A Humbling Journey

Two years ago, a neighbor saw MyCebuPhotoBlog and told an Augustinian priest friend about my photos. The priest later came to our house to ask if I would be interested in traveling to Surigao and covering a small town fiesta. He said I didn’t have to worry about food and accommodation. All I had to do was take pictures. The deal seemed pretty sketchy at first. And honestly, a little unbelievable. Why would they get a blogger to do the job? I’m sure a lot of professional photographers would be more than willing to volunteer. I was certain that the plan wouldn’t push through. And when the earthquake and the super typhoon came, the deal became completely forgotten.

A few months before the end of 2014, however, I heard from Fr. Leo Mario F. Singco, OSA (the priest) again. He personally visited me at home and once again asked if I was still willing to do it. There was no way I was going to say no to a free trip. And especially not after I found out who I was traveling with.

In his text message a few days before the trip, Fr. Leo informed me that the boat leaves for Surigao at exactly 7 pm. So by 5 pm Friday, I was already at the Basilica. I will be joining four members (two men and two women) of the Cofradia del Santo Niño. We will also be traveling with – wait for it – the pilgrim image of Señor Santo Niño de Cebu. Wow!

I met my travel mates for the first time at 5 pm inside the office of the Cofradia at the Basilica. By 6:00 pm, we were on our way to the boat headed for the city of Surigao.

The pilgrim image of Señor Santo Niño at the Cofradia del Santo Niño office.

The boat left Cebu at exactly 7:00 pm. It was scheduled to stop in Maasin, Leyte before ultimately docking in Surigao City. The boat reached the city of Surigao very early the next day. The weather was fine but I remember waking up around midnight and feeling really nauseous. More than 10 years of traveling and I still get sea-sick. 🙁

The City of Surigao! I can see Jollibee! 🙂

Just like Cebu. Coin divers ask passengers to toss coins into the water.

At the port, a small group of Cofradia members was waiting for us. The delegation was headed by Fr. Exuper G. Lumintac, OSA. Those two ladies and two gents wearing a yellow vest are my travel buddies. Hehe.

After grabbing some brunch, the group traveled to the Hayanggabon Wharf in the town of Claver. The land trip was long – around 2 hours – and almost succeeded in making me puke.

Here’s a view of one of the nearby islands as seen from mainland Surigao. “How long is the trip to Socorro?” I asked. “Not long,” they all replied.

After eating lunch, we were ready to travel to the island of Bucas Grande. The island of Bucas Grande is contiguous with the Municipality of Socorro. People also often travel to Socorro to get a ride to the famous surfing island of Siargao. So that explains why they say traveling to Bucas Grande is like being on a surfboard. Hmmm.

Fr. Exuper and the Niño prepare to board a small boat which will take all of us to Socorro.

Boarding the boat. The weather is perfect and the water looks pretty calm. No need to worry.

Barely ten minutes in, however, the calm waters bid farewell. What I experienced in the next one and a half hours was something almost too difficult to explain. Soon, the outriggers began moaning with every slam and water began filling the boat. The boatmen had to unroll the window covers to make sure that the passengers inside remained dry. And that’s when things got even crazier. Air couldn’t get in and it started to get really hot inside the boat. And the smell of fuel and wood paint was making me more nauseous by the minute. I looked around and searched for the familiar look of panic and fright. But no. The other passengers were calm as sunrise. Some of them were sleeping and one was even reading a novel. Father Exuper probably sensed that something wasn’t right with me and assured me, with a calm smile, that “The weather is fine. This is normal.” Excellent! “Good thing we didn’t have to travel during the typhoon months,” I thought.

Exactly 2 minutes after this thought crossed my mind, I handed my camera bag to Mam Loreta and asked her to please hold on to it for a minute. I calmly lifted the window cover, kneeled in the walkway, face as close to the water as possible, and ejected two meals worth of food into the savage sea. Seawater was making my face and clothes wet but I didn’t care. I didn’t even worry about falling off and drowning or the boat capsizing anymore. Things had to be released. The people inside the boat scrambled to ask if I was okay. I said I was. But I definitely wouldn’t go back in. I stayed outside in the walkway the rest of the way. I puked one more time before the boat finally entered the ‘area of calm’ a few hundred meters near the port of Socorro.

