City of Storms
. Another morning in Baguio.The clouds scuttle through the valley blotting out fields and houses. From the street below a vendor csan be heard. “Puto. Puto.” Rice cakes for twenty pesos. A jeepney rumbles past. The dogs continue their incessant complaints. Chickens cluck. Another day in Baguio. Our house sits on the edge of a mountain crest. Thick green shrubs speckled with yellow Baguio Sunflowers. I look out to see the valley filling with cloud. Here the mornings are brighter than the afternoons. It is then that the clouds gather blotting out the view.
Baguio lies in the mountains . It is known as the City of Storms where the clounds fill the city. Little interest had been shown in the area by the Spanish. The mountains made occupation difficult. Military outposts were not established until the 1840’s. Apart from a few ranches and the introduction of coffee production little attempt was made to develop thre mountains. but this changed with the coming of the Americans. 1903 opening of Kennon Road allowed the Americans to open the region for development. It offered access not only to the interior but also something rare in the Philippines, cool, clean mountain air. The Americans found a refuge from the heavy heat of the lowlands. They built a military camp John Hay and in 1907 Baguio became a city.
Baguio is far from being a tropical paradise. The streets are overcrowded and dirty. The traffic is intimidating. The weather can be extremely gusty and windy. The valley where I live, once scenic is overrun with houses jammed together and narrow twisting roads. The people though are courteous. The weather is good, at least ten degrees cooler than on lowlands and for me this city became more than a city of Storms. It became to me a symbol. a goal by which I could regain part of my past life..
When I first came to this valley in 1987 only a solitary house rose amid the fields. Once known as Saguid the valley had been the home of subsistence farmers far away from the fertile lowlands of the central Luzon plain. Lyn and I had thoughts of retiring in the Philippines. Lyn’s family lives near San Carlos down near the Lingayan Gulf but after her years in Canada we were interested in a cooler climate. Baguio offered that. A temperature at least ten degrees cooler than the lowland, cool enough to require a sweater at night. Pine scented air that reminded me of Canada. Visioning vacationing amidst scenic panoramas of mountain and valley we bought a lot for just over a hundred thousand pesos and made plans to have a house erected. When I returned in 2011 houses had spread over the hillsides. Diesel fumes suffocated the scent of the pines. Now it had become a suburb of Baguio crowded with trucks and jeepneys. The house itself was still in a state of construction. Plumbing was still primitive. Windows were unsealed, some being impossible to close. We made plans to return in 2013 to see to the remaining work. It would take me four years to get back to the valley.
In May of 2012 while we were traveling through Peru I had a stroke. A blood clot at the back of my brain burst. For almost a month I lay in a bed in Lima. The stroke left me partially paralyzed on my right side and unable to stand. My throat muscles were paralyzed which necessitated a feeding tube. As I lay in the bed barely able to do more than say a few words I dreamed of being home again, After a month of Peruvian hospitals, and then two and a half months in Saint Mary’s by the Lake in Kingston I did get to go home. By then my dream had changed. I wanted to walk, to be able to get up out of the wheelchair and walk out my own front door.Such a thought seemed at best remote. Not only had the stroke taken away my ability to walk by paralyzing my right leg. It had also left me with severe vertigo. Any sudden movement would cause me to lose all sense of balance. Such a condition had taken away the ability to walk.
During the months after being discharged from Saint Mary’s as I struggled to walk again I had begun to accept that there was so much in my life that I would never do again..I had spent much of my life teaching English both in Canada and overseas. I had become used to traveling and working overseas. Now I could only lie in bed aware that any sudden movement would precipitate another attack of vertigo. As the swelling at the back of brain healed the vertigo eased.
For three years the limits of my world grew again. In the first months after Saint Mary”s the vertigo made it difficult for me to travel by car. Any sudden change in speed or turn could trigger it. The idea of any form of travel seemed absurd. Then slowly, as I healed the vertigo receded. I was able to travel across the city, then to Ottawa, then to Florida. Now, four years after the stroke I find myself in the Philippines again.
I could have stayed in Kingston and waited out the winter, every day knowing that one slip could result in a broken limb or I could go to where there is no winter, to a house half a world away. I chose the Philippines..
Any life worth living has an element of risk. By risk I do not mean that you have to jump out of an airplane or dive to the bottom of the sea. You do have to decide if you want to take steps towards following your dream knowing that it could mean hardship and failure, There is a scene in Death Of A Salesman when Willy Loman mentions that he once had a chance to go to Alaska. He never did and has regretted it ever since. That scene has haunted me.Willy is a man who decided not to follow his dream. Every one’s life is marked by dreams, some simple, some difficult. A life hiding from dreams is a life not worth living. I have had two dreams since I was young, to write and to travel. To date, I have written four novels, several short stories and a cluster of essays. None of these have been published but I continue to write. Why write what no one will read? Maybe someone will, but more important I write because I have to. If I do not I feel incomplete. .
Another dream that I have held since I was young was to travel. It has led me across Africa, Asia and Europe. It led me to the woman who became my wife. Now it has led me here. If I do not survive this trip, so be it. No regrets. So I sit in a house I thought I would never get back too and I write this essay. In March I will return to Canada. Whether I return to Baguio will depend on my health. At this stage in my life only the love between myself my wife and son is certain.. Hopefully they will do so again.n. Everything else could change. The winds of life brought me to the City of Storms. Hopefully they will do it again.