Thursday, 23 February 2012

Slow-backward: The bridge of Parang


1. Ferry banca … Parang, during the early 1950s, was a sleepy coconut hacienda whose people just walked the barrio’s only road – a sandy road, being next to the beach, to go to the poblacion of Mambulao – and back. The barrio of less than a hundred households spread out across about 50 hectares of coconut plantation was separated from the poblacion by a wide sea-river that flooded and ebbed away a wide, luch mangrove area on the edge of the community. The hacienda was owned by Don Ramon Adea, grandfather of former movie star Perla Adea. People going to the poblacion and coming back crossed this river in a banca, which was operated by some enterprising individuals in Parang. The crossing was located right at the mouth of the sea-river. Crossers paid five centavos per ride. A bridge had not been built those days. At low tide, the sea-river would constrict to about 20 meters wide, and would expand to about a hundred meters at high tide. The ferry banca business was quite busy for most of the day because of students from the poblacion who came and went from the high school hosted by the barrio – the Jose Panganiban High School. A number of barrio people opted to cross the river when the water level was just knee-deep because they did not want to pay five centavos, whose value those days was heaps.

2) Banca ride was fun … As more and more people came to cross the river – either from the poblacion or from Parang’s – more bancas were fielded. There was a time when there were at least five bancas ferrying passengers across the river, racing against each other crossing the water to the excitement of the riders. The trip would only last less than a minute. On rainy or stormy days, the current of the sea-river would be very strong and violent, making it hard for the operators to keep their craft stable. They got the idea of laying an inched-thick of ropes across the wide river, with both ends firmly anchored on a sturdy post on either side. Carrying from six to ten people, the banca was made to glide along the rope, guided by two operators working on both ends of the banca. This way, the boat crossed the river with no incident.
3) Bridge at last … One day, a makeshift bridge made of thick bamboo poles and wood planks was erected after the barrio people pestered the municipal government about the need for a permanent bridge. A meter-wide, it allowed two people from both directions to pass conveniently. It had a rail guard on both sides to prevent crossers from falling off. But then there was a catch – crossers had to pay 10 centavos per crossing and the money, according to barrio officials then headed by the capitan del barrio, was for bridge maintenance. The bridge was quite tall. The walking board was some ten feet above the water level at high tide and the bridge itself was about 50 meters as it spanned the river itself and the wide space between the two banks of the river. On both ends of the bridge was a six-step stair through which the crossers climb to reach the top of the bridge, and come down. Vehicles used a roundabout rough road on the outskirts of Mambulao to reach Parang – this was, and still, the Mambulao-Larap rough road.

4) Bridge wiped out … The bridge did not last long. When a strong typhoon crossed Mambulao after devastating most parts of the Bicol region, the bridge was no more. The savage waves that hammered the shores in Parang and at the poblacion did not spare the bridge. It went along with several houses, most of them made of nipa that lined the beach from the mouth of the river up to the Larap road. When the storm settled the next morning, only some remnants of the bridge could be scene – the sturdy wooden posts. So the ferry banca service came back to the scene until such time when a better bridge was at last built. This time, the riders paid ten centavos per crossing.

5) Wood bridge… the municipal government decided to build a better one – made of wood, donated by the lumber company which was operating just nearby – the Mambulao Lumber Co. Built high enough above high-tide water level and spanned about 300 meters, this one lasted long as it was built with thick round posts and sturdy boardwalk. Both sides were secured by hand rails and people did not have to pay to cross it. The bridge became a a favorite spot for afternoon pole fishers at high tide, who sat on either edge of the bridge while waiting for fish to bite. While in the water below, children would swim and played hide and seek among the bridge’s big posts. But there was one draw back – it still could not accommodate vehicles. But then, Parang residents did not mind. They needed a good bridge and they got it.

6) Permanent bridge ... Many years later, a permanent bridge was finally erected to span across the sea-river whose width has constricted to about half the original size during the ancient days due to land reclamation. As of now, the wood-concrete-and-steel bridge allows vehicles from small trucks to tricycles to cross, with sturdy running boards and a walk-ways on either side. Unlike the previous makeshift bridges that rose on this spot which were high above the water, this later-day improvement was built low and on the level with the main concrete baranggay road that links the poblacion to Parang. From the bridge, once could see the area where the former sawmill sat long-time ago and the adjacent mangrove forest, which was reclaimed to give way to an unsightly housing area. To sum it up, the transformation of Parang's makeshift bridge of bamboo poles to its present make took at least 50 years, not a bad one for historical purposes.

(Contributions to this section are encouraged. Please send your stuff to and, with your location and name, and if possible, pictures to accompany your story. – Editor)

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