the superstitious still warn of mermaids dwelling at the belly of the watercourse.
How lovely it is to live in such time.
In all the years I have stood next to the river and daydreamed of times when it used to be teeming with life, the very place where it drains has been a mystery. Part of the elusiveness is the inaccessibility, of the perils and dangers found where the Pasig meets the bay. And one day, while remembering the guy who once told me his dream of setting foot at the confluence, I thought of embarking a solitary trip in honor of his memory.
So walk I did, pass the trucks waiting their turn to enter the port terminal, pass the gates where container vans are stacked, and pass the homes and hovels that make up the bustling urban landscape at the rim of a reclaimed land. There, I found what I've been searching; a longing my eyes delight in indulging; the river's edge, a few steps away from the sea:
"Nakarating ka ng Baseco ng hindi mo alam?" A store vendor at a sari-sari store told me with incredulity. I didn't answer her question.
"Okay lang po ba mag-ikot ikot?"
"Okay lang naman, basta huwag ka pupunta dun sa may dulo. Magulo dun." She warned.
A sea of trash it may be. But the river mouth remains a poignant discovery to me.