Friday, May 05, 2006

December - the perfect time to be in Baguio

Despite the seemingly rapid environmental degradation and the switch from a beautiful and clean city to a polluted, cramped, chaotic metropolis, Baguio has, for some reason, retained an old charm and rustic beauty about it. Somehow my family has developed a love for the city that we have been going there almost annually for the past 8 years now. Always in December.

Why December you may ask? Well, for one, Baguio is known to have a cool climate but it is in its coldest during this time of the year. Living in a tropical country like the Philippines, the place I reside in gets its share of rains and thunderstorms about 6 months each year and horrendous heat for 3 months during the summer. Although it is rather cool here in the months of November to February, it does not get as cold as it does in Baguio where the temperature reaches to as low as 10 degrees celsius. Ok, that's not so cold you say. That may be true - to you, that is. Remember what is true to someone else may not be true to another. And like I said, I live in the tropics and anything lower than 20 degrees is cool to me. Cold but not rainy with just some overcast is perfect.

Because it is cool, it is during this time that we get to wear some winter clothes of wool. Ikee even likes donning those knitted berets and gloves! There is NO WAY that you can wear those in the Philippines but in Baguio. and only in the cold months as the city's climate, although still cool, is not suitable for winter clothes in the summer or other time of the year.

Another reason for the choice are the activities available to us. December is perfect. It is cold in Baguio then and the strawberries are ripe for the picking. The family loves strawberries and not just ones that you buy from the supermarket but those that have just been harvested from the fields when you can feel warm and cool all at once - the sunand cool wind on your skin. Although picking the strawberries comes out more expensive for us not just because we have to go all the way to the strawberry field in La Trinidad Valley to pick them but because we get to choose the biggest and juiciest ones that they are priced higher. If I remember right, we got them at 300 pesos per kilo last december, 2005 when we could have purchased them in the market for 250 pesos - and the market is just in the middle of the city while la Trinidad is 30 minutes away from the city.

This time of the year is also perfect for having a picnic and strolling in Camp John Hay, the former US Base in Baguio City. We have discovered that having a picnic in this area is such a wonderful family activity in that every one of us agrees that we should never leave Baguio without doing it. Well, not to mention that it is an inexpensive activity as well. As this is done during breakfasttime of the last day of our stay, I merely have to bring salted eggs with tomatoes, cook some Vigan Longganisa, and fried rice, hot chocolate, and bring some fruit, strawberries and cream or some salad to complete the meal. The morning breeze is a delight to be had on a december morning. Add to the expense is the rental for the table that we use (about 150 pesos or so). along with our breakfast, we bring some board/card game that we can do to while away our time. Other than these, we also get to do other activities that are available in Camp John Hay. One of our favorites - actually my husband's and daughter's - is the nature trail which is about a 2 km hike amongst the pine trees. I particularly love to go shopping and look at the flowers. When we are not able to bring our meal, the choice would normally be coffee and pastries from the Figaro Coffeeshop which is a stone's throw away from the butterfly sanctuary or the Brothers burger at the Mile Hi.

During december there is a huge sale at the Export processing zone. I love going there because there are goods that are unusual and which are sold at very low prices. As I do not normally finish all my christmas shopping before we go to Baguio, there are things I buy to give to my friends and relatives for christmas.

December is also the time when most people would rather stay in their homes to prepare for the holidays so it is not as crowded in Baguio as it would normally be during the summer. How much of Baguio will you enjoy when all you see are people's heads and backs?

I don't like going to a place over and over again. But Baguio is different - it is a place where you discover something new each trip. The only places that we go to every time are the Wright Park for the horseback riding, the Mansion House because it is just across the wright park anway, Camp John Hay for the stroll and breakfast and shopping, Good Shepherd Convent for the ube and other delicacies. We normally skip the trips to Mines View Park, Bontanical garden, Burnham Park, Cathedral, Grotto, etc because they are either too crowded or the view is better some other place.

Last December we discovered a place called the Tam-awan Village. This is an ifugao village constructed by the artists of Baguio. What's nice is that you get to be immersed if you stay in one of their huts for a few days. The village takes pride in creating an authentic Ifugao experience for its guests. There are several activities that one could do there. I had wanted to do the hike to the top of the mountain but it had drizzled a bit which made the road slippery. Instead, we had a charcoal painting done by the artists around. there's no fee for it but you do have to give a small amount for donation to the village.

Also last december we discovered the Eco trail at the Maryknoll Convent. This features the different major religions in the world and the stations of the cross in a forest setting. There's this suspension bridge that leads to a burial cave which gave us a really eerie feel because it was deafeningly silent. Actually, we didn't know it was a burial cave until we read it. hehe...

There are several places we have yet to discover. I have been to the Asin Spring in my younger years and so desire to have my family explore its beauty. The Bataloc Mines and the old crystal cave are also among the list of places that I would like to visit the next time around. So, really, December is just perfect for us. In December, my family are all on vacation. In December the pine trees are green and makes the air smell of it and perhaps creates a "Little House on the Prairie" kind of atmosphere. Just trying to avoid the mess and clutter that abound in the city is one of the continuous challenge we have to face in our yearly pilgrimage to this place.

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