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Date Posted: 01/04/10

Diwata coming home to Butuan (Nov 27-28, 2009)

By: Arturo Valdez

We departed Surigao Port before daybreak aiming to reach Butuan a good 110kms of sailing in a single day.

The skies were clear and we expected a sunny day. For a starter, we just had a morning breeze and we were sailing against the current this early morning at Surigao Strait. Our progress was not very promising.  A few hours later we were passing the shorelines of Molimono, the very spot two days earlier we received a good battering from typhoon “Urduja.” We expected to reached Jabonga and rendezvous with a motorized Coast Guard banca at 12:30PM but made it at 2PM because of the lack of favorable wind. Cabadbaran is still a good 30kms while Butuan is another 20kms beyond. Pastor Emata kept on checking our locations telling me that the kids had been at the port under the sweltering sun since 1:30PM. Classes were called off in the afternoon for the kids to welcome Diwata. These were the same kids who attended our symposium the previous day. They were all excited to see history.

The LGU’s of Butuan was also monitoring our whereabouts coaxing us to reach Butuan even early evening because a big welcome dinner was prepared for our arrival.

Meanwhile, the debris disgorged by the flooded Agusan River had spilled out into the sea and brought by sea currents towards us. All shapes and sizes of logs and wooden garbage floated around forcing us to keep evasive maneuvers to avoid being hit. We had an earlier experience in Ternate when Diwata got swept into the sea caused by the rampaging waters of Maragondon Dam because of typhoon “Labuyo.” We hit one of those floating debris causing her rudder to crack.

The Butuan LGU’s were sending their high powered speed boats to assist us to reach Butuan even at night but letting Diwata to proceed in darkness will expose her and her crew to unnecessary risks because the floating debris are not visible at night. I opted to play safe and decided to spend the night in Cabadbaran.

The sun had already set and barely there was daylight when we reached Cabadbaran Port. But the crowd mostly school kids waited patiently until we disembarked while greeting and thanking them for their patience and warm reception.

We assigned the Butuan Balangay crew to man Diwata on port while we hopped to a waiting vehicle to bring us to that big dinner party in Butuan hosted by the LGU’s

Indeed, it was such a huge dinner and birthday party for Ms. Daisy Plaza, the Chairman of the City Tourism Council for the different Barangays and the Balangay. Our arrival appropriately coincides with this event, November 27. It was also an occasion for the City Council to confer to the Balangay crew the title as honorary citizens of Butuan.

We were billeted comfortably for the night in Butuan and left early morning for Cabadbaran to sail and enter Agusan River on November 28.

Floating debris increased in volume as we come closer to the mouth of the river. The Philippine Coast Guard and the powered boats of Butuan City assisted us as we cruised 7kms inland against 8 knot strong currents of the mighty Agusan River.

Our coming was well publicized in Butuan. The city was adorned with streamers and the community is animated to welcome our arrival. I was moved to see people lining up the river banks and got emotional when I saw a group of kids, not more than 30, waiving a giant Philippine flag too big for them and most likely borrowed from an elementary flagpole.

There were also colorful streamers carried by bancas who joined us in a fluvial parade.

As we passed the Butwan Balangay building site of the Butuan Global Forum at Barangay Bading, Fr. Josello Amalia and historian Greg Hontiveros came aboard to join the brief ride to port. How I missed Jody Navarra, one of the pillars of the Butwan Balangay project for not
having able to attend this historic event.

Altogether it was a grand, emotional and elaborate welcome when we arrived at the PPA Port at past 11AM deep inside Agusan River, to be warmly received by Butuanons headed by Mayor Boy Daku Plaza, who in spite of his physical condition personally led the welcome ceremony.

Finally, after 90 days of sailing, 35 ports of call and 8 typhoons, Diwata and her crew safely made landfall in Butuan, the balangay ancestral home.

I built the Balangay the way it was - under the meticulous guidance of Rey Santiago, the National Museum archaeological boat expert. And I sailed her closer to the way it was –wind and sail. Though the Butuan stop-over formed only a segment of this historic expedition, the journey so far is beyond description leaving lasting impact to the Balangay crew, especially to me. In spite of the greater challenges brought by modernity and climate change, the Balangay brought us safely at Agusan River in Butuan where its glorious maritime history all started.

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