Ten Commandments Building (Baguio City, Benguet)

Dominican Hill in Baguio City is now famous for two things – the century-old, haunted Diplomat Hotel Ruins and the newer, giant Ten Commandments Building. This new tourist attraction in Baguio, right beside the Diplomat Hotel ruins, serves as a symbol that drives away evil spirits.

Check out “Diplomat Hotel Ruins”

Front view of building

This A-shaped, 12.19 m. high “prayer building” has two slanting slabs of stone carved with the imposing 152.90 sq. m. (1,645.8 sq. ft.) Bible’s Ten Commandments (a copy of the rules supposedly handed down by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai) that broke the Guinness World Records as the world’s first and tallest facility that features the Ten Commandments.

Concrete slab carved with the Ten Commandments

This PhP5.5-million building was commissioned last February 2011 by Nueva Vizcaya businesswoman Grace Galindez-Gupana, chief executive officer of ABS Gen Herbs International Corp. and founder of  the Kingdom of Jerusalem Halleluyah Foundation International (KOJHF, a religious group), and built by contractors from Nueva Ecija. The Ten Commandments building topped her previous world record, attained in 2009, when she built a similar 65 sq. m. tablet on a hill outside Manila.

It was turned over to the city government in July 2011 and officially unveiled on October 26 in the presence of  Baguio City Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan, Menashe Bar-On (Israeli Ambassador to the Philippines), Minister Abraham Okoliko of the Nigerian embassy and the Guinness representative Vic Fabellana. The Israeli ambassador also led a “tree planting” of an authentic Jerusalem-grown olive tree in front of the Ten Commandments building. It houses an altar and a replica of the Ark of the Covenant.

Gupana, who seems to have a penchant for setting world records, claims her company now holds seven records, including developing the world’s largest national flag (an 18,847-sq. m. Israeli banner which can cover an area of two football fields) unveiled at the Baguio Athletic Bowl; producing the longest banner (composed of giant flags representing the Philippines, Israel and the two Koreas); the longest drawing of the Biblical serpent, dragon and beast mentioned in the Book of Revelations (5 kms. long and 7 m. wide), and the largest blood pressure checkup session that gathered 2,302 people and organizing the largest diabetes screening session for 503 people, the largest blood identification session involving 260 people, and the largest cholesterol test session for 527 people. The authenticity of these world records could not be independently confirmed.

Replica of the Ark of the Covenant

Ten Commandments Building: Dominican Hill Property, Diplomat Road, Brgy. Dominican Hill-Mirador, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet

My List of the Ten Allegedly Haunted Places in the Philippines

Here’s a list of ten of the scariest places I have visited in the country. One is located in La Union (Pindangan Church Ruins), two in Baguio City (Hyatt Terraces Hotel and SM City Baguio) in Benguet, one in Pampanga (Clark Air Base), one in Mountain Province (Sagada), one off Cavite (Corregidor Island) and the rest in Metro Manila. Though I haven’t really experienced any paranormal activity in these sites, probably because I don’t have a third eye, many others have.

  • My wife Grace and I stayed in the 12-storey, 303 -room HYATT TERRACES HOTEL for three days in April 1986.   Located on a pine tree-clad hill along South Drive, near Camp John Hay, the Hyatt Terraces Hotel was said to be the grandest hotel outside Metro Manila. At 4:26 PM, on July 16, 1990, a little over 4 years after our stay, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Luzon, killing 1,621 people.  Again, I happened to be in the city, with my family and some relatives, on the day of the devastating 1990 Luzon Earthquake but were lucky enough to have left the city before lunch. In Baguio City, 28 buildings collapsed during the earthquake.  One of the most prominent buildings destroyed was the Hyatt Terraces Hotel when the central wing’s terraced front collapsed, like an accordion, onto the hotel lobby, killing 98 employees and guests. In the aftermath of that tragic earthquake, many of those listed as “missing” were never found and many say that there are still bodies in the debris of the hotel site and the spirits of these victims have never moved on. Its tragic history has surely contributed to its terrifying reputation.

Check out “Hyatt Terraces Hotel

Hyatt Terraces Hotel circa 1986

Today, its old fountain and a gated fence are all that remains of the still undeveloped site of the Hyatt Terraces. Now said to be haunted, strange lights and ghostly apparitions are said to have been seen around the empty lot.  There was once a bus stop in front of the gate and motorists, driving along South Drive, have told stories of strange apparitions of the spirits of dead employees there. Some passersby in the area at night have also heard cries for help and seen figures against the spotlight that illuminates the area. In fact, for those driving along South Drive, the directed procedure is to honk your horn when passing beside the former Hyatt location, lest they run over a spirit crossing the street. Aromatic smells, coming out of nowhere, are also consistently reported.

  • SM CITY BAGUIO (a favorite shopping venue of mine while in the city), opened in 2003, was erected on the site where the former 4-storey, wood-framed, 423-room Pines Hotel used to overlook Session Road. On October 23, 1984, at about 11:30 PM, a 6-hour blaze gutted this government-owned hotel. To escape the thick smoke and flames, most of the dead (17 were killed, including 4 Americans) and 46 injured leaped from windows of this American Colonial-style, hillside hotel while others were seen slipping from rescue ropes.

Check out “SM City Baguio

SM City Baguio

Today, mall visitors have reportedly seen faces in bathroom mirrors that would not be there a second later. One patron, in the ladies’ room, gave a photographic description of a bloodied fireman (The Baguio City Fire Department lost four firefighters in the blaze).

  • The MANILA FILM CENTER had its beginnings in 1981 when then First Lady Imelda R. Marcos started the Manila International Film Festival (MIFF). Slated to start on January 18, 1982, 4,000 laborers working, round the clock, in 3 shifts in the rush to complete the project  in time for the MIFF. Tragedy struck, on November 17, 1981, shortly before 3 AM, when scaffolding and wooden support for part of the second basement collapsed, causing at least 169 graveyard shift workers to fall to the orchestra below and be buried or trapped under wet, quick-drying cement.

Check out “The Urban Legend That is the Manila Film Center

Manila Film Center

Rather than halt construction to rescue survivors and retrieve the bodies of dead workmen, cement ordered to be poured into the orchestra, entombing the fallen workmen, some of them still alive. The MIFF was to last another year but, instead of quality films, pornographic films were shown in an effort to gain a larger audience and, perhaps, to make up for the first festival’s financial losses. Later, in 1984, I would watch the premiere of Tikoy Aguiluz’ startling, controversial but highly-acclaimed first full-length film “Boatman” (Ang Bangkero), in its uncut version, at this very venue. Today, it is the venue of the Amazing Show, a Las Vegas-like song and dance extravaganza  where all the performers are transgenders.

The place, said to be haunted as well as cursed, is incredibly spooky. Various ghostly manifestations were reported within the building on the site, including poltergeist activity, apparitions; mysterious hearing of cries and moans; bleeding walls; and hands sticking out from under doors. The ghosts of those who died are said to roam the area, looking for live bodies to possess and take over as their own.

