Oct 24, 2008

If they can't follow something as simple as...

What is it? A government vehicle. Parked right on the sidewalk. Where is this? Right beside the Baguio City Hall(!), and right across Baguio Central School. See those kids crossing the street? Well, those kids would be forced to walk on the street instead of on the sidewalk. I guess the driver of this vehicle didn't mind endangering the lives of those young children. 

Oct 23, 2008

Unconquerable Igorots

Portrait of a hill station. Coming this December, 2008. SkyCable (Baguio) Channel 12. 

For inquiries: email altomonte.projects@gmail.com

Oct 21, 2008

25,000 to 250,000 in 100 years

Portrait of a hill station. Coming this December, 2008. SkyCable (Baguio) Channel 12. 

For inquiries: email altomonte.projects@gmail.com

Oct 18, 2008

Here to stay

One hardly hears of good news about Baguio these days. Whether you get it on print, the world wide web or from stories told in coffee shops along Session Road, the sentiment is the same: there's hardly anything left of the Baguio we all knew. Makes you wonder why you're still blogging about the city in some internet cafe in town instead of in some far away land where the money's better, the air is cleaner and the surroundings are greener.    

A friend who has since left Baguio with her family after living here for almost two decades once said that the only thing left in Baguio is the cool climate. And that too isn't as cool as it was before, perhaps thanks to more motor vehicles coughing up toxic fumes into the air and with this more engines heating up the city. Not to mention the hot air that comes from mouths of people in high places - but that only heats up people's heads. I digress. 

On a bad day I would tend to agree with my friend - on a day when the traffic is so bad it takes you a full hour to cover a three-kilometer distance. Or when they close Session Road to vehicles for a week during Panagbenga for "Session Road in Bloom" which, with all the stench and garbage generated by the hundreds of stalls selling hotdogs and sweet corn and cellphones and hotdogs and sweet corn and cellphones (and a couple of stalls actually selling flowers, the supposed point of the whole festival), feels more like Session Road's doom. Or when I'm refused by a taxi driver because he doesn't feel like driving to where I wanna go, or when a friend shows up with bruises all over and a swollen jaw and a missing phone and wallet, no thanks to a taxi driver slash hold-upper and his cohort who hid in the back of his cab and pounced on my friend who didn't have a clue because he hailed that cab a stone's throw away from the Baguio City Police Office. Or when, you know, you're in the middle of it all and Baguio just doesn't feel like Baguio anymore. 

But there are good days, days when there's still so much more to Baguio than its cool climate. There's still that hardly known spot somewhere in Wright Park where you can lay down on a mat on the grass and let your children run wild among the trees and up and down the hill on a clear day.  

That same area still offers the best option for afternoon walks - just around the lagoon or through the Little Flower convent up Outlook drive and back towards the Mansion House.
On another afternoon, we brought the kids with us for a jog in Burnham Park, after which some friends met up with us and while the kids went crazy on those trikes for rent, 

behind us there were girls flying high up in the air rehearsing a cheerleading routine...

and teen-aged boys doing their own stunts on skateboards and improvised ramps and pipes. 
While a pair of much younger boys amazed us with their rollerblading skills as they wheezed past lovers and vendors and a guy getting a full body massage (!) 
next to vendor selling hot coffee in the skating rink. At that time of the day, when the sun is already setting, you can rent a boat "one-to-sawa" for the price of an hour.

You can hear the distant crash of cymbals and the distorted guitar sounds and you know there's one of those free concerts going on at the big mall up on a hill, and you're glad tha there's still so much going on outside those concrete walls, and you look around you, out there in the open air, with enough room to stretch out your arms and legs and breath in a deep sigh and as the fog comes down on this weary city, it makes you smile knowing that there's still so much more to Baguio than just the cool climate. 

And that's why you stay.  

Oct 12, 2008


It is true that Baguio was originally designed for a population of 25,000 residents, but the city's population exceeded that number just a few decades since its charter... 25, 50, 100 thousand... we don't need statistics, just looking at images such as this one, something's got to be done.  

And motherhood statements from our politicians do nothing. 

Oct 11, 2008

Ahhh, Session Road

Many years ago, on one of my numerous trips to Baguio as a visitor, I went for a walk to and around Burnham Park, and, awed by the beauty of the fog descending on the city right before sunset, just as the Burnham photographers were hoping for a memory or two more to capture before calling it a day, just as the students were rushing to the park for a half hour of boating or biking with friends before going home, I looked for a perfect spot to keep still and better appreciate the wonderful scene. I found that spot somewhere at the Rose Garden, afternoon sun through the trees on a slope covered by green grass, and with a book in my pocket, I sat down and tried to read. But the beauty of it all - the trees, the fog, the cool Baguio air, the people, was keeping me from enjoying what I was reading, a welcome distraction, so I closed the book and instead watched Baguio end another day. That was a beautiful afternoon. 

Another afternoon several years ago, this time I was already living here, we hopped on to a friend's pick-up truck and made our way to Marlboro Country (which some would say is better experienced on horseback) for a picnic. We had our children with us who were crazy about Harry Potter (they have just seen the HP and the Sorcerer's Stone) and while us, the parents, sitting on cold, wet grass, enjoying the cool mountain air talking about where the Baguio arts scene seems to be headed, the children were all over the hills running around on their broomsticks and magic wands running away from and fighting off imaginary monsters. Every detail of that afternoon plays out in slow motion in my head now. The moment was priceless.

Once we were shooting a music video for a band, and the story revolved around images of life in Baguio then and now. There was a scene wherein two boys were floating a paper boat on a brook, running down a hill trying to get a kite in the air, and walking along a narrow path in a pine forest. The video ended with the band, then already making a name for themselves in Manila, performing in front of a local crowd, just like the old days. I look back and remember filming those scenes more than I remember the music video itself. 

See, Baguio has so many faces, it leaves an impression on people in so many different ways. It's the fog, it's the pine trees, it's the sunflowers, it's Mines View Park, it's the market, it's the strawberries, and lately to some, sadly, it's the mall. 

In the more than ten years since I decided to make Baguio my home, there are two things that most significantly help define the life that I have made for myself here: Theater and Session Road. 

Theater is the medium I have chosen to tell my stories. And Session Road is where I sit still and listen to stories. It's where Baguio people's lives meet, interconnect, intertwine. Session Road is where it's all at, for me, what it's all about. Almost everyone in Baguio can put Session Road as their address in their calling card, this is where you find almost everybody - waiting for a ride home, having coffee, or a beer, having breakfast, lunch or dinner. Buying a notebook, or a pen. Depositing money in or getting money from the bank. Watching a parade, or making a scene. Avoiding or bumping into someone. Getting medicine for a nagging headache, or hunting for that rare movie on pirated dvd.

Session Road is where you feel the pulse of the city, its aspirations, its frustrations. 

Though it's true that Session Road is almost unrecognizable these days, its real face hidden behind all those commercial billboards and smog, but that unique Session Road feel remains - the Benguet brew served in glasses and not in mugs, the amulets and herbal medicine in one corner, and the religious figurines in another, the hand-painted t-shirts and native crafts on one sidewalk, the newspapers and secondhand books on another. 

Puso Ng Baguio, one building along the road is named. It may very well be the name of the road itself. Theater and Session Road - come to think of it, the short stretch of road may very well be the arena in which the main plot of the city's story is played out.

Ahhh, Session Road.