Monday, December 7, 2015

Bohol Climate Walk: 100 Kilometers and Beyond

At Plaza Rizal after reading our call, before hitting the road--before any injuries

At around 2AM on Saturday, November 28th, 2015, I crawled into my sleeping bag, pulled the mosquito net over my head, closed my eyes and lulled myself to sleep with images of a bright morning and an energetic me, all while chanting the mantra “Goodness, please take this pain away” and unknowingly muttering “mama” every five seconds or so.

Earlier that day, 11 of us embarked on a 100-kilometer walk from Tagbilaran to Anda to show solidarity with the People’s Pilgrimage from Rome to Paris, helping raise awareness on efforts to uphold global climate justice. We were joined by two pilgrims along the way and lost one who had to attend to fatherly duties. About 20 kilometers, over 7 hours and a litany of prayers and expletives later, 12 of us made it to a hut in a mangrove forest in Loay, Bohol, the first of two evening stops for the Bohol Climate Walk.

I made the commitment to write about this experience but I’ve ended up postponing it over and over again because I’m stumped about where to begin. I don’t want to turn this into a long blow-by-blow about what happened from Friday through Monday as that’s just not how I write. This morning, though, as I was about to take my thought-filled shower, seconds after getting up from bed, I was greeted by a throbbing feeling in my calf. It was an electric sort of pain that felt so damn fresh—just as it felt when I woke up in Anda last Monday, merely hours after completing the walk. It was a lightbulb moment that made me decide I’m going to start by writing about pain.

This didn’t only happen today. I had a similar episode yesterday and all the mornings since and during the walk, but today it was exceptionally strong. I guess it’s because I went back to Anda yesterday to go swimming—remedying the frustration I had from last Monday when we had to leave too early and I only spent less than ten minutes in the water. Nevertheless, this series of daily pangs has, on more than one occasion, led me to worry that this might be permanent. A friend and fellow climate walker from Negros Island, April, has pains from badly sprained and wounded feet. She Couchsurfed in my home for a few days, and nearly every morning since returning to the city, she said something like, “What if this pain never goes away?” I thought, “Perhaps this is the universe’s way of reminding us that the work towards achieving global climate justice is far from over.” You know how they say it’s an honor when a friend shares their pain with you and how we should consider ourselves lucky for the ability to empathize? Is this pain a sign that the Earth is sharing her pain with me? Should I feel honored about waking up each morning knowing I’ll be walking everywhere with this perpetual cramp-like feeling because I’m doing the Earth some sort of favor? Well, that sounds rather pompous, doesn’t it?

Single file moving out of Dimiao, full from lunch

A few weeks ago, while the walk was still being organized and I was whining to myself about how I hadn’t taken measures to make myself physically fit for it, I remembered something I read several years ago entitled “Steps Toward Inner Peace.”  It was a transcript of a conversation between a Los Angeles-based radio show and an elderly woman called Peace Pilgrim, who abandoned all her earthly belongings, changed her name, and walked across the United States of America for 28 years to call attention to the need for peace and global reconciliation. She began walking at the age of 45. “Surely,” I thought, “If she walked over 40,000 kilometers for 28 years, I could manage a meager hundred over three days.” While I couldn’t commit my whole life to walking as Peace Pilgrim did, perhaps making a bit of noise with 18 other walkers was a decent attempt at drawing attention to the concerns we all have for our common home. It’s also a way to show the world that a few people are capable of emerging from their chairs and doing something beyond sharing and liking—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Over the course of three days, water, mefenamic acid, stick-on pain relievers (Salonpas), word games, and expletives became our best friends. You see, if you walk under the scorching sun with a ground temperature of about 30 Degrees Celsius for days on end, while carrying a huge backpack, it doesn’t matter how passionate you are about a cause, there will be profanity—in huge bulks at a time—especially when you feel like you’ve been walking 30 kilometers and the next yellow marker says it’s only been 17. Throw in some existential questions here and there, and it’s a proper party. On our second day of walking, from our lunch stop in Dimiao to our second evening stop in Garcia Hernandez, while I was quietly chanting “Forces of the Earth, help me,” I heard someone ask “Why are we really here?” To which someone promptly responded, “For climate justice.” She retorted, “No, I mean why are we really alive?” An eerie silence followed, paving the way for some deep contemplation. That wasn’t the only question thrown around. There were others like, “Who am I doing all I’m doing for?” and “What else is there to life but pain and suffering?”

By the third day, the last and longest stretch in the entire walk, a few of us had gotten bored with taking our word games seriously that we found solace in mocking them. Any prudish sensitivities on day one had been completely destroyed by then and every expletive we could think of was blurted out. This wonderfully proved, at least for me and the small bunch of people I walked with on the first half of day three, that the research by Keele University on the hypoalgesic effect of swearing is true beyond reasonable doubt. I can’t count the number of times I heard people say “F*ck climate change!” And I agree with it. Not the climate justice movement, of course, but the things that are causing climate change to happen and its subsequent effects. What sort of human being appreciates global hunger, mass extinction of species, and frequent category 5 tropical cyclones?

