The anxious anticipation for the arrival of my parents from Canada finally ended this month. Their twelve day visit was the perfect excuse to expose them to the insanity that is Manila, journey into the mountains to explore and enjoy some of the stunning natural beauty and then drop their poor exhausted bodies on a picturesque beach in Boracay to mend their wounds with a few well deserved massages and margaritas.
Even after my parents’ attempt to shake off the jetlag and to reacquaint themselves with the concept of severely reduced personal space via a three day stop in Hong Kong, I think the initial shock of being in the city of Manila was more than they ever imagined. I’ve said it a few times, it’s definitely a city best experienced firsthand. There’s a chaos and vibrancy that you just can’t understand until you’re here.
After a couple days of trial by fire with them tearing through the side streets in tricycles at insane speeds and enduring the mind-boggling crowds and endless traffic, I think they’re as ready for a little peace and quiet as we are.
I’ve had the pleasure of making the journey from Manila to Baguio several times and there’s always the same feeling of relief or escape from the daunting size and exhausting pace of a massive city as the bus races down the superhighway out of town. The route slicing through the sprawling sugarcane fields, past the communities surrounded by the scenery of the rice terraces and wood sculptures before finally climbing into the mountains is becoming familiar. It’s still a route that I enjoy travelling and this time I’m doing it with my girlfriend and my parents as we begin our journey to explore the Cordillera region of Luzon.
Despite my numerous previous visits to our first stop in Baguio, we’re planning a few sights that are completely new to me. With only two days to soak up the atmosphere in Baguio before travelling further north to Mountain Province, it’s a whirlwind tour. Luckily for us we’re equipped with our secret weapon: Chaya’s tita Luchie. She’s a fountain of knowledge for both local history and current events around the area, not to mention one of the few drivers we’ve travelled with here that doesn’t have my parents holding each other and sobbing from sheer terror.
Our Baguio tour begins with one of the more famous attractions in the area, Good Shepherd Convent. Along with its reputation for having some of the best preserves and peanut brittle in the Philippines, the money generated from their sales goes to various charities and to maintain the convent.
A 2010 Presidential Award winner for their organic gardens means everything here is made or grown with great care. The proof is in the taste of their wares and their popularity with locals and tourists.
Along with the shelves stocked with organic jams, jellies and delicious treats, the deck offers panoramic views of the landscape easily as spectacular as the painfully touristy Mine’s View Park.
There’s a great shady garden area with a gazebo to sit and relax with some of our tasty goods before heading back on the road and continuing the tour.
CAMP JOHN HAY
There’s lots to see and little time to see it, but no day soaking up Philippine culture could be complete without sampling some of the local cuisine. Our next stop is as much about giving my parents their first taste of Filipino food as it is about visiting one of the best urban green spaces in the country.
A quick stop to refuel at Dencio’s Restaurant to give everyone a rest and, more importantly, to give Chaya’s cousin Lira the sisig fix she needs to get through the day, and we’re off to continue our tour of the park.
Camp John Hay, once a rest and recreation facility for American armed forces actually predates the city of Baguio itself.
Now in the hands of a private developer, the former favourite spot for family picnics and a place that held so many fond memories shared by those driving through the park with us, sports a massive golf course, private residences and remains under continuous construction….or destruction. Depending on whether you value the park for it’s picturesque beauty and serene escape from the city or, like Fil-Estate Management and CHJ Development, seek to destroy the environment and natural setting families have enjoyed for decades for mere profit, there’s something for everyone.
It’s even rumoured that general Yamashito may have buried and hidden gold and other treasures towards the end of his hold on the country when the park was still used as a concentration camp for American and British soldiers during Japanese occupation in WWII. No time for treasure hunting as we head to our next destination.
Along with the other amazing places we had the privilege of visiting during our guided tour of the sights of Baguio, BenCab Museum was one of my favourites and a huge surprise. I was at first taken aback by the ultra modern building that housed the museum itself and artists home next door, considering the location and its surroundings.
Walking into the museum reveals a staggering amount of art ranging from traditional indigenous to the incredibly bizarre, surely a reminder that art truly is subjective.
The displays are separated into relevant sections and climbing each new level offers another beautifully arranged display. Along with the original artwork of the founder Benedicto Cabrera are numerous artifacts, sculptures and beautiful photos paying tribute to the rich cultural history of the Cordillera people of this region.
The casual stroll through the countless displays lead us up to one of the upper levels and out onto a balcony that looks over an equally spectacular site. The beautifully landscaped gardens where the other vision of BenCab is coming to fruition are worth the trip alone.
A dazzling use of the natural landscape, complete with serene river cascading into small waterfalls and traditional native huts, make up one of the more breathtaking organic gardens I’ve ever seen.
Every inch of the space is thoughtfully planned out from the drainage for the rice terraces to the crop choices and livestock area. The produce grown here makes it’s way onto the seasonal cafe menu and will surely be worth a return visit when harvesting time comes.
The first half of our day in Baguio has already been packed with new sights and excitement. I was so thankful for all our wonderful tour guides giving my parents the opportunity to experience an area of the Philippines that is quickly becoming one of my favourite spots, as well as help to erase the initial impressions of the dirty, congested and often terrifying metropolis of Manila.
It’s a whirlwind adventure and there’s a ton more to blog about. The second half of our Baguio tour along with lots of great shots and hilarious tales from our time in Banaue, Bontoc and Sagada are all coming soon, so stay tuned!!