It is no wonder why the weekend traffic at Lourdes Grotto in Dominican-Mirador, Baguio City has caused residents much discomfort, as the Mirador Heritage & Eco-Spirituality Park is a continuing work in progress. Compared to 2021, when the former Jesuit Villa inaugurated the Mirador Peace Memorial, it has become a tourist destination for varied visual, physical, and spiritual experiences.
When the Japanese Torii was installed in 2021, the traditional Japanese Shinto gate that marks the transition from the mundane to the sacred became a social media hit.
Following the curiosity of many locals, we were awed by this one landmark on the property apart from the Lady of Lourdes image of the Virgin Mary that had continuously drawn many lowlanders to climb in some sort of penitence the 252 steps up the hill to the grotto once in their lives for many decades.
The Catholic devotion to Christ’s Mother Mary combined with the Japanese belief that spiritual powers exist should have shaken some purists’ religiosity into opposition, but it has convinced many that spirituality can be experienced deliberately or for now, expressed in the millions of photographs on Facebook and Instagram.
From then till a few days ago, the elements of Japanese landscaping using different textures of stones instead of cement on surfaces has transformed what used to be jagged hillsides into gentle meandering paths connecting six adventures for a token P100 for non-residents and half the price for the locals.
Apart from the five mysteries of the rosary that mark the paths, there is the La Storta garden named after the vision of St Ignatius at the Chapel of La Storta near Rome in Italy.
The three white circular symbols are used as seats in a small niche along the walk. The Peace Memorial with the bell and the Torii, is along a connecting path that is now leveled and surrounded by gentle stairs and steps that look out to the China sea on clear days or some of the 128 villages or barangays that make up the city and the province of La Union on foggy ones. There is access for wheelchairs in many parts of the park.
On the same side of the hill, there is the Blue Moon Gate that is from Chinese traditional architecture that is a garden opening for pedestrians.
The path that continues to skirt the property on the left has the Pandemic Healing Memorial that leads to the Holy Family Gardens where prayers and petitions can walk side by side with each step. This leads to the multi-tiered walkway to the Founders’ Garden where sculptures made by famous artists give you more photo ops for selfies and the upper rock gardens with more reason to stop and rest along the way.
The Arashiyama bamboo grove has become denser and provides the ecological highlight to the otherwise limestone dominated landscape. This then leads you out of the property and ends a delightful promenade.
But unknown to many, the Jesuits were hosts to the weather monitoring instruments early in the 20th century and once housed the earthquake monitoring equipment prior to the 1990 earthquake.
A structure is maintained as a memorial to the former Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology station.
But the Bahay Lourdes has been repaired and now houses Café Iñigo of Ebai’s Café. This used to be where the Philippine Long Distance and Telephone Company opened a long-distance service office when long-distance operators were in vogue.
Back then, the Internet was still imagined, but the need to communicate locally or internationally was urgent and it was here where the analog phones until the 1980s served the locals. But this is where a different kind of thin crust pizza can be had without having to pay the entrance fee. This is where you can wait comfortably for the tourists and try the Margarita pizza with sliced tomatoes and lots of cheese or the Sagada pizza that features the smoked ham or kini-ing from that part of the Cordillera.
The slices of sweet tomatoes make this a different snack compared to the commercial counterparts. Brewed coffee should keep you warm while you wait at the café. There are other snacks and meals available before or after the tour.
There is always a reason to go back to this Mirador destination. The happiness and spiritual renewal are take- home bonus sentiments to a worth it stroll.