  • The UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES Diliman Campus , where my wife  and I graduated (with a degree of B.S. Architecture) has had a long history of alleged haunting, with a lot of paranormal hot spots. The Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theater, at the second floor of Palma Hall, is the residence of a  ghost named “Marisa,”  said to be a famous star of the university’s theater productions back in the 1970s who was eventually overshadowed by younger, more talented newcomers. Overwhelmed by grief and jealousy, she killed herself, in the most dramatic way possible, by hanging herself onstage, in costume. She’s known for making her presence felt by haunting the stage, the rest room and her old dressing room, joining the chorus during performances and, sometimes, showing up onstage.

Benitez Hall

Benitez Hall, home to the College of Education and one of the oldest buildings on campus and, naturally, has gained the reputation as one of the most haunted. A ghost, with blood red eyes, is said to wanders the halls. Kalayaan Hall, a residence hall exclusively for freshmen, has a ghost of a woman who supposedly shows up in the mirror facing the stairs to the second floor of the girls’ wing.  Abelardo Hall, home of the College of Music, is said to be haunted by the ghost of a girl vocalizing, or playing the piano or the gamelan in the middle of the night.

Melchor Hall

The lights on the top floor of Melchor Hall, the College of Engineering Building, where our college was then housed (the college now has its own building), was, for some reason, never turned off, the reason being that, sometimes, the lights there inexplicably turn to red. Many of my classmates have also seen a “Lady in White” come in and out of the corridor walls

  • The PINDANGAN CHURCH RUINS, the picturesque, roofless remains of a small vine-covered brick and coral church (the first in City of San Fernando, La Union) which I visited way back in 2004, is located 500 m. off the National Highway, near Camp Oscar Florendo. The nuns of the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Family are the caretakers of these church ruins.

Check out “Pindangan Church Ruins

Pindangan Church Ruins

It is said to be the home of the sole ghost of a headless stabbed priest who prowls the night, either carrying his severed head or searching for his head. Some have also reported hearing his head calling out for his body to find it. The wind here is known to whisper strange malediction to those that disrespect the location.  My picture of the site was featured in an episode of “Ang Pinaka: Scary Places in the Philippines,” aired during the 6:30 PM GMA News TV last October 22, Sunday.

  • The University of Santo Tomas, where my daughter Cheska graduated (with a degree of B.S. Medical Technology), served as an internment camp during the World War II.  Many prisoners died here of starvation and illness, and is reported by believers to be haunted. An alleged mass grave is located near the UST Museum.  One of the restroom cubicles in the Main Building is also haunted by a female student who hung herself.

Main Building of the University of Sto. Tomas

Other paranormal hot spots are the UST Hospital (haunted by a ghost wearing a red tag, which only corpses in the morgue section wear), St. Raymund’s Building (the comfort rooms on the first floor are haunted by the ghost of a girl was said to have committed suicide because she was bullied for her physical appearance), the Albertus Magnus Building (the Conservatory of Music where the piano is heard playing by itself) and Benavides Park (a.k.a. Lover’s Lane) where, at past midnight, students are greeted by a man wearing a Dominican habit who would later disappear (Sometimes, unfortunate couples hanging out in the park’s benches at night, have also heard a disembodied voice singing mass songs).

  • CLARK AIR BASE, being an American military installation, experienced major bombing from the Japanese during World War II. There are a number of reminders of that bloody past that still exist today and these locations are some of the most haunted in the Philippines.

Clark Museum

The area around the abandoned Clark Air Base Hospital has been rendered off limits to everyone as inhabitants have witnessed apparitions of violent spirits and heard mysterious voices.

Clark Cemetery

Early morning joggers have also reported hearing party music and excited talk coming from inside the obviously empty Home Plate canteen.  At the Clark Museum, the ghost of a serviceman who committed suicide by hanging himself still haunts the place.

Check out “Clark Museum

  • SAGADA, in Mountain Province, has an authentic culture dealing with death, free of Western influence. The caves of the town, in particular, are rumored to be site of ghostly mischief. According to the locals, whispery voices are heard and wayward shadows or apparitions are seen among the Hanging Coffins as well as graves up in the Echo Valley.

Hanging Coffins

The Igorots, however, generally say that if you show some respect and leave the coffins alone, you’ll make it out of the valley unscathed. At Sumaguing Cave, locals believe that the cave is haunted by the spirits of their ancestors.  I have explored this cave twice and, each time, I always felt an otherworldly feeling as I entered.

Check out “Back to Sumaging Cave

  • Historic CORREGIOR ISLAND, an island of history and heroism at the entrance of Manila Bay, has played a major role during World War II. Many Filipino and American soldiers died in its defense. During the liberation, the Japanese defenders here committed suicide via harakiri, jumping into the sea or blowing themselves up instead of capture or surrender. The ghosts of Corregidor’s World War II dead were also joined by Muslim soldiers who, in 1968,  were training in Corregidor for a  planned invasion of Sabah in Malaysia but were exterminated during the infamous March 18, 1968 Jabidah Massacre.

Hospital Ruins

At the Hospital Ruins, tourists who passed by have heard footsteps, rumblings of normal hospital activities, and wails of people.

One of the laterals of Malinta Tunnel. Notice the orbs?

Around the bunker area inside the Malinta Tunnel, shouts of people grimacing in pain can also be heard. Witnesses have also reported hearing eerie sounds and seeing a spirit near by. Manifestations would also appear in photos and videos. 

Check out “Ghost Hunting in Corregidor

  • In INTRAMUROS,  where the historical and the supernatural intersect, the possibility of ghost sightings in the oldest part of Manila is real. It attracts ghosts and ghost hunters in search of kapres, white ladies, demonic spirits, and other entities. In the dying days of World War II, Japanese soldiers reportedly massacred men, women and children in Baluarte de Dilao.

Baluarte de San Diego

Baluarte de San Diego, known as the break-up park for being the site where many a relationship met their demise, is where a crying White Lady often makes appearances.

Manila Cathedral

The Aduana (Customs House) Building, which housed several government offices, is the most haunted building in Intramuros. Many people believe its demonic entities takes lives.  At Plaza Mexico, there have been sightings of reapers, or hooded figures who chase after wandering spirits. Many of the retail and commercial spaces along the wall of Puerta de Sta. Isabel have now been abandoned, supposedly because of numerous reports of hauntings. An ordinary-looking tree, along Arzobispo Street, has earned the gruesome nickname the Suicide Tree after a student, supposedly from Mapua Institute of Technology, killed herself by hanging.  Headless priests supposedly make regular appearances at the Manila Cathedral.

Fort Santiago

Fort Santiago, where National Hero Jose Rizal was jailed, was used by the Japanese as a prison and torture chamber during World War II.  It is imprinted with the agony and sufferings of its many prisoners and is now also extremely haunted with ghosts of prisoners who drowned in its underground dungeons.

Check out “RevisitingFort Santiago

Burnham Park (Baguio City, Benguet)

From Mines View Park, Melissa, Almira, Albert, Jandy and I walked back to EGI Albergo de Ferroca Hotel, where we rested a while, then took a taxi for Burnham Park, the city’s foremost and oldest park that forms the heart of the city.  The ‘mother of all parks’ in the Summer Capital of the Philippines, it is almost as familiar to Filipinos as Luneta Park in Manila.

