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Finding Sleep in Sorsogon

Sleeplessness scares me more than anything. I am frightened that in my days of being slumber-deprived, a Chuck Palahniuk character (Tyler Durden to be exact) will magically appear beside me. Some of you may know Tyler Durden as that mayhem-mongering “imaginary” friend of a poor insomniac-turned-schizophrenic.  So, recently, after being awake for more than 48 hours, I decided to find sleep away from the comforts of my bed in Quezon City. Maybe in Sorsogon, Bicol, sleep will come to me and Tyler Durden won’t.

I didn’t just hop on a bus to Bicol out of sheer fear that my insomnia will turn into a full-blown schizophrenia. It wasn’t exactly on impulse. I remember a friend of mine previously mentioning to me that he plans to go to Gubat in Sorsogon. I just made him reschedule his plan to an earlier date. One-month earlier, to be exact. He detected the desperation in my voice over the phone when I told him I needed this trip. Travel, as he realized over the years, has been my cure-all. Be it for weak lungs, a broken heart, or a bruised ego.

My insomnia bout was nearing its third day when we hopped on a Bicol-bound bus. The thing about riding a public utility bus at night is you get to envy the 30 other passengers falling asleep, one after another, as you sit there on the anything-but-comfortable aisle seat, WIDE AWAKE. That time, I was the only conscious commuter aware of how the driver was carelessly speeding through dark streets and making dangerous turns on curves. While everyone else was uttering out incoherent sentences in their sleep, I was restraining myself from blurting out invectives directed towards the driver (Note to self: Next time, I’ll take the plane if I’m heading to Bicol from Manila. It’s Faster. Safer.).

Upon reaching Sorsogon, the southernmost part of Bicol, I got an interesting trivia from the van driver taking us from the bus station to my friend’s house in Gubat. Apparently, this resort town was witness to a cosmic phenomenon a few years ago. In 2006, a group of astronomers flocked to Gubat to observe the transit of Mercury and its passing in front of the sun. Another friend later told me that this phenomenon could only be seen in some parts of Asia and America, but not in Europe, Africa, and Western Asia.

Astronomers carrying gadgets straight out of a sci-fi movie. Mercury making a special appearance before the people in this town. These were the thoughts I carried to bed when I tried catching some sleep immediately upon reaching my friend’s house in Gubat. I didn’t get much luck, though. I remained awake.

With much frustration enough to keep me up for the next month, I got up and asked my friend to go around the town with me. For this, I suggested we take the bicycles lying on their garage to be our mode of transportation. As what I learned from previous bouts of insomnia, physically exhausting yourself to the point of immobility can knock you down.

So, on a late morning, we rode through the streets and major thoroughfares of Gubat, passing by old houses and buildings, and stopping by farms. One interesting site was the town’s main parish church. My biking companion told me that in the 1700s, Gubat locals wanted to have a church. However, with them not having enough financial resources to raise one, the town folks urged the barangay captain to require every resident to individually contribute a cubic meter of coral stone. Finally, after 10 years of preparation of the materials, and another few years for the erection, the church was built.

After hours of biking, we decided to take a break. We realized we haven’t eaten lunch yet. And it was nearly three in the afternoon already.

“We can find adobong pawikan (sea turtle in soy sauce) and ginataang pagi (stingray in coconut milk) around here. Brave enough to try?” my friend suggested.

Although we were both curious on how such dishes taste, we decided against it. These animals are said to be on the endangered species list. Instead, we went for the boring adobong manok (chicken in soy sauce) and halo-halo (fruits and sweet beans in crushed ice and milk) in one of the carenderias we passed by. Guilt-free eating had a whole new meaning for me in this late lunch.

After eating, I suggested we go back to his provincial home. “No. Like what you said, exhaustion to the point of immobility,” he reminded me. “Let’s go swimming.”

Before I could even protest, he sped off with his bike. Being completely devoid of knowledge of this sleepy town, I had to follow him while secretly cursing him. After 30 minutes or so of biking, we finally reached Buenavista Beach.

“Now you can thank me for bringing you here,” he said with a sly grin on his face, upon reaching the beach area.

Again, I was ready to let out a litany of profanity. My legs were aching and I realized I wasn’t much of a biker. Upon seeing the beach, though, I realized there was no need for hurtful words: Buenavista is a thing of beauty. The sight of the white-sand beach, clear blue water against a backdrop of the clear blue sky is enough for me to forget my earlier qualm. It was enough for me to forget that I barely slept for the last three days. It was enough for me to shrug off the unexplainable thought of me going all the way here to find that elusive slumber.

“This beach is now becoming popular as a beginner-friendly surfing spot,” my friend told me. “Too bad we couldn’t carry surfboards on our bikes.”

That didn’t matter. Surfboard or no surfboard, this was still paradise – especially to a slumber-deprived sod like me.

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the beach, swimming, making failed attempts at skimboarding using some plywood we found. Later, his Gubat-based friends followed us to Buenavista Beach.

“Exhaustion to the point of immobility,” I remember myself saying. I didn’t have to wait for that, though. By early evening, I had to ask everybody to accompany me back to my friend’s Gubat home. I could finally feel sleep coming to me, surrendering to me even after its elusiveness.

In bed that night, I couldn’t care much if I didn’t change into cleaner clothes. Slumber was coming to me real fast. Before I dozed off, the imaginary voice of Tyler Durden’s alter ego spoke to me: “If you could wake up in a different place, at a different time, could you wake up as a different person?” Then I blacked out.
(Photos by Ryan Celis)

Ryan Celis is a freelance photographer and a full-time goofball. He loves traveling and taking off his clothes whenever there’s an opportunity.
You can find him at http://mabangisnalobo.tumblr.com