Friday, October 26, 2012

Halsema Highway Horror

Halloween is creeping around the corner.

Been lying in bed for days, impaired by the sniffles. While I impatiently wait for our flight out of schizo-weathered Sydney on Monday, I hang around my Facebook account's news feed, swarmed by spooky improvised walker costumes and even spookier ghost stories from people who claim to have the third eye. I haven't had a paranormal encounter myself, but I got an equally terrifying untold true story.

Vista from the viewing deck at the highest point of the Philippine highway system.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story... Halsema Highway Horror. Okay, so you guys go "What the heck is the Midnight Society?" cause you're from a different era or from outer space. Well I tell you, that society rocks. At least twenty years ago.

Invited to witness a traditional ceremony in Sagada, day before the accident.

I am starting off with a light tone, but my story is anything but. And it begins at the end of our Sagada trip in March last year. I hired a van at the last minute, as requested by my sis-in-law. Fished the contact number off a random homemade poster pasted on a souvenir shop's wall. Two days prior, we arrived at this quaint municipality aboard a rusty bus from Baguio City. Because the sis-in-law and her beau (who came all the way from Australia) were on a short vacay, they preferred swifter and stress-free modes of transport. And a Lizardo Bus is definitely not one of them.

Long drive from Sagada to Baguio. Speaking of Halloween, may Luna's adorable, bewildered look steer your eyes away from her father's horrifying mustache.

Our driver picked us up from the guesthouse and helped us pile our backpacks in the van's rear compartment area. Our minds were clouded with jovial memories of this whirlwind trip. Sis-in-law, who's a geologist by profession, was still raving about the caves. Her beau, who was then traveling Southeast Asia for the first time, adored the local handicraft so much that he hoarded bulols/bululs in assorted sizes. Even a serpent-shaped cane that later became a cumbersome hand carry. And for the hubby and I, well, we were simply happy to revisit with our six-month-old infant Luna.

Flashing uneasy smiles. Behind these folks, our ill-fated ride.

One by one we scrambled into the van. Simultaneously, we all put our feet up even before the engine roared. Already we were savoring the luxuriousness of an ordinary, hired van. Our crammed tummies (thanks to an early morn trip to Yoghurt House for our nth Hiker's Delight) signaled, we need not make stops any time soon. Except, a quickie obligatory pictorial at the highest point of the Philippine highway system in Atok, Benguet. It was gonna be the ninth time that I'm passing through zigzaggin' Halsema Highway, and I didn't want to miss the chance of actually stepping on it.  

Our driver and the victim's parents, settling to an agreement.

I positioned myself on the front seat so there's plenty of space on the second row for our daughter to have a full horizontal slumber. The hubby's mostly assigned in holding our daughter during rides because we assume that he can grip our daughter tighter than I could in case yah know, the driver hits the brakes unexpectedly. I immensely enjoyed my seat for I had unobstructed views of the mountain range. The driver and I barely chattered, we let ourselves succumb to our private thoughts.

Lutheran Hospital.

About an hour into our drive, we were cruising by a cluster of modest houses perched atop cliffs. It must have been around eleven in the morn, I had (and still have) no idea where we were, but the highway seemed busy on both lanes. Up ahead I caught sight of kids playing by the highway, and what happened in the next few seconds was one of the scariest moments in my life! I watched, in horror, one of the girls sprint across the highway. She made it halfway safely for she saw the truck on her left, but she did not see us coming. The truck that just passed was so massive that it concealed our approaching van. We appeared from her blindside.

As a fellow mum, I felt the pain of the victim's mother.

 The driver saw her too and skillfully stepped on the brakes in a manner that didn't send us all flying out of our seats. We didn't crash into her. But she crashed into us. The loud thud produced by her head hitting the corner of our bumper dispatched a chill up my spine. I remember seeing her being thrown off a couple of meters, seemingly in slow motion. She landed on the concrete pavement and rolled twice. When she came to a stop, her face was towards us with eyes half open. I feared for the worst.

Shortly after, her parents ran towards her motionless body. The mom shook her vigorously. In her eyes I saw a longing for the faintest response. I felt out of breath. The driver, still recovering from his own shock, managed to find his voice. "Dalhin natin sa ospital (Let's bring her to the hospital)!", he shouted at the top of his lungs. The dad carried the girl in his arms and hopped in the van, the mom hurriedly followed.

Although we were all shook up, we still did that stop.

To everyone's relief, the girl began to cry as we rushed to a not-so nearby hospital. A few drops of blood trickled from her mouth, but no cut was visible on her head. She had scratches too on her arms and legs, but none of them required stitching. We worried about internal hemorrhage. The drive to the hospital felt way too long, but it could have just lasted half an hour (as suggested by the timestamp on my photos). The girl was rushed to the emergency room and was advised to undergo an X-ray exam. Meanwhile a policeman was called upon to settle the case.

The girl's parents didn't file a complaint, and our driver volunteered to shoulder the medical expenses (which hopefully was cheaper than the amount we paid for the van). Never learned about the X-ray result, but before we left the hospital, the doctor said her vitals looked alright. I might have exclaimed Hallelujah! in my mind.

Everyone lived to fight another day.


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Ding Fuellos said...
October 28, 2012 at 10:33 PM

That was scary, indeed!

It happened to us in Camiling, on our way to Bolinao for a staff outing. the mother and child appeared from behind the bus they rode while the other office car approached. Then it happened. The worst thing is, I had to be the one in charge of the hospitalization of my officemates and the mother and child, and--sadly--the girl's funeral--choosing the coffin and all--and all the negotiations with the family. Good thing they are Ilocano and I was able to handle it well.

doi said...
October 28, 2012 at 10:39 PM

that was indeed one scary ride! i hope nothing serious happened to the girl. sana din alert mga parents and to remind their kids never to play on or near the road to prevent accidents like that one. good thing di din kayo tumilapon sa bangin or something. ;o)

Sky Summer said...
October 28, 2012 at 10:59 PM

If I just read the headlines, I would have thought of another ghost story encounter on the highway, that your driver stop by and have that ghost ride in your van. lol

I hope the little girl had recovered now. Your van driver had a good soul. God bless Him. Good thing all of you were safe.

Have a safe trip!

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
October 28, 2012 at 11:00 PM

I wouldn't want to choose a stranger's coffin... *sniff* What a harrowing experience, Ding!

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
October 28, 2012 at 11:03 PM

Doi, true. Their play area's too hazardous!

Shie said...
October 28, 2012 at 11:23 PM

ooh scary indeed! but God is really good, it would have been disastrous for all the rest had the driver panicked and hit the break too hard. I hope the girl is in better shape now.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
October 28, 2012 at 11:47 PM

Oh yes! For a split second, I feared for my daughter's life too :(

Turista Trails said...
October 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM

god bless you all. what you experienced was something we all dread as travelers.

Lakbay Diva said...
October 29, 2012 at 12:05 AM

oohhh that's really terrible! poor kid. :( it must be terrible for you guys to be in the van, too.

Gabz said...
October 29, 2012 at 12:12 AM

What a scary experience! While I was reading this I was expecting for the worst but good lord it didn't end in tragedy, with no lives lost.

Gabe Mitra said...
October 29, 2012 at 12:17 AM

This kind of incident is so familiar to me. It happened to us as well when mama and I are on our way to Tarlac. We were riding at tita Fe's van. Same thing, blind side also... we rushed the kid to the hospital as well... good thing nothing really bad happened to the kid..

evan kristine said...
October 29, 2012 at 2:23 AM

holy crap, that would scare the living shit out of me if that incident ever happen to me or to anyone close to me! (we are planning to visit sagada next year when i come home for a visit, btw) my goodness, that must have been so terrifying for the parents! i have been in a car accident when i was a child. i was in the back seat and my sister was driving and there were other passengers in the car too-- including my brother's infant boy. the accident totaled the car; few broken bones for my sister and a huge wound on my face. nothing happened to the rest of the passangers thankfully. we both got injured mostly because we weren't wearing our seat belts, a filipinos horrible driving habit.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
October 29, 2012 at 5:57 AM

Gabz, ah yes. We feel really blessed.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
October 29, 2012 at 5:59 AM

Gabe, ack! Mum told me that kwento!

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
October 29, 2012 at 6:02 AM

Evan Kristine, true. Plus we pack too much people in vehicles, that not everyone actually gets a seatbelt.

Recalling this incident made me realize how important infant child seats are.

Wends of Journeys and Travels said...
October 29, 2012 at 8:40 AM

Scary moment this was and I am grateful you are all ok after the accident.

God speed Gay. Nakakatakot talaga whenever kids play on the road.

Adelle said...
October 29, 2012 at 9:15 AM

that was indeed a scary experience! wouldn't want that to happen to anyone. i'm traveling with my baby in January and now I'm having second thoughts...

Christian | Lakad Pilipinas said...
October 29, 2012 at 11:39 AM

Kala ko horror stories, like white ladies and whatnots, pero this is equally hair-raising. Buti na lang the kid's alright.

kim buenafe said...
October 29, 2012 at 10:00 PM

highway horror, i say. really scary thing to happen. i remember last week we almost encountered the same incident as this one. the kid suddenly crossed the street after the car in front us. good thing my uncle has good driving skills.

Ian | Going Places said...
October 29, 2012 at 10:11 PM

Good thing hindi naman kayo lumusot sa bangin dahil sobrang tarik ng mga daan sa Benguet at buti walang nangyari sa bata.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
October 30, 2012 at 12:57 AM

Christian, haha! Yeah, the title's kinda misleading especially since I mentioned Halloween.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
October 30, 2012 at 1:02 AM

Kim, oh thank goodness nothing happened to you guys too!

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
October 30, 2012 at 1:05 AM

Ian, yesss! I thought about that, and gosh... How terrifying that would be.

Rene Leandro Padilla said...
October 30, 2012 at 5:36 AM

Scary experience it is. Good thing ok lang kau.

SunnyToast said...
October 30, 2012 at 6:30 AM

Indeed scary experience! Good thing everyone of you is okay. A real story of a traveler.

Ryan Mach said...
October 31, 2012 at 5:56 AM

Nice story build-up. I thought I'd read about ghosts but it freaked me out just the same. I'm glad you guys were safe.

Kura said...
November 4, 2012 at 3:38 PM

grabe! alam mo habang nagkkwento ka, para akong hihikain. hahah! Ang galeng ng pagkakakasulat mo. pwede ka ng writer ng kilabot komiks. hihihi! meron pa ba nun?

buti naman everyone's ok. hindi talaga maiiwasan ang ganyan. whew!

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
November 4, 2012 at 8:05 PM

Hahaha! Kilabot komiks talaga? :D

The Nomadic Pinoy said...
November 5, 2012 at 6:53 AM

uh! Halsema Highway is one highway too tight for 2 cars to pass each other. Thank God the girl was OK at the time you guys left. In many western countries, lawsuits after the fact would seem to be the order of the day.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
November 5, 2012 at 10:10 AM

I'm pretty happy with how they came to an agreement. I was on the front seat so I certainly know that we didn't hit the girl. I'd be very, very sad if the driver went to jail.

Lienor Luv-yza said...
January 31, 2013 at 10:25 AM

that is the highway of touching home... sorry for the horrible
driving habit...

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