Saturday, September 08, 2012

Postcard from the Philippines: On the way to Baguio City

A view of Kennon Road, en route to Baguio City.
I would like to believe that more often than not, the journey becomes the destination itself. On my way to Baguio City this past week for an assignment via Kennon Road, the nature-lover in me feasted in what seemed to be unending views of mountains, rugged cliffs, streams and rock falls en route to the Philippines' summer capital, Baguio City, which is about a five-hour drive north of Manila. And with the way clouds/fog kiss mountain tops? One can easily feel closer to heaven.

This is not a view from Kennon Road going to Baguio City but a creek inside the Philex Mining Corporation complex in Itogon, Benguet, a one-hour drive from Baguio City. Similar views, however, can be seen en route to Baguio. If you're driving, roll down your windows! 

I was nine when I first went here for a holiday with my family, then came back 18 years after for a coverage. Baguio doesn't really appeal to me as a tourist destination even if most Manileños flock to this city on top of the mountains during summer months of April and May. Some folks say it's not as cold here anymore as it was decades ago, while others still think the city has lost its charm due to pollution and overpopulation. Yes, the city boasts of Mines View Park, Burnham Park, Botanical Garden and the like, but I have to agree that these places have seen better days.

But while sipping my hot Benguet coffee in one of those rows of commercial spaces at Camp John Hay at dusk, there I realized that Baguio is still the place to be, for the following reasons:

1. It's the CLIMATE, dear. It's still cold in Baguio, at least RELATIVELY colder than scalding Manila. While Manila could see temperatures average at about 30 degrees Celsius, it is about 20-24 degrees in Baguio. It's cold enough to want me to have warm water for shower every morning!
2. It's the PINE TREES! The Philippines is a tropical country, making plants that usually grow in cold places such as pine trees a rarity. Sure there are pine trees at expressways, but one cannot see as much pine trees in the Philippines -- cone-bearing at that -- as in Baguio (that's why it's also dubbed "The City of Pines"). When it gets foggy at dusk, the scent of pine trees just grows stronger and stronger, adding a different charm to this city.
3. The QUAINT EATING PLACES. Call me jaded and judgmental, but I don't think the average Filipino is still excited to see the usual tourist attractions in Baguio. I think the quaint eating places in this city are the new draw for the unique ambience of gardens and woody interiors that complements the natural beauty of Baguio, and of course aside from the unusual menus. I've tried the cafe called Choco-late de Batirol in Camp John Hay, and given much more time, I would have sat still inside the Forest House, the Cafe by the Ruins, or Mother's Garden (the latter two were under renovation as of this posting).

The verdict? Yes, Baguio is still beautiful and charming, and yes, I would love to go back to Baguio on a personal trip (although I can sense that I'll be back every so often for coverages!), just so that I can savor over and over again the three things I've mentioned above!

Tip sheet:
*There are buses in Cubao, Quezon City and in Pasay City going to Baguio daily. I don't really intend to endorse, but top of mind right now are Victory Liner and Genesis bus lines. Bus fares range from P500-P700, one way.

*Transportation within Baguio City shouldn't be as difficult and chaotic as in Metro Manila. Flagdown of taxis is pegged at P35, and P2 is added to the bill every 200 meters. But unlike cabbies in Metro Manila, taxi drivers in Baguio give back change! Aside from taxis, jeepneys also abound in the ciy.

*Beware of the traffic along Session Road, which is considered as the center of civilization in Baguio!


Iris Cecilia Gonzales said...

strawberry field and ube city :-)