Under the searing sun, we boarded a paddle boat that will take us to Tojoman Lagoon in Bucas Grande. A lanky 30-something boatman was designated as our guide for the 45 to 60-minute sail, which goes in and out of two sections that house various stingless jellyfishes. Non-motorized canoes are used here to protect the shallow corals.
It being a weekday, there was a shortage of boatmen. Only eight or so were present to cater to visitors. I asked our boatman if paddling tired him. He said it doesn’t bother him until he reaches home. “Mahina pa nga po ang bisita ngayon (It’s a lean day)” he added.
We were 28th in line. There were tens more after us.
Alongside our boat is a fellow paddler. Well past his 60s, his arms reveal large, reed-like veins; his wrinkled face, aged eyes that have witnessed wars. Our boatman takes one tip of the older one’s vessel, helping him carry it over sharp rocks jutting out of the water.
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By conventional standards, the old man is supposed to be retired. But here he is, paddling for tourists at high noon, with many more awaiting his return. “Dapat nga nagpapahinga na lang ‘yan sa bahay. Kaso may mga apo kasi siya na pinapakain (He is supposed to be just relaxing at home, but he has grandchildren to feed),” our boatman intimated.
Paddling fee is priced at P100 per boat. This includes the manual labor that paddlers put in. After tourism fees, each paddle boat only makes P90. The income from the day’s sails are pooled together, then divided equally among all paddlers who went to work. The men don’t know how much they made until the day is over. “Madalas, P100 o P150 lang naiuuwi namin. Malaki na ang P300 palagi (We often take home P100-P150 a day. P300 is rare).”
In contrast, the 30-minute motorized outrigger tour that takes visitors into two attractions inside Sohoton Cove costs P500 per boat, excluding guide fees. Meanwhile, it took our guide 15 minutes of nonstop paddling to get us inside the lagoon.
After we got off at the dock, another group replaced us at once. I looked at our boatman as he begins what will be his eleventh sail for the day. Nothing. No expression indicating he feels sorry for himself or that his arms were killing him. It was his and that older boatman’s job, and for him, “Wala pong panahon para sa ibang bagay (There is no time for anything else).”