Burnham Park - green lung of Baguio City

Burnham Park – green lung of Baguio City

This 32.84-hectare urban park, located at the heart of Baguio City, was named after the American architect and urban planner, Daniel Hudson Burnham who simultaneously designed the park and the original plans for the city. Construction began around 1904. During the devastating earthquake on July 16, 1990, the park played an important role when it served as a place of refuge for the people of Baguio.

Daniel  Burnham Bust

The bust of Daniel H Burnham

Burnham Park, overlooking Mt. Kabuyao, covers the only large expanse of level ground within hilly surroundings and was originally intended to serve as a much-needed green lung for the bustling city by providing it with wide open green spaces and a peaceful environment. The modern park, although smaller than the original park due to urban development, still retains much of Daniel Burnham’s original design and layout a century ago.

Author at Burnham Park, April 3, 1986

Author at Burnham Park, April 3, 1986

Under Filipino administration, a number of features were added and now, in true Filipino fashion, Burnham Park is now more of an amusement park with boating, bicycle and skating areas, sports and gaming areas (football field,  tennis courts and basketball courts), plus a few restaurants and eateries that cater to park-goers. In the morning, residents jog around the lake or the children’s playground while groups do healthy exercise routines such as zumba, tae-bo and sometimes tai-chi.

Burnham Park

Baguio Blooms Exhibition And Exposition at Burnham Park

The centrally located and thickly-wooded Burnham Park has a man-made lake; lawns; wooded areas; paved flower-punctuated pathways, with seats and benches throughout;  and numerous flower beds planted with roses, marigolds, daisies and hollyhocks that thrive in the temperate environment of Burnham Park, an unusual sight considering that the Philippines is mostly tropical. During the June to September rainy season, the park is often shrouded in fog and takes on a misty atmosphere. Following the end of the rainy season, flowers bloom in abundance.

Football Field

Football Field

Burnham Park, a scenic venue for walking and photography, has 12 cluster areas: the man-made Burnham Lake, the Children’s Playground (at the western part), the circular Skating Rink (at the southern part), the Rose Garden (with a bust of Daniel Burnham), the Orchidarium (at the western part, with various plants, flowers and orchids on display and for sale), Igorot Garden, Melvin Jones Grand Stand and Football Field (at the eastern part), the Athletic Bowl, a Picnic Grove, Sunshine Park, the Japanese Peace Tower and a section called “Pine Trees of the World.”

Solibao Restaurant

Solibao Restaurant

The Melvin Jones Grandstand is used periodically for several activities such as parades, concerts and political rallies. On certain Sundays, cadets from the Philippine Military Academy practice silent drills and the occasional parade.  The park may be accessed from either Harrison Road, Kisad Road, Governor Pack Road and Magsaysay Road. Several stretch of roads around the park lead to Camp John Hay, a former recreational base of the United States Armed Forces in the Philippines.

Typical fare at Solibao Restaurant

Typical fare at Solibao Restaurant

It being a long Chinese New Year weekend, the park was filled with lots of tourists and residents.  We checked out the Baguio Blooms Exhibition and Exposition, an activity of the 20th Panagbenga Festival along Lake Drive. It was already past noon and, since we had lunch yet, proceeded to nearby Solibao Restaurant where we dined on kare-kare, fried chicken, gising-gising and pinakbet and topping it off with a dessert Solibao Restaurant is famous for – puto bumbong (steamed glutinous rice with freshly grated coconut, brown muscovado sugar and melted butter).

Burnham Lake

Burnham Lake

After lunch, we then proceeded to romantic, photogenic and man-made Burnham Lake, the park’s focal point that is often referred to as Burnham Lagoon.  The lake was formerly a natural spring which drained northward to the foot of Session Rd. to join with the Balili River in La Trinidad. Here, we decided to rent (PhP150 for a 5-pax boat) a swan-themed rowboat for going around the lake and exercising our arm muscles.  They say that any visit to Baguio City wouldn’t be complete without trying this out.

Swan boats at Burnham Lake

Swan boats at Burnham Lake

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy at Burnham Lake

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy at Burnham Lake

Then it was off to the bicycle rink where kids and adults could rent a range of bicycles if they so wish. You can rent either single bikes (PhP40/hour), tandem bikes or even bikes with side cars (PhP50/hour). They even have small children’s’ bikes of both two and three wheel versions. It is pedestrian-friendly and you don’t need to worry about bumping a motorized vehicle. Albert, Almira, Melissa and Jandy alternately tried out single BMX bikes for an hour.

Biking for the very young, young  ...........

Biking for the very young, the young ………..

...... and not so young

…… and even the not so young

Burnham Park’s truly is the very heart of Baguio City and, to this day, it remains one of the Philippines’ most well known and best-loved parks, making it a vibrant center of activity for everyone to enjoy.

Jandy at the bike rink

Jandy at the bike rink

Burnham Park: Legarda-Burnham-Kisad, Baguio City, 2600 Benguet

Cordillera World (Baguio City, Benguet)

Cordillera World

Cordillera World

Before we left the ever-popular Mines View Park, Melissa, Almira, Albert, Jandy and I visited the nearby Cordillera World, one of the newest attractions in the City of Pines located on the left side of the Mines View Tourism Office.

The narrow stairs leading up to the museum

The narrow stairs leading up to the museum

Wooden sleepers on a gravel bed

Wooden sleepers on a gravel bed

A pet project of Mr. Roland Cayat, this travel destination was opened last March 2011 through the help of some local investors and the support of the members of the Mines View Barangay Council.

Registration area and donation basket

Registration area and donation basket

A showcase of the rich heritage of the original mountain tribes of Northern Luzon, it is also an excellent vehicle to support a local advocacy and special program that helps out-of-school youths to go back to school or to finance and support their young families. There is no entrance fee but voluntary contributions from generous visitors to support the project are accepted.

Cordillera World (1)

Cordillera World (4)

We entered this second floor mini-museum/souvenir shop via a narrow wooden stairway whose risers feature salutations of “welcome” in five local dialects. Once inside, we had to register our names before taking photos. Do go around the displays, we walked on wooden sleepers laid on a gravel bed..

Cordillera World (2)

Cordillera World (11)

Here, we learned more about the lifestyle and culture of the highlands, seeing and sometimes touching ancient tools, clothing and accessories used by different tribes of the Cordilleras.

Cordillera World (7)

Cordillera World (8)

Visitors can even wear colorful, woven native costumes and feathery headdresses, as well as of being armed with hand-made bows, arrows and spears, and take photos as many times as they like.

Jandy and Almira in front of the replica of an Ifugao hut

Jandy and Almira in front of the replica of an Ifugao hut

At the center of the museum is a life-size replica of an Ifugao house decorated with animal skulls, woven tapestry and palay. From a viewing deck, we enjoyed the same spectacular view of the Cordillera mountains as seen from Mines View Park.  Beside it is their version of a “wishing well” (actually a pan filled with water).

Almira, Jandy, Albert and Melissa enjoying the mountain view

Almira, Jandy, Albert and Melissa enjoying the mountain view

A "wishing well"

A “wishing well”

Unique souvenirs sold here include Ifugao wine, CD that contains local Ifugao music to savour the culture even more, wood carvings and statues, pure honey, feathered headdresses and dream catchers that are hung around the place.

Cordillera World (10)

Cordillera World: Gibraltar Rd., Baguio City, Benguet.

