February 14, 2014

Travel Bites: Baguio chills and thrills

DESPITE the development of more local destinations all over the country attracting the serious bakasyonista, Baguio remains a sentimental favorite especially among those who grew up in the 1950s-1970s.
Of course, the weather isn’t as chilly as it was two decades ago—blame it on climate change—but the temperatures still manage to drop low enough for travelers to bring out their sweaters and scarves in the months of December and January.
And the nippy weather is just the best kind to, well, catch up on your sleep! Brrr.
Of course, you can only do so much lazing about in the bed. So if you do venture out into the cold (and traffic),  there are other places to explore especially if you’re already over and done with the Burnham Park, Mine’s View, and ukay-ukay adventures of your heyday. A few of these places also offer city slickers a chance to gather their thoughts, pause and reflect in quiet surroundings.
(Strawberry picking in La Trinidad, Benguet, just a skip away from Baguio City. Photo from http://galaelmira.blogspot.com/.)

In bloom. Probably the best time to go to Baguio is during the Panagbenga or the Baguio Flower Festival, which showcases  locally grown flora. Already in its 18th year, the Panagbenga festival features a grand street-dancing parade (February 23) and parade with floats festooned with gorgeous blooms (February 24). The festival is from February 1 until March 3, with Baguio hosting various kinds of sporting events, landscaping competitions and market encounters. Reserve your accommodations early as this annual event is a crowd-drawer.
The artist-in-residence: Just 15 minutes away from the center of the city by car along Asin Road, the BenCab Museum sits as a refuge from the growing incursion of modern city life. It is a four-story building that features National Artist Benedicto Cabrera’s personal art collection and some of his works, and regularly exhibits creations of various budding local artists. Currently on exhibit at the Indigo Gallery until Februray  17 is RE:VIEW 2012, which shines the spotlights on 39 young as well as established local artists using diverse techniques and focusing on diverse subjects.
Each level of the building has a terrace that  looks out into the artist’s massive property, which includes a farm and garden, greenhouses, a duck pond, authentic Ifugao huts, his workshop and home and the adjoining forest.
The museum also has its own restaurant Café Sabel, named after, of course, BenCab’s iconic muse. Here, dishes are whipped up using ingredients sourced from the artist’s own garden and livestock farm. (The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday. For particulars, clickhttp://bencabmuseum.org.)
Another well-known artist, Ben Hur Villanueva, also lives and sculpts in Baguio. His home/workshop and gallery—Arko ni Apo—are just across the Tam-awan Village, another well-known attraction in Pinsao proper, in the outskirts of the city. The artist himself meets and chats with visitors.
Tam-awan Village is known as an artist’s colony and on the property are reconstructed Kalinga and  Ifugao huts, which are used as an art gallery, a café, artists’ lodging, as well as for workshops and art exhibits. On a clear day, the glistening South China Sea can be seen from this vantage point (tam-awan). (Check http://www.tam-awanvillage.com/ for a list of its exhibits.)
Religious sites. Very few young people probably know that the Baguio City Cathedral (Our Lady of Atonement) figured prominently during World War II, as it sheltered many evacuees fleeing from carpet bombing of the city. Located along General Luna Road adjacent to Session Road, the cathedral—one of the enduring landmarks of Baguio—stands tall with its pink color, twin spires and stained- glass windows. A favorite attraction is its view deck, which offers a panoramic view of Burnham Park, the city hall and the downtown commercial area.
Expect the Taoist Bell Church (La Trinidad Valley, Benguet) to be crowded this Lunar New Year as our Filipino-Chinese brethren make the trek to watch the annual Chinese New Year parade, as well as to offer prayers to their ancestors and light joss sticks. On the property are the usual colorful and intricately designed Chinese pagodas and temples amid a well-maintained landscaped garden.
Popular pasalubong from Baguio City are these jams, cookies, and peanut brittle from the Good Shepherd Convent. (Photo from http://www.goodshepherdsisters.org.ph)
Not to be missed also is the Lourdes Grotto atop Mirador Hill with its 252 steps. Those fervently seeking favors from Mama Mary usually climb all the steps to reach the grotto. There are, of course, shortcuts to the top for the ordinary sightseer.
Strawberry fields forever. About 30 minutes away from Baguio city proper are the glorious strawberry farms of La Trinidad. You can either stoop down and pick the strawberries yourself (and pay for them, of course) or just buy from the traders along the road. Either way, it’s an exhilarating experience just to stand in the middle of all that gorgeous red fruit waiting to be plucked from their stems.
Get an adrenaline rush. The Treetop Adventure in Camp John Hay, a former US military reservation, is a magnet for thrill seekers. There are different “rides” offered that are sure to pump up the heart rate and give you an adrenaline rush. The Tree Drop, for instance, straps you in a harness and lets you drop from a height of 60 feet, face down, until you almost hit the ground. Another is the Superman ride, basically a zipline, that gives you a heart-stopping ride 100 meters above ground with an excellent view of pine trees.
Shop. The Baguio City public market along Magsaysay Avenue  is still the best place to get your vegetables and brooms at dirt-cheap prices. Also available is an assortment of Baguio/Benguet native trinkets, souvenirs, Cordillera rice wine (tapuey), Benguet coffee, Sagada oranges, Viganlongganisa, even fish from Pangasinan. Yes, the market has it all.
A visit to Baguio is never complete unless one visits the Good Shepherd Convent (15 Gibraltar Road) for your pasalubong of strawberry jam and preserves, ube jam, peanut brittle, etc. Proceeds from the purchase of these food products support the upkeep of the convent and the different charities of the nuns.
Drink. Whether it be strong Cordillera coffee or a cold beer, Baguio has quite a few well-known joints to grab either one. The enduring Café by the Ruins (25 Shuntug Road) is a favorite destination to get your jolt from kape alamid (civet coffee).  It serves a pleasant variety of sandwiches to go with your coffee.
Nevada Square (Loakan Road) has an array of restaurants and bars to keep you well-hydrated with your favorite poison until the wee hours of the morning. It is party central for most Baguio residents and visitors where dancing on tables is definitely allowed.
 Where to stay
The Manor at Camp John Hay affords Baguio visitors a pleasant, relaxing stay with a scenic view of the surroundings. It has large spacious bedrooms and the generous and delicious buffet breakfast at Le Chef is definitely worth looking forward to each morning. Chef Billy King of Le Souffle is at the helm of the manor’s kitchen so the food is impeccably prepared and served. (For inquiries, click http://www.campjohnhay.ph.)
For budget travelers, Chalet Baguio (Upper Military Cutoff Road) is close to the city center, with clean interiors and pleasant, accommodating staff. For a budget hotel, it offers guests basic amenities such as  towels, toiletries and slippers. Breakfast is limited and à la carte. ­
(This piece was originally published in the BusinessMirror, Jan. 14, 2013.)

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