Hospital Climb-A A +A
Friday, October 18, 2013
THE hospital climb is that traffic hazard of a mound located between Camp Eight and the Baguio General Hospital. Actually, there's another hospital, the Baguio Medical Center, you see right after maneuvering the climb, but to the more senior of the two hospitals is accorded the cause of the climb's name.
The climb is a traffic hazard because, like many such mounds in this here city of the pines, it requires driving skills usually not found among those who are used to flat land. And since it is located right smack at a major entrance to this tourist-frequented city, at the end of a historic route named after somebody called Kennon, many a lowland vehicle is routinely stuck trying to get over it.
A common occurrence at this mound is for a lowland vehicle to zoom up it, lose steam halfway, and chug to an undignified stop on the uphill. Often, other vehicles traveling behind the stuck vehicle have to follow suit, i.e., stop, and themselves end up stuck halfway up the climb. Unless, of course, they are piloted by more experienced and skilled drivers who can overtake the original stuck vehicle while paying attention to gear changes and such mid-mount. That is, too, if there’s no traffic coming from the other way, and there’s room to overtake.
Veteran Baguio drivers, however, do the smart thing. When there are a lot of cars headed up at that hospital climb, they hold back, meaning that they don’t take the climb with the rest of the hoi polloi. They wait, idling at the bottom, waiting for all the mistakes to happen, stuck cars to ease back down and clear the way, and then take the climb. Easily too, shifting from second to first gears at the crucial moment which experience tells you is when.
This difficult mound has come to be known as "sinking" because it was, precisely, sinking. Every year for as long as I can remember up to about the late 90s, particularly during the rainy season, it sank, thus requiring the strip of road which insists on being on it to be filled regularly. The water brought by the rains makes the hospital climb especially slippery. An accident pileup in the wet weather is still not uncommon. Actually, accident pileups at the hospital climb are part of Kennon Road definitions.
My father, from whom I learned much about being Kennon Road-smart, to include knowing to take that climb only when the coast is clear, once told me that there never should have been a road there in the first place. Because the spot where the hospital climb is used to be a lake. And he should know. As a boy, he ran wild in the whole Camps Seven/Eight area, tending his father’s cattle, and watering them at the lake on which there now insists a road on being.
Sometime in the 70s, a Japanese engineering mission took a look at why the climb was always sinking and quite rightfully determined that the solution to (idiay) "sinking" was to build a bridge, not a road, from somewhere at the Baguio Medical Center all the way till past Puliwes – an idea my father thought made absolute sense.
It was this same father who, though a lawyer by profession, was a repository of much folk wisdom. He was in the habit of careening down Kennon en route to Manila, but did so with a proper respect for the gods, you might say. At certain spots of that zigzaggedy ride, he honked his horn, and loudly.
I never thought anything of it until I was in college, and we were one fine Monday careening down so I could make a 1:00 p.m. class. It struck me: why does he always make busina at these points? When I asked him, he replied that we were riding, trespassing, over Ibaloi burial grounds that had been desecrated when Kennon Road was built. So he honked his horn by way of seeking permission to ride through. Better safe.
That little habit was picked up by all of his bodyguards who used to blow their horns as we drove through those desecrated burial grounds. Uncle Paks even called out: "Makilabas kami man apo!" Better safer.
Kennon Road folklore. It deserves a whole book: how the road was first conceived by colonizing Americans desperate for a road up to the cold place where all the gold reported in Spanish accounts came from, how these same Americans had to raise money for the then Benguet Road project, how the road was built by road gangs with some 75 nationalities between them, how it took four years to build. How it changed the lifestyle of the Ibaloi residents of Kafagway, later named Baguio City.
It was also from my father that I learned why there are areas known as "camps," i.e., Camp Seven, where we moved to in the mid-70s, Camp Six, Camp Five, etc… down the line to Camp One. He told me that the camps were where the road gangs – precisely – camped while the road was being built. They built upwards. Ergo, Camp One, located at the foot of Kennon Road, was their first camp. After building a stretch of road, they moved up and set up another camp, the second one. Thus the area called Camp Two. And so on. Camp 8, just about where the hospital climb is, was the last one. The gangs must have been overjoyed when they could break that last camp and declare the road built.
Of late, Camp 8, where the “sinking” section is located, has not, to my eye, sunk. I wonder if it’s because the water hole which it is has seen little water these last some years, and why, both worrying thoughts. Nearby Puliwes, incidentally, used to be a whirlpool, supposedly where my father’s grandfather Mateo had cattle rustlers dropped in alive. Yikes.
In the meantime, from what I believe is sheer habit, the sinking section yearly gets treated to new makeup, new asphalt, sand, gravel, cement, and whateverelse poured over old. Every time that I find myself traveling through, I say a prayer to the gods: let the water not be gone. And while I probably should say a prayer for cattle rustlers who drowned at Puliwes, I can only think: what were they thinking?!
Baguio’s written history has it that 75 nationalities were represented on the Kennon Road workforce. Supposedly, a turbaned Sikh served as the force’s foreman. By the time “Kennon” was finished in 1908, more than 4,000 men had worked on it, to include lives lost; and more than six million pesos had been spent on it. While those are, by themselves, interesting figures, I imagine more interesting ones.
I imagine an exotic, turbaned Sikh striding through each “camp,” giving out instructions. He must have been a polyglot, (was this how he got the job?) to supervise a multi-lingual workforce. Or perhaps they communicated in sign language, gesturing to say they needed a cash advance, or a different place to bunk in, or that the food was good, or maybe that it was not.
I imagine the romance of such a time, place, plotline, and characters. The idea of those camps, by day the salt mines, by night centers of carousing, gambling, drinking, and whatnot, reads like an American wild, wild west story. In particular, I imagine that when the road was finally built and those gangs were let loose into the pretty city that Baguio had become, it must have looked like some grand finale any cinematographer could have a field day with.
It must have been at Camp 8, the last of the road camps, that the hospital climb saw completion. I do wonder, however, how it was that an entire crew could have missed that they were building a road on a water hole.
It must have been summer.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on October 19, 2013.