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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Post - Pablo Cateel & Aliwagwag Falls


 A year ago typhoon Pablo walloped Cateel, Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley. It was one of the strongest storms that hit the country to date. I remember the owner of the restaurant where we had a drink the night I was in Cateel telling us over a bottle of San Miguel Light, as he joined me and Nunoy and like everyone in Cateel, they like to share their stories of that horrifying night last December. "My brother in law who is a member of the US Navy called my wife already the day before" he narrates to us. "the typhoon was so huge that the US Navy and the US Atmospheric office started monitoring it, he warned us to get away from Davao Oriental. I was able to send my wife to Davao the day before, that morning I tied up some of the restaurants stuff, people who saw asked what I was doing, nobody thinks at that time that Pablo will be that strong"

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Everyone has their own story to share. The house I stayed at belongs to the family of a fellow travel blogger Olan, who graciously offered to host me upon reading about my plans to visit his hometown. Their old house was totally destroyed by the wrath of Pablo's wind and has since been re-designed and rebuilt at the time of my visit last July. Still, traces of debris, houses with no roofs, bend over steel posts and cut off trees are still visible all over Cateel. A few months after that December night, the people of Cateel are still picking up their life back.

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Around Cateel you could see houses built by the Caritas foundation and other organizations, a big warehouse set up by the World Food Program is still operating. Olan's brother Nunoy told me, the amount of help was staggering, and people from various legitimate NGO's from all over the world trooped to Cateel and shared their rebuilding expertise. I heaved a sigh of thankfulness hearing about that. Faith in humanity restored. I followed the news of Pablo's onslaught on the news and from fellow travel bloggers who were able to visit Cateel and Compostela in the immediate aftermath. We held a fund drive at our office to help in the relief efforts. Olan's group in Davao spearheaded the "Help Cateel" organization which, just like what the Iligan Bloggers Society did during the aftermath of Sendong in 2011, became the model of online calamity relief drive by tapping the vast influence of social media.

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"I was standing at my veranda when I saw a whole roof flew 40 feet up in the air before it tore apart in all directions" the owner of the restaurant told us. As I was listening to his story I could imagine scenes from the movie "Twister". From the stories I heard, I came to come up with a picture of those terrifying hours. The sky was dark, the wind coming from both directions brought upon by the circling movement of typhoon Pablo, the rainwater coming from the sea. It ravaged for four hours before leaving torn down houses, uprooted trees, crumpled gymnasiums and electric posts plus a mountain of trash littered on the streets.

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Cateel is well known in travelers' circle because of an unusual waterfall located almost an hour away. Aliwagwag falls is a majestic multi-level waterfalls. Wide and surrounded by a forest. I've seen it in photographs before and the Pablo-aftermath image of it was heartbreaking.  Pablo really raped it to say the least. When I saw it last July, Nunoy told me the forest is starting to regenerate, like the towns folk of Cateel, the nature around Aliwagwag has also rebuilt itself. Aside from the giant log lying across, there was nary of a sign that it endured one of the strongest storms of the decade.

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We spent a couple of hours at the foot of Aliwagwag Falls. Being there all you hear are the flowing waters. The sky was golden with rays of light beaming directly into your eyes. The calm feeling is a stark contrast to those four hours of battering from typhoon Pablo. While riding the habal-habal driven ny Noy, I saw a sign nailed to a tree saying "The People of Cateel thanks all of you" . I was reminded that even in times of great suffering and destruction, humanity takes up the cudgel for one another and always ready to lend a helping hand. This was a year before "Yolanda" would again hit us strong and leave most of us paralyzed. We all know about the response from everybody. The volunteers, the relief operations, the international aid.

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For three straight years, from Sendong that hit Iligan and CDO to Pablo and Yolanda. We were hit hard by the forces of nature, yet we bounce back each time, pick up the pieces and able to stand up after much struggle. I can only hope that these natural calamities would give us a break. It rained that night and as I was trying to sleep alone at the guest room of Olan and his brother's house. I imagined how quickly they were able to rebuild the roof and the wall that sheltered me from the rain that night. I felt grateful being safe from the trappings of nature such as a heavy downpour. I closed my eyes and wonder what kind of terror the people of Cateel experienced the night typhoon Pablo came. "Parang delubyo" (like a deluge). I heard that phrase from at least three people who shared their stories to me.

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Other than the stories and the remaining scattered debris, Pablo's presence is almost forgotten. The people have since continued with their lives. After we visited Aliwagwag Falls we went to a beach side and joined another of Olan's brother Dong and his friends singing karaoke songs. A group of kids plays basketball in a beat up hoop. I wonder about the trauma they had, if any it wasn't noticeable as one of them keeps swooshing the ball into the net. This is resiliency I told myself. The ability to bounce back after a battle against a very powerful force of nature. Just like the waters flowing along the beautiful Aliwagwag falls, life goes on stronger than before.

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Special thanks to the countries leading budget airline, Cebu Pacific Air  for my flight to Davao City. Like their Facebook Page and Follow their Twitter to get updates on seat-sales and other news.

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