When I was in grade school during the 90s, summer vacations to me (and most likely to many other Filipino families, too) meant heading up north to the chilly city of Baguio.
Touted as the City of Pines and the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Baguio City was an eight-hour car ride from my hometown of Pateros, Metro Manila. My cousins and I would be woken up in the wee hours of the morning so that we – that is, I, my grandparents, my mom, and her two sisters and their respective families – could hit the road early for the long journey. In a half-asleep, half-awake state, we’d then haul ourselves into one of my uncles’ vehicles – a red and a purple car, and an owner type jeep. Sometimes each family would go separately on different dates, but eventually we’d all be in Baguio once the month of May rolls in. We’d usually stay there from about a week after the start of our summer vacation sometime in March until a week before the new school year begins in early June.
Through these journeys I was able to memorize at an early age the provinces we needed to pass through before we get to our destination. There’s Bulacan, Bataan, Tarlac, and Pangasinan. I remember we’d usually have a pit stop at the Jollibee branch located at Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac.
Then there are two highways motorists could pass through in order to get to Baguio: Marcos Highway and Kennon Road. The elders liked taking the route at Kennon Road so we kids could see the giant statue of a lion’s head just before entering the city.
I remember only one instance when the family had to rent a house for us to stay; the rest of the times we stayed at an elevated bungalow in Camp Allen which served as my aunt Marisa and her husband uncle Henry’s home for the time they worked at the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). I remember the house being really spacious – or maybe I was just really a little girl back then. Camp Allen, from what I can recall, was located on a hill so the house was surrounded by lots of trees. Oddly enough, the things I can remember most from the house are my uncle’s piano and their small pet lobster sitting inside a bowl on top of it.
Even then, Baguio City was already a booming tourist destination. Every day we’d go out to a scenic spot: the Mines View Park, the Mansion which serves as the Philippine presidents’ summer home, Burnham Park, the PMA, Camp John Hay, the Baguio Cathedral, the Lourdes Grotto… Some of the most memorable things we’ve done in Baguio were picking strawberries in a strawberry farm, having a picnic at the park with my family and some family friends, and playing crazy golf and visiting the Lost Cemetery of Negativism at Camp John Hay.
Many Filipinos believe that Baguio City is a hotspot for paranormal activities. As a child I was already fascinated with such things, so I would eagerly listen to my aunt and uncle as they tell us about the spirits that haunt the Philippine Military Academy, the Teachers’ Village, the ruins of the Diplomat Hotel, and other places. But the story I can still remember distinctly is that of the white lady that supposedly haunts the tree in the middle of a road. It’s a popular story, actually, and has been featured loads of times in those annual Halloween specials aired on Philippine TV. Some years back, though, the tree had already been cut. In any case, it used to give me the chills because most of the time, we’d often pass by this road to and from the PMA aboard my uncle’s open-air owner type jeep.
Of course, leaving Baguio meant hoarding jars of peanut brittle, strawberry and ube jams, and other sweets. There’s also those wooden pens and keychains with our names engraved on it, and the brooms my mom and aunts would get.
I think it was in the late ‘90s to the early 2000s when the family eventually stopped having our vacations in Baguio, mainly because my uncle Henry was stationed at Fort Andres Bonifacio in Makati City. The last time I went to Baguio was around five or six years ago, and I went with my best friend for a weekend during the summer. I thought Baguio had changed so much from the time I was last there. First of all, there’s now a huge mall right smack in the middle of the city. The temperature got a bit higher, the population slightly bigger. The places I’ve come to known as a child were still there, but of course, it’s not the same as before.
Anyway, I wish our family would get to go back to Baguio again for the summer someday.
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