Riding Pillion to BU-DA

The middle seat in the back row of a car is informally called “the bitch seat” for a reason. The British call it the pillion, though it’s used more to refer to the second seat of a horse saddle, bicycle, or motorcycle. It’s a less vulgar, more sophisticated way of describing a most uncomfortable spot. And it was on our family road trip to the border of Bukidnon and Davao (BU-DA) that I discovered just how unforgiving riding pillion or riding bitch was. It’ll be worth it, my aunt said. It’s cold and isolated there. You’ll love it.

The entire drive took about seven hours, including a two-hour stopover for lunch. The bitch seat, as I’ve previously mentioned, is the seat with no headrest; the seat where you have to sit with your knees apart because of the awkward hump in the middle of the chair; the one where your butt gets unceremoniously poked by the seat belt buckle even after you’ve wedged it in between the cushions. I never sat on the bitch seat. Ever. But when you’re in the same row as your mom and aunt, it’s only polite to offer yourself as tribute. So for the duration of our drive I sat with my knees apart, buckle against my butt, and my neck hanging off to one side or another when I dozed off. This “Baguio of the South” better be worth it, I thought.

We left my aunt’s house at 10 in the morning and stopped at Pine Hills Hotel about an hour and a half later for lunch. This small establishment is owned by a retired couple who often travel out of the country to visit their children. The wife owns a small boutique, where she sells different things she brings home from her travels. My aunt and uncle had travelled that way often enough that the owners already knew who they were, so our purchases at her boutique were given a “friendly discount.” There wasn’t much to see in their area, but I reckoned it was the kind of place people would travel to just to get away for a day or two.

The view from Cicada Hills.

The plan was to have a light lunch, an excuse for everyone to get out of the cramped space of my uncle’s Trail Blazer. Mind you, our family never eats any meal lightly, so what was supposed to be a lunch of appetizers turned out to be three whole courses; stuffed was an understatement. Thank God I had decided to pack only the pants that stretched. Afterward, all I could think about were the packs of wagyu steaks in the trunk waiting to be cooked that evening. I hoped I’d have enough room.

We set off for the road again right after lunch, and a few minutes later my uncle declared that we were only one hour away from the cabin we had rented for the night. Yes!, I thought. I’ll finally be free of the bitch seat.

Here’s the thing: When someone tells you that you’re an hour away from anywhere and this person is not Waze, don’t believe them. The one hour that it was supposed to take from Pine Hills Hotel to our accommodation suddenly tripled, and when I woke up expecting to find the car parked and ready to be unloaded, I was fairly surprised (and equal parts dismayed) that the highway was nowhere near its end. By this time, I was sure that the seat belt buckle had done some kind of permanent damage to my behind.

The view from Cicada Hills.

I asked my uncle where we were already, and he replied, once again, that we were only an hour away. Time-telling sure is different here in the province, quipped my mom, while the rest of the car howled in laughter at my uncle’s trusty time-keeping skills. Looks like it’s just me and the bitch seat for now, I thought.

We stopped again after an hour to smoke and buy more cigarettes and a bag of baboy damo meat that my uncle wanted to cook that evening. Not long after, we reached Cicada Hills, a small group of cabins along the BU-DA highway. At that point, all I could think about was peeling myself off of the pillion. And I did just that the moment my uncle parked the car. Good bye and good riddance, bitch seat!

Trees surrounding Cicada Hills.

If you ask me where exactly we were, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. I just know that the place is along the highway, and it’s called Cicada Hills. There were no flashy signs at its entrance, no banners telling guests to stop and take a look at their accommodations. There was only a plaque card which was small enough for passersby to miss. It was, for all intents and purposes, completely secluded. According to the caretakers, the venue was only promoted through word-of-mouth recommendations, making it somewhat exclusive to certain groups of people. No wonder the lady at check-in kept asking my aunt where she had heard of it. Were you invited by someone?, she asked. Who told you about us? No one had invited my aunt and uncle; they had seen the small sign while staying at the larger, more commercial resort just across and decided, on a whim, to venture in.

I dropped my bag in the living room of our rented apartment, looked out the large glass windows, and marveled at how high up in the mountain we were. It’s not that I’d never seen a similar view; it was more that I was relieved to finally be somewhere people wouldn’t be able to find me so easily. The area was far enough that cell towers hadn’t infiltrated it yet. This wasn’t like Baguio at all. Rather, it was Baguio before the influx of commercial establishments. I couldn’t blame the owner for wanting to keep its existence hush hush. Best not to let civilization in.

The exterior of a cabin at Cicada Hills.

The room we had rented was right at the edge of whatever mountain we were currently situated atop. It overlooked a number of other neighboring peaks full of lush pine trees. It smelled just like how I imagined Christmas as shown in movies; the cold made the experience even more comparable. After settling in, I sat in one of the huts beside the other cabins. It was a liberating activity—to sit around doing absolutely nothing. I have to do this more often, I told myself. And for the rest of the afternoon, I stayed in that same position. Don’t ask me if I literally just sat there staring into space; I don’t exactly remember. Long after the sun had set, my dad finished grilling the steaks and baboy damo, and called us in for dinner.

Bench at one of Cicada Hills’ courtyards.

And as we sat at the table, grilled meat positioned at the center, I realized that I hadn’t seen my family in so much ease for a long time. We spent the rest of our solo night at Cicada Hills that way—grilling wagyu steaks and baboy damo; drinking God knows how many beers and bottles of wine; sitting in the cool air while talking about how the holidays hadn’t been that peaceful in a while; and wishing that every Christmas vacation could be spent in the same kind of tranquility.

Yes, I thought. This was definitely worth the seven-hour trip on the bitch seat.





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