My first academic field trip was in Balanga City, Bataan where we attended the first Ibong Dayo Festival. But who’s excited? Definitely not me. For someone who practically spent majority of her/his life in that province, s/he could not call it an excursion, or a fieldtrip. It’s just a trip going back home. It made me uneasy. I felt I was wasting my time being there instead of doing more important and meaningful activity, like sleeping. The thought of going back home as a fieldtrip was overpowering. It overpowered the sense of our activity for the day—bird watching.
Bird watching or watching birds was not my idea of having fun. I already watched two birds killing each other and people were yelling so loud, louder than people’s scream in a David Archuleta’s Concert. It wasn’t fun to see that. I also watched birds dancing with blood oozing from their throats. Then, I ate them. They tasted great especially because the cook was Iloko. But the birds’ dance moves were simply insane and totally horrifying. Then I thought, maybe, our activity would be like what we did with my neighbor when I was six years old. He had a bird named “Blacky,” a pretty witty name because its color was surprisingly—black. He asked me to clap when he released the bird. I clapped so hard as if I was really enjoying what I was doing. He told me that the sound of our claps would guide Blacky back to us. After a minute, I could feel there was a problem but I pretended that the enthusiasm was still there. Then, two minutes passed I was still clapping while watching my friend cry. Again, it wasn’t really ecstatic. All my prior experiences of intentionally watching birds were not really worth my time.
Maybe it is different this time. I did not want to expect anything because I hate being disappointed. I tried to focus my thoughts on other things—my other academic requirements, my forgotten waiver, and some excuses for a missed activity. Great. I still have three hours, the whole trip to Bataan, to endure and to think of those things.
The trip was long and tiring because I couldn’t even move. I was pretending to be asleep and my legs were aching because of my awkward sitting position. While others were excitedly murmuring things and discussing supernatural phenomena, ghosts and aliens, I was daydreaming what would I do if we were abducted by aliens. I was trying to figure out who would be sacrificed to their leader who eats human flesh. I shook my head. I should stop creating my conspiracy theories including zombies who do astral projection to eat excess fat of other people. I opened my eyes and I was fascinated by the same sceneries I always see whenever I was going home. There’s nothing visually fancy actually. But my memories embedded on every street, corner, building, billboard and town never failed to make me smile.
Then I noticed, we were barely moving. We were stuck in Pampanga. But I wasn’t surprised. Every time I go to Bataan, traffic is always expected. But the thing is, it is always caused by road repair and improvement. For God’s sake. Road repair never ended here in the main street of Pampanga. A year before election, new roads would be made, new road repair projects would be launched—cliché stint of politicians who wanted to stay in power. After the election, the same projects would be done just for the public to say that they were actually spending public money wisely.
The heat that touched my face diverted my attention from the road-politics connection that I have in mind. I could feel we are now approaching Bataan. I already saw the marker, the statues of first-line defense soldiers in World War II. We’re here, I said to myself. The trees were dancing mildly, and I swear I saw trees shaking their butts at me, teasing me because my first academic field trip was in Bataan. Hurray for me.
I told my classmates we were already in Bataan. The excitement shot up, and suddenly, I heard one of my classmates said the dense dry forest beside the highway was amazing—or something to that effect. I felt a sudden surge of pride. Although Bataan was the first province to have an economic zone in the country, and with all the developments and constructions of different factories and oil refineries, the degradation of the nature is barely noticeable. I knew it was not the same five years ago, when subdivisions were not yet built along the highway. The dry forest was much denser, and you could actually feel, just like in some Hollywood movies, that you were going to a countryside, where mysterious things happen.
After several amazing stories of animal wonders from our professor, we finally reached Balanga City. We asked for directions to the venue of the festival. It was entertaining to see different cut-outs of birds posted in different streets that made us more confused where to go. It was as if we were decoding hidden messages, some of us thought because there were big cut-outs of birds posted in an arch, that was the right street. Others thought we should make a right turn because an egret cut-out was pointing its beak towards that direction. But after several suggestions, somebody thought of a very brilliant idea—ask someone from the barangay hall.
Indeed, we reached the venue. As we went out of our van, I was waiting for “oohs” and “aahs” to come. But I heard nothing. I forced myself to be mesmerized, but there was just nothing. Plain nothing. It was a common sight for me, and compared to other “tourist spots” that I visited, there was nothing visually great about Bgy. Tortugas.
