From Baguio to Baguionas and Back
A Virginia Baptist in the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines
By Bob Munson
(This was written in 2005… 10 years ago. Reminds me of how little I knew back then,… but still a good read.)
The rickety old jeepney drove along a deeply rutted dirt road, working along the side of a mountain. Every jolt caused the vehicle to give off disquieting popping and cracking sounds and sway disturbingly. I was packed in like a proverbial sardine with 18 others (and some chickens). Further, an unknown number were on the back fender, on top with all of the luggage and medical supplies, and on the front hood. When the cliff was on my side, I felt panic when the jeepney lurched toward it. When the cliff was on the other side, I felt somehow safer when the jeepney lurched that way. It occurred to me that that did not make sense since, either way, we would tumble hundreds of feet to our deaths. I sensed there was a good spiritual truth in it, but I could not settle my mind to think it through. I kept wondering if the driver had computed the change in the center of gravity of the vehicle due to the big load on top. To add to the concern, I was the team leader– I was responsible for everyone being there.
Celia, myself, and our three children left Virginia in 2004, supported from Spring Hill Baptist of Ruckersville, to study at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary in Baguio, and involve ourselves in outreach mission work. Soon we were involved in medical evangelistic missions. Celia, myself, and our 10-year-old son Joel, have done several trips, but this one I was by myself. This trip was a joint effort of Spring Hill and two Philippine churches: Calvary Baptist, Baguio City, and Blessed Hope Christian, Cavite. We left Baguio around 4AM. Baguio is THE city in the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). With over a quarter of a million residents living at 1-mile elevation, it has several universities and hospitals. Most in Baguio speaks English, along with Ilokano and Tagalog. And it has the surest sign of prosperity in the Philippines—an SM Mall.
Baguionas is maybe 30 miles away “as the crow flies”, 3 hours away (minimum) in driving, and a lifetime away in style and pace. It is tucked into a mountain valley that is ALMOST inaccessible. During rainy season, it can only be reached on foot (and helicopter?). A few dozen families live as subsistence farmers and broommakers in simple houses, without electricity, surrounded by terraced rice paddies. There is a small school with lodging for the teachers (commuting is not an option). There is one “sari-sari” store. Food and lodging can be had from individual families.
We left in a bus and two cars toward Naguilian. The road twists and turns as it descends 1 mile in elevation. I had to ask to stop when my motion sickness pill failed to do its job. Naguilian is a provincial town. The open market provides a place for people in the surrounding region to buy and sell. Adjacent to the open market are the videokes (video karaoke bars) for people to spend their money. Most of the team transferred to two jeepneys. Jeepneys (somewhere between a bus and taxi) are everywhere in the Philippines. The back is enclosed with two long benches. They are amazingly versatile and many are ornately decorated beautifying the Philippine landscape. However, our jeepneys were not pretty. These were the Baguionas jeepneys– beat-up survivors, with high wheel clearance, four-wheel drive, and an engine with gearing to go wherever roads run.
<Continued in Part 2>