Mines View Park (Baguio City, Benguet)

After our visit to Wright Park and The Mansion, Melissa, Almira, Albert, Jandy and I all took a taxi for Mines View Park,  an overlook park located on a land promontory  on the extreme northeastern outskirts of Baguio City, about 4 kms from downtown.  The park overlooks the mining town of Itogon.  One of the most popular and most visited parks in the city, it should not be missed when visiting Baguio.

Mines View Park

Mines View Park

In decades past, I have visited this park every time I was in the city with my parents and siblings during Christmas and, when I got married, with my own family.

Mines View Park, January 10, 1995.  9 year old Jandy and 5 year old Cheska with my wife Grace (standing at right)

Mines View Park, January 10, 1995. 9 year old Jandy and 5 year old Cheska with my wife Grace (right)

During the early 1960s and 1970s, the main attraction here was throwing coins from the uniquely shaped and still much photographed observation gazebo structure, down the mountain ridge, to little boys wearing g-strings who would run like crazy catching them or search for them, even through the rocks and small cracks of the ground below.

The park entrance

The park entrance

Later on, as residential communities started sprouting below the ridge, the children had to be more deft and creative in catching the coins, using homemade cups attached to long poles. This practice has been stopped due to the risk of accidents. Instead, a wishing well was built in memory of the Igorot kids who started this unique attraction in Baguio City.  Also back then, horses from the Wright Park Riding Circle and the Baguio Country Club were allowed to pass the area, allowing riders to actually get off there, have some snacks or do some quick souvenir shopping, get back on their horse and then head back downhill.

The much photographed gazebo

The much photographed gazebo

Jandy and Almira at the observation deck

Jandy and Almira at the observation deck

It being a long Chinese New Year holiday, there were many visitors when we arrived at the park. At the entrance to the park and at the open parking area at the vicinity of the park are souvenir stalls plus a number of canteens, snack stores and ambulant vendors selling food and beverages such as grilled dried squid, jumbo hotdogs on a stick, fried squidball and corn on a cob (or shredded in a cup).  Across it is Ibay Zion Plaza which sells silver jewelry made by the popular silver shop, Ibay.

The panoramic view of the Central Cordillera mountains

The panoramic view of the Central Cordillera mountains

One of the charming denizens in this really gigantic tourist trap is a popular, cute, cuddly and friendly but huge St. Bernard dog wearing sunglasses named “Doglas” who is available for picture-taking with tourists (PhP20.00). Other photo op gimmicks include having your picture taken riding a small, lazy, pink-maned (and tail) pony wearing a cowboy hat (PhP10 per shot), pose with or take pictures of (both for a fee) natives in Igorot attire (g-strings, vest and headdress for men, plus spear and shield, and tapis for women), or also rent the aforementioned native costumes and have your photo taken (with your own camera) for PhP10 per shot.

The somewhat disappointing view of creeping development

The somewhat disappointing view of creeping development

We all walked down the winding stone-covered stairway to the observation deck situated below. From the observation deck, we had a spectacular and breathtaking panoramic view of the abandoned gold and copper mines of the Benguet Corporation, the surrounding Central Cordillera mountains, a glimpse of the Amburayan Valley and the quite disappointing view of homes below. Here, you can rent a binocular (PhP10 for 5 mins.) for a better view. At the promontory, we sat down at benches to rest and enjoy the view.

Some pine-clad mountain slopes remain

Some pine-clad mountain slopes remain

Later on, we did some souvenir shopping.  The souvenirs stalls here have multiplied over the years.  They now extend to the sides of Gilbraltar Road and Outlook Drive and many are located closer to the ridge itself.  There were some good bargains at the stores and, before deciding to buy a particular item, we checked and compared prices. Stalls here sell native handicrafts such as wood carvings (including the iconic but obscene “barrel” man), locally-made silver products and jewelry (rings, pendants, bracelets, etc.), baskets, scarves, wallets, T-shirts, sweet preserves, tiger grass brooms, sweaters, peanut brittle, native bags, blankets, knitted bonnets and a variety of other items all similar to those found in the dry goods section of the Baguio City Market but only at a much smaller scale.The selections, though, are said to be better here.

Souvenir stalls

Souvenir stalls

For those who love gardening, a variety of plants and flowers such as bromeliads, mums, busy daisy, everlasting, money tree, cactus, and other succulents are also sold along the walkway.

Plants and flowers for sale along the walkway

Plants and flowers for sale along the walkway

On certain months of the year, plan your visits to the park d earlier during the day as the view may not be visible when the fog starts to move in during the afternoon.

Jandy, Almira, Melissa and Albert at Mines View Park

Jandy, Almira, Melissa and Albert at Mines View Park

How to Get There By private transportation: From MacDonald’s, Sesion Road, climb up and turn at Leonard Wood Road, passing iconic Baguio attractions such as Teachers Camp and Botanical Garden and the Pacdal Rotunda, then go straight up C. P. Romulo Drive, passing Wright Park Riding Circle and The Mansion. Climbing up, the road curves to the left to Outlook Drive.  Once you see Baguio Townhouse on the right, Mines View Park will be at the top.  Do not take the road going straight down to Itogon (Benguet).  A more direct route is to pass Gibraltar Road, to the left of Wright Park Riding Circle. Once you see the Good Shepherd Convent on your left, Mines View Park is just a few meters away. The winding stone-covered stairway leading to the observation deck By Public Transportation: Public utility jeepneys (PUJ), using the Plaza-Mines View line, are available along Mabini Street (10 to 20-min. ride). You can also hire a metered taxi to take you there.  Tou can also contract the taxi driver by the hour or for the day. For larger groups, it may be better to hire a jeepney instead.

The Mansion (Baguio City, Benguet)

At the end of the Pool of Pines was The Mansion (formerly called the Mansion House), the Philippine president’s palatial official summer residence and, easily, one of the most visited and photographed landmarks of Baguio City.  Consisting of an elegantly designed, Spanish Colonial Revival-style main building and a guest house, it was designed by French-educated, New York based American architect William E. Parsons and started in 1907 to be the official summer residence of U.S. Governor-Generals.

The Mansion

The Mansion

The site selected was Outlook Point at the edge of the Pacdal Plateau.  Its name is derived from the New England summer ancestral home U.S. Governor-General William Cameron Forbes in the family-owned Naushon Island near the Massachusetts coast, under whose administration the original Mansion House was built. On March 21, 1908, at the onset of summer, the household of Governor-General James Francis Smith moved into the Mansion House. From March 19 to April 28, 1910, the meeting of the Second Philippine Legislature was held at the Mansion House.

Mansion House (24)

With the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935, the Mansion House, along with Malacañan Palace, was turned over to the Philippine president. The High Commissioner to the Philippines Paul V. McNutt, the successor to the Governor-General as the highest American official in the Philippines and representative of the United States Government, then built The American Residence, completed in 1940 at Camp John Hay.

Almira and Jandy along C.P. Romulo Drive

Almira and Jandy along C.P. Romulo Drive

During the Second World War, the Mansion House was badly damaged due to constant bombing and strafing but, in 1947, it was rebuilt at a cost of PhP80,000 and improved, with additional guest rooms and conference rooms constructed. Since then, it has served as the holiday home and working office for each President of the Philippines during his or her visits to Baguio City.

