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My Scholarship entry - A local encounter that changed my life

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 23 April 2012 | Views [269] | Scholarship Entry

Scoop. Splash. The oar scribbles wisps and curls across the black water; shards of vibrant blue light spark underneath each stroke: bioluminescent planktons. On either side of the careening Iwahig River harrow spiky shadows of mangroves. They flitter and rustle against a breeze that carries the breath of moist earth. As I gaze up at the star-dusted sky, my rattan cone hat, with all my exhaustion, slides off my head.

The boatman puckers his dry lips and jerks his bristly chin towards a distant tree, its outline bizarrely traceable from the dark thicket. We draw nearer to discover pulsating yellowgreen light beads sprinkled on every leaf of the tree. The glowing specks replicate mutely-bright Christmas lights, each one flashing its own rhythm in this orchestra of lights. I probe the root-braided banks for wires feigning this sorcery—nothing. “Alitaptap”, he says. Fireflies—thousands of them!

Slyly, I strain to pull on a branch. A few streaks of light gently catapult into the air, like a mild explosion. In the moment, I am a child again, reveling at my first sight of fireworks. The ghostly gems bubble to every direction and a daring firefly wanders above our hills of hats. It loops and swerves to dodge the treacherous geysers of playful grappling fingers, including mine. It escapes triumphantly farther down the river, where more radiating firefly-ladened trees emerge from the darkness.

I find myself two hours later in the busy Puerto Princesa Capitol, where the Filipino Christmas spirit whirls all about; hordes of tourists savoring warm ginger tea and sugary puto bumbong; children shaking bottle cap tambourines and drumming empty biscuit cans in tune with their carols. At the center of the festivities is a towering mesh Christmas tree, adorned with cutout flowers and countless strands of twinkling light bulbs, begging my attention. I inch closer and mindlessly swing a string of flickering lights hanging by the hem. Not one bulb flies away. It will never be the same.

Tags: travel writing scholarship 2012

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