BY THE SEA:
SAN NARCISO, ZAMBALES, PHILIPPINES
Just a few days into our year-long trip, Alex and I accompany my father and Uncle Flor four hours west from Manila, toward the South China Sea. Along the coast of Zambales is the fishing village where they grew up: San Narciso.
It’s my third trip here, and this time it feels different.
At the break of dawn we head to the water, but we’re already too late. Everyday in the wee hours of the night, local fishermen set out on makeshift bamboo outriggers to cast their nets. Sometimes it’s just for the day. Sometimes it’s for weeks. They all need to feed their families, and if they’re lucky, sell enough fish to turn a small profit. We watch the last line being pulled in.
“It’s been increasingly difficult to fish these areas, and without help from the government, the fisherman are powerless.”
It’s calm here in San Narciso, but there is conflict beyond the horizon. There are a handful of small islands China claims as their own, making the waters that surround it also disputed. It’s been increasingly difficult to fish these areas, and without help from the government, the fisherman are powerless.
The men come up short, so we head north to the bustling city of Iba, the province’s capital. The markets are full — of fish, of seaweed of all varieties (my father’s favorite), of fruits and vegetables (I notice a thoughtfully prepared corner of ingredients for pinakbet). Everything you could possibly need is here, yet one thing is missing: the mid-morning buzz. Where is everyone?
When the wave of hunger finally washes over us, we head to Bon’s for an early lunch. Grilled squid, pork sinigang, snow peas and shrimp, raw beef kilawín (with bile), sizzling pork sisig, and a few bottles of San Miguel. Our bellies are happy. I look around, and the place is full, but it is so, so quiet. Then I realize…
The election is just few days away.