MANILA, Philippines - I must have been blinking. Just once did I get a good look at the famed island-within-a-lake-within-an-island-within-a-lake. Practically all the way from Sta. Rosa junction to the Batangas border is fence, roof, stall, shanty, eatery, or inn, mostly of the starless kind.
Once, the long Cavite highway abruptly ended and a breathtaking panorama suddenly sprung upon you-lake, volcano, mountains, fields of sunflowers and greenery all the way down to the water. On the same spot today are sad-looking shops and a dinky little opening.
The scenic route is no more, not even a single "Scenic Spot" viewpoint where you can stop, park, admire nature's gift, enjoy the breeze, pose, aim and shoot. No, you have to go up some joint and buy something to see the crater and take a photo.
Think of Big Sur and weep: the 140-kilometer stretch of Highway One along California's Pacific coast between San Luis Obispo and Carmel, with unobtrusive homes uphill or concealed downhill and not a billboard to distract from God's cypresses, rocky cliffs, sea, birds and sky.
Long-ago road planners obviously laid out Tagaytay highway to give stage center to the awesome landscape. The road diverged from the ridge for public facilities like Taal Vista Lodge (originally owned by the railroad company) and the picnic grove to be on the coveted view side. Town hall, market, Catholic church, were all on the opposite side.
I am told there once was a requirement for construction on the lake-view side to be low and down the slope to preserve the view from the ridge. Obviously the restriction has been lifted.
With the lake and volcano invisible to road-users, we have lost an incomparable scenic route, gained at best another food court, at worst an inconvenience. Seemingly for want of city streets, local business is transacted on the national highway, hence the notorious traffic bottleneck at Mendez junction.
Traffic people waving at vehicles probably help, but the real causes are highway-edge stalls, delivery vehicles loading and unloading, buyers stopping, pedestrians, tricycles on the lookout for passengers, cars parking or backing out, vehicles turning into or out of the Mendez road. I don't know what par for the course is, but it has taken me anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours to get past that corner during daytime. With rising population and business activity, the noose can only get tighter.
Not only that. Robinsons, SM and Cityland are building bulky 20-30-storey condominiums by the ridge. From Batangas across the Taal caldera and from Cavite, Laguna, Bataan, and maybe even Manila, you could wonder if the volcano is sprouting smokestacks.
There was a howl over labeling the volcano, "BATANGAS," those at Tagaytay picture windows being the most affected. The crawling caravans headed maybe for Old Taal and the (mostly) unspoiled shores of Anilao, Lian and Nasugbu see only eyesores, never the volcano, labeled or not. Most probably wouldn't care whatever any sign says, but they might stop and look were it to read "F*** YOU."
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