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Baguio memories are made of these…
Source: Manila Bulletin
Author: By Annalyn S. Jusay
Date: 2005-03-13
Tourist attractions have come and gone but there is one destination which inspires nostalgia in all of us. After all, who hasn’t had a fine memory of the cool City of Pines, also called the Summer Capital of the Philippines? Who hasn’t spent many a honeymoon here, rode a horse in Wright Park, admired the heights at Mines View or simply reveled in the sights and sounds of Session Road?

I have seen Baguio through the best and worst of times, that is why it will always be special to me. My fondest memories were those nights hanging out in the now defunct Spirits Disco and the still alive Rumors amid the company of good friends who call the city their home. One would be surprised that many ghost stories abound, specially in Teachers’ Camp where we always stayed. Somehow, we managed to drive away those fears – real or imagined – with a beer or two. My worst memory was of course covering the killer quake in 1990 when Baguio seemed unpassable to the rest of the world — the buildings collapsed like an accordion, with the stench of those thousands of bodies trapped in the rubble, perhaps shocked by the spell of sudden death.

Throughout all these, Baguio struck me as one real survivor of a city. What could still possibly topple a place which experienced a disaster in the magnitude of the atomic bomb that dropped in Nagasaki? And so when news reached me that it was again a pariah to the world because of the threat posed by the deadly disease meningococcemia, I knew that poor old Baguio will recover in due time.


I recently went to Baguio after eight long years of not seeing its shadow. I have avoided it for the simple reason that it was far, too far. I figured that with the six hours or so that it would take me to go there, I could already fly to China or Japan. But an invitation to go to Baguio was simply too difficult to pass up – never mind if my friends warned me before hand of the dreaded "m" word.

We stayed at Camp John Hay’s Manor which is, hands down, the finest hotel in the City of Pines. The Manor puts you in its warm embrace as soon as you walk in and does what every accommodation worth its salt does: Make you feel right at home. It must be the quaint, cozy interiors; the warm fireplace by the piano bar or the preponderance of wood and cedar logs. It must have been the smell of pine trees as I opened the window of my graciously-appointed superior room early in the morning. Whatever, the effect wrought on me by the Manor was truly unforgettable.


There are of course a sundry other reasons to love the "soul sanctuary" that is Camp John Hay. Definitely, one of the major reasons to go here is the food, whipped up by no less than chef extraordinaire Billy King.

On the weekend of our visit, Chef Billy and his very efficient kitchen staff pulled out all the stops to take us to a culinary experience beyond compare. Those who miss his specialties in the former Truffles and Le Soufflé will soon find that Le Chef at The Manor is worth every inch the long trek to the North. Tasting the cream of broccoli soup flavored with blue cheese made me feel like I harvested it right from the lush mountains of Benguet, ditto with the Manor Salad with roasted prawns in savory toasted sesame dressing. I also couldn’t quite forget the baked aubergine in filo pastry with three cheeses, the Chilean sea bass, the farmer’s plate with those assorted Baguio greens and the fresh strawberries in Grand Marnier sauce. A talk with the chef and a look at the menu will tell you that every ingredient and every dish has been sourced for quality. In this case, optimum freshness is assured because Baguio and Benguet are after all famous for their vegetables while the seafood is literally jumping from the seas of nearby Pangasinan.

For vacationers, I would recommend the Le Chef at the Manor buffet which is value for money at R650++. Aside from the salads and the entrees, the centerpiece is the grilling station where every "inihaw" of your imagination – from tuna belly to baby back ribs to the liempo to those oh-so-luscious prawns – are prepared in front of you by the friendly servers. On the other hand, those yearning for freshly-baked breads may check out an assortment of choices at the delicatessen.


If you’re lucky, you could also bump into Mr. Heinrich Maulbecker, who is lording it over the Manor as the general manager. The affable Mr. Maulbecker is German but proudly bred in Baguio, having been here for more than 26 years.

"Baguio is not a place you have to fall in love with at first sight, it’s something you have to discover little by little," he advises us.

Through the efforts of Maulbecker, the Manor has been spearheading the drive to keep the magic of Baguio alive through its sponsorship of art exhibits and cultural festivals like the annual Panagbenga.

In fact, the Manor’s walls are dotted with paintings by local artists. On the week of our visit, there was an on-the-spot painting session by Manila-based artists Allan and Ivi Avellana Cosio and chef Gene Gonzalez. As an added treat, they also performed in a concert of classic songs, something which we haven’t seen before.

"The entire Camp John Hay is 250 hectares but only 10 percent can be developed because the other 90 percent is of low density. Legally nothing prohibits us from putting up a 20-storey building but we decided on a self-imposed restriction that no building should be higher than a pine tree. And so if you notice, the Camp John Hay Manor is only four storeys high," said Bob Sobrepeña, chairman of the Fil-Estate Group of Companies which is responsible for developing the camp into a world-class leisure estate.

Added Maulbecker, "In the future, expect a fully-equipped sports club and town center to complement our present condotel, golf course and convention center. There will be movie houses, bowling lanes and the like. The first few rooms of the Manor Suites, now being built, should be operational by the end of the year. Once all the development is complete, Camp John Hay will be the ultimate place that Baguio should be."

Now, it would be a waste to just sleep in the perfect haven that’s your room or laze around in the Manor restaurant. I am saying this because the Camp John Hay experience wouldn’t be complete without exploring its great outdoors. These include playing with the butterflies in the picturesque Butterfly Sanctuary, sampling the two-kilometer eco-trail and the most exciting of all, horsebackriding through the dense forest.

While in Baguio, I did what every tourist would do: Go "malling" in the open-air SM City Baguio, sift through clothes of "ukay-ukay," have coffee at the Café by the Ruins, stroll through Session Road, explore the city market and yet still come out healthy from all of that.

Look Ma, no meningococcemia!

But what was most enlightening was the strange feeling I got that staying in Camp John Hay was enough to satisfy all my five senses. My sense of taste from savoring all the succulent food, smell – from literally smelling the pine trees, touch – from hugging my soft sheets in the Manor at night, hearing the chirping of birds in the forest and viewing the majestic environment, all unfolding before my eyes. Three days and two nights was certainly not enough to absorb the beauty of Camp John Hay which has emerged through time ageless and still possessing of its former glory. Actually, now made even better...

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