Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Baguio, Philippines

The Philippine broadcast of the Olympics with its restrained announcers and Asian slant focusing mainly on the Chinese and South Korean athletes made for good background entertainment while I ate dinner and studied the Lonely Planet guidebook.  No need to make conversation with Tomas as he had bowed out of the travels earlier that morning and I was on my own.

He had come to the grim realization that his 67-year old legs didn't have enough in them for the climbing ahead.  They'd barely been managing what minimal climbing we'd already encountered.  He'd immediately drop to his lowest gear for any incline we came to, no matter how slight or abbreviated, spinning his legs at 3.5 miles per hour, a speed just fast enough to remain upright.  If the climb went on for more than a couple of minutes, he'd have to stop and catch his breath.  He took consolation though that at least he wasn't reduced to walking his bike.  

Even though we had been riding short days and even one half day, his legs weren't coming around.  With a twenty mile climb to 5,000 feet loomimg ever nearer, he knew there was no way he could manage that and the climbing beyond.  He was struggling as it was on the flats, putting some of the blame on all the excess weight he was carrying, including a large bear-proof cylinder atop his panniers for his food.

So for the first time I was able to put in a full day on the bike and end the day with that great sense of exhilaration having pushed myself a bit to get a little further down the road than I anticipated.  I was pleased to have put myself within range of making it to Baguio the next day.  I made it as far as Dagupan, a large, utterly charmless city clogged with jeepnays.

No one could tell me where I might find a cheap hotel or even a not so cheap hotel. Evidently this city drew no visitors.  It was less than an hour until dark.  I was reconciled to pushing through and hoping  to find some camping along the beach when I came upon a hotel by the bus station.  It was another of those with three, twelve and twenty-four hour rates and a classic dive, just as I'd hoped to find.  It was 5:30.  I waited until six to check in as a six a.m. depature would be ideal, just as it would be getting light.

Of course it didn't have WIFI, but the bus station actually did.  I learned that from the 7/11 next door. Some 7/11s have WIFI, but not this one.  I filled my Tupperware bowl with a rice and stew dish from a nearby restaurant and grabbed a couple of hard-boiled eggs from a street vendor.  I ate until six at the bus station and then hauled my gear up to the hotel to commandeer a room.  I opted for a room with a fan rather air conditioning, not only to save a few bucks, but because I was just overcoming a cold I'd picked up from having slept in air conditioning the first three nights here.  I might have opted for the a/c had I known my cement block cell wouldn't cool below 83 degrees.  And a closed window might have blocked out the noise of buses arriving and departing all night.  

My night was also marred by the Olympics being pre-empted at eight p.m.  in the middle of a speed skating event for a basketball game.  It was game six of the semi-finals for the Philippine  professional league championships.  That made for interesting viewing as well.  The teams didn't seem to have any American auxiliaries, but the play was fast and fairly polished and the crowd quite vocal.  Basketball is popular.  I've seen more kids shooting hoops along the way than kicking a soccer ball.  But the most popular sport here is cockfighting.  Every town and city has a stadium specific to cockfighting.  We've passed quite a few.  On Sunday I was able to duck into one for some of the action.

Before I noticed the arena, my attention was grabbed by the dozens of motorized tricycles parked along the road and then in the parking lot in front of the arena.  Anyone with a motorcycle can attach a buggy to its side with a third wheel and use it to transport people or goods.  One hardly sees a taxi with the hoards of these contraptions that are the dominant vehicle in most urban areas.  One can purchase a similar attachment for a bicycle.  But those are not nearly as prominent.  The Philippines, as  Thailand and Vietnam and now China, and any other place of increasing affluence leaves the bicycle behind.

Though cockfighting is a betting sport, there is still an entrance fee.  They waived the charge so I could just peak in for a quick look.  The ring was glassed in and surrounded on all sides by men standing at rapt, if not morbid, attention.

The sport is televised but I have yet to find any in my channel surfing, though I'm not sure how long I would give it a look.  I've attended a few matches in Mexico, but they weren't on the scale here.  When the Philippines  were a Spanish colony for 400 years up until 1898, it was administered by the same department as Mexico, so there are many similarities between the two countries, not the least of which is the cockfighting.  All the Catholic Churches is another.  The country is 85 per cent Catholic.

Despite my not so restful night in Dagupan, my legs were strong and eager in the cool of the morning.  I reached Agoo twenty-four miles away shortly after eight, where I turned inland on the former Marcos Highway to Baguio, thirty miles away.  The first ten miles were fairly flat, but then the real climbing started at Puyo.  There were no more towns on the map, so I stocked up on food and water.  I needn't have, as this stretch, like every mile I've ridden here was lined with businesses and homes and cafes.  There were places where trucks could stop and use hoses to cool down their vehicles, that I was able to take advantage of as well. The grade ranged from minimal to severe, with some stretches of more than ten percent.  

Every five hundred, even one hundred, feet gained was a triumph.  When I reached 4,000 and had five miles to go, I thought I was in for a relatively easy four per cent finish.  But I was wrong.  The road did climb some more but then dipped back to 4,000 feet with two miles to go, leaving a final brutal two mile ten per cent ramp that steepened even worse for a bit.  It was a climb that The Tour de France would love to end a stage with.  The heavy laden trucks weren't climbing much faster than me. When they'd inch past spewing their exhaust I'd be gagging so badly I'd have to stop.

When I reached the summit the road followed a ridge with a few more ups and downs into Baguio.  I joined another road that entered the city and was swallowed up by a throng of suffocating bumper-to-bumper traffic.  It grew worse as I entered the city, another maddening metropolis with an absurd density of people and traffic.  Baguio may have been picturesque at one time up in the mountains, but no more.  It wasn't so much in a valley, but built amongst a series of steep ridges.  It was pleasantly cool at least.

The American colonizers loved the tolerable temperatures of Baguio and developed it into a significant city.  They enlisted Chicago's master architect Daniel Burnham to design it. It has his trademark boulevards and a central park, which is named for him and has a bust honoring him.  

Its accompanying plaque describes how honored the Philippines were that this esteemed architect made this significant contribution to their country.

The next morning was a gathering spot already for many.  There was music playing and a group doing dance-aerobics.

Others were jogging and riding bikes around its rim.  There were bikes for rental for kids as well as adults.

There were signs prohibiting gambling and picking of flowers and smoking.  Security guards patrolled the park on bikes and foot.  When I was looking for a hotel the evening before a local backpacker said I could camp in the park, though it wouldn't be safe.  Instead I opted for a hotel run by his aunt.  No need for air conditioning or even a fan here.  I had to close all the windows to keep the cool out.  I needed to put on my sweater and vest when I went out to dinner.  Luckily I had my Tupperware bowl with me and could escape the restaurant I chose when a slightly inebriated guy who had served in the American  military started up a somewhat belligerent conversation that wasn't going anywhere.

1 comment:

Jeff Mease said...

Hi George--I'm enjoying your posts. I wish you more beauty and warmer interactions. Thanks for the invitation to ride also (that Dwight passed along to me).
Cheers! Jeff Mease