Continuation from yesterday’s post here
The trip from Manila to Banaue was an insane journey. We left at 5am, 7 of us were stuffed into a Mitsubishi van, with no shocks, and rock hard seats. The other Mother had broken down the drive into 21/2 hour segments for bathroom and stretching breaks (she was eccentric and also very serious about our bathroom breaks). Now, the funniest part about it, is that we actually stopped at a Mayor’s house to use their facilities, and out came the rolls of toilet paper (and by rolls, I mean she had actually packed a massive Costco size container)! What many would not understand, is that the Countryside began about 30 minutes out of Manila, and hospitality was the norm, but bathrooms were not. When I think about it now, stopping at a Major’s house is a little peculiar, I wouldn’t stop in a Canadian city and expect to use the Major’s facilities, but it was actually welcomed in the Philippines.
For hours, I watched various loads of 4-6 men balancing on old WW2 motorcycles, as well as jeepneys that had people standing on the outside holding on. These scenes are the norm, but in Manila where everything is flat, it didn’t seem so out of place, careening down a mountain on a road that had not been patched up since it was paved after the war, just looked suicidal.
The higher we went, the more fog we encountered, and the slower the drive became. By the time we saw our “hotel”, I understood what I was warned about. The “hotel” was more like an upgraded version of a cottage in Canadian standards. We had stayed in various places around the Philippines, my parents made sure that we were well exposed to “roughing it”. This was clean, very simple, and incredibly welcoming – the rolls of T.P came in handy, because there was non in the hotel. The hotel, which is now massive, due to the number of tourists it attracts, but in the ’89, was tiny. I was sharing a room with our friends daughter. I was so excited to be grown up enough to stay in my own room, that I don’t think it mattered what it looked like.
Since we arrived in fog. we could barely see the geography. The smell was something I cannot possibly forget, Manila had a mix of Sampagitas, garbage and humidity, Banaue had a sweet succulent scent, the only way to describe it was if you went back before industrialization, no smog, no pollution. The hotel was under a flurry of activity, I don’t think the staff had ever seen so many people at once. The staff, were half-dressed in traditional clothing and a Barong (traditional formal wear for men), which I remembered being a little odd, like they couldn’t quite figure out if they should take on city wardrobe or of their traditionally woven red clothing.
We didn’t see anything that first night, we ate with the hum of a generator. The next morning, we all discovered that there was hardly any water. It was only turned on for 2 hours a day, and the pressure was so low, that washing my long hair would take the full 2 hours. When my Father came into our room, he was chuckling, he saw me with half wet hair, and a look of “what have I gotten myself into?”, I was a pre-teen, my hair was pretty important to me!
As we sat down on the massive covered veranda, the sun broke began to shine, and the thick fog began to break. We all turned around, to see the deepest and brightest greens, the sun set diamonds on the water on the saturated shelves. The carved shelves of rice were beyond breathtaking. All I could do was sob. In all the years we had travelled, I had never seen something so moving, powerful and other worldly. As I turned to look at the rest of the table, I realized that everyone had tears in their eyes. I felt like we were part of secret.
My Father and Mother had always intellectualized our trips, or wanted us to learn and experience everything we could. Sometimes, it felt so forced, that as kids we disengaged. When my Father told me to choose a destination, I felt like my opinion really mattered, which made me want to learn everything. The funny thing, was I only saw one picture of it before our arrival. It was a one page blurb in the middle of a book that described every beach, and major city of the Philippines. To this day, I don’t know why exactly I had to see this special place, but my argument was simply, I had to see it.
More to come…