Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I left my heart in Baguio City

Baguio City --- I can't help but smile every time I think about it. Those cool pine scent kissing my skin; those warm,culture-rich people whose contagious smiles make you even more happier; those long,tiring but rewarding journey; those magnificent pine trees with stretched branches catching the sun rays; with cool weather closest to heaven;--- it's so nice to be back! 

The City of Pines can be found at the northern part of Luzon with  an altitude of approximately 1,500 meters (4,900 ft) in the Luzon tropical pine forests ecoregion conducive to the growth of mossy plants and orchids. According to our guide, which, as confirmed by my own research, that Baguio came from the word bagiw in Ibaloi dialect meaning moss. Pretty interesting. Most of the street names, highways, and tourist spots were mostly named in American, mainly because Baguio was declared as the Summer Capital of the country in 1903 by the American government. It was known long time ago that during summer, most of the American government personnel flocked to Baguio to free themselves from the summer heat. Americans developed the place and so, it makes sense, with their works, bearing their names. Temperature here ranges from 15 to 25 degrees Celsius during summer, as compared to the usual 30~35 degrees Celsius from the rest of the country.

I was here about ten years ago. With the excitement during my youth, I wasn't able to fully appreciate the whole place : I was there with the rest of my college class and most of the time I had fun with friends, not with nature. I remember I said to myself that I , at some point of my timeline, must come to Baguio again : and it happened! This time, I was one with nature, amazed by the detailed works of God and thankful for giving me life to enjoy His wonderful works.

Baguio City : City of Pines

Victory Liner buses will carry you to Baguio City from Manila

You have two ways to get to Baguio : by small plane/chopper or by bus/car. Okay, so I can only afford taking the bus. You can start by getting into Victory Liner bus with terminals located around Metro Manila. Mark and I took one at Pasay Terminal. The trip lasted for about 6 to 7 hours (or lesser without traffic and if you'd taken the night trip). Bus tickets were sold at 715php. First timers can be seen mostly sitting quietly in his seat enjoying the view behind his window -- from tall buildings, traffic jams,usual city scene slowly disappearing into plain fields, dry lands to green mountains; some opt to be glued on an open TV;some occupied themselves on their gadgets, fortunately, buses now has free WIFI on board ; but mostly, people may be found sleeping. Now tell me, what would you do with those 6 hours in a bus?

And the journey starts here...

There are three main roads linking Manila to Baguio City : Kennon Road, Aspiras-Palispis Highway  and Naguilian Highway or Quirino Highway (which we took). The journey was amazingly beautiful. The view behind my window was like in a  time-lapsed video like the ones you see on Discovery Channel -- chaotic city scene replaced with calm, green fields and mountain ranges as your bus slowly climbing up the mountains.

Mark and I arrived at about 6pm and as backpackers, our first activity was to get a place to stay. I did my homework prior to the trip but we prefer seeing the place first before checking in. Tourism front liners can be found at the terminal proper, they would recommend hotels/pension houses/transient houses for backpackers with no prior reservations and would offer tour packages. Our guide, Kuya Ding recommended Hotel Villa Rosal at Gen.Luna cor. Magsaysay Ave (near the bus terminal area, walking distance with SM Baguio and Session Road); quiet place even with the busy streets outside and with free breakfast. Our other guide, Kuya Jonie,(I'd recommend him for his good service, I may also give you his number) took us to the usual tourist spots the next day.Tour started at around 9am and ended at around 5pm -- worth it!  Don't forget to take your best hiking shoes, your feet is going to experience one of the best journeys of your life! 
Strawberry Farm, La Trinidad Benguet

First stop: Strawberry Farm, La Trinidad Benguet
Entrance is free and you can pick your own strawberries for about 300php per kilo. Fresh vegetables are being sold too like lettuce, cabbage and other greens.I was expecting to see a lot of red that day but only saw a few. Of course, since I came there to see strawberries, picking them is as exciting as I imagined. One precaution : always watch your steps or you'd end up getting in a muddy canal. The pathway was so little that you'd find it difficult to balance yourself from much awe and anticipation and watching where you'd headed. Various pasalubong items can be sold at the 'market-place' across the farm -- knitted clothes,brooms,peanut brittle, berry and ube jams, various fresh fruits and vegetables, strawberry ice cream and of course -- lots of strawberries.

Heritage Hill and Prayer Mountain
Inside the mysterious Diplomat Hotel (Heritage Hill) which survived since 1913.

Our guide took us to Heritage Hill or the old Diplomat Hotel (which I haven't been before). The building on top of the hill is known for its mysterious past -- built by Dominican priests on about 1913 as a vacation house-turned-school-turned-vacation house-again-turned-to world-war II hospital-turned hotel until its end in 1980's. This one's pretty famous for ghost-stories and sightings. The area is open for tourists and the government is currently preserving the place. Pretty creepy? Nah, haven't felt anything paranormal -- just amazed by the fact that the building survived since 1913. 

