I made it, Baguio, home. Baguio is like the calm, coolheaded, relaxed uncle. The one you want to chill with, where things move at a slower pace. Manila is the alcoholic uncle. Ready to end you given a moments notice. It tests your patience, strength, and ability to sense danger. A mistake made in Manila costs you more than just a wallet. I was there for two days, two miserable days. Stepping outside is like stepping into a sauna. If you siphoned a car's exhaust pipe into said sauna and ran that car continuously for 50 years. While waiting for Max to arrive, I went shopping with her mom, sister, and cousin. They don't know the area, and despise Manila almost as much as I do. Almost. We traveled to the market in a jeepney, a steel vehicle forged in hell. Its purpose is to further heat you up in an enviroment where feeling any hotter is an impossible feat. It succeeds. To be a jeepney driver you have to pass two tests. Lay on your horn and drive like you just chugged a fifth of voldka. The market was a beehive of people, selling every bootlegged movie, fake watch, and an assortment of electronics. In a swarm of about 20,000 people, I was the only white bee. I am getting accustomed to this by now. But being a good head taller and looking different I was relentlessly approached by every vendor and child. I kept my eye locked on Max's sister,
I had no money on me and no cell phone. Getting separated here wouldn't end well for me. We all finished shopping and tried to get back to the air conditioned hotel as fast as humanly possible. Max arrived at 1am Monday morning, we were going to get my visa extended the next day. I slept horribly and awoke feeling nauseous and very weak. I had no appetite and got dizzy when I stood up. The taxi ride was one hour to the immigration office. Manila is known for hold-uppers. Taxis that rob you blind when you step foot inside them. Our driver was a very kind, talkative, old man. He agreed to be our driver all day for $35. One less thing to worry about. Immigration office is hell on earth. They pack as many people into the building as they can and make you wait. No just for a little while. For five hours... I am barely standing to begin with. Sick as hell and falling asleep/passing out everytime I lay my head down. There is no where to sit, we stand. I could feel it, feel my body and mind breaking. Standing there in the heat, not being able to sit or lay down, seeing spots. My passport was set to be stamped at 5:00pm. They close at 4:30pm. I was going to have to come back the next day. Two more hours of taxis, one more night in a hotel. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The screen flashed a message, passports will be handed out until 5:12pm today. Thank God... thank God. My passport was handed back to me, legally allowed to stay in the country until July 3rd. We headed to the hotel, grabbed all our luggage, and got the next bus out of Manila.
HOME~~~~ Baguio is located up in the mountains. Up, up, up in the mountains. The air is clean, the weather is temperate, the people kind, the food amazing. Life here is simple. Imagine what you think the country life is like, half the amenities and budget, you are now in Baguio. Carved into the mountain is a set of stairs. Huge, uneven, slippery, mountainous stairs. People living here most of their lives get winded walking up these stairs. To get anywhere you must challenge them each and every day. This is where home is. I live in a two story house with four other families. All cousins and siblings of Max.
We all share a bathroom and shower. It's right outside, down two flights of carved out stairs. It consists of an umbrella, a bucket, and a hose connected to a well. Simple living. My family here is huge, nine kids, multiple cousins, Max's younger sister, and of course her mom. I have never been so immediately accepted and loved by a group of people so quickly. When I walked through the door, I was part of the family. The kids crawled all over me, sang songs, and showed me numerous games they love to play. I was bombarded with questions about home and myself from the older cousins. The meals are always monstrous, filling, and delicious. Pork fat cooked in lard.... hell yeah. Max has two older male cousins. One is a construction worker, and one is an ex-olympian kick boxer. He is now a cop.
The one working construction was asking about finishing the bathroom. Max and her older sister have been saving and saving to finish the house we live in. They want to work on the bathroom first, build some walls and make it more private. I told him I would help him with the building and carrying the supplies up the ungodly stairs. He did a rough estimate of how much supplies would cost. To finish the bathroom would take majority of the money saved up, roughly $140 in US dollars.
Put that into perspective, people. I do every day. I can't explain what life is like here, it's the reverse of everything I am accustomed to. It brings the fundamental parts of life into the light. You have your family, you have a place to sleep, you have meals to consume. Nothing more. Every night is Thanksgiving. The family all comes over to eat, drink, and talk about the day. We joke and poke fun of everything, even the condition we are living in. There is no self-pity here. You have everything and everyone important to you on one very high, very mountainous plot of land.
I love it.
I am currently at an internet cafe in town. No internet back at the house. I'll finish this email with a quick story. Max's family is Igorots. Steeped in many traditions and superstitions. We currently have a problem. Since I am now with Max, everything we both buy cannot be consumed by Momma (Max's Mother) until we go through a ceremony. It's an old superstition: if Momma eats anything we purchase bad luck will come to her. Max's cousin is currently trying to get a hold of their uncle in the province. The two day ceremony involves them purchasing a live chicken, hanging it, and killing it with a club. We then cook the chicken, after which Max and I consume it. The best parts of the chicken are suppose to go to my parents. Being as they are quite a ways away, we will give it away to one of the neighbors. The next day Max's mother eats fish cooked in vinegar. That's about it. Buy chicken, kill chicken, eat chicken. Eat fish. I could think of worse things. I am told there are many more traditions I may have to go through, I welcome every one. It's not every day I get to experience life like this. I have many pictures of the family here, but not sure when I will get around to uploading them. We have some very fun days planned, movies at the mall, family day at the beach, hanging sarcophaguses in the caves at Max's grandma's province. My only regret is the time schedule I am on, two months isn't enough. For those who don't already know I am heading home when my passport expires to get a job and attempt to finish the very difficult process of getting Max a visa to the US. I have to be home and she has to be in the Philippines. For a very long times it's looking like. So until then, I am going to live, work, and breath the Philippines. Maybe that way it stays with me just a bit longer and helps me breeze through this upcoming year. Take care everyone, I'll try to keep up to date on my emails.