Traffic or no traffic, lowlanders still enjoy motoring up to Baguio in the summer via the smooth roads of NLEx-SCTEx-TPLEx to catch a whiff of the almost elusive scent of pine trees, check out new or favorite restaurants, feel that expected nip in the weather as the sun goes down, then rummage through the ukay-ukay bins on Harrison Road at nightfall.
Meanwhile, the staff of the green museum known as Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary (MES), made up of gardeners all, including the administrator and her office staff, will be there for those who wish to go through the Cosmic Journey, or visit its seven-month-old chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Philippines.
For those not aware of Our Lady, her special mission is to protect the Filipino people and the Philippine environment.
MES administrator Olive Gregorio recounted how, after the big quake in 1990, the Maryknoll nuns shifted their focus from education (MES was the Marishan School) to an environmental advocacy.
The Maryknoll Sisters Center for Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation took over the school. In 2014, the place was renamed and incorporated as MES.
Without selfies, the Cosmic Journey is a leisurely two-hour trek. There are 14 stops, like the Stations of the Cross, on rolling hills that, Gregorio said, “show the evolution of creation and of the universe. It’s a prayer walk with nature. You reflect on the relationship of humans with nature.”
MES walks its talk, from the food it grows (tomatoes, coffee, lettuce, to name a few) to the programs it espouses, such as indigenous earth wisdom, earth recollection or retreat, evolutionary consciousness, nutrition and wellness, waste reduction, climate change action, early earth education through its Sunbeams Daycare for children, sustainable building through the recently built Earth House, art exhibits and workshops, and a volunteer program that trains members to care for the community and Mama Earth.
Gregorio described the green retreat: “It runs from one to three days depending on the person’s needs. The Cosmic Journey is a retreat in itself. People have equated retreats as traditionally centered on Jesus and the Bible. Those who come to us feel disoriented at first. Ours is just as spiritual and religious, nakakaiyak (tearful) for some.
“We talk about the Big Bang, how to promote life in every stage of creation and going on to practice sustainable living. That is the 15th station, bringing into action the environmental advocacy to their families and communities.”
Conversations are not floating in the clouds. The food that the staff and visitors eat are organic and fresh in keeping with the sanctuary’s convictions.
The menu of Mollie’s Kitchen, a balcony café overlooking the tree tops, has been finalized.
Named after Sr. Mary Joseph Rogers, founder of the Maryknoll Sisters who also loved working in the kitchen, Mollie’s offers snacks, from sandwiches, pasta dishes like vegetable lasagna, to brewed coffee and flower teas (in flavors of rose, jasmine, hibiscus, turmeric, soursop, or whatever fruit or flower is in season).
There is a Learning Garden intended for the Sunbeams toddlers. As part of their ecological literacy, the children do gardening, composting, seed saving and earth art using organic elements like twigs, soil, leaves, rocks. This is what makes Sunbeams unique among other schools.
The same garden, which has a greenhouse for various types of lettuces, serves as a demonstration site for the Campo Sioco community and for outreach programs.
Gregorio said all the MES staff are teachers, too, who can show how urban gardening, composting, growing your own food and zero-waste management are done.
She added, “We teach other public schools to set up their gardens. We have farmers from Mt. Santo Tomas or we go up to teach them an alternative form of gardening that doesn’t use pesticides.”
Ironically, plastic bags aren’t banned in Baguio, to the consternation of environmentalists who have launched a “No to Plastics” movement. This group says “no” to single use of plastic bags, to styrofoam and single use of plastic disposables.
It says “yes” to the bayong (native woven shopping bag), reusable bags, minimal or recycled paper packaging and reusable containers.
At the heart of this movement are, who else, the Maryknollers of Baguio and those who have memories of the Baguio that was.
The Maryknoll Ecological Sanctuary is at 25 North Santo Tomas Road, Campo Sioco, Baguio City, call (6374) 4245745 or 0915-6555745 or e-mail [email protected] The sanctuary is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.