Never again a Maundy Thursday trek to Baguio—in fact not ever again on Holy Week, if we can help it!
Well, to all intents and purposes, my husband and I are both retired and have no reason to join the maddening crowd to go anywhere. Before or after peak vacation seasons when rates are even more affordable is the best time.
Trouble is we like to take along my youngest granddaughter, Mona, who is 9, while we still can and while she still enjoys our company. Hence, the urgency. Her availability forces us to compete with the rest of the worker and student classes for the same vacation spots at the same time.
Mona happens to love Baguio and has by now built her own Baguio routine, the center of which is horseback riding in the John Hay area, near the Feeding station where Vergel and I indulge ourselves with an order each of Simply Strawberries while waiting for the hour of riding to pass.
Against all wisdom and warnings, we left Makati for Baguio at 3 a.m. of Maundy Thursday, the first day of the Holy Week vacation. We started crawling on the approach to Cubao, where the bus terminals are, and continued all the way to Balintawak and on stretches after that.
What would have taken an hour’s drive to Angeles City, Pampanga, took us three. By then we had to take our first bathroom break and breakfast. Mercifully in that mall there were many restrooms and, even if there were lines, they weren’t that long, and the bathrooms weren’t bad at all, as public bathrooms go. The mall seemed in fact prepared for the crowd—toilets had toilet paper, hand soaps, paper hand towels, even bidets.
Compared to McDonald’s, which had the longest queues, Starbucks was empty, and so we decided to break our fast there. Starbucks was itself prepared for exigencies: Every payment receipt had a code number that allowed customers to use their two restrooms—one on the ground floor and another on the second floor. All too soon the lines to both started forming, long enough for people to engage in conversation, which confirmed my greatest fear: We were all headed for Baguio.
By 8 a.m. we were back on SCTEX. The MMDA had put up additional tollbooths and opened a counterflow lane to accommodate some northbound traffic. But despite all that, after the exit at Binalonan, the traffic slowed again, to almost a standstill. Some cars began overheating, car windows were being rolled down; I was one of those passengers fanning myself.
We took the shorter Kennon Road, but, about half an hour later, rain suddenly fell, densely enough to blur visibility. We were thinking landslides but were too far gone to turn back. We plowed on ever so carefully. Before we reached the top, the weather just as suddenly cleared, and the day turned gorgeous and bright.
We entered Baguio at just past noon and were at the Manor by about 1 p.m., all registered and ordering lunch. We had been on the road for 10 hours.
How quickly I could forget the ordeal we had just gone through, especially with my pan-fried red snapper with mashed potatoes. Vergel seemed quite content himself with his grilled blue marlin and green mango salad.
The little lady was going through her French onion soup, with her usual ceremony of dunking French bread and slivers of Parmesan cheese in her soup, before tackling some of my snapper and mashed potatoes.
While we took our freshly brewed strong Benguet coffee, alternating it with spoonfuls of strawberries and Chantilly cream, Mona was herself savoring her leche flan with hot chocolate.
The Manor’s excellent cuisine courtesy of chef Billy King was almost expected, along with the varied musical shows: a trio of guitarists at lunch and at night a jazz concert all free of charge for in-house guests. For bigger kids, there was the wall-climbing challenge, and not to forget, for children like Mona, there was the butterfly cage and the petting bunnies, who each got new names from Mona.
Easily her favorite, for some reason, was an orange bunny she named Tristan. He was a boy, she explained. Vergel quickly suggested she name the female Isolde, to let her know she wasn’t the only one who knew their story.
Mona wrote notes to the Manor staff, as she does on every visit, telling them to love nature and to take care of all the animals and saying her good-byes and thank-yous, too.
Courtesy of an old generous friend, we get to enjoy the facilities of the Baguio Country Club each time we go up. Mona has established another routine there: She’d feed the birds breadcrumbs at the veranda and visit the peacock and the chickens in the Flora and Fauna garden. It’s hard to beat the club’s ambience and buffets.
I also find their gift shop irresistible; I’ve never come down without a purchase. The likelihood of bumping into old friends at the club with its long history is also much higher than anywhere else.
Indeed, Baguio is hard to stay away from, despite the traffic and the long hard climb, with its 21-degree cool air in the early afternoon, the sight and scent of pine, the weeping willows, the brightly colored flowers, the green carpets of hills—and knowing it’s now only four hours away, normally. We can take long walks in the sun, breathe cool fresh air.
These may not be enough reasons for some, but for us, it’s worth all the ordeal. We come twice a year, and always at peak seasons. Perhaps a change in the schedule is sensible, but, while there’s Baguio, we’ll be there.