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Newsmakers

Baguio, even when it rains, is pure sunshine

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Baguio, even when it rains, is pure sunshine
The scenic lagoon at Burnham Park.
Photo by JOANNE RAE RAMIREZ

When American architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham was drawing the blueprint for Baguio, he reportedly envisioned each home to be bathed in rays of sunshine even as it was sheltered by pines.

And through Burnham’s vision for the city the Americans discovered as a haven — and heaven — after the Philippines was ceded to the US by Spain at the turn of the 20th century, Baguio, indeed, is like the gentle sun amidst the chill. And when it rains, and mist blankets the city and swirls around the giant pine trees outside your balcony, the raindrops are lyrics to a song of serenity.

My husband Ed and I were among the 2,000 daily visitors (the maximum allowed by the city government) to the “Summer Capital of the Philippines” recently, after our original booking was postponed by the tight lockdown of August. But it was a blessing in disguise, for Baguio in November is cooler.

Like Burnham, (who also master-planned Chicago’s One Magnificent Mile, downtown Washington, DC and Manila’s Roxas Boulevard, and designed the Flatiron Building in New York City), we had a blueprint: 1. Make sure vaccination cards are ready. Check. (No need for RT-PCR tests anymore.) 2. Secure hotel reservation early. Check. (Re-book early as it seems “revenge travel” is on the mind of many cooped-up Pinoys.) 3. Register at least a week before with Baguio Visita. Check.  4. Wait for the “QTP” issued by the hotel, which is basically your pass to go around the city. Check.

Going up to Baguio nowadays is a breeze, four to five hours max because the Skyway takes you all the way to NLEX, then TPLEX before you reach Marcos Highway. That is the only place where you encounter bottlenecks because of slow-moving trucks that you can hardly overtake because of the winding highway.

he bamboo grove at Mirador Hill.
Photo by JOANNE RAE RAMIREZ

Then you see the sunflowers arching their faces to the sun on steep embankments along the way. Then you smell the scent of pines. Then you behold the mountains amid the mist. Baguio!

But before you dance your merry dance, there is the triage to contend with — where they check your documents (be ready with those QTPs!) and make sure you and the other visitors are not running a fever.

Then the holiday begins.

***

There is a part of Baguio that remains unchanged and pristine despite the ravages of time and urbanization. They say the sense of smell evokes memories more vividly than any other sense — and the Baguio pine-tree scent is like no other — or is because it reminds me of happy carefree family vacations? My parents Frank and Sonia Mayor honeymooned in Baguio as well.

That is why we rekindle memories of romance and childhood and create new ones in the city that doesn’t sleep in our power bank of remembrances past. That is the sylvan area that includes (but is not limited to) Camp John Hay, the Country Club, Leonard Wood road.

Marie Venus Tan, a former Department of Tourism executive and now a consultant to the city of Baguio, tells us that the Americans really intended the city to be a haven not just for rest and recreation, but also for recovery — from whatever it is ailing the body, mind and soul. The heat in Manila can be oppressive even to those of us born in the Philippines, so the Americans found Baguio to be their pine-scented oasis in the mountains. According to Venus, the Americans planted and numbered the pine trees they added to Camp John Hay.

And with the number of retreat houses in Baguio (from the Jesuits who built the Mirador Retreat House to the Assumption nuns, in whose convent most Assumption high school seniors during “my” time had their retreats with Father James Reuter S.J.), you could say the city is a spiritual oasis as well.

One of the most surprising discoveries of this visit is the Mirador Retreat House, at the top of the Lourdes grotto. There is a wall of rocks on one side of the road leading to the retreat house, and if you venture deeper into the winding trail amid the rocks (you pay P100 for entry), you will be shaded by a canopy of bamboo trees — yes, bamboo, not pine trees! Kyoto in Baguio!

In Baguio, staying in hotels, inns or Airbnbs with a view of the pines is a must for me. Where you stay is half your destination. In Baguio you don’t have to go far to enjoy the city if your haven rests under the pines. (I remember summers past when my family, with our cousins, stayed at the Teacher’s Camp, whose cottages were perched on wooded hills.)

Le Chef’s Billy King

For this visit, my husband Ed and I stayed in a familiar place, The Manor in Camp John Hay, whose main twin attractions are its location and chef Billy King. You must choose a room with a veranda so you can have breakfast (my husband says chef Billy’s Le Chef makes the best omelet in the world, bar none, among others) or cocktails with sunshine and a view. Mag muni-muni muna tayo. (Let’s take a moment to ponder and meditate.)

Most Baguio residents — from chef Billy the shopkeeper of the souvenir store across The Manor — recall that Baguio was a “ghost town” in August and September. Chef Billy, who had 18 employees when he started Le Chef at The Manor 20 years ago and now has over 300, none of whom he let go during the lockdown, says Baguio is definitely now on the road to economic recovery.

The lockdown also gave Baguio time to recover from urban blight, and breathe. Even paradise needs to reboot and recharge, after all. Pope Francis said in last Sunday’s homily that we should all be like leaves — quietly cleansing the air, so that others can take a deep breath and thrive.

Thank you, Baguio, for the leaves. Pine-scented at that.

BAGUIO
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