For reference, this was the boat that witnessed it all. Haha.

I was pretty sure that I looked horrible. But I thought that we were probably going straight to our quarters when we arrive. So, I wasn’t really worried. But as the boat got closer to the pier, I realized that a group was actually waiting for us. Oh, shoot!

I quickly put away my puke-covered hanky and made sure I didn’t have random bits in my face and clothes. Heck, I had some shooting to do.

Welcome to Socorro!

I wonder what made these kids giggle. Hope it wasn’t me. Haha.

Dry land, finally!

I was probably the first one off the boat. I didn’t even think about my bag anymore. All I wanted to do was to get my two feet on dry land once again.

Father Exuper exits the boat with the pilgrim image of Señor Santo Niño.

Priests and religious leaders welcoming the image to Socorro.

A small group had gathered at the pier. These kids even prepared a short Sinulog dance for the Niño.

After the short presentation, the image was paraded through the streets of Socorro. I soon noticed that only a handful actually joined the procession. And the people who saw the parade from their houses only stared at us for a moment before going back to whatever they were doing. “This is a little strange,” I thought.

I later learned that Catholics are considered a minority in Socorro. In fact, only around 18 to 20 percent in the entire island are Catholics. The rest are a mix of other faiths. Pretty interesting, right?

The procession was followed by a mass. Here is a shot of the image and Socorro’s kura paroko Fr. Leo Mario Singco, OSA.

After the mass, the devotees were given a chance to do the traditional Sinulog dance with the image.

I walked around town for a bit afterwards to familiarize myself with the location of some key spots. My neighbor, Ate Daisy (the one who told Fr. Leomar about this blog and who also works at the convent in Socorro) said that it’s easy to spot a Catholic household in Socorro. She told me to look at the front door of a house. If it has a picture of the Niño, that household is Catholic. I traced one major street going to the pier area and I only saw three or four.

Later that afternoon, the image of the Niño was placed on the back of a van for the translacion. Our destination was a barangay called Pamosaingan. The image was going to stay there for one night. And the next morning, a fluvial parade will be held to take back the image to the poblacion.

In Cebu, processions involving the image of Señor Santo Niño would normally attract at least a hundred thousand people. Here in Socorro, getting around a hundred people is actually already an achievement.

Around 20 motorbikes joined the translacion of the the Niño. The turnout is actually quite good this year, I was told.

Father Leomar gave me my own personal motorbike driver. The driver would race towards the front of the procession so that I could take a good shot. We drove all the way to Pamosaingan – around 7 kilometers from the poblacion –way ahead of the parade so that we could pick a good spot.

Near the barangay borders, we spotted this group of kids. Some of them were actually altar girls and they were waiting for the procession under one lamppost – the first one I saw after a few miles of complete darkness.

Several minutes later, the parade finally arrived.

A skylab (a modified habal-habal) carrying several kids enters Pamosaingan.

The parade came to a halt in front of a small chapel in Pamosaingan.

In this photo, the image is carried to the altar of the chapel.

Devotees singing the gozos.

After the mass, we were informed that the whole group was invited to a small celebration a few blocks away. Excellent! I was starving!

After the sumptuous meal (I ate a looooot!) we were informed that before heading back to the convent, we would have to drop by another house for a ‘small’ meal. Uh-oh!

We reached the convent at around 8 pm. It was a very tiring first day. After the long trip from Surigao City, I had to endure a two-hour sea trip and cover two events.Wow!

By 5 am the next day, we were all ready for the fluvial parade.

We drove back to Pamosaingan to retrieve the image of the Niño.

Here, the whole group poses with some Pamosainganons.

We received news that weather was horrible and a fluvial parade from Pamo to the poblacion was impossible. So, it was decided that the parade would have to be held at the poblacion.

Here, the image is being carried to the boat for the fluvial parade.

The water surrounding the port area is pretty okay. But beyond the ‘area of calm,’ the water is rough and scary.

I decided to stay at the port so that I could take pictures of the parade. (Actually, I was really scared. Haha.)

