Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Quarter Before Six in Santa Maria

I took a break from the tiresome editing of graphics and images in my computer for the news magazine. Looking for anything that entertains and relaxes, I took from the rack a disc and ran it in my computer.

I hardly realized that it was our wedding’s until the names of the entourage appeared on the screen. I then savored the moment of reminiscing one of the happiest days of my life. I remembered how my wife played on my face to reduce my pimples. Cucumbers, mashed banana, facial cleansers she bought in Quiapo, and yes, toothpaste. Only to no avail. I laughed at the dark spots on my face which were vividly caught by the video cam, courtesy of the toothpaste that almost burned my cheeks.

I was able to watch our wedding video for several times already but it was only that time I sensed that the camera purposively rolled around the venue and captured the beautiful arrays of flowers in full bloom. The crack of the dawn made it even more picturesque and dramatic. It was quarter to six in the morning. The venue was at the magnificent facade and scenic garden of Santa Maria Municipal Hall. There again, I have been falling in love with this small yet beautiful town.

It was during the Fiesta of 1998 when I first stepped on this municipality known for several names: Concepcion, Imelda and Santa Maria. According to stories, the name Concepcion was a misnomer since there was an island municipality that bears such name also. Correspondence and mails missed the recipients. To fast track the change of name, the local officials opted the name ‘Imelda’ after the President’s powerful first lady. True to their expectations, the town got a new name and the first lady herself, came over to christen it. After the EDSA Revolution in 1986, and when President Corazon Aquino swore into office, traces of the Marcoses were gradually phased out. The town was named Santa Maria.

Santa Maria, previously part of San Agustin, is a small fifth class municipality composed of six barangays: Concepcion Sur, Concepcion Norte, San Isidro, Paroyhog, Santo NiƱo and Bonga. Concepcion Norte, the town proper is not as vast as other towns in the province. It just has three major streets running from north to south intersecting four paved roads running from east to west. Going around the town is not that tiring though.

Small as it may seem, the first thing that impressed me was their well-landscaped municipal garden in front of the majestic town hall comparable with Baguio’s Mansion. The building was painted white and embraced by the towering columns and thick metals securing the entire area. Flowers in full bloom were diligently taken care of and pruned by the utilities to maintain the pleasing ambience of the surrounding. The gate led to the doorstep of the municipal hall through an aisle about 50 meters long. The aisle cut the lawn into two. In each side were carefully landscaped box of flowers and pathways. On the far south of the town hall was an elevated rest house called the Palaisdaan. Its posts were elevated by about a meter. It was surrounded by concrete dikes which enabled it to hold water. Tilapia and other freshwater fishes were cultured there. Visitors usually took an afternoon nap in the bamboo-made resthouse.

In 1999, Santa Maria was named as the cleanest and greenest town in Romblon.

Perhaps, no other auditorium in the province would be more desirable than Santa Maria Sports Complex. It was the first covered court in Tablas and could accommodate thousands of spectators. It could also be used as venues for big celebrations like wedding, parties and etc. The comfort rooms there were one of the best.

People coming to Santa Maria were wondering why such a small town could ably support the erection of skyscrapers (a third storey building was already a big deal here). Add to that was the well-maintained public infrastructure like the barangay hall that was often construed as the town hall, the tourism building which probably was the biggest, and the Recreation Center.

What actually made the town more attractive were not the buildings but the variety of flowering plants blooming everywhere: in schools, children paradise, houses, river banks, etc.

Two years ago, the Hinugyawan Festival was born here. People dressed like natives, colored their bodies black and roamed around the town chanting, shouting and making noises, hence, hinugyawan. It was a crowd-drawer.

The town was also home to natural and unspoiled scenic spots among them were the Bil-at Cove, a hidden sea few meters north of the town proper; Madrona’s Beach Resort in Paroyhog; Ese-Ese steps in Talamban; imposing promontories in Naabang; and the Triple Peak where telecommunications relay towers stood.

For the past two years, there were several beautiful things I couldn’t forget about Santa Maria. More to buildings, landscape and yes, people, it was in Santa Maria where I experienced for the very first time the beauty of the sun rising from the sea. I never asked why our wedding was at dawn. A quarter before six.

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