When we had completed a brief tour of the Church of Patrocinio de Maria in Boljoon, previous post, we stepped out into a sun-drenched front lawn and I noticed a rather solid looking 2-3 storey high structure (a “blockhouse”, I now know) at one corner of the church yard. After a quick stop at the nicely set up “CR’s” (only Pinoys would understand that), I started to walk across the yard to get a closer look at the building and as serendipity would have it, a local crossed my path, and graciously offered to show me and my companions around the bell tower. Turns out the gentleman was a brother of the head of the restoration and conservation effort, so after a a few minutes, we established a connection in this world that indeed has such few degrees of separation…
But the genuine small town provincial welcome and hospitality was extended to me, a total stranger, before we even figured out a common link. Ronald Villanueva is the municipal budget officer and ICT Officer (this will be relevant later in the post) and he was checking in on one of his children in a class playing in the shadows of the bell tower. He showed us into the bell tower which also served as a prison on the first floor, complete with wall etchings/drawings counting the days someone had been incarcerated. Marred by recent graffiti, it was still a very impressive reminder of your fate if you did something wrong a hundred or more years ago. A light airy cell, it was, nevertheless a cell.
Speaking of graffiti, if I were ever supreme leader for a day, my punishment for those caught defacing private and public property with useless grafitti would be for the owners of the defaced property or in the case of national treasures, an appointed person, to be allowed to tatoo graffiti all over the faces of the perpetrators… so that the rest of their life they would have someone else’s name, expletive, wacky drawing or strange cursive writing all over the face. So there.
We climbed the vertigo inspiring wooden steps (I have a fear of heights) up to the second floor landing where wide planks of hardwood had survived some 200 years of use. Several huge bells dating back a century and a half plus continue to hang and can still be rung. Ronald explained that all along the coast of Cebu there were watchtowers to warn of invading pirates, etc. and this was just one of the watchtowers in the Boljoon town, another being much further up on the hill. The bells were stunning, though again marred by graffiti, but what really caught my eye was the roof…
A frame of beams and trusses in hardwood held up hundreds of large clay tiles made from materials in the area. This roof, if I understood it correctly, had survived the test of time, the vagaries of storms and typhoons coming full force from the sea, for some 150+ years! It was fascinating to spy the interlocking tiles which appear to have been just laid on top of each other without cement or mortar holding them together. I was so fascinated I spent several minutes looking up, wondering if I could have a small hut or lanai made the same way… it was cool, literally, and very cool, figuratively.
The bells (there were three or four, I think) were the main attraction in this building and we were actually allowed to ring them on this visit. Some were dated and go back 130+ years.
The view from this vantage point, albeit just 5-7 meters up, was spectacular and you can see the entire cove in front of Boljoon. It is here that the story has a wonderful modern twist. Ronald and other more progressive and technologically inclined citizens of Boljoon fought for, and finally installed a wifi system just in front of the church. I know, it sounds utterly bizarre, and when I saw the sign, I whipped out my ipod touch to see if I could check into marketmanila.com, but it seems there was a brown-out at that precise hour! Why wifi? It seems that the children of many OFW’s from the area were now becoming computer literate, and as their arents have visited over the past couple of years, they requested laptops (now more closely priced to fancy cellphones) instead of other doodads, and now, on a late afternoon, several citizens from the town are seen linking up to say hello to their parents and surf the net while sitting in the plaza or looking out at the ocean. Amazing. This is 150 kilometers or so south of Cebu, and there aren’t even internet cafes around here, and the nearest Jollibee is an hour North in Carcar and instead there is a free-for-all town sponsored wifi system. I was pleasantly shocked and smiling from ear to ear. Good on you, guys from Boljoon. That is just wonderful. Just wonderful. :) Now if only the folks in National government were as caring and intelligent and service oriented as the folks from this little town in Southern Cebu.