Bacolod City, the Philippines
April 17, 2011
I walked amongst the dead.
Every morning of my childhood, the gaping gate of the public cemetery would greet me. I lived in a house directly across it. My first parade was a funeral procession, my first live band music a dirge. My neighbors across the street were stacked in cement boxes painted white, guarded by frozen angels and adorned with melted candle wax and wilted flowers.
On week days, I would trudge to the street corner to take a jeepney to school. Locals called the intersection bangga patyo (Ilonggo for “cemetery corner”) for the graves surrounding it. The public cemetery and private mausoleums were kitty-corner from each other. In the middle of the street lay the Familia Luzuriaga Cemetery, flanked by rows of frangipani trees.
Popularly accorded the distinction of being “the only cemetery at the intersection of two highways” by the Guinness Book of World Records, the private cemetery of the Luzuriaga family occupied the center island of Lopez Jaena Street, perpendicular to Burgos Street. I never saw the location as odd or unique. I thought the middle of the street was a customary place to inter the dead. Only recently had I learned of its claim to fame; though I had never been able to verify it. The distinction was not far-fetched; Bacolod was known for its wide streets (apparently wide enough to fit a cemetery).
The general belief was that the graveyard preceded the street. In the early days of Bacolod’s urban sprawl, the family donated plots of land to the city government, but a proposed street would have to cut through the family graveyard. Rather than moving the graves, city officials decided to split the street. Thus, the one-of-a-kind feature of my hometown, and my childhood, came to be.
Coming home from school in the afternoons, I would get off at bangga patyo. Met by the fragrance of frangipani trees, I knew I was close to home. In my culture, the strong perfume of frangipani flowers was believed to protect the spirit of the dead. I never ascribed such power to this flower, but its scent would always take me back to my childhood, my daily walk amongst the dead. Sometimes I thought how it was to join my silent neighbors on the other side of the street.
I wondered if it would feel like coming home – making that final turn around bangga patyo.
This post is my entry to the October 2011 edition of the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ blog carnival with the theme “dark tourism” and hosted by The Pinay Solo Backpacker.