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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baguio City: A Road Trip of Memories

Panagbenga Flower Festival Parade
Known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Baguio City has always been a regular destination for my family when I was growing up.  When we’ve had enough of the tropical climate humidity when summer sets in, we pack our sweaters and jackets then off to Baguio we go. Spending summer vacations once a year to escape the uncomfortable heat in Metro Manila to laze the time away enjoying the cool air and Baguio’s beautiful parks has been a norm for us, city folks.  The endless green rows of pine trees with its wonderful pine-scented air, surrounded by a colourful vista of thriving flowers, that have a difficult time surviving in the Manila heat, is an inspiration to artists and photographers who come here like a moth to a flame.
 There seems to be a traditional routine by Manila residents and other non-Baguio residents to do when reaching Baguio:  the activities include horseback riding, boating at Burnham park, visiting Camp John Hay (a former US army base), going to the market to bring home fresh vegetables and sturdy walis  or brooms, stopping by for strawberry and ube jam at Good Shepherd Convent before heading home.  For those who don’t know about Good Shepherd, (chances are you have never been to Baguio because that is a must-visit place when in Baguio), this place is famous for its home-made flavorful jams and this business is run by nuns who help provide jobs for out-of-school youths and tribal minorities residing in this mountain province. Because you know that your money is going to a good cause,  it feels good to buy a lot of jams for pasalubong  or take home gifts for relatives and friends back home aside from getting your own stash of these native sweets.
 When I graduated from College, I would hang out there more often with friends and have a great time meeting up with other group of friends in private parties.  Needless to say, I have fond memories of Bagiuo from my gradeschool years all the way to my yuppy years.  Who can forget the trail of provinces you pass by to get to this mountain top city: after Manila, you pass Bulacan, Pampanga, Tarlac, LaUnion, . . . then finally, after the tortuous zigzag trail for motion sickness-prone people like me, you reach heaven  in cool Baguio City!
It’s a five-hour trip, more or less, to get to Baguio from Metro Manila depending on the traffic so you might as well enjoy the trip going there by starting early around 6 to 8am.  There are buses that leave every hour so there is no need to worry if you do miss your target bus time.  An hour goes by so fast. Before you finally hop on your bus, make sure you drop by the comfort room because the next stop over will be around two hours.  So sit back and relax, enjoy your ipod music as you take in the wonderful vistas out your window on your way to Baguio.  There will be around two stop-overs before reaching your destination to have a meal or snack and stretch your legs: one in Pampanga and another one in LaUnion.

If you prefer to take your own vehicle, then why not cruise at your own pace to enjoy the moment.  If you have the luxury of time, why not spend an hour or two to explore each province you pass by, starting with Bulacan.  There you can buy the original and famous Bulacan sweets, visit a butterfly sanctuary at Pulilan, Bulacan, say a prayer at the Barasoain chruch or  visit the historical site where the first Philippine Republic was established after the 300-year Spanish rule in June 12, 1898 in Malolos, Bulacan. 

It is interesting to note that Bulacan is home to many Philippine heroes and Patriots such as Marcelo H. Del Pilar and his brother Gregorio del Pilar, famous writers Francisco Balagtas and Huseng Batute.  It is also the only province to produce the most number of national artists like Amado Hernandez, Virgilio Almario (both for literature), Francisco Santiago, Antonio Buenaventura (both for music), Honorato de la Rama (for theatre), and Jose Joya (for visual arts).  You can view their works at Hiyas ng Bulacan Museum at Malolos City.

The next province is Pampanga, known for its Kapampangan dishes, have lunch then drop by Clark Freeport Zone (formerly Clark Air Base) for some action and nightlife. You can opt to stay overnight in one of the hotels and go bar-hopping in Angeles City.  This tourist zone was formerly the biggest US air base in Asia which had to stop operations after the irreparable damage caused by the eruption of Mr. Pinatubo in 1990.  Now it is a tourist destination where they hold an annual international balloon festival and aeronatics exhibition every first week of February.

Tarlac is the hometown of former housewife turned Philippine President Corazon Aquino of the EDSA Revolution.  Her family own Hacienda Luisita which houses the Tarlac Industrial Park which boasts of an 18-hole championship golf course, shopping malls, world-class restaurants, hotels, residential homes, and a vast sugar plantation.  Within the complex is the Aquino Center and Museum.

You may also visit another museum which displays the priceless mementos of another icon in Philippine history, the Maria Clara Museum in Camiling. Leonora Rivera, the sweetheart of Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, is immortalized as the heroine Maria Clara in the novel of Rizal, Noli Me Tangere.

Since this province is considered midway to Baguio, travellers always make it a point to have a meal in the floating restaurant called Isdaan on the way back home from Baguio.  You can’t miss this place because it is along the way, and  there is always heavy traffic in the area.  Isdaan is usually packed on Sunday when families are coming down from Baguio on the last day of their trip before classes start for the kids. This family restaurant features colourful countless fishes, a plate-breaking  nook to release stress or a nasty temper, and a kiddie ride pulled by a ram around the resto for a fee. But because the bamboo floors are floating on water, kids have the option to wear life-jackets in case they may slip and fall.  So better not let your kids stroll around by themselves.

The last province before entering Baguio is La Union, where you can stay overnight to enjoy the beach before climbing up the mountain city. There are several beach resorts you can choose, some even boasts of surfing activities.

 So even if we’ve gone dozens of times to Baguio, it will always be a fun vacation.  Baguio is more  of a family place, but if you prefer a peaceful, quiet and relaxing time, then this is also the place to go.  Baguio can be whatever you want it to be.


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