As a fluvial parade regular here in Cebu, I expected at least 20 boats to join the procession. That’s a pretty generous estimate considering that Cebu’s annual fluvial procession attracts hundreds of seacraft and hundreds of thousands of devotees. This year, Socorro managed to get 4 boats. And this is actually already a good number. Fr. Leomar shared that when they first started, the fluvial ‘procession’ involved only ONE boat.

The image returns to the wharf after the fluvial procession.

Two of my travel mates teasing me for not getting on the boat with them. Haha.

The image of the Niño is being carried back to the jeep for the final procession back to the church.

Local Catholic kids touching the face of the Niño.

Again, the procession back to the church wasn’t a very huge event. Only a couple of people were in attendance.

I was pretty excited when I saw that the church was full when we finally arrived. It’s feast day after all!

After the mass, everyone went straight to the convent for the traditional feast. Everyone was invited. Catholic or not.

Just before noon, the streets surrounding the convent started to become busy. The Sinulog sa Socorro begins at 1 pm today!

Sinulog sa Socorro is pretty small scale. But I can see that it’s definitely getting there.

Performances are done right outside the convent. Afterwards, the contingents walk towards the sports center for the final (ritual) performance.

Now, I learned that this event is open to everyone. So non-Catholics were allowed to witness the event. And I’m pretty pumped that the sports stadium was filled to the rafters. I also later learned that some contingents were from other nearby islands. They had to travel by boat for an hour to get here. Wow!

The crowd enjoying the performances.

By 4 pm, the event at the sports stadium was over. When we went back to the convent, the streets were already quiet.It didn’t seem like it was fiesta day at all.

The town church of Socorro.

I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring other parts of Socorro. First, I dropped by the Roman Catholic Consumers Cooperative (ROCACOCO.) They sell various religious items as well as garments and home supplies.

I also got the chance to see the shop where the garments were made. Cool, right?

Just outside the Socorro port, you will find this small shop which sells home-made ice cream and halo-halo! My favorite spot in the whole island. Haha!

Had a chance to stay at the pier area just before sunset. The water was rougher this time.

These boatmen had to secure their boats just in case the weather worsens.

I also later discovered a public beach just a few blocks from the convent. Very beautiful, don’t you think?

This one was what surprised me the most. Socorro has its own public swimming pool. Amazing!

They even have this nice laundry area.

The next day, Monday, we were supposed to visit Bucas Grande’s biggest tourist spots. But the weather was horrible and we weren’t able to leave our rooms at all.

This gave me a chance to look back at all the things that has happened in the last two days. I realized that unlike in Cebu, where things almost always happen our way, in Socorro, it’s an entirely different thing. I experienced just how hard it is to be in the minority. To be voiceless and unheard of no matter how hard you try. All you can do is hang on to the things that you believe in and hope that things get better.

I wonder how the few Catholics in Socorro feel. I know it can get hard at times but I hope they don’t lose faith and that they’d continue to hang in there.

We got up early the following morning for our early boat ride back to Hayanggabon. It was finally time to say goodbye to Socorro.

Fr. Leo Mario F. Singco, OSA poses for one last photo with the Niño.

Devotees saying goodbye to the pilgrim image.

I was pretty certain that I wouldn’t survive the boat trip without puking. So, here we go. Puke bag and a bottle of water. Check!

All right. Goodbye, Socorro! Thanks a lot for everything. And good luck to us all!

Okay, to cut the long story short, I puked on the boat. Twice, actually. This time, I didn’t feel like I had to explain myself. I simply placed the bag in front of my mouth when I started to feel dizzy and just let it all go when the perfect time came. Haha.

By lunch time we were already in the city of Surigao. We went straight to the Clergy House near the city proper to freshen up and rest for a while. We also dropped by the Bishop’s residence who requested to see the pilgrim image. Our boat leaves for Cebu at 7 pm so we got plenty of time to roam around the city if we wanted.

At 5 pm, a short mass was held at the Clergy House chapel for our safe trip back to Cebu.

Thankfully, the boat ride was uneventful. I slept the whole time and didn’t wake up until thirty minutes before we docked. By 6 am, we were back in Cebu. Hello Cebu!

To everyone who made this trip possible, thank you very much. Thank you Ate Daisy and Fr. Leomar for inviting me. It’s been a rough but humbling and very memorable journey. I learned a lot and I’m very honored to have been chosen. Can’t wait to go back. 🙂