We went to the watchtower where the designer of the Balanga Wetland and Nature Park explained to us the importance of preserving our natural resources. She told us the original plan for the place, what went wrong and what they were doing to rectify those errors. Apparently, she was inspiring. She told us her team’s future vision of the place, as a venue where local and foreign birds can enjoy the freedom to fly high and rest without anyone bothering them. I looked outside the window and saw a few birds gliding. I envied their freedom. They could go anywhere they wanted and they could just fly high and explore the world. Then I realized, this was the beauty of the place. The absence of visual glamour protected the place from being commercialized and abused. Boracay, Chocolate Hills, Baguio, Hundred Islands and many more faced environmental problems due to excessive human intervention to the way of nature. The natural beauty of those places was lost and buried under the beautiful lights, high-class hotels and different shops. From then on, I could feel the admiration of those birds for the place. The way they flap their wings showed how they glorified the park. For them, this place was divine and should be respected. And their calls were pleading to the people to save the remaining habitats that they could have.
We proceeded to the main activity—bird watching. But because we were late, we were not able to fully enjoy the activity. The best time to do bird watching is during early morning or late in the afternoon. I was satisfied taking pictures of the event and observing people’s reaction because I still could not move on by the guilt I felt because of judging the place. I was insensitive thinking that way. As if the birds had chosen this location. As if we’re not the ones pushing them away, far away from their natural habitat.
Then a thought occurred to me. Maybe, we were not watching the birds, the birds were watching us. We believed that we were the ones observing them. But I thought, maybe they were observing us. We were contented seeing them flying, but were they contented seeing us watching them? They were flying for so long that they witnessed how we drastically changed the landscape of the world. Many of their former habitats had been turned into subdivisions, amusement parks and cities. Most of their friends, (the other birds) perished forever. They were watching us–what we are going to do next? Are we going to be contented sitting around the corner, updating our social networking sites, and sometimes supporting projects that would harm their homes?
Maybe, some of us are thinking, they are just birds. We are more important than them. But, I hope that we would never experience being treated like them: driven away from our homelands, stripped of our rights to live free and sometimes, killed without mercy. As if humans do not have history of being treated like that. Did we already forget the holocaust when almost six millions jews were killed, the invasion of Spain, Americans and Japanese to our country when our forefathers experienced being treated without respect and dignity, the other unnamed victims of wars, massacres and other heinous crimes?
We left the park with my eyes opened wider. I could see the horror we inflicted to those birds, to the nature. I was ashamed that I was a part of the problem. I wanted to be a part of the solution, to help them regain what they had lost, to give them what they need. I would work from now on, from as simple as appreciating the beauty of nature while it still lasts up to showing my support through demonstration and campaign to fight for the welfare of these birds and other animals that should have their share to this world.
We proceeded to a restaurant for lunch. We were surprised to see a buffet and I asked myself, maybe the organizers were rich to treat us. We ate happily and discussed our unfinished conversation about supernatural phenomena. This time, I joined them. I was fascinated by their thoughts about astral projection, regression and dream that made me interested to research on this topic deeper. I even asked if it would be possible for us to steal another person’s body during astral projection. Too bad, it was impossible, my plans were prematurely terminated. Then, we found out we were supposed to pay for the food. I thought it was for free! Had I known that, I should have eaten more, to compensate for the price we had to pay.
The next part of our trip involved visiting historical places in Balanga City. Our first stop was in Balanga City Elementary School where the document stating the surrender of Philippines to Japan was signed. It was nostalgic because this school was very memorable for me. There were several competitions that were held here during my elementary days. This was where I first won in Division Schools Press Conference. This was where I discovered I could solve long math problems in less than a minute. This was one of the places where I felt there were many people who were proud of me and admired me. I traced back my happy memories as we roamed around the school, trying to relive the days when I was smaller, though I am still small until now.
Our next stop was the Church of Balanga. It was funny because our group just entered the church, like tourists taking pictures of everything they saw. Then we noticed that people were preparing for a wedding. I could see other people with confusion in their eyes but we just ignored them. We just laughed after we realized there was a wedding.
Then, it was time to go back to Manila. I was really tired and at the same time, very satisfied with my self-discoveries and lessons learned. I had to say goodbye once again to my hometown and this time, I realized I always wanted to see and explore other places but I was still ignorant about the beauty of my own hometown. Maybe I should explore first Bataan, and discover the hidden beauty of it and be contented. The distance to Manila or to my province is not a basis of enjoyment and fun. What matters is the realization that you can make and the things that you can discover.
I barely noticed the time, and when I opened my eyes, we were already at North Luzon Expressway. My classmates started to wake up and discuss our activity for the night. Some were interested, while others were not. The surprised lunch bill affected the decision of many of us. I looked outside and saw birds flying in the sky. The birds taught me a valuable lesson. I should always love my home because it is difficult when it’s gone. I should always look back because when the world turns its back against me, the only place I have and I feel safe with is my home.
The day ended with the usual parting and goodbyes. But the ignorance about the situation of birds and other animals was gone. This trip going back home brought me to a very strange place that I ignored for a very long time. It was always there but I just did not look. But it would not always be there so I should make the difference to ensure that its degradation would never occur in my lifetime.