The tall and ornate iron gates of The Mansion

The tall and ornate iron gates of The Mansion

The Mansion House was also used as the venue of important events. In 1947, it served as the seat of the second session of of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE). The next year, it was the site of the second session of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and, in 1950, the first meeting of the Southeast Asian Union (SEAU), more commonly known as the Baguio Conference of 1950, was conceived and convened by President Elpidio Quirino.

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy posing in front of the gate

Albert, Melissa, Almira and Jandy posing in front of the gate

Parts of the Mansion House are open to tourists. As always, there were lots of tourists taking turns posing in front of its tall and ornate, main gate, still one of the most photographed sections of the property. Made of ornate ironwork, the front gate was earlier falsely reported as a replica of one of the main gates at Buckingham Palace in London. A contingent of Philippine Marines maintains the security of this large compound and we saw some of them manning the guardhouse at the vicinity of the entry gate.

The plaque, in English, installed by the National Historical Institute

The plaque, in English, installed by the National Historical Institute

Mounted on the gate posts are 2 historical markers unveiled by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the National Historical Institute (now the National Historical Commission of the Philippineson December 30, 2008 (the centenary of the Mansion House), one in English and the other containing the text translated in Filipino, both detailing the structure’s history.  On January 16, 2009, the board of the National Historical Institute, through Resolution No. 1, s. 2009, declared the Mansion House as a National Historical Landmark.

The NHI plaque, this time in Tagalog

The NHI plaque, this time in Tagalog

Some official government vehicles entered the compound by passing through a great circular driveway. Within the compound and adjacent to the Mansion is a two-story building which serves as the official residence of the Philippine President. Nearby is a small amphitheater. As the President was not in residence, Jandy, Almira, Albert, Melissa and I, as well as other tourists, were allowed to enter a little past the gates, posing in front of its beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawn, also a favorite site for sightseeing and picture taking.

The author and Jandy

The author and Jandy

Tourists can also visit the Mansion House’s museum, a branch museum of  the Malacañang Museum (now the Presidential Museum and Libraryestablished on May 18, 2010 by virtue of Executive Order No. 880.  The museum  houses presidential memorabilia and works of art collected over its years by former presidents.

The beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawn of The Mansion

The beautiful gardens and well-manicured lawn of The Mansion

The Mansion: C.P. Romulo Drive (formerly a part of Leonard Wood Rd.), 2600 Baguio City, Benguet.

Wright Park (Baguio City, Benguet)

After breakfast at EGI Albergo de Ferroca Hotel and Sunday mass at nearby St. Joseph Church, I decided to tour my guests Melissa Tinonas and her children Almira and Albert, all first timers in Baguio, around the city.  As our hotel was right across the Wright Park Riding Circle, it was only fitting that this would be the first place we visit and explore.

Wright Park Riding Circle

Wright Park Riding Circle

The Wright Park Riding Circle is located within the flat and wide triangle below Wright Park. Here, 200 horses are available for hire. Wright Park, one of the many scenic parks in Baguio City, is located at the eastern part of the city and fronts the main gate of The Mansion.

4 year old Jandy at Wright Park, July 15, 1900.  The next day, a destructive earthquake struck the city.

4 year old Jandy at Wright Park, July 15, 1990. The next day, a destructive earthquake struck the city.

Named after American Gov.-Gen. Luke E. Wright (1906-1909), the park’s horseback riding area is often referred to, by children, as “Ride Park” because of the horses.  After all, children have no idea who Luke E. Wright is. Although there are now other riding areas in the City of Pines, the Wright Park Riding Circle is still the most popular venue for horseback riding for visitors and locals alike.

Dressing up in Igorot attire

Dressing up in Igorot attire

It being a long and sunny Chinese New Year weekend, the place was crowded with residents and tourists.  I am no stranger to the park, having visited it during Christmas vacations with my parents and siblings and, when I got married, with my family.  In the 1970s, the hourly rates for horse rides back then was just Php5.  Four decades later, it was now PhP300 (PhP200 for half an  hour) an hour and another PhP300 for a guide to tour you around.

Princess for a day

Princess for a day

However, before the horseback riding, Melissa, Almira, Albert and my son Jandy decided to have their photos taken while dress up in full Cordillera regalia (PhP20 per pax) – vests and headdresses for the gents and ladies, shield and spear for the men (without the g-string or bahag) and tapis for the ladies.  We also tried our first taste of strawberry flavored taho.

Trying out strawberry-flavored taho

Trying out strawberry-flavored taho

Then, it was off to the horse riding field. The riding field has an inner circle (best for first-timers) for walking horses and an outer circle for the running horses for more experienced riders who want to make the horse trot or canter. Only the riders and the pony boys (usually the horse owner himself, or his assistant) are allowed within the Riding Circle. So the Riding Circle is NOT a park as only horses, pony boys and riders are allowed in the ring.  All experienced handlers, pony boys lead the horse, walk alongside it or ride behind the child for the latter’s protection and enjoyment of a faster ride. Parents and nannies (yayas) can only observe their kids from viewing decks and benches, documenting their kid’s ride with photos, using their camera’s zoom lens, and videos.

A horse of Wright Park

A horse of Wright Park

There were lots of horses to choose from. There were horses of different sizes and colors. Some horses wore their natural colors (brown, black, and white or mixed) while others wore artificial colors (pink, blue, yellow, etc). Most of the time, children choose the ones which are in pink or blue. I was surprised to see white ponies with a shock of pink hair (Melissa and Jandy chose to ride on this kind) or, sometimes, a brown one with a bright orange mane.

Jandy riding a pink-maned horse

Jandy riding a pink-maned horse

Pony Boys have noticed, in recent years, that children prefer white horses, thinking they’re nicer” or “gentler” (mas mabait) than the brown ones.  To make the white ones even more attractive to customers, the pony boys have taken to dying the horse’s mane (but  hardly ever their tails to match the manes), putting a little pink paper flower on their hair, giving them “bangs by cutting off a piece of the tail and attaching the extra hair to the bridle.

The stone stairway leading up to the Pool of Pines

The stone stairway leading up to the Pool of Pines

After the pony ride, we walked towards and climbed a wide stone stairway leading to the pine-forest preserve of Wright Park itself.  On the way up, we had wonderful views of the place, the horses and the people riding on them. At its end is a pergola-like stone structure or gazebo.

The concrete, pergola-like gazebo at the top

The concrete, pergola-like gazebo at the top

Igorots, dressed in their native attire and regalia, can be found here, willing to pose for a photograph … of course, for a fee of PhP10.  At stalls on the far side of the stairs, you can buy souvenirs such as woven products, key chains, T-shirts, peanut brittle, strawberry jams and a lot more. Beautiful and colorful plants are also displayed and sold here in affordable prices.

The Pool of Pines

The Pool of Pines

The park’s main feature is the beautiful and much photographed Pool of Pines, a 100-m. (328-ft.) long and narrow 5-m. (16.4-ft.) wide, shallow and elongated rectangular reflecting pool filled with lotus. Postcard-type photographs are usually taken here.

