Thursday, May 15, 2008

Swimming the Tullahan

It’s gone. We used to swim in the Tullahan River—now the world's dirtiest river. But once upon a time it was just another river teeming with life.

The Tullahan begins in the banks of the La Mesa reservoir where clean excess water makes it way down via gravity. La Mesa is where Metro Manila gets its potable water, so any excess or spillage is very clean. From East Fairview the Tullahan snakes its way to South Fairview and to West Fairview. Beyond West Fairview, it work its way to Novaliches, to Malabon and Caloocan before draining in Manila Bay.

My elementary school sits on one of its banks. After a heavy downpour we would all go to the river to watch fresh water turtles, snakes and snails being washed with leaves and branches. The banks near my school was dotted with numerous banana trees—a virtual banana tree forest. Stories of witches and tikbalang lurking in the shadows of the banana forest filled our lazy afternoons.

I was also fortunate because one of its banks is about three hundred meters from my house. My father even bought a fishing line hoping to reel in a few “dalag” (Mudfish) and “hito” (Catfish). He never actually caught anything, but the river still teemed with life. Everyone was free to partake of the free kangkong growing there.

You can also collect snails and the occasional small crabs that populate the banks.

The river is not wide, about three meters in some places, but during a heavy rainstorm some of its banks would swell to five or even eight meters. We would sneak out of the house during a rainstorm and swim there. Our game was to swim and fight the current. The rule is quite simple: swim against the current, before it carries you away and kills you. We would throw rocks on its surface just to see the wake it makes. We would collect frogs to pester our sisters or to blow up with our firecrackers.

During the hot months we would venture into the tall grasses that line its banks for spiders for spider fighting. The best place to get spiders would be near Jaguar Street and Dahlia in West Fairview, about 100 meters from the present FEU Hospital. The present location of Starbuck’s Coffee-Fairview is also a good place to get spiders for fighting, but that is another story.

When hormones finally inundated our brains, one of our older friend even used the river banks for sex with his girlfriend. He was also generous enough to invite us to the show. He would tell us that in so-and-so time, he would bring his girl to the kangkong area. We would be hiding in another area to see the show. He did it a couple of times too. The sight of human flesh pounding and moaning in the “kangkungan” is something you will never forget. I guess “kangkong” and “kangkungan” is the root word for the present street slang for sex, e.g. “kang-kang”.

Banana trees, snakes, spiders, turtles, snails, kangkong, crabs, dalag, hito, stories of witches and tikbalangs, a guy having sex, his horny voyeur friends, an unsuspecting girl. These are the best affirmation to the statement of archeologist that where there is a river, life flourishes.

This was in 1983.

Sadly, the Tullahan is dead and is now a wasteland, its water colored gunk gray. I pity today’s kids.

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