Baguio…paradise on the sierras
By Apolinario Villalobos
Without the initiative of Judge William Howard Taft, Baguio would not have been what it is now. It would have just been left to bask in the sun as an ordinary mountain-top village. But Baguio is fated to become the summer capital of the Philippines, despite its almost impossible-to-reach location…a good 5,000 feet above sea level and approximately 250 kilometers from Manila on a land transport.
In July of 1900, two members of Judge Taft’s Commission blazed a trail to this mountain village directed only by bits of information from Spanish account “of a pleasing and temperate climate offering opportunity for delightful condition of life”. The two members of the Commission, Luke E. Wright and Dean C. Worcester, set out on a boat to San Fernando, La Union, then took to the road by horseback via Naguilian Trail. It took them two solid days to reach a place of rolling hills and a little valley where the climate was ideal.
Because of the long and tedious travel over Naguilian, a shorter route was proposed and an engineer was engaged to lay out a plan. The first and the second proposals were rejected. A third proposal by Col. L. W. V. Kennon finally earned the approval. Ten thousand men and a budget that went beyond one million dollars finally opened a new route to the future city. The road, named after Kennon reached its earmarked site in January, 1905.
Landscape architect Daniel H. Burnham and his assistant Pierce Anderson visited Baguio in December 1904 to prepare an extensive plan for its development. What was envisioned during the visit was a city that would hold a population of fifty to one hundred thousand people and an allowance was made for an estimated growth of twenty five thousand more. Burnham’s plan included business and commercial centers, residential districts, army posts, a hospital, government center and a country club. The plan was followed to its minutest details, and churches, convents, playgrounds, parks, driveways, shrubberies and bridle paths were also appropriated spaces. For his effort the city’s premier park, was named after him, the Burnham Park.
The incredible plan of the Americans, carved a city out of the pine-covered range of the Cordilleras. But their vision’s span was not stretched beyond fifty years. Baguio today is bursting to the seams with escapees from the lowland cities’ dust, monotony, heat and din. The allocated area for expansion is not even enough to accommodate the surge of lowlanders who grab every opportunity to have permanent residency or just a couple of week’s transiency.
A good rising time in this city is when the sun has thrown ample amount of its warm rays to dispel some of the fogs that normally envelops it. A big cup of locally grown coffee could help perk one up. Once the tummy is warmed, the next best thing to do while still at the breakfast table is gobble a bowl of “chopsuey” made up of fresh vegetables, finally, downed with a glass of fresh strawberry juice.
The road to the Mines View Park should not be forgotten which is just about ten minutes on a jeepney from downtown. From here, a commanding view of the valley and pine-covered mountains can be had. The park is practically covered with stalls selling colorful handmade products from woodcarvings to cloths. From here, one may go down to the Wright Park in front of the Mansion House, the President’s summer retreat. It is known for year-long bloomers, an array of temperate flowers that literally brightens up the surroundings even during damp days. There’s a man-made lagoon surrounded with pine trees, and horses are available for ride at a minimal fee.
A jeepney may be taken from Wright Park back to downtown for leg stretching while strolling around the Burnham Park. It is neatly laid out and greened by fragrant pine trees, regularly trimmed shrubs and made colorful by clusters of daisies and begonias in almost every corner. It has a lagoon for boating at a minimal fee. Burnham Park has always maintained its image as the city’s twin in popularity. Just as the rice terraces are to Banaue, the Burnham Park is to Baguio.
On the northwest of the park is the City Hall, majestically built on a slightly elevated area flanked by evergreens. For a breathtaking view of the city, it is best to go to Mirador Hill, with its 225 steps that lead to the Lourdes Grotto. Another significant landmark of the city is the Bell Church, brilliantly ornate temple which stands for the universality of god. The church is named after the bells on top of the ornamental gates and consists of pavilions that hug the hillsides with pathways flanked by dragons.
For silverworks, it is a must to visit the St. Louis University Silver Shop. Responsible for the spread of the craft in the city are the Belgian nuns who combined patience and perseverance with artistic touch in teaching any local interested in the trade. The pioneers used tweezers, but today, modern equipment are used to produce intricately designed jewelries.
Asin road, a southerly deviation of Naguilian Road, on the city’s western edge is where hunters for cheap woodcarvings should go. The road is lined with shops of carvings that take shape in a matter of a couple of hours in the deft hands of the natives.
As in any city, the best stop for discoveries in Baguio is its market which is filled to the rafters with fruits in season, antiques, baskets, brooms, wood carvings, silver filigrees and jewelries, fresh vegetables, handwoven blankets, even pre-owned apparel. In the market, one can discover a stall that sells “tapoy”, sweetish, though, potent rice wine. The most authentic “dinardaran”, a dish based in pig’s blood, and “pinikpikan”, chicken cooked with its curdled blood due to continues “soft” beating until it gasps for its last breath can also be had in the market.
The lucky visitor may stumble upon the small antique stalls in the market, items such as old Spanish silver pesos, WWII relics such as Japanese watches and gold-rimmed eye glasses, and centuries old Chinese porcelain wares.
Due to its strategic location, Baguio has become a jump-off point to other interesting places in the Cordilleras, such as the Mt. Pulag (9,623 feet above sea level) and rice terraces of Benguet, and Kabayan for its centuries-old mummies, as well as, the nearby La Trinidad Valley for its garden fresh vegetables and strawberries.
The highlight of the city’s attraction is the yearly, month-long celebrated Panagbenga Festival, held during the month of February, during which the flowers are at their fullest blooming season. The festival showcases the traditions of the different indigenous communities and their products at the Burnham Park where visitors who failed to get hotel rooms are also allowed to pitch tents for the duration of the activities. The celebration includes exhibits, games, shows and the famous parade of floats fully-decked with flowers.
The Philippines’ Shangri-La is believed to have been known among those from Benguet as “bah-giw”, meaning “moss”, and among the Ibaloi, as “bagyu” which connotes as submerged aquatic plant. Whatsoever its name in the past was, Baguio may well be called an eternal city where one could stroll in bliss unmindful of the passing time. It will always be the last mountaintop resort for everybody…and, a special one, too.