Melissa buying strawberries from a vendor

Melissa buying strawberries from a vendor

On the way to the pool, we noticed on the left, a photo booth with the sign “Forevermore” and “La Presa.” The fictional La Presa, in reality Sitio Pungayan of Tuba town, some 40 mins. away from Baguio City, is the location where most of the scenes from the popular ABS-CBN hit teleserye “Forevermore” (starring Enrique Gil and Liza Soberano) were shot. There you have it.  

The La Presa photo booth area

The La Presa photo booth area

It just so happened that Wright Park, together with Burnham Park and The Manor (which, in the series, is a hotel called Hotel Grande owned by the family of Gil’s character) were also featured in the series.

Frolicking among the tall pine trees

Frolicking among the tall pine trees

Here, fans get to dress up in native attire and pose for PhP5.At the Pool of Pines, we walked along a walkway lined, on both sides, with tall pine trees, weeping willow trees and decorative street lights.  Native handicrafts are also sold at the Mansion end of the park by a few Igorot peddlers.

Pool of Pines (20)

Wright Park: Leonard Wood Rd, Baguio, Benguet.

When going horseback riding, choose a horse that is proportionate in size to your child. It would be better if you asked around first or observed other riders before choosing one. For those who intend to take a pony farther out along South Drive, the Mines View Park area or to Outlook Drive, it is advisable to first agree on the hourly cost to be charged.

Ambuklao Dam (Bokod, Benguet)

After lunch and freshening up at Ambangeg Country Road Restaurant in Bokod,  we continued on our way back, along winding zigzag roads, to Baguio City.  About 36 kms. (22 mi., an hour’s drive) northeast of the city, we made a short stopover at Ambuklao Dam, in Brgy. Ambuklao.

Ambuklao Dam

Ambuklao Dam

One of Southeast Asia’s earth and rock-filled dams, is is one of the oldest power plants in the country and was among the first large hydroelectric power plants constructed in the Philippines. It impounds the waters of the upper portion of the turbulent Agno River (the longest waterway in Northern Luzon) which originates from Mt. Data, and its tributary, the Bokod River.

View of the dam from the lake

View of the dam from the lake

The adjunct irrigation system on the delta of the Agno River, it was the first in the Philippines to be served from a reservoir dam and it dams the river with 6,504,000 cu. m. of rocks, gravel and cement together with 1,000,000 cu. m. of clay earth at its core.  Its picturesque, manmade lake has a small picnic area along the shore (no restaurants though) and boats can sometimes be hired for pleasure rowing.  It is also teems with freshwater fish such as crimson snapper (maya-maya), tilapia and silver carp.

Ambuklao View Deck

Ambuklao View Deck

The dam, once ranked among the world’s tallest dams, is 131 m. high, 426 m. long at the crest and has a base width of 565 m..  The elevation of its crest is 758 m. and the roadway that runs through the top of the dam has an elevation of 756 m.. It was once the highest power dam in Asia and the second highest of its kind in the world.

Ambuklao Dam and Lake (8)

As early as the late 1940s, the development of the Agno River, for purposes of hydroelectric power generation, flood control and irrigation, had been conceived and preliminary investigations for development at Ambuklao and Binga Dam sites were undertaken, under the direction of Pres. Manuel A. Roxas, (in cooperation with Westinghouse International) as early as January 1948.

The dam's spillway

The dam’s spillway

Started in July 1950, it took 6 years and 5 months, at a cost of PhP132 million, to complete and the operation of this hydroelectric facility finally started on December 23, 1956. Its civil works contractor was the Guy F. Atkinson Company and the engineering consultant was Harza Engineering Company of Chicago. To build this engineering feat, a diversion channel was first cut to allow the Agno River to flow naturally away from ongoing work.  Then the gorge was narrowed through a series of blasts inside a mountain, thus trapping the water and forming a manmade lake.  Its water turbines, loaded on huge flatbed trucks (operating in tandem), was brought up the coast via the Naguilian Rd. and brought down via the specifically-built Ambuklao Rd. from Pacdal (Baguio City).

Tainter gates

The 8 Tainter radial gates

The dam has 8 Tainter radial gates at the dam’s spillway. Each spillway measures 12.5 m. by 12.5 m. and is 127 m. in length. The gross storage capacity of the dam’s reservoir is 327,170,000 cu. m. (265,240 acre·ft) and it has a usable storage capacity of 258,000,000 cu. m.. The drainage area is 686 sq. kms. and is 11 kms. long with a maximum width of 1 km..  It once generated 75 megawatts (MW) via three 25 MW generating units placed in an underground 17-m. high, 30-m. long and 9-m. wide power house cut from the solid rock.

Manmade Ambuklao Lake

Manmade Ambuklao Lake

On July 16, 1990, a massive earthquake hit Luzon, damaging the dam’s spillways, turbines and reservoir, resulting in siltation and technical problems that affected the plant’s operations.  In 1999, the Ambuklao Dam was decommissioned.  However, on November 28, 2007, SN Aboitiz Power-Benguet, Inc. (SNAP-Benguet), a joint venture between SN Power of Norway and Aboitiz Power, won the public bid for Ambuklao Dam and Binga Dam, its neighboring power facility in Itogon, which were sold (for US$325 million) as a package under the power sector privatization program of the Philippine government.

Transmission towers bring power from the dam to the Luzon grid

Transmission towers bring power from the dam to the Luzon grid

In December 2008, SNAP-Benguet began a massive rehabilitation project that restored Ambuklao Dam to operating status, increasing its capacity from 75 MW to 105 MW. The project required the construction of a new intake, headrace and penstock, elevation of tailrace tunnel outlet, de-silting of tailrace tunnel and replacement of electro-mechanical components. On June 1, 2011, Unit 3 became the first turbine unit to go on-line, followed by the other two units. On October 2011, Ambuklao Dam was formally inaugurated. Ambuklao Dam, designed as a peaking plant, is capable of delivering energy and providing ancillary services needed to maintain the grid.

Nicole, Violet, Rose, Almira and Lorelei at another dam view point

Nicole, Violet, Rose, Almira and Lorelei at another dam view point

How to Get There: The dam is accessible from the inter-provincial road going cross-country to Cagayan Valley through a scenic 36-km. mountain highway stretching across the crest of the dam to Kabayan.

Drive Back to Baguio City (12)

For group tours, you must apply one week in advance at the following:

National Power Corporation: Bonifacio St., Baguio City, Benguet.

National Power Corporation: Agham Rd. cor. Quezon Ave., Diliman, Quezon City.  Tel: (632) 921-3541.  Fax: (632) 921-2468.  E-mail: postmaster@napocor.gov.ph.

Mt. Pulag National Park (Bokod to Camp 2)

From the DENR Office, it was another 2-hours drive, this time along mostly unpaved roads, to the forest ranger station at Camp Babalac. Along the way are breathtaking views of narrow valleys and vegetable and rice terraces. The ranger station, a place where mountaineers make final preparations, cook, rest and make last minute supply acquisition before the trek, sits near a small village at the base of the trail.  

Camp Badalac Ranger Station

Camp Badalac Ranger Station

Tour organizer Violet Imperial and our two guides

Tour organizer Violet Imperial and our two guides

It being a Chinese New Year holiday, the ranger station was filled with trekkers. Here, I crammed all I needed for the overnight camping in my larger backpack and left the rest of my clothes in the smaller backpack.  We also met our two guides and hired porters (PhP600/round trip) to help carry our backpacks to our designated camping ground at Camp 2. It was to be a 7.5-km./3.5 to 5-hour  hike to Mt. Pulag’s summit but we were to do it in stages.

