MOM was delighted that I came home to visit. I had not seen her in many months, and with concerns that the Delta variant just might trigger another round of lockdowns as it ravages our neighboring countries, I decided to leave Baguio for a few days and head back to the city I grew up in to spend a few days with my mother. Besides, it had been a long time since I visited Metro Manila and I wanted to see how it had changed over the past 18 months.
I booked a hotel near my mom’s house. I didn’t want to bother her too much with making special arrangements for me so I chose a no-frills hotel within my budget. The night before I arrived though, the hotel emailed to say that they are a quarantine-only hotel. Since I was classified as being on leisure travel, they could not accept me. Unfortunately, because I booked through an online platform, my payment was forfeited by default.
After a couple of lengthy phone calls, they agreed to give me a refund within thirty working days. It turns out that it’s a common situation these days – practically all the hotels listed in Agoda and Booking.com in my mother’s neighborhood were quarantine only hotels and they are willing to book you and take your money but aren’t as good about informing you of the strict conditions of operations or handling refunds.
So, TIP #1 make sure you’ve sorted out where to stay before planning a big trip to the city. It’s complicated and can get expensive if you don’t.
Fortunately, there was a room in mom’s house that I could use. But the room hadn’t been used for some time and there were doubts on whether the air-conditioner would work. Getting appliances repaired is a complicated thing to do these days with the village requiring negative swab tests from service personnel entering the village. Though the AC was very noisy at first, it managed to settle down and work well enough to approximate warm Baguio summer nights and I was able to sleep well.
The ride down was smooth for the most part. I was only stopped at one checkpoint going down – at the foot of Marcos Highway- a provincial La Union checkpoint ensuring that I wasn’t planning on stopping there. TPLEX-SCTEX-NLEX was a relaxing drive. I managed to get RFID stickers installed for both highway systems which makes exiting more efficient since they now only have a few lanes dedicated to cash payments.
The last stretch of NLEX after Bocaue was quite a challenge though because of torrential rain that made visibility very poor. Finding the old exit to EDSA was a challenge in those conditions coupled with the new entrance to the SKYWAY.
Metro Manila is still hot and humid, there might be a little less traffic with the relocated bus lanes – but it’s still jarring, drivers are still mean and selfish, motorcyclists still come at you from nowhere, there are a lot more homeless people in the streets, road rules are still confusing and small distances still take huge amounts of time to cover in a car. Mountain living has turned me into a soft driver. I realized that the radio station I missed the most was DZFE because you really do need classical music to keep your sanity while driving in Metro Manila.
It’s also really noticeable how many people are on bicycles now. From Baguio all the way down to La Union, I passed by many groups (on a weekday morning at that) and noticed a good number in the city and in my neighborhood. What an explosion of interest.
The journey itself isn’t too different. It totally feels like a trip to another country though. I have a physical folder with my Baguio vaccination documents (the physical vaccination card and the vaccination certificate), printouts of proofs of residence (barangay certificate and voter’s registration), different QR codes for different LGUs and establishments (Staysafe, Pasigpass, HealthBadge for Powerplant in Makati), health declaration forms too. About as complete as I could manage for the very few places I was planning to visit.
My brothers (all vaccinated) came over for dinner and it was the first time I saw them in many months. Miguel was kind enough to bring Andok’s lechon baka for dinner because he knew I was very curious to try it out. Robbi brought shrimp gambas that Patty expertly cooked. Paolo put together some duck a l’Orange. There was wine and cheese. It was lovely seeing family again after so long.
But alas the new medicines I have been taking have really taken the edge off my appetite and I could only manage a few bites. Felt like I was channeling Paz Marquez Benitez in “Dead Stars” but instead of despairing over lost love, I was despondent over roast beef and a city I had once called home but was now just another visitor in.
“So all these years – since when?– he had been seeing the light of dead stars, long extinguished, yet seemingly still in their appointed places in the heavens.
An immense sadness as of loss invaded his spirit, a vast homesickness for some immutable refuge of the heart far away where faded gardens bloom again, and where live on in unchanging freshness, the dear, dead loves of vanished youth.”