Loida Nicolas Lewis
Image source: likas-philippines.org

CHICAGO – The last time I went sea swimming was in 2005 when I accepted an invitation by Filipino-American lawyer and businesswoman Loida Nicolas Lewis, my kababayan (townmate) in Sorsogon City in the Philippines, to go swimming alongside the Butandings, white-spotted monster but gentle whale sharks, frequenting the mouth of Donsol Bay, part of the Sorsogon Bay and what is now known as Philippine Western Sea (formerly South China Sea).

It was a homecoming for me as Donsol is my birthplace and two of my other siblings – my elder sister, Gregory, who died at the age of six, and my younger brother, Ramon, who shortened his name to Ray when he became a US citizen.

Joining that trip were Loida’s younger sister, Mely Nicolas, now secretary of Commission on Filipinos Overseas, who will be one of the guests at 2012 NaFFAA’s 10th National Empowerment Conference in Detroit, Michigan on Aug. 2-5, 2012, and Loida’s youngest sibling, Pastor Francis Nicolas, and my kababayan from neighboring Albay province and fellow Chicago resident, Marlon L. Pecson, and others.

Last July 9, I went swimming again in the sea. This time, it was at Imperial Beach, a residential beach city in San Diego County, California, with a population of 26,324. The city is the southern-most beach city in Southern California and the West Coast. It is in the South Bay area of San Diego County, 14.1 miles south of downtown San Diego and five miles northwest of Tijuana, Mexico.

The shore is part of the expansive Pacific Ocean. It does not have the inviting Butandings but its sizable waves were irresistible for me as they reminded me of the Pacific Ocean waters in far-off Matnog, Sorsogon, the birthplace of my mom, Consolacion G. Garra.

Like the waves in Matnog that slap onto the shore creating ear-splitting sound, from which the town got its name for “Matonog” (loud sound), the waves in Imperial Beach were so alluring that even if the cold westerly winds were whipping my body with piercing cold winds, I went on to dip into the waters and even ventured into the deep part, where waves have yet to peak before breaking into micro-bubbles on the shore.

This time, I rode the waves with a surfboard that I could only paddle but not stand on. Although, I still took in water, my reunion with the waves was electric and mind-blowing.

When my nephew, Rico Villamor, suggested that we gather some clams, we pushed our bare feet deeper into the knee-deep sand. Rraking the beach with our feet, we felt something hard as a stone, and most likely, we had stepped on a clam. We were allowed to gather a maximum of six.

Well, there was no way we could have reached the quota as we came up empty-handed. Unlike in Sorsogon Bay shores, seashells could be collected by the buckets in just a few hours even in the dry but soft sand.

After an hour of swimming, I told Rico’s mom, Violeta L. Villamor, my elder sister, that I was going to the nearby Imperial Beach pier, where my brother, Ray and Ray’s wife, Angie, were angling for tamban or small milkfish.

After an hour of fishing, Ray and Angie, and Rico’s brother, Nino, whispered that they caught only five tambans, while a nearby angler was pulling up two to four tambans every minute.

The angler, who is a Mexican, appeared to have mastered the art and science of catching tambans. The other anglers, mostly Filipinos, could only shake their heads in disbelief.

It took us an hour or so to figure out how the Mexican caught tambans. If one stares long enough into a depth of some 40 feet of the wavy waters, he could spot a school of tambans. All he had to do was to throw his hook, line and sinker into the middle of tambans and pull it up and release it a little bit. Sooner or later, a tamban or two or sometimes three and four would race to nibble at the hooks tied to small colorful, feather-like “jigs” that served as baits, and the tambans would be pulling his line away. Pulling his line up gingerly but firmly so that the tambans could not get away, he could easily land and place the tambans in a container. One can also catch other fishes but these are few and far between.

After a few hours and as the sun started to disappear in the horizon, we had our containers full, and we headed home.

Our stint in San Diego was a reunion of sort for relatives and friends of the Villamor family, whose patriarch, Jose Grones Villamor of Sorsogon and Imperial Beach cities, died of lung cancer on July 1st. He was 72.

We were there to pay our last respect to Joe Villamor, my brother-in-law. The funeral services were held last July 7 at National City and Chula Vista Mortuary at 611 Highland Ave.

Those of us from Chicago, including Ray, Angie, our eldest sister, Tonie L. Rey, extended our moral support to a grieving family member, our other sister, Dr. Dona L. Hernandez, who paid a visit about a month ago to Joe Villamor before he died.

Also at the funeral services were friends and co-workers of Joe and his children, Onie (Jose L. Villamor), his wife Cathy and children Joey and Jaye; Rico, his wife, Evelyn Geraldin, and their children, Gaby (Gabrielle) and Corylene; the widow of Melvin, Jennet and their children Michael and Viola; and Nino and Jesse, who are both of the U.S. Navy.

Joe’s ashes will be brought to Sorsogon City where  Joe’s to other children, Manuel, Roman and Celeste, and Joe’s grandchildren, live.

What made Joe’s life remarkable and inspirational is that he was able to fulfill his American dream after just 14 years in the US., and he was able to convince Nino and Jesse to join the US Navy.

Joe used to fish at the Imperial Beach. Perhaps he might have given us a lift in catching a big bucket full of tambans as his way of appreciating of our attending his funeral services.

Good bye, Joe!