Episode 20: Memories of Baguio (Part 6) – Stitches and Burns

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.” — Anthony Bourdain

For most Baguio residents, Luneta Hill was where the Pines Hotel once stood. For some, it was a spooky place, filled with stories of ghosts and muggers. For others, it was a place to hang out. But for me, it meant long walks, wind-burned lips, and egg sandwiches.

My first date was a picnic with a new friend at Luneta Hill. My date was younger by less than a year and just entered college. We met in a protest rally, became friends and soon agreed to meet often.

That day, I brought egg sandwiches good enough to feed a whole squad. It was the first time I ever made sandwiches. I wanted to impress her, but in hindsight, I only made egg sandwiches because I didn’t have enough money for ham.

The day was overcast and cold, but picnicking under the trees felt like a good idea. We spent the afternoon talking about our lives, our plans in college, our thoughts about things like religion and politics. It was light banter back then. We had a lot to talk about. We wanted to know so much about each other.

My friend and I agree on a lot of thoughts and ideas. She was kind, understanding, and open-minded. She had a deep relationship with God, and valued her family. I felt comfortable being with her, even found it easy to be myself.

Several weeks later, under the trees of Luneta Hill, she agreed to be my girlfriend.

One afternoon, though, she called me over to her place… and broke up with me. The end.

Now that I think about it, I no longer remember what I did for her that made her fall in love with me in the first place. I was just being my kind, cheerful, poetic self. All I could remember was that I blamed myself over and over again for the break-up.

And then, I started drinking.

———————

Many of Baguio’s street-side bars are noisy, dark places where people play loud music, ate peanuts and cheap fries, drank Red Horse Beer, and got beaten up for giving (perceived) dirty looks. Karaoke machines are aplenty too, and patrons sang their hearts out (those who don’t get entertained beat up the singers, sometimes).

There were shadier watering holes in the city, most of which are frequented by students. One spot I remember was in New Lucban, just several meters from the boarding houses and a several more from a school. The beer was cheap, and they closed late in the night. Gangs, couples, teens on group dates, singles… They’re all there.

Then there are certain bars that serve harder liquor, play softer music, and served more sophisticated people like rich folks, expats, celebrities, and couples (shudder). They were high-end spots for a student like me. Still, I found bars like those to my liking.

Some bars were dangerous places to get drunk. People get easily provoked, and woe to you if you provoke a drunken guy who has his crew in tow. On the other hand, these places were lively, and everybody minded their own business as long as you did the same. (Flirting is another matter.) Such an environment is perfect for someone who wanted to nurse his wounds by himself.

(Note: Nowadays, bars in Baguio no longer serve alcohol by 12 midnight. The only places that do are the establishments in Nevada Square, and they’re open until 3am.)

———————

456 Restaurant became one of the few places that comforted me when I’ve had enough of beer, when I was ready to throw up but was afraid to expel my gastric juices. A platter of “giniling” (ground pork) and rice was enough to heal my alcohol-filled belly. Not to mention that food there was affordable.

If I wasn’t too buzzed, I’d go to Burnham Park and go to Rica’s, which served what I could call the best arrozcaldo in the city. The lugaw’s hot, the chicken fresh and gingery, the servings heavy.

But if I was too drunk, I’d find myself eating in smaller food stalls. I would dine on budget meals in the company of taxi drivers and other night owls, trying to stay awake until my stomach is filled and I can walk again.

I spent nights drinking and enjoying myself amidst strangers. Nobody bothered me even in my drunkenness. The revelry, the music, and my booze were enough to make me forget or at least numb the pain. Back then, it was the only way I found peace.

I was drunk but sated. I was content. And soon enough, I forgot. Or so I thought.

———————

I met my last girlfriend, a businesswoman, while she was selling headgear at Session Road. She was older by about a year. She helped out in the family business, selling ready to wear clothes, fabrics, and other clothing materials.

On our first nights on the road we talked about business, news around the city, even a bit about ourselves. She was nice, childish to a fault, shrewd, and open-minded on things that are beyond her… such as my job. Somehow we get along although we weren’t compatible on a lot of things.

Then she suggested we hang out at Pizza Volante.

Soon enough, we spent a lot of time at Pizza Volante dining on personal sized pizzas, waffles, and liters of brewed coffee with free refills. We ate sparingly, talked a lot about so many things, and drank coffee non-stop. We had all the opportunities to know each other better.

Sometimes, we would end up in some other coffee shop, or drinking booze in the dark corners of Burnham Park, but we frequently went back to Pizza Volante.

Let me cut this story about her at this point. We became a couple for about six years, we moved to Manila, she left for another country… and got married.

To tell you frankly, my last girlfriend is part of most of my memories of certain places in Baguio. We dated in so many places around the city, and listing them all would mean I might as well write a book.

Pizza Volante reminded me of good times, days when I thought I have healed my heart and learned to love again. I was really convinced she was the one. I did learn to love, only to lose it again.

———————

My sob stories in Baguio didn’t always involve matters on love. When I lost my job at my first newspaper, I shied away from my usual hang-out spots and drank like hell. When I finished my contract in one of my other jobs, I went to Yellow Cab and wolfed down a whole pizza by myself. When I felt emotional, I hung out in the strangest places like Maharlika and Legarda Road – and lived to tell the tale. And so on and so forth.

Luneta Hill is now home to SM City Baguio. That bar at New Lucban is now closed down, probably for violating the midnight liquor ban, or after the cops realized they’re serving too many students. The ones in Maharlika are still there, but most of Legarda Road’s watering holes are gone, replaced by Korean schools. Pizza Volante? They ditched their free coffee refills.

Certain places in Baguio became memorable ones in my life, not because I made good memories there, but also because they marked important times in my life. Those times were difficult to forget. Those times had bittersweet memories. Those times hurt.

In my times of despair, I lived a debaucher’s life fueled by alcohol and unhealthy food. It was a bad way to cope with loss or failure, but escaping into the chaos of the world made me aware that I had bad vibes to release and replace with good ones. After throwing up, after nursing that hangover, after enduring that sick feeling is a new day.

Let it suffice to say that the bad things in my life were difficult to move on from, or even forget. I will have to live through the pain, the guilt, and the empty feelings. On the other hand, is it even right to wallow in sad memories? They are as important as the good ones, after all. The actual answer, though, is a big NO.

Sad moments and memories in our lives remind us of our mortality. They bring wounds in our bodies and hearts that are meant to be healed, mistakes that must be avoided, and lessons learned hard.

I for one am hope I meant something for those whom I had made memories with, food-related or not. I assure you, I have not forgotten them, but I have to move on from the memories of them that tie me down.

I better stop rambling now.

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