I am typing this on my cellphone with my left hand only. My right hand is of no use right now, stranded in an arm sling along with the rest of my arm.
Five days ago I had a serious motorbike accident. A stupid mistake for which I can only blame my reckless self. Long story short, I lost control during a night ride, a dusty curve got the best of my limited driving skills, and I crashed into a small ditch.
A good Samaritan (or should I say good Filipino?) came out of his house when he heard the crash. He located me using my pleas for help and found me lying with my back against the bottom of the ditch and my motorbike on top of me. He and another neighbor got me out of there and back to Dominic's place. From there, Dom, his wife and my friend Sam called the ambulance and escorted me to the nearest shitty hospital, in Dapa.
The following morning was one of the worst I've experienced in my entire life. I opened my eyes and felt my whole head aching, pounding. I anxiously and slowly passed my left hand through my hair, feeling a few cuts closed with some dry blood. Noticing the pulsating pain in my right arm, I used the other one to sit myself up on my hospital bed. A small layer of my back's torn skin stayed on the mattress behind me. I winced. My friend Sam was sleeping on a thin mattress on the floor right beside my bed (thanks again for everything brother).
We woke up, I got into a wheelchair and was rolled into the x-ray room. Standing in front of the machine with my body half broken once again, I had intense flashbacks from my fractured vertebrae episode in Colorado, last fall. This time, however, my back was fine. It was my right collar bone that was broken in two clean parts. The local doctor advised immediate surgery in one of the nearest cities, either Cebu or Surigao. The Siargao District hospital wasn't equipped to proceed with medical interventions such as surgery. I told them I'd have to think about it and talk with my mother and insurance company first.
Since there was no taxi or shuttle available to go back to Cloud 9 from Dapa, I had to pay the ambulance and the gas needed to drive us back home, at Dom's. Bumpiest ambulance ride ever.
I spoke with my mother as soon as I arrived via Skype, and she soon informed me that the insurance company wouldn't let me fly back home to get treated since immediate surgery was advised. According to them, flying might cause my fracture to get worst. This meant I couldn't fly to Cebu. My only option was to take a boat to get surgery in Surigao. My friends had referred to this city as "The Gates of Hell" a few times already. The idea of getting surgery in hell from a Filipino doctor barely speaking English ranked high on my list of anxiety-inducing things.
Alex and Sam agreed to come with me; they had to go to Surigao to get their visa extended anyway. The next morning, the three of us boarded a medium-sized boat going from Dapa to Surigao, at 5 am. The boat's interior, where the actual seats were, was already jam-packed with locals. We sat on the floor of the side deck, our backs resting on the main cabin's exterior walls. Alex, who had been partying the night before, immediately went to sleep, legs crossed with a shirt covering his head. Sam opened a book and started reading. I just stood there, uncomfortable, tired and hurting from the fracture and the cuts. People kept passing back and forth over our legs to get to the toilet, a few steps away from us. At one point, it started raining on us. For a second I really thought I might as well jump in the ocean and be done with all this shit.
Two and a half hours later, we arrived in Surigao. We first pulled through an army of tricycle taxi drivers who yelled and waved at us, calling us "friends". They were hoping to take our asses somewhere in town and put our tourist pesos in their pockets. A hellish sun burned our skin as we made our way to a nearby luxurious hotel. We gratefully used their clean bathroom and left.
Alex hailed us a tricycle cab and the three of us squeezed in. After a nightmarish ride in the heart of the city's crazy traffic, we reached the Surigao Medical Center. We got in, and when I saw the old, rudimentary allure of the place, I shivered. Sick and injured locals were sitting by the dozens in the waiting areas. Was I really going to get opened up and operated on in this remote Filipino hospital? I breathed in and calmed myself.
Eventually, we managed to talk with a generalist doctor. Upon analyzing my x-rays, he confirmed that I needed an operation. I clenched my teeth. He offered me to get admitted immediately and wait for a specialist surgeon to come and see me. We asked for the estimated time of waiting before the surgery. He shrugged—it would depend on the surgeon's schedule. He suggested that we go talk to him directly at the Surigao Health Specialists Clinic. I nodded to Alex eagerly, seeing an opportunity to postpone my hospital admission and surgery. We thanked the doctor, paid him and left.
Across the street from the Medical Center, we had lunch in a street barbecue joint. We then hopped in another tricycle cab and got to the Surigao Health Specialists Clinic. Holding on tightly to the envelope containing my x-rays, I climbed the stairs leading to the surgeon's office. Like every office in that building, it was crowded with locals. I'm not sure why or how I managed to see the doctor in less than five minutes, but I was sure as hell happy about it.
