This hand-carved pendant of intertwined figures catapulted my love for travel. It was my first treasured travel memento from Baguio City, Philippines in 2006 peddled by a group of fine arts students along a sidewalk in Session Road. The cord suspending it might be long gone, but I’m carrying the pendant with me all the time as a reminder of how enriching it is to discover other cultures through travel.
It was 20 years ago, or so. I sat on the lone chair beside her bed, wanting to hold her gnarly hands. Instead, I busied myself by patting her head and tucking errant hairs away from her face.
“How are you?” She feigned a smile. Too late. We both knew I should not have asked that. My aunt had been in and out of the hospital. We were just waiting for her remaining days with us
“Have I told you about Baguio?” Many times. But I said, “not yet.”
“It’s the most beautiful place I had been to.” I listened fondly. It was her signal to reminisce. Despite hearing it several times from my aunt’s quivering lips and incorrigible words, I was still excited to hear about Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines, the city of pines.
I saw in her dreamy eyes an uncongested city on top of a hill, mountains all over, lots of pine trees, culturally diverse as the center of arts and commerce in the Cordillera region and as home to the Igorots, proud to be the only producer of strawberries in the country and boastful of its various vegetable and flower farms and nature-filled garden parks.
She stopped. She seemed so tired. “Do you want to rest?” I thought I was tiring her with the strength used to gather those memories. She tried to wave, gesturing a no sign. “I will soon rest anyway.”
So she did go on. She shared how hardworking the Igorots are. Females can toil the land while carrying children on their back. As a mountainous place, they found a way to build rice paddies as terraces. The city’s high altitude made it a perfect getaway for summer vacations. People from all over the country would clamor to flock to the city.
Then my aunt shivered from remembering how cold Baguio was.
“If ever it would snow in the Philippines, it would be in Baguio,” she lamented.
“Promise me you’ll go there one day, then tell me.” She held my right hand and looked faintly into my eyes, forcing a promise from a teenager about to enjoy her high school life and eager to hear of other places.
By 2006 and 2011, I had seen Baguio for myself. It still has its old charm but time caught up with it. Congestion forced residents to locate their houses on mountain sides, perceived an eyesore by first-time visitors. Traffic in the city center Session Road usually resulted to frustration. And the once-pure fog was clouded with smog. Despite this, I admit Baguio is still one of those places I would love to return to.
I talked to myself, convinced my aunt would hear me.
“You’re right auntie. Baguio is the most beautiful place to live in.”
For my aunt’s sake, I had to put a tinge of a little lie. Baguio was her only image of how a beautiful place should look like.