It was late in April last year when my officemates and I were in Dinapigue, a remote coastal community located on the southernmost side of Isabela province.

We weren’t there for vacation, although it certainly felt like it. The government office where I used to work for had just completed the construction and land development of the Dinapigue Indigenous Peoples Housing Project intended for indigenous families who are locals in the area. We were there to attend the turn-over ceremony to finally award the housing units to the identified beneficiaries.

We traveled to that place from Tuguegarao City for more than 10 grueling hours of trekking mountain ranges. It was the remotest community I’ve ever gone to. The rough roads were steep and the community was deep within the east side Sierra Madre mountain range. On the way, my traveling companions and I amused ourselves with jokes, roadside food, and great stories.

When we finally reached our destination, it was a breath of relief to finally feel the beach sand on my toes; and almost taste the salty smell of the wind.

Unlike beaches in urban areas, the place is still graced by the chirp of crickets and the utter silence of sleeping locals at night—a hidden and untouched piece of Northern Luzon. The first night that we were there, the full moon was huge. My colleagues and I fancied a walk to the beach without any flashlights but only the moon lighting our way. The crashing waves were thunderous, so we had to shout at the top of our lungs whatever we were saying.

The next day we climbed our way to the mountains to see the Dibulo waterfalls. It was foggy and cold but we didn’t mind. We didn’t bring any spare clothes to change into, but we padded on the cold water anyway. I kept with me the small red pebble I fished at the bottom of the fall. I still have it, along with the patterned rocks I picked up from the beach. When we finally went home, we were dripping wet and shivering but we had our fun.

I remember the kids from indigenous tribes running around at the project site. They performed their tribal dances with huge smiles on their faces. Their parents joined the festivities during the ceremony, thanking us for their new homes. My heart swelled right there and then—on the fact that I was a part no matter how little the role I played—in providing public service and fulfilling the basic needs and rights of the marginalized sectors of society.

Two of my colleagues, Aldrich and Rof, told me that it’s a culture and belief of the people of Dinapigue that when one goes to someplace unfamiliar, one has to take a taste of the earth. Apparently, doing so would appease supernatural beings residing in the area in the event that a stranger has come to their lands.

It wasn’t true, of course.

But I did, however, touched the earth, the sands of the beach, and felt the coarse texture slip through my fingers. If what my colleagues said was true, wasn’t it enough to appease the deities that I was in awe of this part of the world—tucked away by the mountains of Sierra Madre, and closely knit by the warm solidarity of the community?

Surely it was enough to appease the gods that my memories of that place were of peace and calm.

However, it has been said that in the making of great stories, it doesn’t hurt that once in a while we add a bit of white lies within the truth. It makes the stories fun and a bit more interesting. Coming from Dinapigue, one must not come home without great stories to tell for the ones waiting back home. Kuya Jo, our driver, told everyone at the office about what I did (or actually didn’t do). He told everyone I was successfully tricked into licking the sands of Dinapigue.

I laughed wholeheartedly, of course. I told everyone the sand tasted bitter, but it’s a taste I’d gladly go back to if given the opportunity. Besides, who would want to ruin a great story?

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