Scent of pine
The second to the last time I was in Baguio City was in January 2015, when it seemed that half of Manila’s population had moved because of an extended holiday declared for Pope Francis’ visit. It caused monstrous gridlock, making me wonder if I wanted to return.
But return we did, for me to do two conferences but with enough time for family. One of my daughters squealed excitedly, “I can smell it, I can smell it,” even when we were still going up Kennon Road. I smelled nothing, catching a whiff only when we got to Camp John Hay, but our senses do deteriorate with age.
Age, precisely, has driven me back to Baguio several times as my children are growing up, originally to recreate some of my own childhood memories. But in more recent trips, I’ve realized the importance of these trips for the kids to form their own memories to serve their future.
Memories of my childhood summers in Baguio are mainly of strawberries, horseback riding, and the still strong scent of pine trees. But we—adults and children—were pretty much sequestered in rented houses, enjoying the mild weather but keeping out everything else.
Out there were the “Igorot”—the general term for several national minority groups in the Cordillera. We would see them in Mines View Park and, occasionally, around the house. Sadly, they were invoked to scare the kids to behave: “Hala, hala, there’s an Igorot in the street and she’ll get you if you’re bad.”
One time we kids were hauled off to a studio to be photographed, the boys in bahag (G-string) and wielding a spear, the girls in tapis and toting a back basket. “We” were suddenly “them” for a few moments. The photographs were framed, then taken out for an album, and now lost (I hope temporarily).
In college and for many years after, I became involved with health programs in the Cordillera, with volunteer groups, with nongovernment organizations, and with Unicef. I have been to many parts of the region, and have learned the vast differences among the various “Igorot” groups: the Kakana-ey and Ibaloi, the Bontoc, Kalinga, Gaddang, Ifugao. There are also other groups on the perimeters of the Cordillera: the Isinai and Ilonggot of Nueva Vizcaya, the Tingguian of Abra. Baguio remained a frequent destination, to connect to other parts of the Cordillera or to attend meetings and workshops.
I admit to ambivalence, with Baguio reflecting our yearning for a bit of Mother America. But the city and its environs are good places to confront, rather than fear, our colonial past, to appreciate the diversity, local and global, with a wonderfully chaotic mix of people from the region and other places of the country, including a large Muslim, mostly Maranao, community. (How I wish I had photographed a huge vegetable truck that said it all with “Ilonggorot” emblazoned on its side!)
Baguio has changed tremendously over the years—many say for the worst with pollution and traffic, but I want to be more positive. The city hosts many people who are fierce environmental warriors, carving out new lifestyles, new forms of governance, that will set the pace for the rest of the country.
So, yes, my kids have had their horseback riding, strawberries, what’s left of the scent of pine, and more. We’ve had real Sagada oranges, or at least I hope they are. (The ones in Manila are often from China; vendors claim they’re from Sagada and seek higher prices.) Sagada also produces grapes now, large and voluptuous, sweeter than the ones from Pangasinan.
Benguet State University in Trinidad has become a favorite tourist destination, where you can harvest strawberries from vast fields. It also has an organic produce store, which offers not only vegetables but also herbs and spices (including habanera chili, the hottest of them all), mushrooms, and mountain rice.
I was relieved to see the kids leaving their iPads in the hotel and looking forward to all the things we could do in Baguio. They remembered and clamored for Mt. Cloud, the tiniest biggest bookstore in the world, and actually bought books, real books.
They’ve learned the Ilokano “naimas,” which means “sarap” in Tagalog, and “lami” in the Visayan languages—words that mean more than “delicious.”
Baguio is full of naimas restaurants now, offering something for everyone. I didn’t know that Café by the Ruins had burned down, but was ecstatic when we discovered that, like a phoenix it had resurrected next to Mario’s. It’s now Café by the Ruins Dua (“two” in Ilokano)—a different ambience but still with meals uniquely sumptuous.
Then there’s Ebai, next to Narda’s. There, I learned that Narda Capuyan, who popularized ikat weaves, passed away last year, but was relieved to hear that her daughter Luisa had taken up her mother’s legacy with an expanded, more youthful line of products. We ordered Ebai’s famous carrot cake, which I wrote about in a Pinoy Kasi column way back in 2001 (the restaurant still has the clipping!) together with Luisa’s “Igorot pride” and her naming her children “Ebai” and “Lag-an.” That column moved several readers to ask for suggestions for more Filipino names for their children.
Learning to be Filipino
One restaurant that the kids will not forget is “The Farmer’s Daughter” in Trinidad, next to the Tam-awan cultural park. It was well worth the trip, and included challenging my kids to try the simple Ibaloi culinary fare. They didn’t like the pinikpikan (chicken prepared in a way that has led animal rights activists to protest), but they took on the other dishes—a major breakthrough in my attempts to free up their fast-foods-corrupted taste buds. (Being vegetarian, I find Baguio and Trinidad paradise… sort of, because I am aware of the heavy use of pesticide in many vegetable farms in Benguet.)
A highlight of this visit was the Museo Kordilyera at UP Baguio, inaugurated last year with what is perhaps the country’s largest collection of Cordillera cultural artifacts. There’s also a shop offering UP Press books and Cordillera crafts. There was an exhibit on tattooing in the region, and we were guided by no less than Prof. Analyn Salvador-Amores, the acting curator and an authority on tattooing. The exhibit, reflecting the Museo’s philosophy, avoids sensationalism and exoticism, presenting the broader context of tattooing as tribal identity, healing, and life’s transitions.
The kids weren’t too interested in the tattooing and spent the time playing house with “Igorot” dolls. When they’re older we will spend more time in the Museo and Baguio to learn more about Macli-ing Dulag and other Cordillera peoples—upland, lowland—who devoted, even offered, their lives in defense of heritage and ancestral lands. On their own—or with me if I still have enough energy—they can venture to other places in the Cordillera and meet people who taught me, and who can teach them, what it means to be Filipino.
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