I’ve had sleepless nights over Quirino and Isabela. To be in two provinces I haven’t been to before and to reach 41 out of 81 Philippine provinces seemed so appealing. “Half of the Philippines. How nice is that?” I thought. But there was that voice asking, “Do you want to count or would you rather do something you’ve always wanted to do?”
The answer came pretty easy to me. I’ve always hated Math.
Last weekend, Lia and I reacquainted ourselves with Benguet’s mountainous landscapes, where we ̶s̶q̶u̶a̶b̶b̶l̶e̶d̶ ̶1̶,̶0̶0̶0̶ ̶t̶i̶m̶e̶s̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶a̶ ̶s̶p̶a̶n̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶t̶w̶o̶ ̶d̶a̶y̶s̶ ̶b̶e̶c̶a̶u̶s̶e̶ ̶s̶h̶e̶ ̶w̶a̶s̶ ̶b̶e̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶b̶r̶a̶t̶t̶y̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶a̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶t̶y̶ ̶p̶o̶o̶p̶e̶r̶ had strawberry taho, a cheap but delicious buffet in Abanao (with 12 stations! 12!) , and lychee-flavored craft beer in Baguio Craft Brewery (and wounds on my knee care of careless teenagers) – all with bright city lights and Lia’s whining at the fore.
As yearly tradition goes, we hiked in the early morn, this time in the hillside community of Tawang, a few minutes from Strawberry Farm. It was cold, dewy and quiet in Mt. Kalugong. One can hear sunflowers and pine trees whispering, and the rain and wind moving at their own speed.
Our two-day excursion ended in La Union, in a Taoist temple in an obscure corner of San Fernando, before making a final stop in San Juan’s shores to witness the sinking sun. The next four hours fleeted in alternate moments of dim and light, sleep and waking, on a 45-seater bus that heads halfway home.
Home. It feels odd to say that, because home is always our constant, wherever we found ourselves in. Always relative, too.
I couldn’t tell you how it was to travel with a demanding, fickle and whiny preschooler. I haven’t hated doing so until last weekend. But I could tell you that despite it being just a bit short of an epic fail, I remember and I am grateful.
I remember the quiet moments among tall pine trees and during long bus rides, seeing clouds rise from the mountains. The way lights glimmered and danced against dark hills when I squinted. How lychee and beer swish in the mouth like poetry. The tangerine sun hovering over 10-foot waves. Tears and sorry’s and I love you’s after warring.
These are things worth saying thank you for even if it things get hard on the road. Most people do not get to see other places on their 34th birthday. Some of them celebrate it in garbage dumps, raking scraps. Some sleep on it to forget about their empty tables. Some don’t have anyone to celebrate it with. Some do not even reach 34 because they were gunned down on the streets or their house is two mountains away from the nearest hospital.
Being a year older means I had a year rich with beautiful and poignant memories, and a new one to be spent with my daughter – loving, fighting, discovering, and making the most of the good and the bad. Together, as we always do.