The three of us got in and sat, silently looking at the surgeon. He was studying my x-rays in silence himself. After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, he spoke in a confident tone:
- You don't need to get surgery right now. You can wait for the fracture to heal like this, or get surgery back home if you want to.
I can't even begin to explain how relieved I was to hear those words coming out of his mouth. My somber mood shifted immediately, and the icicle of doubt and fear stuck inside my chest melted almost instantly. I thanked him warmly and stepped out of his office.
The Gates of Hell's streets swallowed us for a few other minutes as we made our way towards our hotel for the night. After a good night of sleep, we were on a boat once again, heading back to Siargao's paradise island.
In the following days, however, Siargao didn't feel like paradise at all. The heavy, humid air and the heat made it hard for my scratches and cuts to heal properly. The pain and the arm sling made sleeping at night a challenge. The sun burned my bruised skin, and the wind was practically absent. I could barely use my computer, I couldn't surf, swim or ride my bike, and I had my fair share of insurance and flight tickets red tape to go through. On top of that, I depended on my friends to take care of things I would have done myself otherwise.
I became irritated and impatient. The whole accident episode had me disenchanted with the island. I was tired of the weird looks locals gave me when I passed by wearing my arm sling. I was tired of the heat, the sun and the pain. And most of all, I was tired myself. I stopped smiling to locals I encountered in shops or villages. I stopped looking at the ocean and the sky. I wanted to go home, to be home.
The day before I left, I went for a meal by myself in a restaurant near Dom's place. I was wearing my tired frown and didn't feel like talking to new people, so I just browsed my mobile phone for articles. I stumbled upon fragments of letters and stories from an author I didn't know. It made me smile, reading these heartfelt words, skillfully woven together. Somehow it made me miss my own writing intensely. It made me realize how busy and stressed over trivial things I had been for most of my trip. How I didn't took enough time to stare in awe at the island, to observe its people, to walk for no reason in its streets, to savor its spicy food, to swim in its clear waters, and to breathe its air.
I did have a hard time staying in that state of mind. That same kind of opened state of mind I was in when I went exploring the island on my own one day, with my bike and phone camera only. On that day I was wandering in Del Carmen's streets, looking for cool pictures to take, and looking at how the people lived their lives there. An old Filipino guy saw me and asked what I was looking for. I told him I was trying to find a nice photo spot in the city. He pointed at the tall electric metal tower nearby and said:
- How about this?
I laughed, thinking he was joking. It turned out he was the supervisor of the electric tower. He invited me behind the locked gates, introduced me to his wife who was cooking in a small cabin, and told me to go ahead and climb. I felt like a child getting an extraordinary permission. I took in a few deep breaths, mustered my courage and started climbing. The small iron ladder was rough, dry and very, very long. I'd love to tell you I went straight to the top, but the truth is my balls only allowed me to reach the tiny halfway station. To my defense, it was especially high even at this point. The view I had from there was incredible. I could see all of Del Carmen's city and surrounding villages.
The white church, the docks, the boats, the locals... all basking in the golden, burning Filipino sun. How lucky I felt at this precise moment, standing on top of this small, red-hot world.
I have drifted away and brought you into a different story, haven't I? Where was I already?
Right, I was writing about my lack of openness. Following this tiny epiphany, I decided it was never too late to soak in a few moments before I left. I finished my copious meal and went for a walk. A slow, conscious walk. The kind of walk we should take more often. I stopped for a minute or two in front of a marvelous bay. Fishermen were preparing their boat, cracking jokes, laughing. The sun was beaming down on this tiny ocean corner. It was beautiful, simple and pure. After contemplating the bay for a short while, I hopped on the same road I had driven on numerous times in the last weeks. The half concrete/half dirt road passing through a small village just before Dom's place. One young girl was pushing her friend on an old school skateboard. Kids were playing with spare tires, making them roll by hitting them with small wooden sticks. An old man smiled at me with his toothless, wrinkled mouth. A young boy asked me for a thousand pesos. Other kids waved at me and smiled, asking me what my name was. This all lasted maybe five minutes, tops. But it felt good to be alive in Siargao for those five beautiful minutes. Real good. I was glad I had decided to watch the place with different eyes for a while. At last, I was inspired.
So why am I writing all of this? I guess I'm writing this to remember the whole experience. I'm writing this so I can read it later on and have vivid recollections of the episode. I'm also writing this because I want to remember to be careful in my future travels. But most of all, I'm writing this because I'm a writer and a storyteller. And I tend to forget it sometimes.