Each week, rooster fights happen.
Men of all ages bring their favorite fighting roosters to this stadium, pay a fee to enter, put their rooster and their reputation on the line.
These battles are to the death, and, to ensure that, roosters have a finger long barbed metal spike attached to one of their legs just before they are set on the ground in the stadium ring and their owner, and trainer, step back and leave the fight to fate.
This stadium is filled this Sunday afternoon and is a series of intense moments broken by stretches of boredom.
People stand on the seats, move as close to the cage as they can to see better, wave or nod at bet takers who are yelling at them, raising fingers, making eye contact, scratching their right ear. Vendors move through the crowd selling food, snacks, drinks and cigarettes.
I have been told there are a few birds who are favorites but it is really impossible to tell which rooster will be ready to fight when it is time.
The noise in the arena grows deafening as the two roosters start pecking at one another, jumping into the air with outstretched wings,striking out with their talons.
The fights last most of the afternoon and emotions are live wires, as feathers float, in the air, in the cage.
The best statistic to remember is that half of the roosters come out of the war alive.
Today, Gwen wants blue toenails. She is four years old but has a mind of her own, like all of us.
Today, Alma sits on the floor in a doorway and carefully puts a new more beautiful blue on previously red toenails.
Every little girl needs these moments.
Alma knows this better than anyone.
Gwen will remember this, forever.
March is one of the dryer months on Marinduque but, even in March, it rains.
This is a morning rain that lasts an hour, steady. Rain runs off the tin roof and puddles in the yard. After thirty minutes, soil turns to a mud so thick you can’t shake it off your shoes.
We stay indoors and wait.
I listen to the rain make drumbeats on the roof.
Nature makes good music.
The Mogpog market is a place we return each day, more than once,
By lunch most of the fresh products have been sold, fisherman have returned to sleep in their berths after a night on the waters. There are newly slaughtered hogs carried into the market throughout the day, loaded on tables and butchered in public..Flounders look at you with both eyes, flat as pancakes on a diner grill. Chickens, plucked and washed, lie in neat rows, headless. Vegetables look like a Monet painting with their colors bright and bold, splashes from Mother Nature’s paint pot.
Today, we shop for a graduation party and look for a Barbie doll for little girl Gwen.
The market is a kaleidoscope of images, a cacophony of sounds, a security blanket of the familiar.
We find Gwen her Barbie and she carries it home, in the box, happy as a new mom.
Our Jeepney is loaded with twenty family members, kids, teens, babies, adults, inner tubes, coolers, pots of food, towels and swim gear.
Today is a family pool party at the Villa Arcos in Santa Cruz, Marinduque.
After we arrive and pay our entry fees, we tiptoe down steep stone stairs to two turquoise color pools, the first one smaller, the second one big. This jungle theme park has penguins, zebras, crocodiles,and an airplane in the tree tops where you can climb and sit in the open cockpit. The two pools stand out like enormous gemstones in the bright tropical sun.
When you go down the park water slide you pick up speed, hold your nose, and fly feet first into the water. Only a few of us have the guts to go down the slide head first.Those who can’t swim play in the pool’s shallow water and use inner tubes. Some of the men stay up in the cabanas,drink beer and tell jokes most of the day.
By mid afternoon, everyone is tired and ready to go home and our hired Jeepney driver starts his engines. Empty pots slide on the floor of the Jeepney as we navigate down a winding road towards home, a road that makes a sidewinder look straight.
Three generations are represented on this pleasure trip.
Going down the slide, head first, I felt like a kid.
In our mind and heart we can defy the ravages of time.
The most common vehicles on Marinduque are bikes, tricycles with a cab, tribikes with a cab, motorcycles, and jeepneys.
Jeepneys are the most colorful and most used on narrow winding mountain roads that take a traveler three or four hours to go around an island that is called small by locals.
Jeepneys are versions of World War 11 jeeps enlarged and modified to carry multiple passengers. They are intensely decorated with signs, slogans, horns, bumper stickers. On dash boards are replicas of Jesus with hands praying. There are beads and charms with rooster feathers swinging from rear view mirrors and, on the outside of one, the words, ” GOD WILLS, ” is hard to miss.
For tall Americans or Europeans, you have to bend low when you enter a jeepney and there are railings on the ceiling you hold if you need stability. Windows are small and there is no place to pause and take a photo as the transport moves down the road as quick as the driver can be safe.
Getting down the road is a game of chicken where transports usually stop a few millimeters from collision.
