Dawn was slowly starting to arrive as we neared the mountains of the northern Philippines. I had been riding in this mini van for almost six hours at this point and thought I was going to grow roots into the seat. We started up the mountain and the van immediately slowed down to a slow crawl. I had thoughts of getting out and walking beside the van to stretch my legs but thought it might be insulting to the owner of the van to have me walking beside it while the pedal was pressed to the floor.
Off to the left was a shear drop off into the river below and to the right was the blunt face of a cliff with not much room in between where we were. I decided to lighten the mood by sarcastically asking if this was the type of vehicle that we always read about in the American newspapers that were plunging off cliffs killing the occupants. Instead of a knowing laughs, my hosts merely nodded and pointed to the upcoming curve and told me that a van had plunged off there last week. My stomach dropped as I fell back into silence. Later on I would actually see a wrecker truck winching the twisted remains of a vehicle from the side of the mountain and piling up the pieces along side the road.
The van I was in was one of those noseless vehicles where access to the engine was in between the driver and passenger seats. Soon smoke began to curl up through the crack in the access panel but nobody seemed to care since the windows were already down. Peering through the smoke filling the interior of the van, I noticed that there was also smoke ahead outside of the van. Only when we got closer did I realize that I was actually seeing huge clouds of steam. On small pull offs on both sides of the roads, vehicles were lined up. On the other side of the road, the vehicles heading down the mountain were all stopped and people were hosing down their brakes at a natural spring creating huge clouds of steam as the water hit the red hot rotors. On my side of the road where the vehicles heading up the mountain were pulled off, the drivers were filling up the radiators from the same spring also releasing clouds of hot steam. There was also a good business for oil and our driver added two quarts to the engine and topped the radiator with water before we headed onward leaving the steam clouds behind.
The trip up the mountain ground on and at times it seemed impossible to tell if we were heading forwards or backwards due to the slow speed of travel. But the driver kept at it only stopping twice more for radiator water and once for more oil which must have underwent a complete oil transfusion by the time we reached the top. The road followed the river up the mountain occasionally driving under a waterfall or crossing a rivulet coming into the main river channel. The sun was well in the air when by the time we reached the top and we entered the town proper.
Baguio City, Philippines which has a population of a quarter of a million people, was sprawled out on the mountain ridges, peaks and valleys all before me. I would later learn from experience, that there isn't a straight or flat road in all of Baguio. If you were standing on any street, you were by default standing on a curve and the road was heading uphill or downhill. At one particular point, the road only six or so feet wide, went uphill following a knife ridge that dropped off almost straight down on both sides. Every time I passed this point heading uphill, all I could see out the windows was sky and lots of it giving the impression that one was in some sort of mini van airplane that was taking off at the pace of a slow walk.
Finally, we reached the home of my fiance's parents attached to the side of a cliff. From the road that passed by ten feet in front of the house, it was only about 20 paces to the far side of the house where from the balcony at road level, I could look down some 50 feet into the valley below. At least the floors were flat.