The Benguet bus crash hits so close to home – I’ve travelled that route many times in my life, and that city is home – that I think it’s best for me to keep this somewhat experimental.
Somehow there are always those places where the concrete breaks. The eroded section of the road is closed, surrounded by bamboo stakes and caution tape, while the construction crew starts repairing the road. Only one lane of the highway remains open to traffic. No one really took to repaving the highways; just the old ways of kabiti. That meant hauling the quarried rock over to the eroded area, building a reinforced wall to hold the new pavement, hoping that everything holds.
At least the old Marcitas buses – the ones Father jokes about – are gone. The air-conditioned buses ply the Marcos Highway – Palispis-Aspiras, whatever one calls it these days – route, while the top-loaded jeepneys, private cars, and buses negotiate the curves of Naguilian Road.
Naguilian: if my Ilocano is correct, nag-ili-an, something to the degree of a stopover. I remember the stopovers Father made: stopping the car, parking on narrow shoulders or the market by Sablan, to snap off some guava leaves. Crushed and sniffed, the leaves make a better remedy for motion sickness than Bonamine. Sablan was stop-over number one: the pineapple monument, plus the sight of walis tambo sold on the market, meant Dad was to pull over, Mom was to shop for pabilin for our relatives, and I was off to the pay toilets to hurl.
As a boy, I hated the bus lines we rode in when we visited Lola, my father’s mother. The buses didn’t stop over, but rocked from side to side as you tried to keep yourself from vomiting. The thinly-padded bench-like seats didn’t do much either. They were all pretty much the same. Eso-Nice were common, but most people I knew preferred 3H or the converted Amianan buses. Those buses rode higher; Eso-Nice tended to have that bad “low-riding bus” reputation inherited later on by BBL. Of course, there was the bane of visiting La Union as a kid: Byron Trans.
Still, I didn’t like the idea of being in an old bus in a less-than-ideal road, saying my prayers on every curve, looking the other way when we pass by ravines.
No one bothered to repaving Naguilian save for the smattering of asphalt and the reblocking of sections of highway, packing down gravel when the trucks won’t reach. Paving Naguilian, or Kennon or Halsema for that matter, was a matter of how far the trucks can go. The lanes that faced the ravines and gullies weren’t barricaded by anything other than the occasional house or the brush that grew out of the edges of the gully. Either it was the mountain’s way of keeping the buses in line as they barrelled along its sides, or the drivers have known the mountainous routes for years.
In some points narrow; a sharp curve one bus wide. They widened it over the years. It’s not a proper road sign that tells you to slow down, as far as I can remember, but intuition, guided by the Pepsi-Cola billboards. The bumps and curves and everything else on that long lane to the lowlands do take tolls on brakes. I guess that repairing the brakes is one thing, but repairing the road is another.
Tragedy struck and I scanned the names. Some all too familiar, that I did a double-search on Facebook just to be sure I didn’t know them. Until I read kindly old Professor Brady (to her students, Ma’am Carol) took in the orphans. For someone her age, that was most touching, if not inspiring.
Georg Simmel writes of “The Stranger;” someone so close, yet so far away, that we lose inhibitions when confronted by him. He was midway between the road and the ravine, I believe. The stranger of buying better buses, or paving roads to a better state, or keeping people closer by making sure everyone travels safer on major highways that become concrete-reinforced trails in the event of a landslide.
As a kid, all I ever asked for was a straight road between La Union and Baguio. Daang matuwid, so to speak. The probing, I hope, would one day lead to the paving.