Balangay romance: Love blooms at sea for mountain lover, profBy Jeffrey M. Tupas
His love affair with the mountains is beyond doubt, having spent most of his life singing the most romantic serenade—the way only a possessed lover can do—to the precious forests and sacred rivers that had embraced him over the years.
Until quite recently, Fred Jamili, a 59-year-old experienced mountain climber, lived a life entirely devoted to the mountains.
Not that he has shaken off his passion for high places, but Fred has found a new love.
It is ironic that after more than three decades of conquering mountain peaks here and abroad, Fred would find his new love waiting for him to set foot in Zamboanga City.
And it was all thanks to the Philippine Balangay Expedition, which last year took replicas of the historic precolonial vessel on a triumphant 12,600-kilometer journey across the country and Southeast Asia.
Fred, who was a member of the First Philippine Mt. Everest Expedition Team’s technical and support group, was one of the voyage’s leaders.
His new love
In March 2010, the expedition’s three balangays (boat villages) docked in Zamboanga City, a few months before it completed its 15-month Asian voyage.
One of those who welcomed the expedition was Fred’s future bride, Russelle Tabuniar.
“I thought, yes, I will forever be married to the mountains. I had convinced myself that the mountains are my wives until I met her,” said Fred.
Russelle, 30, a history professor at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University, will wed Fred, 59, today, something they both never imagined would happen to them until they met.
“This is a special wedding for the special woman in my life,” said the soft-spoken Fred.
The groom will be wearing a coat embellished with beads. The bride will wear a matte-gold beaded dress.
“We want it to be simple and something that will take us back to our cultural roots. The beads will connect us to the culture of the indigenous peoples. It is something that is always part of their life, art and culture,” said Russelle.
The wedding will be celebrated on the Masawa Hong Butuan, one of the balangays, which is now moored at Barangay (village) Bading in Butuan City.
It is the couple’s way of paying homage to the reason why their love blossomed.
“I met her because of the balangay. When we decided to get married, we both wished it to happen here,” said Fred, who is from Bago, Negros Occidental.
“It was not love at first sight. Nothing like that,” said Russelle of their first meeting when the expedition docked in Zamboanga City last year.
Russelle was part of the committee formed by Ateneo de Zamboanga to hold a symposium on the voyage.
“That was a very formal meeting. We were not even properly introduced. Even during dinner, the discussion was very formal but she already made a good impression on me because she was very knowledgeable about history,” said Fred.
A texting romance
Two months after they met, Fred and Russelle were in love.
There was no formal courtship. Everything happened through constant texting.
“We just found ourselves in love with each other. The words and the process of courtship were no longer needed,” said Russelle.
A month after they first met, Fred told Russelle by text message that he wanted to marry her. And then over dinner in Pagadian City, he personally proposed marriage, which she happily accepted.
“She is outgoing and we have almost the same interests. Academically, she is into history. It’s like we’re similar in a lot of things, something that I have not found in other women,” he said.
“She is very special to me,” he added.
For Russelle, married life is something unimaginable if it were not with Fred.
“He is adventurous. I love the fact that he understands the life that I was imagining to be. I am very adventurous myself and I want to spend a lot of my time outdoors. Other men would not understand that,” she said.
Better late than never
Art Valdez, Fred’s mountain climbing partner since 1979 and the Balangay expedition leader, said their group was happy that “[Fred] has found someone other than the mountains.”
“All his life, he had no one to care about, he was carefree and always out there … it is worth celebrating that he has finally found something that will temper him and will complete the cycle of life,” said Valdez, a former transportation undersecretary who chairs the Mountaineering Federation of the Philippines.
“It is better late than never,” he added with a laugh, remembering the bridegroom’s age.
According to Valdez, a lot of things changed in Fred after he met Russelle.
“He was always cross. A terror. Very strict. But when he found love, he changed. Love brightened him, lightened him up,” he said.
But Valdez, who will be godfather at the wedding, hopes that Fred’s romance with the mountains and the great outdoors will not be weakened by marriage.
“But I am confident that Fred will always be part of our expeditions. His wife will understand,” he said.
Like launching a ship
As for his advice to the couple, Valdez said: “Marriage is like the launching of a ship in an unchartered sea. It is full of challenges but determination and love will be able to bring you to that desired destination. Overcome the big waves and bad weather. And it will make the journey worth it.”
For Fred and Russelle, marriage only signals the beginning of their journey together.
“I know it will be an exciting journey with him. People asked me if I am excited about the wedding day and yes, I am. But what I am more excited about is the journey with him, that life with him,” Russelle said.
And Fred has another adventure in his mind.
“We are not only living a new life as husband and wife but we will also be building our own boat house, our own balangay,” he said.