The trek begins ..... (photo: Mr. Maki Las)

The trek begins ….. (photo: Mr. Maki Las)

After saying a short prayer for safety around Violet, we started our climb by 10 AM.  At first, the road was well-paved concrete.  After passing by some vegetable terraces, it was all dirt but the view was already breathtaking as we entered the pine forest.   This was also the hardest part of the trail.

Hiking along the pine forest

Hiking along the pine forest

At the ranger station, there were already worrying gray clouds ahead that brought about a slight drizzle, necessitating our wearing raincoats.  Sure enough, it began to rain, making the quite steep, uphill/downhill trail wet, muddy and slippery.  We arrived at Camp 1 by noontime.  Here, we rested awhile and ate our packed lunch of rice, chicken adobo and canned tuna.

Wet and hungry at Camp 1 (photo: Mr. Maki Las)

Wet and hungry at Camp 1 (photo: Mr. Maki Las)

Leaving Camp 1, the mossy forest soon starts, a stark contrast from the warm sunshine and pine forest we passed a while ago.  At this part of the trail, we were now trekking under the cool shelter of trees that are stunted and bonsai-like.  As the altitude increased, the air was starting to thin and we were making frequent stops to catch our breath, hearing the rapid beats of our own hearts amidst the weird silence.

The creepy and sinister mossy forest

The creepy and sinister mossy forest

Continuing on, I began to question myself and my sanity in being here. It was already raining profusely when we reached Camp 2 by 3 PM and we had to slog through the mud just to make it to our already set up dome tents. There were thoughts in my mind of continuing on to the summit in the remaining daylight but, as I was already dead tired, decided against it.  Big mistake.

Still in high spirits as we near Camp 2

Still in high spirits as we near Camp 2

Violet, Jandy, Maki and I occupied one tent; Almira, Lorelie and her kids in the nearby second tent; and friends Rose, Rayhil and Marceju with Celeste in the third.  As preparation for the cold night ahead, Jandy and I donned thermal underwear and tried to rest.  That night, it rained heavily and the wind picked up, allowing condensation to seep through our tents.

Muck, fog and rain at Camp 2

Muck, fog and rain at Camp 2

Our sleeping bags, socks, gloves and shoes were drenched as we ate our supper of pork sinigang, lumpiang shanghai and steamed rice.  There were latrines at the edge of the mountain but getting there was an effort due to the sticky mud and extreme cold. I didn’t sleep a wink as I shivered all throughout the night, with a temperature that dipped to almost a freezing zero and penetrated through the bones.

A still foggy and rainy morning at Camp 2

A still foggy and rainy morning at Camp 2

Waking up by 3 AM to trek the remaining distance to the summit where, on a clear day, mountaineers usually await the sunrise above a sea of clouds, was out of the question.  Daylight and a warm breakfast of rice, scrambled eggs and hotdog plus hot coffee and chocolate was a welcome relief. It was still drizzling when we broke camp.  As most of our stuff were waterlogged and added to the weight of backpacks, Violet and Almira now hired porters to carry their packs.  As we made our way back down the trail, the weather started to improve and the sun soon shone when we reached Camp 1.

View of the so-far unreachable summit of Mt. Pulag at Camp 1

View of the so-far unreachable summit of Mt. Pulag at Camp 1

When we arrived, the camp was filled with the tents of trekkers who weren’t allowed to proceed to Camp 2 the other day because the camp had reached the maximum number allowed. As it turned out, we were the last batch allowed to proceed.  Here, on a hill above the camp, we had a clear and beautiful panoramic view of Mt. Pulag’s so-far unattainable grassy summit as well as surrounding pine-cladded mountains.

L-R: Maki, Violet, Almira, the author, Celeste and Lorelie

L-R: Maki, Violet, Almira, the author, Celeste and Lorelie

Rest stop on the hike back

Rest stop on a grassy clearing on the hike back

As our descent was easy and more leisurely, I had more time to appreciate the mountain’s high plant diversity (home to 528 plant species, 42% of which are endemic to the area).  I was also struck by the variation in flora, from tall pine trees that clad the mountain’s hillsides.

Flora 1

Flora 2

Flora 3

Flora 4

Flora 5

Flora 6

Flora 7

There were wild orchids thriving on its slopes up to the 7,000 ft. level; a 5,877-hectare elfin forest with small stunted oak trees heavily overgrown with ferns, moss and lichen found at the 1,500-2,600-m. (4,900-8,500-ft.) level; and a natural, windswept, 804-hectare montane grassland at the summit.  The beauty of it all more than mitigated my frustration of not making it to the summit.

Beautiful mountain scenery on a sunny day

Beautiful mountain scenery on a sunny day

Vegetable terraces

Vegetable terraces

About 1.5 kms. to the ranger station, I hitched a ride (PhP100) on a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) to the station.  Jandy was already there waiting for me when I arrived.  After about 20 mins., the others arrived – muddied, haggard and dead tired.   Our chartered jeepney that would bring us back to Baguio City was parked nearby.  After washing up, we retrieved our other belongings, loaded our packs at the jeepney’s roof rack and left the ranger station for Country Road Cafe and Restaurant where we were to have lunch.  We never made it to the summit but Mt. Pulag has not seen the last of me. I will definitely be back.

Riding a habal-habal back to the Ranger Station

Riding a habal-habal back to the Ranger Station

Camp Babalac Ranger Station: Sitio Badalac, Brgy. Bashoy, Kabayan, Benguet. Mobile number: (0930) 139-2246.

Mt. Pulag National Park – Manila to Bokod

A very big item in my travel Bucket List is to climb the three highest mountains in the Philippines – the 2,956 m. high Mt. Apo and the 2,938 m. high Mt. Dulang-Dulang, both in Mindanao, and the 2,922 m. high Mt. Pulag in Luzon, all in that order.  Of course, it made sense to first climb the latter, the nearest to home of the three.

Mt. Pulag National Park

Mt. Pulag National Park

I booked my climb to Mt. Pulag, with my son Jandy, through good friend Violeta Imperial, Exec. Director of Nature Awareness and Conservation Club, Inc.  All in all, we were 12 (our 13th member, Mr. Maki Las was to meet us in Baguio) in our group. There are four different trails going to the grassland summit of Mt. Pulag – the Bokod (also called Ambangeg) Trail, the 2 to 3-day Akiki (called the “Killer Trail,” it is the steepest) Trail, the leech (limatik)-infested Tawangan Trail and the Ambaguio (the longest) Trail in Nueva Vizcaya.   and we were going to climb the mountain via the easy Bokod Trail (also called the “Executive Trail”) which is the safest and has the mildest grade.

The ladies at our chartered passenger jeepney

The ladies at our chartered passenger jeepney

Joining Violet, Jandy and I were Expedition Leader Mr. Rexbello “Rex”  Alfafara (mobile numbers 0920-4651626 and 09327435252) of Sierra Adventurers and Mountain Explorers, Inc.; good friends Ms. Rayhil Palaganas (Financial Advisor – Sun Life Financial), Ms. Rosemarie S. Palmera and Ms. Marceju Aizza A. Ragat (JDE Finance Functional Consultant – Cyret Technologies, Inc.); Ms. Almira Ablan Tinonas (De La Salle University student/artist); Ms. Celeste Marie “Lelet” Garcia (HR Manager – Phoenix Petroleum); and Ms. Lorelie Mandela (Project Manager – Global Business World) with her children Celene and Arvin.

