Beyond Baguio

Swelas by Yan Balbuena

BAGUIO CITY, BENGUET. A sketch of a photo Marianne took while we were in UP Baguio, about an hour before the world went slow-mo.

I DECIDED TO go out of town the day that I received THE bad news. I did not really care where I would go, I just knew that I wanted a time away from everyone. Besides, in my 3 years of on and off depression, I never had a time to just get lost. It was about time to do so. Because of my situation though, I was not allowed to travel on my own. But I luckily found some souls willing to go find peace and quiet with me. So on the day the Pope arrived in the country, I was on the road watching cars and buses dash in and out of view.

When we went to Baguio, we had no plans. One of my friends told me to plan our itinerary, but I didn’t. I wanted to literally get lost in a foreign place as if getting lost was even an option with all those taxi cabs around. I simply wanted to be there and feel as if I was just in my hometown. I just thought of staying at good places where I could write. But then of course, I somehow failed at that. I’ve only written a page or two while I was there. I guess I had the contradictions and ironies of everything I imagined about the trip. I thought I’d have time to write, I didn’t. I thought I’d spend most of my time in a quiet corner of a café, I didn’t. Even my illness told me that Baguio was not exactly the perfect place for my weak lungs. Other than the hilly streets, the place’s cold weather and high altitude might give me a problem with my oxygen level. Instead, I still decided to go.

It was not really the perfect vacation that I imagined. On our first day there, I twisted and sprained my left knee. Maybe to the people I was with, it was so disappointing to be trapped in a tour with a limping companion, making things much, much slower than normal. Even I myself was so disappointed for being trapped in an ill body with a sprained knee bonus to nurse. A buy one take one! As if having one illness was not enough. But how disappointed they were, I never really found out. While I write this, I am guessing they were probably calculating time during the same moment that I was. Who wouldn’t? But I could never really tell. Because the truth was, I never felt it. They were too cool-headed for it. They seemed to just dance around the complicated love story between my misadventures and stubborn lungs. And dancing they surely did so well. So even though Baguio was the opposite of everything else I imagined, the Universe somewhat conspired with my misfortunes to make it the right choice for me, and hopefully for them, too.

Something about being there at that time made it all worth my twisted knee and blank journal pages – I learned about the two persons I was with. Although I have known them since high school, we were never close until we got to college. What I knew of them then were things almost all our other classmates knew. Even after college, how much I knew them remained the same. But in Baguio, I learned about who they were and the versions of themselves that I never shook hands with. I learned how they love and how they choose to give it. I learned how much they care for a partner, for a family, and maybe even for a friend. I saw them during those fleeting moments of walking up and down steep roads, hailing taxi cabs by the side of the street, and walking slowly while we freeze under the night sky. I got to see them during the in-betweens. Those split seconds they never realized to be so revealing. Those unconscious things they do. The way they gaze up or down when we talk about certain things, or where and to whom their eyes go before they talk and when they think. The way they look at people or the way they choose not to. The way they automatically lift their arms to guide me as I walk, or how they look back and check my injured leg when they walk ahead of me. These things made me embrace how unstructured our trip became. I got to see the people I was with when we stopped aiming for a direction. I do not really believe in the saying that everything happens for a reason. It doesn’t. Or at least not everything does. But weirdly enough, I think I got to know my friends more by simply trying out a pair of roller blades, dislocating my knee cap, and tearing one of my ligaments.

Maybe those two will remember the randomness of our conversations and the rawness of our laughter. I will remember those, too. Quite vividly so. But to me, those were just some extras. Some bonuses. The cherries on top. Of course it felt good to just simply talk and laugh and forget everything about the things we carry for a while. But I like seeing people in a different light. I like hearing the soul of a frustrated lover, feeling the warmth of a sibling fond of his brother. I like seeing beyond what they wanted me to see. Hearing through their silences in between the laughter. Listening to their silences while they speak and giggle. While I do remember our comical conversations, I remember seeing through them more. And surprisingly, I enjoyed watching and seeing myself through them, too.

There is no better way to put this in words. But I guess I was the only person to happily tour Baguio with a sprained knee and a failing pair of lungs. And touring, I successfully did in grand slow motion. Stop motion even! Step? No. Step? No. Step? Yes!