I remember when I was a kid - in our old neighborhood in Paranaque, there was this tricycle driver whom everybody calls "King". He has disheveled features, long black beard and mustache, accompanied by a thick hair which hasn't felt the sweep of a comb for years. He doesn't talk much but is known for having a short temper, especially if you pay him a 20 peso bill - for a 1 peso tricycle fare. There were murmurs going around, probably made up by adults to scare off kids like me, that he was the mysterious stuntman named Dante Varona. Urban legend says, after Dante Varona jumped off from the highest point of San Juanico Bridge, blood flowed out of his eyes, ears and nose and was almost feared dead. Afterwards he vanished into a recluse under the guise of a new name and profession.
I was too young to know who Dante Varona even though at an early age, I was already fond of action movies. Channel 9 used to show a lot of these old action films starring Eddie "Lagalag" Fernandez, Fernando Poe Jr and his wide array of 'me against a thousand Japanese" WWII movies, Lito Lapid, Jess Lapid, Jun Aristorenas, Joseph Estrada, the anting-anting movies of Ramon Revilla Sr., all those but no Dante Varona. I remember the day when my then Sibika at Kultura teacher, taught us about the different landmarks around the Philippines. When she mentioned and showed us the picture of San Juanico Bridge, I almost raised my hand and wanted to tell the class how I know someone who jumped off from that bridge.
Since then, I will slowly realize that King and Dante Varona is two different people, as Dante Varona later on made a comeback in Philippine movies in the early 90's starring in the action films of Eddie Garcia. After a few years we left our house in Paranaque and settled into another city. I've never known what had become of King - the temperamental Dante Varona of my childhood, without the life threatening stunts.
On my trip to Tacloban a few months ago, I made sure to walk through the entire 1.34 mile length of San Juanico Bridge. It's not a very long distance for walking, so my pace was brisk and calculating, giving me enough time to enjoy the view and feel the tremors after each speeding bus and vans passes by. I took a van-van from Tacloban to Basey, Samar where I had my late breakfast and walked around the town for an hour. On the way back I took the van-van going back to Tacloban, but this time I alighted just before it pass by the start of the San Juanico Bridge from the Samar side.
I walked passed a few armed policemen at the start of the bridge. They saw me with a camera hanging by my neck. One of them, a lady cop clutching an armalite rifle was my seatmate on the van during the trip earlier to Basey. She recognized me and guessed if I'm going to take pictures. I nodded at her and said 'Yes'. Both ends of San Juanico Bridge has an outpost manned by heavily armed policemen. I didn't know the reason behind it, but I'm guessing, the bridge is a really cool landmark nobody wants to see being blown up by terrorists. But I'm sure, that it is a far fetched scenario and it is just for additional security purposes.
I will spare you the history of the bridge as one click at wikipedia will do the trick. I must say though, that at the time of its construction in 1973, it is one of the few engineering wonders in Asia. Right at par at where Philippines was at that time. Araneta Coliseum, the Philippine International Convention Center - being the first convention center in the Philippines. Those were the years when architectural, engineering and art-related structures blossomed, but sadly at the price of human rights abuses and massive corruption by the few families who ruled our country back then.
I stood up at the highest point of the bridge, presumably where the real Dante Varona took his career and legend defining leap in the movie "Hari ng Stunt". I stared down at the waters while the ground below my feet trembled as motorists passes by. I felt a bolt ran up my body as my fear of heights reappeared and for a second there a thought crossed my mind, which I quickly swore not to entertain again, unless I have a bungy jump rope tied on my body for safety.
The San Juanico Strait as viewed from the bridge is really impressive. I saw whirlpools forming from below me. A speck of mangroves and tiny islets here and there. Samar and Leyte on both sides, plus the fact that It was mostly an isolated walk with buses, trucks and cars passing by far in between from each other.
"Welcome to Leyte" says on one side and "Welcome to Samar" says on the other. The bridge is a fitting symbolism to what everything in this world are ought to be. No land is far away, and everything is connected, bridged together like brothers and sisters, lovers, and what haves that defines closeness to each human being, despite differences in religion and philosophy in life.
As I reach the end of San Juanico Bridge at the Leyte side, the hot sun has succeeded in making me sweat. I stopped by a small restaurant and ordered an ice cold soda and had myself a refreshing thirst quenching drink. I thought about King from my childhood and wondered if he ever found a way to take his own leap of faith, I questioned myself too, if I have taken mine as well. The answers aren't crystal clear, but I keep an open mind for its eventuality in the near future.
This post is an entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers' Blog Carnival for October 2012
The theme for this month is "Memorable Walking Tour"
This month's Blog Carnival is hosted by Glenn Martinez of Traveler on Foot