Country Road Cafe and Restaurant

Country Road Cafe and Restaurant

We all assembled at the Victory Liner Terminal in Pasay City and left on the 9 PM bus for Baguio City, the jump-off point for our climb.  After running the gauntlet of traffic along EDSA and 2 stopovers at Tarlac City and Sison (Pangasinan), we arrived at the city’s Victory Liner Bus Terminal by 3:45 AM.  We then boarded a passenger jeepney chartered  by Rex for our climb.  Up ahead was a 2-hour/80 km. roller coaster drive, through the winding zigzags of the fabled Ambuklao Road, to Kabayan town.  I shouldn’t have slept through part of the trip as I woke up sick on my stomach.  We had our breakfast at Country Road Café and Restaurant but I didn’t eat much.

DENR Mt. Pulag Park Office

DENR Mt. Pulag Park Office

That done, we returned to our jeepney for the short drive to the DENR Mt. Pulag Park Office to register and secure a permit, both done by Violet, and be given a short briefing.  Climbers are asked to register for orientation either here or at the Babadak ranger station at Bashoy village in Kabayan.

L-R: Almira, Rose, Rayhil, Marceju, Lorelie, Arvin, Celeste and Celene

L-R: Almira, Rose, Rayhil, Marceju, Lorelie, Arvin, Celeste and Celene

There were lots of would-be and real mountaineers waiting for orientation prior to their climb.  We were on the second batch. During our orientation, DENR Superintendent Emerita Albas gave our group a short environmental briefing on the dos and don’ts, the harsh environment and the basics of mountaineering for trekking Mt. Pulag National Park. The orientation was necessary for the climbers’ safety and the park’s environmental protection. Here are some tips and park rules to follow when climbing Mt. Pulag:

  • Garbage in, garbage out. Trash, whether organic or non-biodegradable should all be brought down and disposed of properly.
  • No intimacy at the campsite.
  • Stay on the established trails to minimize damage to vegetation and prevent further destruction of the mountain slopes. Walk single file in the middle of the trail, even when it is wet or muddy.

Hike to Camp 2 (2)

  • Respect the serenity of the place by keeping noise to a minimum level. Wildlife such as birds may get scared and interrupted from their normal routine.
  • Strong hikers, especially for big groups, should be designated to act as sweepers to take care of stragglers. In this way, weaker members are assured that they could get help from others should they be in trouble.
  • All hikers must always be guided by the Mountaineer’s Creed – take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints, kill nothing but time.
  • On the way up, slower hikers must give way to stronger hikers. On the other hand, stronger hikers should not tailgate weaker hikers.
  • If there are no trail signs at trail junctions, advance group members should make temporary directional signs (e.g. Sticks, scratch on the soil, etc.) for others to follow.
  • It is always best to be on the side of caution especially when hiking along slippery trails. Light walking sticks, canes and trekking poles help a lot as it acts like another foot.  Help, especially medical in nature, may take some time to reach anybody. In case of trouble or emergencies, attract help by making as much noise as possible by hollering or shouting.
  • To avoid creating wildfires, smokers must properly put off their cigarettes as the pine forest floor is susceptible to fire, especially during summer months.  Smoking in the grassland is highly discouraged. Bonfires at the campsite are also prohibited.  For cooking and boiling water, bring a portable stove.
  • Before hiking, fill up your canteens or water bottles (1.5 to 2 liters of water is recommended per person). At camp 1 and Camp 2, there are springs nearby and the water is potable.  For people who have sensitive stomachs, the use of purifying tablets is advisable. If you are bringing bottled water with you on your hike, please keep the empty bottle and bring them back down and out the national park when you leave.
  • The weather on the mountain is unpredictable and it could rain anytime.  It is therefore advisable for hikers to bring with them rain gear (raincoat, poncho, etc.) and warm clothing (jackets, sweaters, scarves, bonnets, gloves, thermal underwear, socks, blankets, etc.) to ward off cold temperatures. But don’t wear your warm clothing yet on your hike to Camp 2 as your body will heat up from all the energy you burn.  Waterproof your things.  Bring a waterproof backpack cover, plastic bags or black garbage bags and a drybag for your camera.

Ranger Station (6)

  • As your feet are the most important part of your body during a trek (once you injure them, you have no way of going back down, lest you are carried down), wear comfortable yet sturdy shoes with good traction (you will slide and stumble, at one point or another) underneath. Make sure the shoes you wear are broken-in and comfortable.
  • For those bringing their tents, use a three or four-season tent that can withstand the cold wind and rain.
  • Bring only what is necessary as loads get heavier for every kilometer traversed. The lesser the weight on your bag, the easier your trek will be.
  • Park officers reserve the right to randomly inspect baggage to determine whether banned items (liquor, dangerous drugs, deadly weapons, etc.) are present. Such items, when found, will be automatically confiscated and kept for safekeeping.

  • Communicate with your expedition leader and/or designated/hired guide. He possesses knowledge of the area.
Expedition leader Rex Alfafara

Expedition leader Rex Alfafara

  • Respect the indigenous people’s (Ibaloi, Kalanguya, Kankana-ey and Ibanag) culture. Their culture may be different from yours but it is their culture. Most of them consider Mt. Pulag as a sacred place not only because it is a resting place and playground of their gods but also a place where they bury their dead. You are in their cultural ground.
  • If climbers reach the Badabak ranger station at 5 PM, they are advised to spend the night there and not persist on hiking to the grassland area or camping area since the area, after 5 PM, is always misty and cloudy, making directional signs and trails not easily visible.
  • Hiking is not a race.  It should be fun and is free. Take time to regulate your breathing, look around and enjoy the scenery that nature offers.
DENR Superintendent Emerita Albas

DENR Superintendent Emerita Albas

DENR-PASu Office: Sitio Ambangeg, Brgy. Daclan, Bokod, Benguet.  Tel: (074) 444-3592. Mobile number (0919) 631-5402 (Ms. Albas).

Current park fee rates (the first two are remitted to the Integrated Protected Area Fund or IPAF while the third is remitted to the Kabayan local treasury for their use):

  • Entrance fee: PhP100.00
  • Camping fee: PhP50.00
  • Green fee: PhP25.00

Aside from the fees, hikers are required to engage an accredited guide (member of MPITGA) with a ratio of 1-7 hikers to 1 guide. The pay is P500.00 per guide per overnight.

The author with tour organizer Violeta Imperial

The author with tour organizer Violeta Imperial

Nature Awareness and Conservation Club, Inc.: 18 Pioneer St., Moonwalk Village, Las Pinas City, Metro Manila. Tel: (632) 806-1720.  Mobile numbers: (0915) 510-1600 and (0932) 243-9478.  E-mail: mother_nature888@nacci888.org.

Sierra Adventurers and Mountain Explorers, Inc.: E-mail: sierra.org.ph@gmail.com, Website: www.sierra.org.ph.