Briones: Roughing it up in Bug-ot, Argao

I SPENT Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in the mountain barangay of Bug-ot in Argao.

Bug-ot is my paternal grandmother’s birthplace, just a mere four kilometers away from the national highway. It’s not that far, and the road is quite good since it had been cemented.

To outsiders, the barangay is one political unit, and it is, but to those who live there, it is actually divided into three distinct districts: Lower, Centro and Upper. Each with its own fiesta and its own water source.

You see, there is no running water in Bug-ot--by running, I mean water that comes in tap--but there are several springs that slake the thirst of its residents.

To a lucky few, the source is but a few steps away, but to most, it’s a long walk that entails lugging plastic containers through a vertical and rocky terrain.

It’s what they’re used to. They’ve lived with it since they can remember and few are willing to change what they and their forefathers have practiced since time immemorial. But the idea of getting my drinking water from an opening on the ground was, to someone who has spent his whole life in urbanity, a novelty.

I was initially worried about drinking it. I would have preferred for the water to be boiled first only to realize that it would be another luxury I couldn’t impose on my relatives who are used to Spartan living.

Then I figured, when in Bug-ot, I should do as the Bug-otanons do.

I honestly expected the worst after my first sip, but the horrors I imagined of being locked up inside a bathroom with no automatic flush and with no toilet paper while trying to deal with the runs never materialized. To my surprise, not only did my stomach not react, I actually took a liking to the water.

It’s nothing special, by the way. It hardly tastes any different from the “mineral” water you buy from the store, although it might be a little sweeter compared to its cosmopolitan counterpart.

Or maybe it’s just a personal bias.

But it did dawn on me that we in the city have been duped into paying for something that should be free, considering that it’s something vital to our survival. You know. Like the air we breathe.

Not that I’m saying everyone should pack up their bags and head for the hills because life in Bug-ot is far from idyllic.

From what I’ve seen, the barangay does not have any major industry to boast of. Most people are engaged in farming, mostly subsistence. Some have clung to the traditional practice of weaving, but it’s an art that has only seen a recent renaissance.

Many have sons or daughters who work in the city or farther afield. Several Bug-otanons are even sailing the seven seas either as marine or nautical engineers, while others have tied the knot with foreigners.

But to those who have remained, it’s an existence that knows how to make up for all of life’s hardships either through sound systems that echo half-forgotten songs into the dead of night or the communal drinking that seems to pop up even in the remotest corner of the hamlet.
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