WADING thigh-deep in the Bojo River, I asked our guide if there were crocodiles around. The river is lined with mangroves on both sides and crocodiles, I read somewhere, like to play Rambo in them. They blend with their muddy environment and wait for herpetophobic prey like me.

Our Wayfarer-wearing guide Remy said there were none. Perhaps misinterpreting my question as a reptile quest, he added, “halo ra.”

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I, with a fear of reptiles, was greatly comforted. Halo or haw is a monitor lizard, which I consider to be just a mini crocodile. Well, I could beat a halo with a thick twig and scream for help but a crocodile could clamp me down and strike me dumb.

I asked about the crocodiles because I had volunteered to plant mangroves at the Bojo River and I didn’t want my planting hampered by thoughts of the reptiles lurking in my midst.

I was with 89 other volunteers from Smart, Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) and the Bojo Aloguinsan Ecotourism Association (Baetas) in the western town of Aloguinsan last Saturday to plant 10,000 propagules of rizipora.

The Baetas community takes pride in their river and with help from the local government of Aloguinsan, has developed Bojo into an ecotourism site. The Bojo folk have built a huge multi-purpose hut at the mouth of the river, a boardwalk and two tiled comfort rooms that they keep clean all the time. Next to the river, the comfort rooms are a source of pride for the Bojo folk who manage their personal necessities in earthen and airy conditions.

The Bojo folk have been trained to handle visitors and manage their area as an ecotourism site. They led us in the mangrove planting, prepared our meals, rendered in varying keys a repertoire of Bisaya songs while we had lunch, acted as security at night and lifeguards by day, briefed us on mangroves and birds, had us respect their traditions, cleaned the comfort rooms after every use, made us salbaro bread. From these acts of graciousness and hospitality, we knew their story as a people.

Planting mangroves is a way to keep Bojo River sustainable as an ecotourism site.

Smart and PLDT helped Baetas by buying propagules from them at double the price these were bought for. The so-called overprice is to cover the cost of propagules that will replace the ones that will die because planters like me can never grow anything green no matter their effort and good intentions.

One hectare of new mangroves can bear an impact on the sustainability of the river.

I don’t know how many of the 10,000 propagules we planted will grow to be mangroves. Some will be trampled on or chewed by the halo and therefore die, others will be drifted away when the river swells and therefore drown.

Except for the Baetas, I don’t think any of us city volunteers are going back to replace the propagules that will succumb to the halo or to the river. But the Bojo folk, the stakeholders of the sustainability of the river, will be there to do that for us. They know where the river bends and forks, where the local fish kinsan prefer to group, where birds leave their nests, where the halo like to lurk.

Me, I know where I planted 250 propagules—by the side of the Bojo River where I couldn’t step on a halo in camouflage ala Rambo.