Catajan: Why Baguio


THERE is a flurry of people wanting to come to the highlands as restrictions on travel is slowly being lifted much to the fury of locals who have basked in the safety of the quarantine.

We closed off the biggest festival North of Manila in the name of safety, grudgingly letting go of the month of festivities in the time the rest of the country was taking it easy.

We closed our eyes, accepted the losses due us in the peak of months when tourism flourished and was rewarded in the thought that our city was safe.

Locals closed their homes to family and friends who only thought of them during the Panagbenga and realized life was peaceful... with only the nagging thought of the virus looming at the back of their minds.

We overcame the paranoia in the early months of quarantine, following by heart the restrictions set, going to market on schedule, stepping on the cute circles painted on our pavements meant for social distancing and politely told those who wanted to return to the city to wait and brave the requirements needed to be welcomed into our mountains.

We did all these and created a haven of safety, order and camaraderie, calling ourselves tributes, laughing at the liquor ban which was the pet peeve of the masses and found ways to cope.

We were hailed as a city of discipline and was envied by the rest of the country.

Life was better here than any place. We felt lucky.

Backtracking months before the pandemic hit, city locals had their fun with tourists who chose the city as their destination, may it be for the weather, the scenery, the quaint homes they planned to stay in armed with selfie sticks and the thought that every corner was an profile photo in the making, locals would smirk at the sight of these visitors and shrugged off their excitement with a grin.

Now the streets are empty of tourists wearing shorts despite the freezing temperatures and complaining of the cold, no one is seen wearing the iconic "I love Baguio" bonnets, no lines at Good Shepherd, no crowds at the city market for corny pasalubong.

They are not here anymore.

There are no gasps of wonder and awe when the fog sets in and the flurry of wanting to capture the moment with a photograph is nowhere to be seen.

The local taho vendor is also nowhere in sight selling as people crowd around his wares with curious smiles and the excited gulps of the strawberry filled rendition of the local snack.

The Burnham photographers are also taking a break from their livelihood, no one is pestering you to have a photo taken by the Weeping Willows of Burnham Park, no one offering to read your fortune on the benches.

Parks are empty.

Night life has been suspended, no band is playing, no café is open to give you a nightcap, the dingy buluhan at the corners have closed shop, there is no one who walks the streets to sober up after a drunken spree.

There is no music. It is quiet.

The night market which dominated Harrison road where hundreds converged before can only be remembered today. The joy of jostling for position, making your way along the maze of products, clutching at your bag in the fear that pickpockets prowl, finding that great deal for a pittance and just allowing yourself to be one of the many who walk the streets and partake of the food cooked in the streets, even if its sanitation is iffy is now only a happy thought. The vendors have gone home to mope at the loss of business, wondering if the night market will again rise one day.

Harrison road by night is eerie.

The streets were never this quiet, the vendors were never this poor, the locals were never this careful, our city has never been this still.

Hold tight Baguio.


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