Last New Year’s weekend, my family and I joined my uncle in Baguio to have a relaxing vacation in the country’s official summer capital. We stayed in my uncle’s company house, a quaint house located in Brgy. Gabriela Silang overlooking a vast mountainside.
Baguio is also the official summer capital of the Philippines. It was in 1900 when the Americans began to climb Baguio and develop it into a modern city. It was in 1 June 1903 when the Philippine Commission proclaimed it as the summer capital. Soon, it would become the seat of the Cordillera Region’s administrative body and was the most accessible way for lowlanders to gain knowledge about the Northern tribes, the most famous ones being the Ifugaos and Ibalois.
Why do Filipinos like us troop to Baguio? Well, for the longest time, it is because of its cool weather. When we were there, it was around 12 degrees, a far cry from Metro Manila. But for so many generations before me, they also went to Baguio for another memorable thing: the scent and presence of Pine trees. It tickled the “colonial mentality” of Filipinos. The place, actually, reeked with American culture and vibe!
Many affluent Filipinos, and also, Catholic religious congregations, began purchasing large tracks of land in Baguio for their summer rest houses. There was picturesque Casa Vallejo (which is now a beautiful hostel) and to this day, people could still see notice the sign that leads to the Prieto Compound. To this day, convent school girls like Assumption and Saint Paul girls still have their retreats in the convents of their nuns in Baguio. The Jesuits have their villa, Mirador House (I don’t know if they will sell it!). Of course, there is The Mansion, the presidential rest house in the city.
Unfortunately, the “progress and development” of Baguio became unmonitored and unbridled, and I myself witnessed this. The smell of pine has been replaced by the pungent odor of diesel. The beautiful mountainsides have disappeared, and have been replaced by ugly structures, houses and establishments that were put up without any aesthetic appeal. Even Camp John Hay, which used to be exquisite when it was still under American management, has put up gaudy and despicable structures that do not blend well with the old green-and-white designs of older structures!
Luckily, during our trip, we visited places that were beautiful, memorable and really relaxing.
We visited the previously top military school in Asia, the Philippine Military Academy, where the father of my good friend is currently the superintendent. We were given an escorted tour and had lunch with the family of my friend, the PMA Superintendent included of course!
We also visited BenCab’s beautiful art museum that had collections of up-and-coming modernist artists, 19th and 20th century Philippine prints, erotica, and classic BenCab works. There was a cafe that opened to a manicured garden. Apparently, BenCab bought the entire mountainside to maintain the beauty and aesthetics of his gallery. Unfortunately, the museum is not friendly to the differently-abled (no elevators) and the female receptionist (named Jaz), whom I think is related to the artist, has a perma-frown and antipatica vibe (she could roll her eyes any moment at the customer) that can turn-off any visitor. Likewise, they don’t give student discounts generously/easily. They would ask for a student ID! Come on! As if visitors from outside Baguio would bother stuffing their kids’ students IDs into their maletas! Talo pa nila malalaking museums eh!
Then for New Year’s Day Mass, we went to the Baguio Cathedral, a former CICM Fathers’ church that sports a neo-gothic interior. It is beautiful, to say the least. The interior and exterior is painted rose pink. Don’t worry, it isn’t tacky. The stained glass windows, some of which feature the founders of the religious orders present in Baguio, are marvelous. They also have a small but pretty oratory dedicated to the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass. The newly renovated Cathedral crypts, candle station and the very roofing of the Cathedral, were, by the way, projects of my uncle who’s an architect.
Lastly, last 1 January 2011, we had merienda in my mom’s co-teacher’s farm in La Trinidad, Benguet. It’s a good 30 minute drive from the city of Baguio and the farm is located really deep within La Trinidad. It sits on top of a cliff and has a beautiful view of the valley they own. The farm is called “Lily of the Valley.” There, we were treated to a scrumptious merienda of home-made, not to mention organic, delights: home-made strawberry jam, banana cake, pan de sal, coffee and tea. They laid out a mat and brought out blankets and big throw pillows for us to enjoy. The wonderful view of the valley and the crisp weather were perfect.
Indeed, even if the city proper of Baguio and even its outskirts are teeming with people and ugly unpainted structures, there are still plenty of reasons to visit the old City of Pines. Despite the proliferation of diesel-powered FXs, Baguio’s weather and some well-preserved areas can still behold.
A note about SM Baguio, the number one tourist attraction ironically of the city: Though it has undoubtedly killed smaller industries and businesses, it has also brought some good to both locals and tourists. At least there, prices are standardized, unlike in smaller shops where prices are jacked up.