Street sweepers, mostly women, work all afternoon to clear dust and ash from the winding road leading up to the People’s Park In The Sky, one of the attractions in Tagaytay City that offers a top view of the elevated city.
This is only a temporary gig for them but a necessary one so they can return to their usual means of living--mostly selling fruits, sweets, or souvenirs at the park.
“Kung walang pupunta dito, kawawa naman po kami. Wala kaming alam na hanapbuhay kundi ito lang po,” said Marby Ramos, one of the sweepers who until the eruption sold espasol, a sweet rice cake.
Workers displaced from affected spots like the People’s Park have a vested interest as the city tries to win back tourists following the eruption of Taal Volcano.
Around half of the establishments in the city have reopened since January 18, when the city allowed them to despite a closure order by the national government.
Among them are private theme parks like Sky Ranch.
Local government-managed spaces like the People’s Park are the next targets for resuming operations.
The Tagaytay City tourism office plans to have the People’s Park open on the first weekend of February.
Dozens of displaced park employees donned masks, long-sleeved shirts, and jackets and wielded shovels and brooms to remove the ash buildup.
Vendor Danica Garay said it was better than staying at home waiting for the reopening.
“Mahirap din, pero extra eh. May bayad naman ito,” she said, referring to their employment under the city’s cash-for-work scheme.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
Another publicly owned attraction, the Tagaytay Picnic Grove, could take until the middle of February before reopening.
The park has already put up signs saying “Business as usual” and allowed visitors to come in without paying an entrance fee.
Meixu and her brother Meicheng dropped by with their parents while on a layover in Manila before flying to Bohol.
The US-based Chinese family is attending a wedding of friends which was originally scheduled to be held at a spot in Tagaytay facing Taal Volcano but was changed to Bohol after the eruption.
Since it was their first time in the Philippines, they still decided to check out the tourism and wedding events hub.
“This is a very beautiful area and we didn't expect it to be possible to visit here again after the eruption,” said Meicheng.
They also saw parallels between the situation of Filipinos reeling from the Taal eruption and their countrymen in China who are dealing with the 2019 Novel coronavirus.
“I feel comfortable both of our countries want to help each other no matter the disease or the volcano. But we also try to help each other,” Meixu said.
The city tourism office said Picnic Grove’s size made it difficult to clean quickly compared to the People’s Park in the sky.
Aside from the vista of Taal Volcano, park visitors also come for activities like zip line and horseback riding.
Horse caretakers have had to take on the cleaning jobs to pay for their daily needs while getting their horses ready for the reopening.
One of them, Jayson Parra, said they had to beg for fresh grass at a subdivision in Alfonso, Cavite, one town away, since the ones that grew in the city had been covered with ash.
The caretakers also had to scrounge for water to bathe the animals with, since they had to be cleaned of the ash daily.
“Diyan kami halos lumaki at diyan kami nakatapos ng pag-aaral sa kabayo,” Parra said.
Livelihoods like Parra’s that depend on tourism make it more crucial for the city to return to a semblance of normalcy.
A two-hour trip south of Metro Manila, Tagaytay before the eruption was an accessible and literally cool getaway for city folk with a daytime view to boot.
City tourism officer Jelanne Mendoza admits their challenge now is getting these visitors to return and assure them it is safe.
“Magco-convene ulit ang tourism council para malaman ang effects ng eruption sa kanila (establishments) and para ma-uplift ang tourist arrivals namin sa Tagaytay,” she said.
Philippine economic officials earlier said the eruption would not be enough to derail the country’s growth.
Many Tagaytay establishments used the two-week lull in business to catch up on renovations before opening on February 1.
Mendoza said city hall hopes to see all the local establishments reopen by the first or second week of February.
The city’s appeal to tourists is mirrored by vendors like Marby.
“Sana po sa mga turista na nagpupunta dito, huwag silang matakot,” she said.