It's a bit amazing how I've managed to travel to so many countries of the world and still have never gone to Baguio in my 30 years existence. Well, once, but I was barely a year old then so I don't remember anything about it, so it doesn't count - which also applies to a lot of places where I just got wallplaster drunk and promptly lost all my related memories. The main reason why I never got back to baguio after that, not counting a possible persona-non-grata status I do not know of, is that everytime somebody in my family suggests going to baguio (i.e. me) somebody else (i.e. mom) will always suggest going to Tagaytay instead which is kinda like Baguio, only instead of going north you go south and instead of seeing Igorots, you see lots of people offering inexplicable boatrides to Taal lake.
So anyhoo, my in-laws decided to take me with them to Baguio along with my 1yo kid and my wife. I said "oh wow. This is finally it." I took it as a chance to improve my scope of travel in the Philippines, which up until that trip marked the most northern place I've travelled to as Clark Pampanga (relatively speaking it’s far north already. Why else would you be seeing so many white people there?)
This also counted as the longest road trip I've embarked on since that one time we crossed Saudi Arabia from Dhahran to Jeddah (which is like driving from Ilocos to Zamboanga) across cities, deserts, and unsanitary truck stops. Even so, the road trip was just as hard with all the crying, pooping, and vomiting involved – and that’s just us parents. Don't get me wrong, my baby was perfectly behaved at the start of the trip up until she got bored - which was around the time we started the car engine in the garage. After that she kind of treated the car as her personal jungle gym and constantly relocated herself into various locations in the vehicle causing varying levels of discomfort to the rest of the passengers. I would not have been surprised if at some point we found her playing inside the exhaust manifold.
And almost every single person in Manila woke up one Christmas and said "hmm I think I'll go to Baguio" more than of the entire population density of our capital shifted to Baguio practically overnight and threatened to capsize the island of Luzon. Suffice to say, traffic was horrendous. It took us almost 10 hours to get to Baguio - which is almost the same travel time as going from Makati to Libis on a weeknight (que horror)!
Still, I finally got to Baguio. And it's just as I imagined. (Like Tagaytay but with less Taal boat signs)
The first night I was able to go to Burnham Park because our Hotel was strategically located beside it, which was awesome. Burnham Park looked to me like what Rizal Park could've been had we not allowed it to be destroyed by commercial establishments, asphalt, and copious amounts of low-cost hookers. I particularly loved the lake in the middle of it all, where one can for a small amount of money, rent a boat to row back and forth on - or for free- sit down on one of the benches and watch people who have never done boating in their lives become uncomfortable after five minutes of rowing.
The next day we went to the Strawberry farm which isn't so much of a farm as it is a market place since they were selling everything from corn to broom sticks to shawarma. And no, it wasn't strawberry shawarma either. Yeah, I was disappointed too.
After that we also went to Mines view park where one can admire the scenic beautify of people admiring the scenic beauty of the Cordillera Mountains. As a bonus trivia, if you squint really hard you can probably see communist insurgents waving back at you and asking you to join their cause (don't. it's a tourist trap)
I got to eat corn and roasted squid which was very delicious. Since we're far from the ocean, I assumed the squid is native to the mountains, using its tentacles to swing from tree to tree, caught using barbecue sticks hurled at it by fierce hunters. It also might be useful to mention now that I don't do background research writing these articles (you’re not my teacher don't judge)
We also stopped by one of the greatest testaments to Filipino culture - SM Baguio and ate at the world famous Mann Hann. And no, it's not the same as the one in SM MoA. The spicy squid, for one, is made of mountain squid.
Seriously though, we're practically the only people who would probably go "This is such a wonderful place. The air is clean, the food is awesome, the view is exhilarating. But you know what's missing? Astrovision, Buko Joe, and a stuffy foodcourt."
Later that night, I raided the ukay ukay shops. Tourists from Manila seem to go gaga for these second-hand thrift shops that contain stuff they love to ignore back in Manila and there was more than one instance that I found the shops in Manila selling the same thing for cheaper. I don't know. It must be the cold weather.
I also went back to Burnham Park, this time alone - which changed the game entirely. In the span of 15 minutes, three dudes approached me asking if I'm interested in a) chicks b) full body massage c) full body massage with chicks. I think I spent more time shooing them off than soaking up the scenery. Operative term being "shooing" because I don't really want to be stranded in Baguio left only with a questionably integrity.
Also dropped by the night market, which is basically the ukay ukay shops that already closed for the day moving their stuff in the middle of the street and selling them for basically the same prices as earlier that day. The tourists love it. I don't know. It must be the weather.
Before going back to Manila the following day we got to visit the local palenke, by which I mean the seemingly-local palenke clearly intended for tourists from Manila. Because unless the entire population of Baguio has clearly switched to a Strawberry-Ube-Walis Tambo diet, that market was not exactly selling anything else you need to survive. Where are, for example, CDR-KING power banks?
I got me a boatload of strawberries which until today, more than a week after the trip, I'm still struggling to finish. If ever somebody stabs me with a knife, I swear I'll probably bleed strawberry mush instead of blood. It's practically the same color so I don't really mind.
We also stopped by the Pink Sisters convent, which contrary to popular belief, is actually more of peach than Pink. Also, apparently they're not the same nuns who make child-labor flavoured ube delicacies. I got confused. They didn’t mind. They probably get that a lot.
The trip down was pretty much uneventful, which left me room for introspection. Sometimes it takes a trip to another place in the same country to change your perspective on things.
Like a renewed love for nature.
The value of family bonding.
And how Baguio Oil is a big lie.