You can rent a car if you need one, but Jeepney’s are an adventure worth having.
Getting around is one of a trip’s great pleasures and getting around in style is the best way to fly.
Coconut trees make pretty pictures, but they make money too.
On Marinduque, coconut trees grow up the sides and over mountains, in valleys and in flat areas that have been cleared of brush to make orchards, rows of the trees standing like sailors at morning muster, in a line, Irish pennants clipped and shoes spit shined.
All the land on this island is owned and coconuts are harvested every two to three months, those that survive typhoons,rainy seasons, and wind storms.The coconuts are harvested by hand and families supplement their income by working in the groves when the time is right, bringing down coconuts for sale to local agents to ship to Manilla, and, from there, around the world.
Uncle Estoy works on the first step in the harvest process, using a long stick with a hooked curved blade on one end to cut the neck that attaches the coconut to its tree. The coconuts look like clusters of grapes from the ground but when they fall you need to stand back because they feel like a bag of rocks if they hit your head.
The rest of the team, once the coconuts fall to the ground, carry or toss them to a burning station where the skin is burned off.
These guys work most of the day, and, when they walk home, the colorful T shirts wrapped around their heads make them look like tired but happy pirates.
By the end of the day, they harvest over a hundred coconuts ready to go to Manilla. Everyone is tired, but all are safe, and it is a job well done.
You wouldn’t want to do this every day.
Then, it would really be work.
In Belize, karaoke machines appear in bars and hotel ballrooms with guests wearing Wal-Mart pineapple and palm tree short sleeved perma-press shirts. They sing into late hours and consume vast quantities of rum.
In Mogpog, karaoke machines appear in people’s front yards, or living rooms, and friends and family wear Rock and Roll T shirts, shorts, flip flops, sing into late hours and consume even larger quantities of Red Horse beer and home cooked food.
As competitors sing they are heckled, make mistakes and laugh. The music has to shut down at ten in the evening and each party gets a party permit from city officials before it can begin.
Holding a microphone, the star of the moment follows lyrics on a tv screen and sings the melody, adding emotion and dynamics. Some of the lyrics are in English and some are in Tagalog. When a song ends, there is a moment of silence as the machine calculates a final score and flashes it on the screen.
One hundred is the best score you can make,and, when someone gets a hundred, there are whoops and hollers.
One of the things I need to practice, before going back to Mogpog, is my singing.
The best way to describe my singing is that it sounds like a hungry cat with a tooth missing.
Not being able to sing shouldn’t mean we can’t be a star.
These guys and girls aren’t going hungry.
They are fed in the morning and in the afternoon with snacks in between meals to help them put on weight. They will eat as much as you give them and they always behave as if they are starving.
Alma washes out their cages several times a day and they get hosed down with well water to cool them down. Pigs are fair skinned and mosquitoes bite them awful so a little fire burns in front of their roofed, cinder block pens, the smoke chasing mosquito’s away.
When you come up to their cells the big ones stand up on their back feet,put their front feet on the top of the cinder block wall, stick their snouts towards you and oink. You have to be careful touching them because they can bite.
After pigs eat, they sleep for hours, and grow like babies, fed with dry food scientifically formulated for fast growth, lean meat, tasty meat.
When they get 90 kilos they will go to the market, but not to shop.
Not knowing your fate is a good thing.
If they knew they were going to become barbecue ribs, they would lose their appetites.
This old man farms seven days a week.
He comes out early in the morning wearing flip flops, shorts, a long sleeved shirt and a baseball cap with a big brim.He has a machete in a sleeve on his belt and when he sees something that needs trimmed he pulls his machete’s long blade out and fixes his problem with decision and precision.
With a stubble of beard because shaving is a nuisance, he walks his property checking his rows of squash, cucumbers, casava, string beans – all produce that he sells in the market. Bamboo posts and fences make shade and structures for climbing plants and keeping trespassers out.. A smoldering fire of green leaves makes smoke that keeps mosquitoes down and there are always mosquitoes this time of year.
This old man’s most pressing problem is keeping kids from crossing his land to get to the closest road to town, trampling new sprouts and breaking his bamboo fences.
He looks happy when I wave at him this morning.
He waves back, squats down, and pokes his fire with his machete.
Someday he will not be able to farm, but, for now, he is a content, lean, productive senior.
He holds to his land like a man overboard clings to a life preserver.
I wouldn’t want to be one of those kids if he catches you.
His grip would squeeze the air right out of you and his machete doesn’t take prisoners.