Baguio…the Coolest City in the Country, part 2

Like a scene out of Europe. This is Session Road, the city’s main streat, at the break of dawn.

In Part 1 of this story we went through Baguio’s parks, now let me take you to other places in and around the city.

For a city that is kind of “isolated” in a mountainous region, downtown Baguio can be surprisingly busy and hectic. People may have romantic images of Baguio, with its pine trees and its “highlands” atmosphere, but once you hit the city’s center, you get dragged back to earth. Just like “downtown” in any city in the Philippines, it is packed tight with cars, jeepneys, pedestrians, and vendors, all jostling for every square meter of space. There also used to be a time when the downtown area was almost entirely taken over by “wag-wag” or “ukay-ukay” shops, which sell second hand clothing at dirt-low prices, but are of questionable origin (many are reportedly relief goods). However on my last visit, it looks like city was able to reclaim the streets from the “wag-wag” invasion, and it seems the wag-wag shops have retreated back to a small block on the northern end of Burnham.

Despite having a downtown area that on the surface looks like any other, Baguio’s center still has a “one of a kind” appeal. The cool mountain air invites one to hang around, sip a cup of whatever it is you like to drink on a cool day, and watch the world go by, something you can rarely do “downtown” elsewhere in the country. For those who like to stay on the move, the narrow, undulating roads of the city center are worthy of a stroll, and if you pinch your nose closed and plug your ears, you just might – ever so slightly, imagine your self to be in some mountain town in Europe – but just ever so slightly. And I’m not kidding. When I visited Lugano at the foot of the Swiss Alps several years ago, I likened it to Baguio, only much tidier, and for me that still holds true.

If the hustle and bustle of downtown Baguio in the peak hours are too much for you to take, try strolling around early in the morning. You will hardly be alone as lots of people love to jog in the cool morning air, but the relative peace of the early hours will give one a whole different perspective of the city.

Session road at sunrise, looking the other way.

Sitting at one of the of high points in the city, the cathedral in Baguio has a commanding view of the surroundings.

Baguio, viewed from the cathedral.

LA TRINIDAD

It’s not uncommon for people to go down from Baguio with packs of fruits and veggies in tow. The high altitude climate around the cordillera region, where Baguio sits, makes it ideal for growing crops that normally won’t get a chance to thrive in most parts of this tropical country. Among the most popular of the region’s “mountain produce” is strawberries, and while some people would be content with just buying fresh strawberries or strawberry jam from the market, there are those who would actually prefer to “get down and dirty”, and pick their own stuff.

The valley of La Trinidad, around a half-hour car ride away from Baguio’s city center, has been a popular spot for strawberry picking for many years. So much so that growing strawberries there has become a tourism, as much as it is an agricultural, industry. Unfortunately it was not strawberry harvesting season while we were there, and all that we saw where strawberry leaves, and some other crops that they plant in between seasons like various kinds of lettuce. Still, tourists came in droves, and for city-dwelling families with small kids, it’s still a good chance to let the little ones see and hop around a real farm.

The farms of La Trinidad, Benguet

Tam-Awan Village.

Apart from pine trees, and fruits and veggies, there’s something else thriving in Baguio and it’s called the “Arts”. I don’t know what it is with mountains and artists (especially those in visual arts), but I’ve always had the impression that the two seem to have a special sort of relationship. The Tam-awan Village, prides itself as an artist’s village, and that’s practically what it is – a haven of art and culture high in the slopes in the outskirts of the city. The place is a cultural exhibit, art gallery, learning center and tourist spot rolled into one. And if you fancy climbing up the hillside to see various replicas of indigenous houses, you can add “good work-out place” to that too. Those who have special appreciation for arts, especially indigenous art, may find utmost interest in the various pieces of art works displayed in the cafe and in the surrounding galleries. For those whose interests lay elsewhere, the highlight of the place would be the peek into the lives of the natives of the cordilleras, courtesy of the replicas of their houses scattered around the slopes. Get your lungs ready though if you plan to finish the entire trail. The place also has a good restaurant/cafe near the entrance, where you could regain all the calories you lose from the hike.

The Tam-awan village is not that far off from the city center, though you need to have your own vehicle to get there. If you plan to drive there though with a manual vehicle, make sure you can work your clutch and gears well, as the uphill road on the way up could send shivers to an unseasoned driver.

The view from Tam-awan Village

The BenCab Museum

The other “more formal” artist’s haven in Baguio is the BenCab Museum. Named after the museum’s founder, the artist Ben Cabrera, the museum feartures various paintings, sculptures, and other works not only by Ben himself, but by other artists as well. The place also has some cultural artifacts from the natives of the region. The museum itself has 4 floors and if you’d really take time to appreciate each piece there, an hour would likely pass by very quickly, however people who are not really deep into such stuff can enjoy the outdoor area after passing through all the galleries.

The “backyard” of the museum features a garden, a pond (complete with a kiosk in the middle), and even a hiking trail, all with a very good view of the lush, verdant mountain slopes all around. There is also a cozy cafe where one can enjoy a wonderful cup of coffee while looking at beautiful surroundings (the cafe serves meals too).

The place is just 15 minutes from the city center (along Asin Rd.), and I would highly recommend this to everyone visiting Baguio. Again, you would need your own vehicle to get here though.

* Photos were taken last November 2012, with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.

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