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Pining for Baguio

By PAULO ALCAZAREN, The Philippine STAR Published May 02, 2021 5:00 am

It’s summer and the second year we will spend this season cooped up because of the pandemic. The numbers are still up nationwide, but at least the vaccinations are slowly being rolled out.

Vacations are still very difficult or expensive to even plan for families. A staycation at home is still the safest thing to do, but we’ve all been in our homes for over a year and are getting cabin fever. However, we can dream of a near future when we can at least go to local destinations. One of these is Baguio.

Instead of an actual visit to the City of Pines, this first week of May we will take a virtual one based on sketches I did while in lockdown last year. These are landmarks of Baguio, visits to which make any trip up the Mountain Province a treat for lowlanders like us.

The top destinations will be the ones that can present options for a lot of open space, al fresco dining, greenery, and views, and so a place like Baguio needs to ensure that its outdoor venues can provide this and more. We are all pining for a good place to visit.

Burnham Park

No visit to Baguio is complete without a walk in the premier park of the north. Walk or jog around, or take a lazy boat ride on Burnham Lake. Social distancing will be with us for a while, so visits to parks like this would be safest for everyone. The park, like the city, is over a hundred years old and thankfully still relatively intact. I hope the city keeps it that way.

 Burnham Park is a great destination that allows for social distancing if needed.

Cholo’s at Burnham Park

I used to visit this place often, as it was the family residence of a good friend and classmate, architect Dave Rivera. His father moved the large Rivera brood up to Baguio in the 1960s. They were neighbors of ours in Project 4 in the 1950s (there were only a few doctor’s clinics in the district then, with my father’s being the other one).

After most of the children left for college or work, the house was turned into a restaurant originally named Chez Riviere. It is now Cholo’s, known for great grilled offerings. More restaurants have also opened in the area.

 Chez Riviere, a landmark at the corner of Kisad Road and Burnham Park.

Session Road

Walking down Session Road will hopefully soon be possible again. I suggest the city closes the road on weekends, or even partially close the road to traffic (by making it one-way). Making Session Road fully or partially pedestrianized will open opportunities for al fresco cafes and bistros, as well as allow a bit more space to reline the street with pine and other upland trees.

 Session Road features art deco architecture like the old Pines Cinema.

Baguio Public Market and Malcolm Square

The public market at the bottom of Session Road is another must-visit in anyone’s itinerary. Malcolm Square across from it has had a great makeover and reports have it that the market itself is scheduled for a major renovation. The market is crowded, so this may take longer to reopen. If Session Road is closed, market activities can spill out onto the road on weekends.

 Baguio Public Market is due for a major renovation.

Baguio Cathedral

At the top of Session Road is the Catholic cathedral. Next Holy Week, God willing, this destination will be free to visit safely again. I do hope that no more commercial development chokes the surrounding area. The landmark has become less visible with buildings cropping up around it.

Baguio Convention Center

This venue is undergoing a renovation and in the new normal would be a welcome venue for the MICE market that Baguio was known for. The complex is right beside UP Baguio and the area is an opportunity for creating another vibrant hub for locals and visitors.

 The Baguio Convention Center is once again a MICE venue for the city.

Mansion House

The tandem of Wright Park and the Mansion House (I’ve always found the term redundant) is another spot for any Baguio visitors’ list. Built in 1908, the demesne was intended as a summer home for governors general. It was turned over to the Philippine government and serves as the residence of the president or guests on official visits.

 The Mansion is one of Baguio City's many heritage buildings.

Mines View Park

This Baguio landmark needs a complete makeover. It has become too commercial and even the views are not as great as they were from childhood memory. A boardwalk and strategic framing of views need to be built, along with a better system of visitor management. Nearby of course, and on the way back to your Airbnb or hotel, you can purchase the requisite Good Shepard strawberry and ube jams.

 Mines View Park needs to be de-cluttered and redeveloped for more space.

We all hope for this pandemic to be over soon. Tourism will come back and the first destinations will be local. Local and provincial governments, as well as those in the industry, can use this lull to plan how to best offer safe and interesting destinations for Filipinos to visit.

The top destinations will be the ones that can present options for a lot of open space, al fresco dining, greenery, and views. Crowded events will take longer to make a comeback, and so a place like Baguio needs to ensure that its outdoor venues can provide this and more. We are all pining for a good place to visit.