February 5, 2023

In a few days, my wife and I will be flying back to Barcelona, Spain, thus ending our two-month fellowship with cherished friends during the Christmas season. In spite of all the uncontrolled development, environmental deterioration, overpopulation, and bureaucratic inconveniences that our city dwellers are now experiencing (“In the name of progress”?), I still consider Baguio my home.
Like most lowlanders which settled and built their families in the midland of this mountain city, my father, an Ibanag from Isabela, and my father, an Ilocana from Ilocos Sur, met in the public market, fell in love, married, and planted the Claravall family tree that soon grew among the pine trees and sunflowers, shivering in the cool foggy mountain breeze and basking in the sun on a cloudless day.
Yes, the pine trees have been uprooted from the mountains and replaced by towering commercial buildings of malls, condominiums, and hotels, among others, but it has not erased the memories of my childhood where my siblings, classmates, and I would hike up those mountain slopes, pick up some wild strawberries or blueberries on the way, walk up some grassy knolls and slide down with our big cartons, swim in clear brooks or streams, frolicking around the mountainsides, and staining our khaki pants green with carabao grass and puriket and lanot. Neighbors would happily share with us their passion fruits and sayote, picked from their backyards.
Gone too was the Burnham Park of our youth where we once glide with our skates around the skating rink keeping in stride with the rhythm of a classical music coming from the round pergola at the center of the rink.
I remember the “Goody-Goody” kiosks where we would sit and take our refreshments and was the dating place of high school sweethearts. We would also bike on the lanes around the lake, where boats were available for hire. I remember, too, that there were fishes in the waters until some naughty teenage delinquents started to hone their skills with fishing rods made up of rono and palsiit that ended the aquatic life in the lake.
The Melvin Jones field was a football ground where teams from University of the Philippines Baguio, Saint Louis University, and Philippine Military Academy would compete whenever its cadets had no silent drill exhibitions or parades.
The field was also used as carnival grounds with Ferris wheel, carousel, octopus rides, beto-beto tables, bingo, and spinning wheel games with prizes displayed on the booths. Shows of “freaks” like “Macua”, the man who ate live chickens, “Medusa” with snake hairs, and the like, could be viewed inside a tent for a 10-centavo entrance fee. Cotton candy, popcorn, and soft drink stands completed the carnival atmosphere, disappearing when summer was gone.
I still remember the stone building at the public market that housed the souvenir shops of silverwares, jewelry, woodcarvings, handicrafts, still-life paintings of fruits, vegetables, the market and mountain life sceneries on display for sale, along with native clothes and Filipino attire in jusi, collection of old coins, and such other keepsakes for vacationists.
Beside the stone building were a row of newsstands where newsboys like me, would wait for the periodicals to arrive from Manila, take our copies to sell, then bark out loud to catch the readers’ attention, so loud that they would echo from the bottom to the top of Session Road. Impossible you may think, but then Session Road was not as busy and overcrowded with cars, pedestrians, and sidewalk vendors as it is now.
I could go on recalling the joyful memories of the Baguio of my youth – the clean roads and sidewalks, the restaurants and department stores, the groceries and bakeries, the movie houses, the bookstores, barbershops, and tailoring shops that lined up Session Road – where business was brisk, until that humongous monster that replaced the hotel of many Baguio memories, gobbled up all of the Session Road enterprises, with its tentacles choking the roads…and now seeks to extend its empire towards the lower end of the road.
And when another “artsy” monstrosity will soon rise at the public market, do not be surprised if Session Road will altogether be obliterated by an SM skyway to connect its upper and lower empires.
I so cherish my good memories of our youthgrowing up in Baguio, as my wife and I savored our moments with our host, Marita Manzanillo in her forested home unaffected by the passage of time because she nurtures the Earth in her domain as the good caretaker of the Lord. But we must move on to another part of this world to be with daughter Chantal who is expecting to deliver another child, with fervent hopes that our princess shall grow up like tita Maritz, the environmentalist – a nature warrior.
Hasta la vista!