My Chair Rocks

‘Taking to the hills’

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Leaving Manila to go North on a Sunday morning is a wise thing to do. No stops and starts. Smooth cruising except for a few snarls in the small towns. We made one pit stop at Starbucks in Luisita. We didn’t take Marcos Highway, and instead opted for the hairpin curves of Kennon Road, aka The Zigzag.

Alas, Bridal Veil Falls was dry, and Lion’s Head didn’t look as majestic. It was distressing to smell diesel fumes instead of the beautiful scent of pine. But somehow, just knowing we were in Baguio made my heart skip a beat. The thin mountain air, perhaps?

I remember other Baguio trips. There was a northbound PNR train from Tutuban Central to Damortis in La Union. At the end of the line, first-class passengers scrambled for the few sedans and buses assigned to them for the trip up the zigzag.

I remember chug-chugging it in the mid-1950s. In the same compartment were a young congressman and his beautiful wife. I was with my children and a friend who was very heavy with child. When we got to Damortis, we couldn’t get off fast enough. By the time we stepped off the platform, all the sedans were taken.

We were ready to board a bus when the dashing solon approached us and offered his car. His wife and their little group quickly got on the bus. The height of chivalry, I thought. Flashing his famous smile, he asked us to please take his golf clubs to Pines Hotel.

FEM

He looked so familiar, but we weren’t sure. The initials on his golf bag later confirmed our suspicions. FEM. We didn’t know then that those same initials would one day make headlines and history. Amazing!

Anyway, it was a little past noon when we pulled up at Baguio Country Club, just in time for lunch on the veranda. The thermometer under our window showed 23 degrees. At sundown, we welcomed another drop in temperature and happily reached for our shawls.

In Manila, just the day before, we had been cursing the unbearable heat.  My daughter nagged me to keep hydrating. She warned about heat strokes and fainting spells. In Las Vegas last year, when temperatures climbed to three-digits Farenheit, I remember there was a heat advisory, instructing everyone to keep their pets and the elderly indoors.

Sharing top billing with domestic animals is not exactly flattering, but let’s face it, we both need special care. So their bowls were kept full, and my water jug replenished.

It rained after lunch. From my room I heard the roar of thunder echoing in the mountains. There were patches of mist between the trees. I remember afternoons long past, telling stories over steaming cups of Benguet coffee. The smell of smoke from a nearby kaingin evokes warm and tender memories. Can I see Ating Tahanan from the balcony? How do I get to Outlook Drive?

My reverie continues. I suddenly miss the fireplace in the Smokehouse, the crackle of firewood still wet from last night’s rain. It’s funny how sounds and smells stir up vivid images of events more than half a century ago.

Where is The Woodshed, I wonder? They had the best vodka gimlets. I remember having more than my share one night. And for many years, I thought the hangover would never end.

Baguio was never our summer destination when I was a little girl. The beach was. But in late 1944, we were packed and ready to join Papa’s eldest brother Tio Enrique in his summer home to avoid the danger of a bloodbath in Manila.

If we had gone, we would have been with the families who were forced to flee the massive bombing of Baguio. But Mama had a miscarriage a day before our trip and we stayed in Manila.

Boating in Burnham

I didn’t see Baguio until, as a new bride, I went to watch a benefit basketball match. We were quartered at the dorm of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines. Not quite the bridal suite, but everything is wonderful when you are young. We stayed a couple of days, took long walks and went boating in Burnham Park and ate at Rice Bowl.

I returned many years later and was introduced to Star Café, where for a few pesos you ate the most delicious fried rice ever. Baguio was still beautiful. Session Road was clean, hospitable, ideal for a brisk walk, its gentle slopes challenging but never menacing.

Today we avoid Session. Parking is impossible. People push and shove. The sidewalks have crumbled. No one cares enough to do anything about it.

We drove by Wright Park. The pony rides continue to attract tourists. A crowd posed for pictures beside an Igorot in full dress. But it was just a dummy! Was the “real thing” out to lunch?

Camp John Hay remains popular. I remember when it flew the American flag. You needed a special pass or to know someone who had one to get in.  Sorry to say, the former US base no longer sparkles like it did then, with its pristine green and white cottages. It is a little too laid-back for my taste and could use some of the old discipline and order. Does that make me Colonial?

What has happened to our beloved Baguio? Sad but true: Our summer capital, once our pride and joy, has fallen apart. A facelift alone will not bring it back. Baguio needs to find its soul. Will someone, please, please help?

P.S. Despite all of the above, when I feel the need to “take to the hills,” I come up the zigzag.  Its sharp twists and sudden turns remind me of how contorted and convoluted my life has been.  But when I get to the top of the mountain I find solace and immense peace. I know that no matter where I may live, I can come home to Baguio where, once upon a long time ago, I left a big piece of my heart.

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