Leaving Sagada before daybreak, I tiptoed downstairs to the unmanned reception counter, ridden by guilt from another alcohol-fueled sleep.
Sobriety would’ve reminded me to settle the hostel bill the night prior. But I wasn’t sober, and had to be on the first jeepney to Bontoc before fruit and vege sellers beat me to the terminal.
So I rushed back to the room upstairs, smoothed a crumpled 500-peso bill from my pocket and weighed it down on the table with the hostel room key and a thank you note to whoever found it in the morning.
Basketfuls of fresh produce stole my rightful place on top of the jeepney, as expected, so I sat inside. (My merciless, queer alter-ego wanted to add: I sat inside with normal humans devoid of poetry, missing the rare opportunity of a sunrise top-load selfie. I kid, of course.)
The trip, tracing the curves of the Halsema Highway and pockmarked with rice terraces, took around an hour. By the time I alighted in Bontoc, it was time for breakfast.
The perfect mountain province breakfast came in the form of freshly-baked pan de sal and a big mug of native coffee from a roadside carenderia. At only 14 php (30 cents USD) for a complete meal, it more than boosted my energy for the next jeepney ride to the more touristy Banaue.
True enough, my normal humans devoid of poetry morphed into United Nations: a pair of Danish travellers with life-sized backpacks; a tall, bespectacled Finnish uncle with a worn copy of Lonely Planet; the most beautiful French boy with messy hair and perpetually sun-kissed skin; and an English couple who never looked my way the entire trip, but I overheard talking about how they’d hired a car from Manila and had to leave it in Baguio upon learning of the perils of driving through the deadly Halsema. Also in on the ride were Mr. and Mrs. Cuizon, balikbayans from Canada, and their Tokyo-based son, Anthony.
I learned of all of the above in the almost 2-hour trip to Banaue— which included a 30-minute road mishap a few steps before the Highest Point of the Philippine Highway System signage, when one of our tires went flat.
While waiting, I saw an opportunity to take top-load selfies, so I did. Anthony joined in on the fun, and soon enough, we were taking turns striking obligatory Only in the Philippines top-load poses.
I had all the time in the world to walk to the “Highest Point” signage and claim at least a year’s worth of bragging rights. But that didn’t happen because I was distracted by the thought that, that Anthony boy was cute.
With that was the reckoning that while the blue-eyed Caucasian with sexy man bun catches my attention, it has and will always be the skinny, geeky Asian that holds it, undivided.
High-altitude musings aside, the Batman driver and his Robin eventually fixed the tire and we continued our journey to Banaue.
I couldn’t recall if I disembarked first or the Cuizons. What I remembered was while the driver was giving last-minute instructions on where to go from where, Anthony handed me a note with his email address on it. With it were the words, “met on the jeep from Bontoc to Banaue.”
We promised to exchange photos. But even right there and then, I knew I was to break the promise.
This post is part of a travel series featuring a six-week journey around my home country.