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto

Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto is also famous for tourists. Taking about 252 steps to the top was a bit challenging but rewarding. Don't forget to say a little prayer once you're on top then look at the view behind your back --- panoramic view of the city with green pine trees and all -- just wonderful. 

The President's The Mansion, Wright Park

After the tiring hike at the grotto, your guide will next take you to the Wright Park where The Mansion was situated, the official summer vacation house of the President of the Philippines. Ten years ago, we weren't able to get here with all the fog around, but now I know why people had to get here to take pictures.

Burnham Park, ideal for Family Day

Burnham Park is good for family day or simply spending lazily  and enjoying the cool weather at Baguio City. It has a man-made lagoon in which tourists could rent a small boat and paddle around the lagoon; usual scenes were kids on kiddie bikes; family or group of friends having a picnic, little kids running around, the usual happy picture.  Mark and I strolled circling the lagoon area. Burnham Park is also an ideal place for a date -- enjoying nature, cool weather, green pine trees, blossoming flowers around, with cotton candies in one hand and the other hand with your loved-one's hand -- life is beautiful. 
Camp John Hay
Treetop Adventure, Camp John Hay

Oh I love Camp John Hay, a former rest and recreation area for American soldiers in 1900s. The place was extremely quiet, lots of tall pine trees, green grass and all -- perfect! The place was huge with a golf course, hotels, adventure tripping like zipline, free-fall and other outdoor activities. They even have Starbucks cafe! 

Bell Chinese Church
Bell Chinese Church is located at the downtown area on your way to La Trinidad Benguet. It is much like Cebu's Taoist Temple with shrines of famous Chinese gods, dragons carved on the rooftops, pagodas and nice landscaped gardens. We climbed at one of the top shrines and this is what you'd see (as pictured above), the city below seemed like on an ongoing climb up to the mountain -- you won't see this view everyday -- I just love this picture -- er, just erase the two people you see in here.

Various preserved sweets at Good Shepperd Convent

You can find the best preserved fruits,ube,strawberry and coco jams, cashew and peanut brittle and others at Good Sheperd Convent. It is just a walking distance from the Mines View Park. Goods here are made by nuns and the store setting was like a pharmacy : goods on sale were on a glass cabinet, you have to write down what you want then lined yourself in a pharmacy-like store. Pretty organized, I like it.

View from Mines View Park
Mines View Park was just awesome. A ridge located past The Mansion and Wright Park overlooking Benguet's gold and copper mines and the Cordillera mountain range. The area has been flocked with lots of souvenir stalls with flower plants,preserved fruits,knitted clothes,keychains and other souvenir items,wood works and others; dress yourself in traditional bahag and igorot costumes, horse back riding, taking pictures with St.Bernard dogs. Better visit the place during weekdays to avoid too many people crowding near the ridge - it'll stressed you out but then again, it was still fun!

Baguio Botanical Garden
Not just a City of Pines but City of Flowers as well

Any tourist's itinerary won't be complete without visiting Baguio Botanical Garden or also known as the Igorot Village. The garden has a lot of different flowers and botanical plants. It also features native huts like the typical native dwellings of the Igorots of Cordillera. Best place to leisurely stroll around, enjoying the quiet moments with nature.Ten years ago, the big Igorot statues weren't there yet, so it adds to the beauty of the place. Horse back riding can also be done here. I saw a little horse with white mane as Lady Gaga, I left a small giggle. Never seen a horse like that. 

I know there are other parts of Baguio I wasn't able to explore. Though I have been to PMA grounds and the downtown market-place ten years ago, but I figured, I'd better go see more of the pine trees ^^.There is always a 'next time' anyway. I swear my feet hurts by the time were were relaxing at Starbucks SM Baguio, funny how the pain seeking your attention after the long walk. Being in Starbucks cafe enjoying my caramel macchiato felt like I haven't rested my butt in years. I thought if I'd stayed here for good, maybe you can always find me in coffee shops around town because of the weather. Coffee is best enjoyed here. 

Baguio City : now occupying at the top of my list as an excellent place to stay in the Philippines, okay so next to Bohol. I just wish to stay in Baguio for like a week to see if I'd become a poet again. I think my brain needs a little make-over from the usual stress at work and with a lot of things occupying my mind lately (comes with age, I guess). I long to stay in place where you can see the Cordillera mountain-stretch on one side and the mountain city on the other side; with a cup of hot coffee in hand; enjoying my little peace and cold air hugging my skin; I know --- Life is Beautiful!

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