Me: If you’re only joining us now, we’re down to four finalists – OMG I’m so excited – and one of these lovely ladies will be crowned the Next Destination Award!
Me again: That is sooo true! We started with 15 and whittled them down to 4.
Me: – it was so competitive! –
Me again: – Ay grabe. And there they go, all the non-winners are cheering the finalists from the bottom of the refrigerator, where they’re all hanging together.
Me: The criteria cannot be more intense, as tight social distancing, hygiene, ease of commute, budget, where to stay, plus this asterisk-inang heat, are all taken into consideration.
Me again: Yes, yes, yes, my Lord and Savior this heat, this Corona veerus, this 22.5 sq.m cramped unit that now feels like a prison for one. Hashtag I-need-to-break-free. You’ll end up talking to yourself.
Me: Mismo, girl. Um. Here we go. The Final Q and A. First up is Miss Tagaytay. Such a reliable magnet, this girl. Come up, dear.
Me again: You’ve done well, hija.
Miss Tagaytay: Thank you so much! I’ve held on to your bills, your reminders, I feel I deserve to be here –
Me: – Wait. Let’s talk Taal volcano.
Miss Tagaytay: I can assure you that threat levels are –
Me again: – are still as real as COVID-19. Please step down. How did you even make it here? [eyeroll]
Miss Tagaytay: But, but…
Me: Reality is harsh, Mars. [Softy pats Tagaytay on the back] Maybe next time.
[Audible collective “Awww” from the non-finalists.]
Me again: Next up is Miss Laguna. But let me stop you right there, Miss.
Me: I know what you’re thinking, Cyst. [Sigh] Laguna springs, in this boiling heat? Sasali ba tayo ng suicide note writing contest?
Miss Laguna: [Crying as she slides down the ref.]
Me again: Thank you so much, Miss Laguna! Isn’t this great? We’re down to two.
Me: Miss Pinatubo, come – wow you’re so fast – the judges, who are of one mind, literally, are united on this one. So sorry, but you don’t need to answer.
Me again: True, true. Why would anyone want to pass out during a trek at Mt Pinatubo? Dehydration and heat stroke are the new normal, di ba?
[Me and Me again suddenly look at Miss Baguio.]
Me again: [Looks at Me] Could it be?
[The non-finalists scream in unison, “Hoe mhay gahd!“, and cover their mouths and make small jumps and then hug each other and start chanting, “Baguio, Baguio, Baguio!”]
Me: Such energy from our audience! The coliseum is so alive! [Waits for chanting to die down.] Okay, so let’s ask her. Miss Baguio, hey, Miss, look at me, look at me, Miss. Tama na kaka wave. Why you?
Me again: Please remember, even though you’re the super final finalist, we can still withhold the crown. You have to meet the criteria.
Miss Baguio: In the – [covers her mouth, closes her eyes shut, is out of breath with happiness, but whispers, “Hoe mhay gahd“. A moment passes.] In the … in the immortal words of every water and juice vendor in Metro Manila, “Sa malameeg, sa malameeeeeg!“
[The crowd goes wild. Me and Me again wait for the waves of cheers to die down.]
Me: And she’s right. The summer capital of the country is blessed with cold –
Miss Baguio: – And it’s still COVID-19-free!
[Confetti rains all over the coliseum as everyone screams and Tan Tananan Tantan Tantaaaaan music plays in the background. We have a winner.]
Me again: [Wipes tears of joy.] Hashtag Goodbye-Infernal-Manila.
Me: Who would have thought you’d make it this far, di ba?
Me again: I think I speak for everyone when I say this, Congratulations, Miss Baguio. A well-deserved win.
[Audience claps and cheers.]
Miss Baguio: [Still crying, wiping confetti off her face as Me settles the crown on her head.]
Me: And now, please take the first walk of the winner as we discuss backstage where to stay in Baguio.
[Music plays on: “I learned the truth at seventeen, that love was meant for beauty queens…”]
Me and Me again gradually fade into a single I, and upon waking up my laptop, I saw in my browser that I had earlier searched for “hotels in Cebu“. But Miss Cebu didn’t make it to the finals. Maybe next year. So I Googled up “Budget hotel in Baguio City,” with preferred dates June 6 to June 7, 2020. I sift through the list, and settle for one that says “Premium”, is within budget (around P3,000), gives a 10% discount, and offers free WiFi, Satellite TV, clean washrooms, spotless linen, and complementary bottles of water. It’s also 5 kilometers away from other places I’d like to visit there. I check out the room photos. I’m hooked. I’m booked at RedDoorz Premium at Rimando Road, Baguio. Remember, wherever you may find yourself in the country, you can always look up “hotels near me” to find the nearest RedDoorz hotel.
I: [Looks at the sole ref magnet above the non-winners.] I”ll see you soon, girl.