Sunday, July 20, 2008

Day 161 (Sunday July 20). Across the Cordillera

After dealing with a flat tire, which had at least four nails in it, I started a slow, winding crossing of the Cordillera. The road climbs and climbs until it is lost in the clouds that crown a range, and then drops like a stone to the bottom of a tropical valley, just to start the roller coaster ride over and over again. Yet, I think this has been my favorite day in the highlands. I had to negotiate many landslides, and the going was slow, but I think I saw no more than a dozen of vehicles and the views were absolutely fantastic.

Around noon I arrived to the mountain city of Baguio, which would be my choice if I were to live in the Philippines. It is fairly large and lively, but it is set among the pine trees and has a deliciously cool climate. The city grew mostly after the US occupied the Philippines at the conclusion of the Spanish-American war in the 1890’s, as a summer retreat for officers and their families. Later, during World War 2, the Japanese developed it further, again because of its cool and healthy climate. Today it is a favorite destination of Filipino families, who come for the weekend to escape the oppressing heat of the lowlands. Today is Sunday, so the central park was packed with families having picnics, taking a walk, rowing a boat in the lake, or eating steamed corn. It reminded me a lot of Mexico’s lively Chapultepec park.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, which for me meant going back to the steaming lowlands and their snail-paced traffic. To add to the road grief, the rice harvest is upon us, and the farmers think that the highway is a perfect surface to dry the grain. So they spread the rice over one lane of the highway for maybe 50 m, so traffic must take turns to pass these blockades. Still, it is good to see that they had a good harvest. Speaking of rice, people here are aflame because the price of rice went from 18 pesos (about $0.50) for five pounds in May, to 32 pesos for five pounds in July. This is, of course, the unavoidable consequence of the increase in gasoline prices, since the trucks that transport the rice are just passing the price along to the consumers. Makes me think that I have come to Philippines at a unique time. On one hand gasoline is outrageously expensive given the general level of earnings of the people (about $4 per gallon, when many people earn less than $1,000 per month). On the other, the prices are just beginning to reflect the increased cost of transport, so you can still get a good meal for less than $2. I forecast, with great regret, that over the next few months prices are going to skyrocket, and that Philippines will no longer be an inexpensive tourist destination (not to say anything of the loss of acquisition power of the Filipinos, many of whom already live in poverty).

No comments: