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Full Circle

Day 90: Baguio

Michael Palin - Full CircleAmbrosio Pelingen who also lives and works in the Lourdes grotto area is a very different character from José Segundo. Quieter, less flamboyant and, speaking English with ease and confidence, he reminds me of a rather liberal head-teacher. He's giving his psychic surgery free of charge today for the poorest of his patients and is quite happy for me, and our camera and microphone, to follow him as closely as we like. From six inches away I see his fingers manipulate the flesh until, with no perceptible sound of any kind, dark 'blood' (of a much more convincing shade and consistency than seen at Reverend Segundo's) begins to seep through the skin, and he appears to extract from the wound a small dark patch of tissue which he calls 'toxins'. But there is no wound and no cut in the flesh.

We leave the town in the early afternoon, our bus winding its way round long steep hairpins into a narrow gorge. Philippine history, they say, began with the Spaniards and ended with the Americans. These mountains of the north, with their thousand-year-old terraces and ancient forms of healing leave me with the impression of something more powerful, stretching much further back.

All roads lead to Manila, but agonizingly slowly. The reason for much of our delay today is the same as the reason why Great Britain had bad summers in 1991 and 1992 - Mount Pinatubo. The force with which this volcano erupted in June 1991 hurled ash and mud twenty-five miles into the air, high enough and thick enough for it to reach the band of cloud that circles the earth and to affect the weather all over the globe.

As night closes in, our bus passes eight or nine miles east of Pinatubo. Ash, like heavy winter snow, has submerged the fields on either side. We cross over a broad river whose course has been nearly throttled by larva flow. The water struggles through but the banks are stacked fifteen to twenty feet high with ash and mud, ghostly grey in the rising moonlight. A limping dog barks at us as the cars pass slowly south.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 90
  • Country/sea: Philippines
  • Place: Baguio
  • Book page no: 136

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