I’m sure none of us could have made it through that long and painful walk without holding on to anything dear or feeling connected to something bigger than ourselves. For all of us, it was the need to raise awareness that our common home—our only home—is being threatened and we need to protect it. And yet, for some of us who needed an extra push or a spike to our water, the thought of walking in solidarity with refugees helped a great deal. One walker named Dexter helped us visualize, while we were in an almost pitch-black road stretch with no houses or street lights, the plight of the people fleeing Syria in search of a new home, towing babies and belongings crossing countries and encountering unnecessary hostility along the way. How utterly convenient were our circumstances compared to theirs? At least we had a choice. We could have said “no more” at any time. We could have just flagged a yellow bus and headed back to the city with nothing but a mildly bruised ego. What's that compared to the imminent death refugees would face if they were to cut their stride midway? I felt I owed it to myself to allow my body to taste a tiny bit of what they continue to go through to this day—the Syrians, Iraquis, Rohingya, Eritreans and others. They leave their homes to look for other places on Earth that might be more welcoming. And at least today there are still real patches of green and oases here and there. Let us not await the day that these things will be nothing but metaphors and memories. Let us not await the day the Earth will cease to welcome us.

Buko break by the Loay-Lila border

Hitting the white sands of Anda’s Quinale Beach at 1:22AM, the eight of us who walked the last stretch were high as kites from the natural painkillers our bodies had released for us. My legs were so badly beaten that they were almost completely numb. I knew my calves were forty steps away from bursting into bloody bits of tenderized lean muscle but I somehow felt fine. After the obligatory fits of screaming and swearing, we officially ended the 3-day walk with a small interfaith circle where we held each other’s hands and savored a moment of silence to celebrate our feat and to hold our cause in our thoughts. While there were sighs of relief that we had finally finished our self-imposed ordeal, I felt that there was a collective acknowledgement that this was not the end. The real climate walk had only just begun.

As I write this, the pain continues to throb. Since I sat down to hammer on my keyboard, I have stood up thrice to stretch my legs and keep them from becoming difficult to walk with. Nobody was spared. Some have sprains; some have cuts; some have blistered feet; and some even have chafed bikini lines. People ask, “was it worth it?” Of course it was! And having to live several more days with this pain as a reminder of what I did is a reward compared to what I would experience if I continue to remain blind to Earth’s plight. I know (and hope) this pain will go away sooner or later but our work isn’t over until the justice we seek is achieved—until humanity comes to terms with the fact that we don’t have another Earth and we are doing things that are causing it to kill us.

I had a conversation with April long before the Bohol Climate Walk was cooked up and we both agreed that the Earth could kick humanity out if it wants to. Moreover, it will always find a way to heal itself no matter how irreparably damaged and barren it may look like. We don’t say we must take care of the Earth so baobab trees can live through the next three millennia in their towering majesty or so that Mt. Fuji will remain pretty. We say we need to take care of the Earth because we want it to be livable for future generations of humans to come. We're doing this for us. It is we who need saving because our survival as a species is at stake in all this.

By getting hurt during the walk, I was reminded of where the pain would end up if humanity continues to allow irresponsible capitalism and greed to reign. When the body gets infected by a virus, its immune system does things to deactivate or eliminate it. Right now we are collectively behaving like a virus and our planet is trying to cure itself by killing us. And, make no mistake about it: if we don't change for the better, we will perish. But it's not too late. We can still make a full U-turn and start contributing to an alternative solution that doesn't involve the extinction of the Homo sapiens.

Let us not wait for another Haiyan or Ebola pandemic. The time to act is now. Make some noise. Lobby your legislative body to adopt ethical and environment-friendly measures. Say no to coal and nuclear, and say yes only to renewable energy sources. Refuse single-use plastics in favor of reusable ones. Put that candy wrapper in your pocket. Big or small, each voice and each action taken contributes to the global effort. One day, your great, great, great granddaughter will celebrate her seventh birthday in a rich meadow with fresh air and butterflies dancing in the breeze. She will have a smile on her face, free from fear and hate. Such a wonderful thought, right? It can only happen if we stand up now to restore justice for the Earth and all living beings.  L

Thanks galore:  To the Bohol Outdoor Adventure Team (BOAT) for the planning, prep, and walk support. To Bohol Goodwill Volunteers, Inc. for some of the meals. To Mr. Marjune Placencia and Ms. Beryl Lupot for helping us cope with our injuries. To Mr. James Mahinay and family for arranging our dinner and stay in Loay. To Mayor Rina Salazar for the rescue in Lila. To Mr. Joel Dahiroc and Mrs. Cherry Dahiroc for opening your doors to us in Dimiao and for the awesome lunch. To Dr. Edna Villaruel and Mrs. Aleth Jeanjaquet for welcoming us, feeding us with a wonderful dinner, and giving us cozy beds to rest on before our final stretch—also to Mr. Richard “Yahman” Jeanjaquet for arranging our stay and meal at such short notice. To Dr. Joanne Flores and Ms. Rain Calimbayan for the refreshments. To Mr. Robin Gurney of Coco Loco Café in Anda for the wonderful breakfast after our walk. To Ms. Kim Lim-Adams of Dapdap Beach for welcoming us in Anda and cheering on us throughout the walk. To Ms. Jhacky Curambao for the beautiful little post-walk tokens. To everyone who supported us.

The walk finishers shortly after reaching Anda at 1:22 AM on Monday, 30 November 2015
L-R: Jammy, Kins, Ludwig, April, Sherwin, Liza, Yahman, Weng

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Most of this entry's text appears as it is published on the December 6, 2015 issue of Lifestyle Bohol of the Bohol Chronicle.