ORIGINALLY, I wanted to title this piece, “I went to Dumaguete and all I got was a crummy yoga mat.”
It was funny but untrue; an exaggeration.
After all, the yoga mat wasn’t crummy—it is a product of a tradition that, if left unsupported, will die and wither away like careers of certain pseudo-professionals such as, for instance, myself.
Unlike regular mats, the yoga mat is twice-folded on the edges, making it tougher to move out of the way since it currently occupies some premium real-estate on my desk.
Having said that, let me just make a declaration: for whatever purposes it may serve, I have no use for a yoga mat.
I don’t do yoga and I certainly don’t do mats.
As with most things in my life, I hadn’t planned on getting a mat, the yoga kind or otherwise. A mat wasn’t even on my radar.
Never in my life have I indulged in a shopping spree—online and otherwise—and said to myself, Boojie Boy, a mat is all you need.
Nosirree. Not in my life.
But here I am, contemplating several uses for an unused—and probably even mint-condition—yoga mat.
So why do I now have a yoga mat?
Journalism—or the activities faintly related to it—had something to do with it.
During a recent trip to Dumaguete, I was able to visit Apo Island, a marine reserve which was a jeepney and a boat ride away from the city.
Upon arriving, I was able to interview three women who have weaved yoga mats by hand.
The yoga mat, once folded into the size of a short document envelope, can be carried on the shoulder through a strap.
However, owing to lack of demand, high raw material prices, and rising distribution costs, the women of Apo Island now only weave mats when necessary. They do so on days before their fiesta so that their visitors will have places to sleep, they told me.
This is according to all three women I interviewed, the first involving two women who were sisters.
It was held inside what looked like a makeshift open-air patio made of wood and locally-available material that blended in with the island’s tropical motif.
Except that it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park or, to force a metaphor, a stroll on the beach.
While the sisters were busy telling me their personal histories, the husband of one of them wasn’t exactly pleased with what was happening.
In the middle of our recorded conversation, he emerged from his house, naked from the waist up, brandishing a bolo and a look on his face which said that what he had last night didn’t have pleasant effects, especially in the morning.
He then walked to the patio, grunted, and struck the bolo on a nearby tree stump.
All four of us—the two women, the photographer I was with, and myself—fell silent.
I then cleared my throat, asking my subjects that maybe he wasn’t too big about interviews, especially one with outsiders.
“Don’t worry,” his wife said. “He’s just joking. He’s always like that.”
“Yes,” replied her sister, her head bobbing like flotsam.
However, they failed to convince me.
Seconds after the heavy blade struck the tree stump, I suddenly saw my life—or at least the lucid parts of it—flash before my eyes. Me boarding a plane to Dumaguete. Me taking a boat to Apo Island. Me interviewing the two sisters, one laughing, the other slapping her thigh, insisting that her husband was just kidding. And finally, me losing a staring contest with an angry man brandishing a bolo longer than Voltes V’s laser sword.
I moved to the edge of my seat, hoping to be out of reach of long and sharp objects in case of a rear bolo attack.
To ensure my protection and to express my gratitude, I offered to buy two mats from each of them.
Once I bought the mats, it would be proof—at least for Bolo Boy—that my intentions were pure and my motives professional.
However, both of them had run out of supplies; a condition that suited me financially but did nothing to guarantee my safety.
What is the use of money, I asked myself, if you were going to be hacked to death by a madman on an island who went absolutely postal because you asked one too many questions about mats?
My hopes were kept alive when one of them knew someone who had a few pieces left.
I begged her to lead the way and proceed immediately to the seller since I never wanted to see the husband again.
This time around I got lucky.
The photographer who accompanied me was able to take a video of Lilia Intia weaving a mat.
“I have been weaving mats since grade 3,” she told us, adding that it was a tradition handed down to them by their great-grandparents.
Manang Lilia also had an extra yoga mat for sale, which I bought immediately, a transaction that, at that time, I hoped would have been witnessed by Boy Bolo.
Had he been there, he would have understood that I was only doing my job and was even, in my own small way, promoting the traditions of the residents of Apo Island.
Had he been there, he would have learned that my gesture of purchasing the mat was my small way of generating employment, however meager.
Sadly, he wasn’t.
Which was too bad because, considering the sunny disposition of the island’s residents, we could have been friends, beer buddies, even.
But our time on the island was limited, not even for a reunion, however short, with Boy Bolo.
At around four-thirty in the afternoon, three or four hours after we arrived, we took off on a boat back to Dumaguete, leaving behind an island paradise teeming with turtles, fishes, corals, and colorful characters.
In the meantime, would anyone be interested in a yoga mat? I’ll throw in free shipping for good measure.