Saturday May 10, Sagada, Mountain Province
From a guidebook writer's perspective, nearly perfect. Yesterday was unusually enjoyable, what with the hike to the mummies followed by a therapeutic 4-hour wind-down in the bus. But I didn't actually work yesterday. I experienced travel the way an actual traveller would - yes, technically part of the job for me, but an opportunity that affords itself all too rarely. We should really experience a lot more of what we write about, because that both enriches the text and makes it more accurate. But we will never have time to do activity we write about. Just think about how long it would take to walk every hike we write about. "Oh, I bagged the Philippines' 6 highest peaks in the service of properly researching this book". NOT!
Anyway, today was nearly perfect because I somehow managed to "experience" a whole shitload of stuff, yet still annihilate nearly every pain-in-the-ass nitpicky detail on my to-do list, which always gives infinite joy to my OCD ass. I will leave Sagada tomorrow by mid-day after 2 nights and scarcely 1.5 days of research - easy enough for a small town that I'm already intimately familiar with, but still impressive considering that the Sagada section is a formidable 4 pages long. Also consider the following:
- I spontaneously hopped on a bus to Besao (10km), knowing full well there were no buses returning the same day. The result was merienda with a crew of construction workers; a ride home in quite possibly the most dilapidated vehicle I've ever had the pleasure of occupying; the company in said dilapidated vehicle of 2 employees of a Disney cruiseliner in the Caribbean - one a Dutch photographer and the other his dancer Filipina girlfriend, acquired in true Love Boat fashion on the high seas - whom we picked up at not-so-idyllic Lake Danum (5km from Sagada; they had walked there and didn't want to walk back); a long and riveting conversation with a collector of Igorot artefacts and receptacle of knowledge of the customs and ways of Sagada's Kankanay people; and, last but not least, sipping Scotch at my friend Steve's place as his pregnant one-year-old cat ejected its first kitty on my lap (hard to imagine that the helpless black blob that emerged will also be capable of reproducing just one year down the road).
So that was my day. It started just before 6am to the contrasting sounds of church bells and a drunk man puking outside my window. And it ends just now at 11pm as I put down my pen. But not before I elaborate on one of the above tales, specifically the one about the dilapidated vehicle, a Toyota Corona from god knows what year, driven by a 16-year-old kid. This represented the first ride I was able to find back to Sagada from Besao. I asked how old his car was.
"I don't know, maybe 10 years" - typical Filipino hedging with the word "maybe".
"No way man, this thing is at least 20, even 25 years old," I said, knowing I was probably underestimating the age. This thing was old. A dark blue 4-door Sedan with ample rust, dysfunctional door handles, and a single windshield wiper blade stripped down to the metal that made a hideous screeching sound with every laborious swipe. My passenger seat was permanently wedged forward, leaving me with about a foot of leg room and maybe 2 inches of space between my face and the windshield. But what really gave away the age of the car was the dashboard. Despite showing a relatively fresh 87,000 km on the odometer (87,000 km in the Cordillera is an eternity, come to think of it), the speedometer was one of those rectangular jobs where the needle spans the length of the dashboard, making broad parabolic swoops across digits written in that tall, elongated font specific to sedans and station wagons of a certain era. This car had already seen plenty of use by Reagan's second term.
Comfortable it was not. The original shocks were clearly still in place - or rather not in place - and a wonky carburetor meant we had to stop every couple kilometers to dump another liter of gas in the fuel tank from one of coke bottles on the floor of the back seat, being guarded by the driver's 8-year-old brother. We knew it was time for another liter only when we ran out of gas. I'm not sure why he didn't just put all of the gas in the tank at once to avoid stopping all the time, but I'm sure there was a method to his madness. The simple act of shifting gears was a lengthy, grinding affair, as the gears were stripped and the novice driver hadn't exactly mastered the nuances of working a clutch. Starting on an incline was particularly adventuresome. At one point, after we had picked up the terrified cruiseship couple, we almost went hurtling backwards down a hill into a trailing jeepney. As the engine was turned off during this maneuver, we all thought he'd lost his brakes, but it turns out that he was just backing up to flat ground for an easier start.
"Piece-of-shit car" doesn't even begin to describe this vehicle.
We made it back in one piece, and ultimately I'm happy to have had the experience, without which I wouldn't have been able to fill 2 pages writing about a car.