Signs of recovery

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - November 13, 2020 - 12:00am

Catanduanes after Super Typhoon Rolly looks like Eastern Samar after Super Typhoon Yolanda. Calabarzon and Metro Manila, meanwhile, have been among the hardest hit by Typhoon Ulysses.

And weather forecasters expect from three to five more cyclones before the end of this year that’s truly turning into annus horribilis from start to finish, with Taal Volcano erupting in January and COVID wreaking havoc for the rest of the year.

Maybe we’ve been too busy dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, but we’ll have to focus again on typhoon preparedness. People seemed to ignore the Signal No. 3 for Ulysses in Metro Manila. The wind and rain in the mega capital region were heavier than during the onslaught of the more powerful Typhoon Rolly, when I wanted to sing “Silent Night” in the eerie, rain-free stillness.

I was watching a horror movie when everything went pitch-black at around 2 a.m. yesterday. The power was restored only at noon. It’s taking longer for other areas especially those hit by torrential flooding. Fortunately, our generator from the days of regular blackouts is still working. But we can’t go back to those days of darkness.

Ulysses comes at a tough time for the places that are just starting to recover from the long-term devastation caused by COVID.

*      *      *

Last Saturday, for the first time since the lockdowns, I became a tourist again and visited Tagaytay. Without traffic, it’s just an hour’s drive from my home, but I didn’t relish going through the lockdown checkpoints of the previous months.

Since the checkpoints were lifted some weeks ago, I’ve been told that visitors had started trickling back to Tagaytay. There was a moderate traffic buildup in some areas in Cavite when I drove up Saturday – mostly around shopping malls, supermarkets and the Silang plant dealers’ area, where vendors were selling flower arrangements for the dead. With the end of the Undas cemetery closures, people were visiting their dearly departed in the three cemeteries (one for pets) in Silang and buying the flower arrangements. Plus the plantitos and plantitas were out in full force for the weekend.

I preferred to buy my potted plants in Tagaytay’s Mahogany market. Nothing with an eye-watering price tag – I just needed dayap (lime) and dwarf tamarind for my cooking, plus a garlic vine to ward off snakes (and maybe aswang).

I also bought beef for bulalo and tawilis from Taal Lake. It was good to see a good-sized mask-wearing crowd at the wet market, and people were mindful of physical distancing.

In fact there was a good-sized crowd everywhere in the city – no longer just sightseeing, but daring to dine in. Dusk came early, and as darkness spread, the lights came on, showing cafes and restaurants with people dining inside and many cars parked outside.

There was heavy traffic along the main road in the direction away from Manila. Were they all headed for dinner in Tagaytay, or farther away in Batangas?

It’s a great time to visit Tagaytay for those who like cool weather and miss Baguio City.

Earlier in the afternoon, after shopping in Mahogany, I looked for native coffee and decided to try a place with an appropriate name: Kapeng Mainit. It was just the fourth or fifth time since the start of the lockdowns that I’ve tried dining in.

It turned out to be a pleasurable experience. The brewed Batangas barako coffee was excellent and so was the salami-pepperoni pizza. The whole wheat loaf had just emerged from the oven.

The café is within the Ronamar bed and breakfast complex with a lovely garden setting. The bracing cold weather allowed the restaurant to do away with air-conditioning. It was heartening to see a continuing stream of customers but no crowding at the tables marked for social distancing.

*      *      *

Kapeng Mainit has all the elements needed to inspire confidence about on-site dining in the time of COVID: no air-conditioning but with good indoor ventilation and al fresco options, neat and efficient personnel, a clean environment, a uniquely attractive setting, and of course good food.

Obviously that environment is not possible for many restaurants. I’m also not sure about public confidence in checking into hotels at this time. Ronamar has reopened for business. Maybe some of those motorists entering Tagaytay planned to stay at the B&B for the weekend.

The Department of Tourism has given the green light for the resumption of operations of over 7,200 accommodation establishments nationwide – 1,303 in the Calabarzon – that have passed the stringent COVID health requirements. As we have seen from photos and video footage, the hotels use ultraviolet devices for disinfection of newly washed and pressed linen and other room items.

People with the travel bug, however, continue to worry not only about contracting the coronavirus in strange rooms but also of transmitting the virus to household members who might have comorbidities. That worry will persist in the absence of a vaccine or cure for COVID.

The news about Pfizer’s COVID vaccine, with over 90 percent efficacy, has been celebrated worldwide. It’s Pfizer, after all; if it can produce Viagra, it can develop a safe and effective COVID vaccine.

Most people, however, will prefer to wait for the vaccine to become widely available. That means about six more months of tempering our travel bug.

Still, that weekend crowd in Tagaytay was an encouraging indication that more people are willing to travel again. Unless another powerful typhoon drenches the cheer, we might yet enjoy a merry Christmas, and the year can end on a hopeful note.

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