WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: Baguio in a day

I was quite ambivalent about it. In the first place, I really wanted to stay at Casa Amapola and wake up to aromatic coffee on its veranda, but that Quezon Hill inn had been converted to a school already.

We shouldn't have worried overmuch that Baguio Palace wouldn't take our money or that those establishments that could afford to advertise on the Internet had no vacancy. We were heading to Baguio. In Baguio , there always is a room at the inn.

True enough, Young Joel met us as we got off the bus. During the day, he works as a bellhop at Café Rosal right across the city market and just a stone's throw from Burnham Park. Late at night, he shills at the terminal assisting late arrivals find lodging to suit their budget. Joel is part of what makes Baguio the most tourist-friendly city in this part of the world.

Liane doesn't know how to tell a lie. She told the hotel clerk she's thirteen. Hubby had to pay Php300 more so she could room in with us. Not to worry, the additional charge got Li free breakfast. Sage and her bedmates got in for free. No meals for them though.

We woke up to a leisurely breakfast and then it was time to hit the streets. The sidewalk stalls were just being set up as we strolled over to Burnham Park. Strawberries and seedless grapes from Sagada awaited Sage's arrival at the garden entrance. Liane paused at the stalls selling silver jewelry. She likes looking, but the vendor could wait till hell freezes over before Liane would part with her money.

Nobody needed anything woven. They take up too much space and our bags were already fit to burst. There are a lot of fascinating fashion statements out this year though on those stalls. Lopsided ponchos, trench coats, swim wear, warmers.

The sun hadn't been up two hours, but Burnham Park was already teeming with people. Gondolas drifted in the lake. We decided to go for a ride but couldn't work the oars properly. Hey, we're supposed to be on a holiday. Get someone else to do it.

For Php25, they give us 13-year-old Romar who has been navigating the lake since December. Come June, he is going to enter high school. Romar gave us three rounds around the lake, all the while politely answering my questions about his life circumstance. I could tell this was no hard labor for him, nor did it interfere with his schooling or his sleep. We tipped him a lot more than we would have given an able-bodied boatman.

We crossed the park to get a ride to Mines View Park. I would have walked, but Sage's feet couldn't take much walking. It was Saturday, yes, and egad!- the crowd was suffocating. I had never seen Baguio that congested, the combined body heat was getting to me. To my delight, the forest stands are still around. The Koreans, we found, probably own a fifth of Baguio now.

Traffic stalled on the radial roads and it took some time before we got to Mines View. The entrance was blocked somewhat by a stage where for a price tourists could pose for pictures in native headgear. Or they could pose with the natives in tribal costume. Or they could also pose in native headgear with the natives in tribal costume. Whatever is your pleasure.

Finally, Li found something she wanted, but she still would not part with her money. I ended up paying for a matching pair of quilted leather bags– one for her, one for her best friend, Marj. Sagey merrily laughs over the man-in-the-barrel, the sundot kulangot (nose pick) and the kurikur (ear pick).

She chooses a dreamcatcher to bring home to her friend who had been having sad dreams since her parents broke up a few weeks back. Then she took me looking at the potted plants and bonsai, but we kept getting jostled by the crowd. I would have loved some sweet corn and grilled squid, but the kids were ready to go somewhere else.

At midmorning, we got off the jeep in front of the Mansion. I tried to fill them in on historical notes to the summer capital, but again I was kiddingly reminded that I was a psychologist, not a historian. Still, I got to deliver most of the lesson before we headed to Wright Park.

For a chance to ride a horse, Sage agrees to walk a long way downhill. We stopped at the foot of the stairs to be entertained by a street magician. Actually, we were trying to acclimatize our noses to the rank smell of so many horses all in a row. Sage picked a white one to ride. Hubby and Liane headed for the fishball stands.

Passing by Teachers Camp, we again saw natives in tribal costume posing for pictures with tourists. Liane did not like that until she was told that the natives were just doing what Joel and Romar did – finding their place in the tourism culture of Baguio, and maybe that is one of the reasons why there are no beggars in the streets . The Igorots are a proud people, Li. They know who they are.

Heading back to the hotel to check out before 1 pm, we took the route that would get us to see the old government buildings. Carlo, our taxi driver who was senior HRM student at BCF, took us through the subdivision roads where we got a closer view of the creative hodgepodge of mountain dwelling architecture. Somehow, they all seemed to work together to give Baguio its quaint, picturesque charm. I would have loved to take this route on foot again.

Pausing for a late lunch at SM, we checked the girls' energy level and ruled out a visit to Camp John Hay and Fort del Pilar. I figured I'd rather not do another round of impassioned lecture to uninterested ears on the subject of military symbolisms to monuments and markers. Besides, I wasn't familiar anymore with the PMA school schedule. I couldn't tell if it was Kings of Barracks or Beast Barracks time. Anyway, nobody among my gray brothers was expecting us to drop by that day. Hubby and I figured the PMA would still be there when the girls get interested enough to see it.

SM Baguio is probably the only non-airconditioned mall in the Philippines that does not suffer for it. The view from its multi-storey open decks is just breathtaking. I remember that glass elevator from years ago when I would ride it up and down so hubby can take my picture from across the atrium. Pausing on the top floor, we marveled at how far down the escalators go. We tried to do a crowd count of the riding public.

As malls go, SM Baguio is tolerable. At least, there are still quiet corners to be had, even though the occupancy rate must be close to a hundred percent and the deluge of people just keeps coming. The coffee there, I found, still hit the spot. Souvenir shops and vegetable stalls litter the side near the taxi stand.

I snapped a picture of Liane brandishing a bludgeon made from cattle jawbone tied to the end of a sturdy stick. My prize. On holidays, Liane – child of my heart – rarely stops to have her picture taken.

No visit to Baguio is ever complete without a hike up the Grotto. Hubby took a quick snap of us against the backdrop of the stairs and immediately headed for a sidewalk restaurant. Like a mountain goat, Liane was eager to get up to holy ground. Sage was willing to brave the 249 steps only if she was allowed to take it a step at a time. Along the way, we passed by mothers with infants selling flower offerings. Five photo ops later, we got to say our prayer and light a candle each for world peace.

Getting down was a breeze. I parked the girls for a snack with hubby so I could hunt the stalls for strawberry jam. We met up at the stalls to buy souvenir shirts and ogle more woven stuff. Then it was time to head for Manila. I would have loved to stay some more and haunt the city streets on foot, but we promised the girls an overnight bus ride to the biggest mall in Asia so they could spend Php 100 each at Comic Alley.

So it was goodbye to Baguio for now. Someday, we'll be back, and not for the wagwag and aso-cena. I kid the girls to consider UP Baguio for college so we could visit them as often as we want. The girls asked what courses are offered there. Ah, that gives me something to work on.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to [email protected]"Send at the risk of a reply," she says.) This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

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