Rizal, the Balangays, and Mount Everest
MANILA, Philippines - THE fantastic "Voyage of the Balangay" - completed two weeks ago after 14 months of caring, sharing, and daring as a team - proved the audacity of young Filipinos and their love of country. From the beginning, they declared their eagerness to call world attention to the top quality of Filipino humanpower and culture of excellence.
Last Sunday, we recounted the overwhelming odds against the success of their voyage around the Philippines and to several Southeast Asia destinations - surpassed only by the daunting challenges of Mount Everest.
Retracing our ancestors
The same core team, led by sailor-mountaineer-marathoner-senior citizen Art Valdez, achieved these two impossible dreams, with only scant government support and recognition.
Yahoo!'s "Culture of Ancient Filipinos" (09 April 2006) reveals: "What we now know as the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia was once the Malay Archipelago.
Prehistoric people, a cross of Afro-Asiatic and Austro-Aborigines, were the first to explore the archipelago around 30,000 BC. The Proto-Malays who were seafarers followed (2,500 BC.). The next were the Duetero-Malays who were skilled boat builders."
Not just Filipinos but also Southeast Asians - from the Pacific and Indian Ocean - were daring seafarers. Many came from the "Malay Archipelago" and the southern coasts of mainland Asia - China, Vietnam, and Cambodia.
Last 18 October, Valdez emailed FVR: "We have been in Sihanoukville since 16 October waiting for better seas. Our travel from Thailand to this point provided samples of turbulent seas ahead in the South China Sea amidst changing monsoons."
The brief respite, however, accorded both the determined Filipinos and Cambodian authorities, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, no less, to interact in heart-warming ways. Not only were our Balangays given the courtesies of the port (Sihanoukville being Cambodia's maritime outlet), but they were also hosted in Angkor Wat, fabled city of the Khmer Emperors.
To the gracious Prime Minister of Cambodia, Art Valdez responded with this thank-you letter:
"Your Excellency: We express our heartfelt appreciation to you and the Cambodian people. In our brief visit, we enjoyed your hospitality and Angkor Wat's splendor.
"The winds carried us to your shores, and despite the distance that separates our countries, the waters will forever link our peoples.
"We thank Your Excellency for your support and pray that our common aspirations, carried by boats of the past, will reach the shores of the future."
FVR personally delivered this letter to PM Hun Sen last 02 December during the Cambodia-hosted international assembly in Phnom Penh (see the Manila Bulletin, 12 December).
Difficulties in Vietnam
The 23 October blog of Art Valdez, on the other hand, reports: "After consultations, we agreed not to continue to Vietnam before sailing homeward. More than nature/weather, it is the stringent Viet impositions on the Balangays being treated like regular ships that make it difficult for us to reach Ho Chi Minh City.
"Previously visited countries accommodated us as cultural vessels, thus avoiding the high costs levied upon regular shipping. Somehow, we were not given the same concession in Vietnam. One example is that our Balangays couldn't proceed on sailboat power but must be pulled by tugboats to reach port - in addition to anchorage/docking fees.
"One should learn lessons from our forefathers during their waves of migration. In islands that provided friendship/hospitality, they stayed longer. Otherwise, they skipped the place.
"We would have settled to have our passports stamped as having entered Vietnam thru Phu Quoc. But, we decided that spending U$1,500 for those official things was just too much."
PHILCAG-Vietnam and Indochina's boat people
This experience compels the recollection of our Manila Bulletin column of 13 July 2008. …