Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Balikatan Concluded

The road is now completed and the travel time between Jolo and Bato Bato has been cut in half and is possible without a 4 wheel drive vehicle. We turned a couple of fuel barrels into barbeques, found a nice beach, and began the party. Most quickly stripped to PT shorts and hit the water which was the perfect temperature for a hot day. Some clouds came in and it sprinkled a bit but not enough to ruin our picnic. We ate a mixture of hotdogs, hamburgers and Filipino food then back to the water for more play. Several Filipino boys were present and the Marines and Seabees didn't let a language barrier come between them when they welcomed them in their game of competitive catch. Certificates of appreciation were exchanged and friendships were strengthened.

The following day was reserved for packing all the equipment needed by a Marine Engineer company and Navy Seabee detachment to build a road and a school. It started well, and then the rain came. This wasn't a little rain; it was heavy storm which dumped several inches over a couple of hours. The soft dust turned to mud as slick as ice and heavy vehicles were sliding all over our camp. Packing stopped, we hoped for better weather the next morning, and consoled ourselves by watching a movie projected on a bed sheet.

The next morning I was enjoying breakfast at a local roadside vendor and shooting the breeze with the Marine EOD team when it began to sprinkle again. Within moments of the first raindrops the stereo began playing, Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head. We quickly, and jokingly, asked our host to find a new song but the damage had already been done; it poured again. When we returned to camp the Engineers were busy laying gravel and making a road through camp that would afford enough traction to finish loading their gear. They succeeded but still had to face the problem of getting some very heavy trucks down a couple of very steep declines before reaching their new road. We were fortunate that they build military vehicles and equipment much sturdier than their civilian counterparts because a couple of trucks slammed their sides into a coconut tree but only scraped the tree and knocked loose several coconuts while leaving the trucks undamaged.

We said our farewells and escorted the Marines and Seabees to the port along their new road. On the way out the Marine commander mentioned that he was dissatisfied with how his new road fared with the heavy rain. I don't share his opinion and I doubt the locals do either. They turned a narrow and rutted trail into an improved dirt road with adequate drainage that could be traveled on in wet conditions; something inconceivable just a month earlier.

With our guests departed, it was time for us to pack and return to our team home. The last of our packing was performed in another downpour but we didn't mind, we were returning to internet access and warm showers. On our way out we noticed a neatly hand painted banner which read, "Take care! God bless! Thank you very much! From the people of Bato-Bato."

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