The passing of Filipino activist-comedian Tado and other adventurers in the northern Philippine mountains of Bontoc brings a wave of hush and stillness among travelers and other seekers of happiness and life purpose. Those bitten by the travel bug know that any journey comes with the risk of losing a limb, or life. Travels are about arrivals, but they’re also about departures, whether from a place, a comfort zone, a former self, or physical existence. Accidents, however, could be avoided if bus companies such as Florida Transport respect the business of going places and crossing zones, of arriving and departing, through extreme safety measures.
I was in Baguio when the cold reached 11 degrees at night, something I hadn’t experienced, so my voice was shaking when I was telling a cab driver to bring me to Baguio Village Inn at 10pm; my hands were trembling when I picked up a can of pineapple juice, bananas, an apple, and a chocolate bar at a nearby store for my midnight snack, and my body was resisting any fantasy of heat I was fooling my mind to imagine.
A few friends understand my need to be alone and away once in a while, for this is one of my mechanisms to regain the equilibrium I lose when upset. Upset with the grand scheme of the universe, upset with the system of karmic flow, upset with strange behaviors.
When I stepped out of Victory Liner, exhaling the fumes I inhaled from Cubao, I felt like hopping on the next bus home, but thought, that’s not cool. It was funny, going solo, trying to be brave, and not being able to bear the cold in the mountains when I got there. It’s like throwing self in Siberia. Or Elsa belting out “Let it go” ending with, the cold frakking bothered me all the way.
Upon entry to the Papemelroti-inspired Inn, I was thankful that the guard opened the door for me and a staff greeted me at the desk – any sign of warmth was welcome, yes.
I paid 350 pesos, took my key, and climbed up the stairs to find my room in a dark alley. It was midnight and only the sound from the highway was ripping the silence. I found a lonely desk, a single bed, and an open window, which seems to have let all heat escape. A perfect prison cell for a writer, I thought, if only there were books. Oh hello, too, I said to the teeny bar of bath soap.
The room was a box of invisible icicles and the bed was a block of ice with mattress. Sleep itself couldn’t stay long so I shifted and rolled and coiled all night, only championing Me vs Cold at around 4am.
Because of that evening, my plans to stay for a week melted. I checked out, rode a jeep for 8 pesos, had a hearty breakfast uptown, bought half a kilo of strawberries in the market (P100/kg) in the afternoon, and went back to Quezon City for my daily dose of warm hugs and cheek squeeze.
The travel down the zigzag was nauseating for sleepless, restless me, but as soon as the bus descended to La Union and I had a fill of steaming noodle soup with generous serving of chicken, egg, and onion springs, I burped all the cold in my body and mind.
The tragedy will certainly not stop the traveler from picking up his backpack, studying his itinerary, and hopping onto a bus. No. The traveler will go on making paths away from the road always taken.
And what of the dead travelers? They will live on, their soul lingering in the mountains, in the winds passing through cracks, sweeping the sea of grasses, while the negligent bus operators suffer law suits.