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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

entry arrow2:47 PM | To Walk

If you remember a time when the cost of flagging down a tricycle was one wonderful peso, you will be forgiven when one day you just sputter and gag -- from utter disbelief -- at being asked by some random tricycle driver that the fare these days have risen exponentially, to compensate for the growing horrors of modern-day living. Getting anywhere a small town like Dumaguete apparently now costs you six not-so-wonderful pesos, up from just five early in the year.

Six pesos.

There's even a sinister ring to it, like the hiss of a snake.

The first time I was informed of this, it was at the end of a recent and very short ride between Silliman Campus, where I work, and Tubod, where I live. The distance between those two points can rightfully be considered ridiculous. The quintessential stone's throw away, so to speak. But I needed a ride: I had with me a bursting box full of another weekend's sulky promise of overwork -- the papers of my research classes which needed a good once-over and final grades. And it was a heavy load, backbreaking, and necessitated a ride. So I flagged down a tricycle, and of course barely two minutes later, I was at my door, fishing out a shiny five peso coin to the ready palms of a long-haired driver, someone with a shirt that pronounced to the world that "Nirvana Lives." But Nirvana Lives only shook his head, and with a studied shrug informed me that the fare was now six pesos.

"Six pesos?" I asked. I looked at Nirvana Lives with what must have been a very contemptuous look, something one reserved for dimwits or brazen embezzlers.

"Six pesos," he said -- the tone flat, like he had no care in this world, only that there was some small reordering of the universe and only he was aware of it. He sounded like the messiah of fare hikes.

Nirvana Lives ultimately pointed to a piece of paper, an official-looking letter taped to the metallic hood beneath his windshield Plexiglas, and then he said, "We just got that today." I looked. I looked at the document hard, like a lawyer looking for loopholes. There was no official insignia to the letter, just a dated announcement of a fare hike. And I found that I couldn't bring myself to argue with it, even with the deepest of my suspicions. It's easy enough to be suspicious of drivers. Once I was charged fifty pesos for a ride to Tubod from the airport -- but I had ferociously argued back and called that driver a "dumb ass," and gave him what for me was already a very generous fifteen pesos. This one though, my guts told me, was another story.

And so I just forked over another peso coin, my world sinking to a new low.

To think that I had always thought, all-too-naively perhaps, that five pesos was the ultimate ceiling for price hikes with regards public transportation in Dumaguete. Five pesos, after all, has a psychological, and monetary, finish to it. Five pesos. That figure, if you really think about it, was perfect: it didn't seem too low enough for us to begrudge drivers what everybody knew to be just compensation in increasingly hard times. (The price of oil, we know, have gone through the roof. Of course, prices had to go up.) But it didn't seem too high enough either for us to reel from certain shock. "Five" was perfect balance. It was also handy, necessitating only a singular coin to pass on from one's pocket to some driver's open palm.

Six, meantime, is a notch higher in the value scale. And necessitated one more coin to add to the round, singular material of a fiver. It is a travesty.

Which brings me to a resolution I have always meant to do in a life that's becoming too sedentary for comfort. The only recourse now is to forgo all the monetary inconvenience of tricycle-riding.

The thing to do now is to walk.

Walking saves you money. (Six pesos multiplied several times as one goes about the business of living a life can go far these days.) For the socially-conscious, it very well contributes to the growing need worldwide to conserve energy (even Malacanang -- with Bayani Fernando as figurehead of the movement, however ill-conceived it may appear -- is advocating it, alongside biking). And there's no doubt about it, walking is good for your health. Itfs good for your heart and your lungs. Doctors say it's good for the muscle and the bone growth of your children. And it makes you feel good as well, with all that endorphine rush making you feel like Superman. In 1913, George Trevelyan brought everything down to this truism: "I have two doctors, my left leg and my right."

My medical references tell me that walking reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, lowers blood pressure, reduces high cholesterol and improves blood lipid profile, reduces body fat and helps control body weight, enhances mental well-being, increases bone density (hence helping to prevent osteoporosis), reduces the risk of cancer of the colon, reduces the risk of non-insulin dependent diabetes, helps osteoarthritis, and helps flexibility and coordination, hence reducing the risk of falls. I have always known these to be true -- and I guess it took a fare hike to make me realize what a special thing walking can be.

Dumaguete, come to think of it, is an ideal place for walking -- for the most part, anyway, and most especially in the not-so-distant past when trees, with their promise of a natural shade, lined most roads. (Today, most of these trees have been stripped of their limbs and foliage. That, and the concretizing of Dumaguete's streets, has contributed to an almost unbearable increase in the heat that pervades the city. But that's another story.)

But walking the city is still something one can very well do. The place is small, after all. A popular line around town -- something we tell every visitor here -- goes that everything in Dumaguete is just five minutes away, by foot. Which is true. This is still a place where the pedestrian is king. Even traffic bows to the walking masses; take a close look at any intersection, and you can see all motorized contraptions made powerless by the crossing hordes.

Plus traffic has become something of a snarling headache in the city anyway. It would be very good to put many of these tricycles out of business. With a witless city government seemingly powerless to monitor them, they have become just too many in number, like cockroaches left to fester. And they have made what was once a quiet and clean city into a jungle of smoke-belching and incessantly grating noise. While the rest of the modern world is taking pains to reduce the number of motorized contraptions on their streets, we seem to be heading the opposite direction: we seem to love filling our streets with even the worst of gasoline-guzzling junk. In a CNN report two weeks ago, I learned that many European cities have made the move to relieve their streets with cars and other motorized vehicles. Some have gone to the extreme of offering free public transportation for a year to people willing to have their cars compacted in junkyards. The message seems to be that in a move to a responsible world, an abundance of motor vehicles is definitely out.

I agree. Hence, I walk.

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