AnneMarie and Andrew

Annemarie and Andrew – Trekking Asia

Baguio

We had taken the bus to Baguio (pronounced Bag-ee-oh) the day after Pinatubo. From Angeles it was a 7 hour journey. We had arrived mid afternoon and upon checking into the hotel we’d had an afternoon nap. In the evening we went to a nearby restaurant and spent a fortune (around £20) on a meal which was on par with a low end gastropub in the UK, but was probably one of the better restaurants in town.

The next day we decided to explore this city which was founded by the Americans in 1904. It was created as a Hill Station, a place (usually in the mountains) where colonial powers went to get away from the heat. The British had many in India and Africa but this was the USA’s only hill station, obviously they weren’t exactly a colonial power unlike the European nations.

Our first destination was the botanical gardens. As we walked along the road we were surprised at just how busy it was. I suppose we shouldn’t have been that surprised, over 330,000 people live in Baguio yet it has no bypass, no dual carriageways, no ring road, all the traffic is crammed into a few roads which weave their way around the hills in and out of town. The roads were heaving, filled with taxis and Jeepneys. This means the roads are very noisy and they are very polluted! Every Jeepney was belching out black smoke and most of the taxis sounded bad and were puffing black smoke. We could see the fumes in the air. Suddenly the walk didn’t seem so healthy.

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The botanical gardens were OK. A haphazard maze of paths lead around colourful bushes and plants. We spent a while here wandering the paths and must enjoying the cooler and much fresher air, the best air we had breathed since arriving in the Philippines.

Our next destination was a viewpoint high up on the hillside on the edge of the city. We walked up the hillside, surrounded on both sides by a perfectly manicured golf course. A little further up the road were the exclusive country house resorts. Not one or two, but many, all nestled in immaculate grounds. We continued walking, constantly uphill until a reached security guard and sentry box. To get past we had to pay, but as everything worth seeing was on the other side of the barrier and the entry fee was only £1.50 for both of us we decided it was worth it.

The top of the hillside is known as Camp John Hay. It covers a huge amount of land on one of the hills above Baguio, including the golf course and the country houses. It also has a house for the American ambassador to the Philippines, used as a summer house to escape the heat of Manila. The area was set aside by President Roosevelt and named after his secretary of state, John Hay. It was set aside as an R&R for American forces. Baguio is at an altitude of almost a mile high, meaning that when the rest of the country is baking hot it is a more pleasant temperature. The section we paid to enter was at the centre of Camp John Hay, on the very top of the hill.

On the side of the hill was the Cemetery of Negativism. A clever idea which could have been executed just a little better. There were about 40 small tombstones marking the death of a particular negative thought and an epitaph.

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On the other hill face was Bell’s Amphitheatre. This is a huge amphitheater cut into the hillside, supposedly it has great acoustics although I’d have thought the huge flower beds on each row would have damaged the acoustics.

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At the very top of the hill is a wooden one storey house. The house was built for an American general as his mountain retreat. Nothing spectacular, most of the decor was of hideous flowers. There was a guide in the house but she knew almost nothing, including key dates in the history of the Philippines (such as when the Americans came, when the Japanese came, when the Americans kicked the Japanese out, etc). She also knew very little about the house itself.

This is all Camp John Hay has to offer (unless you pay a lot more) and it was late in the afternoon so we set off back into town, via a different road. We spotted a little cafe by the road serving coffee and cake. We’d had a big lunch, so coffee and cake now would probably do us for the rest of the day and we wouldn’t need anything else to eat. Luckily the cake portions were a good size and we left feeling quite full.

After about 10 minutes we reached a bigger road which leads back into Baguio. We were back in the pollution and noise. It was as if we’d entered a different country for the last few hours, a country of fresh air, peace and quiet and nice scenery (this was the first time we had really liked the scenery in the Philippines).

All our photos of the day can be seen here.

Posted from Baguio City, Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines.

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