Sure, growing up in the tropics had its downsides, such as perpetual humidity for more than half the year, but the scenic ambiance, the hospitable people, and the otherwise tickling, warm sun rays that showered surprising embraces always made the sticky feeling all the more worth it. My sultry hugger was the Philippines, a South East Asian archipelago where I lived with my family for most of my life. Contained within the reins of its islands are breathless clear blue waters and sea-green land all waiting to be visited.
Thus, residing in an urbanized and densely populated city made me crave for moments where I could just slip into the billowing winds of provincial living. That said, I made a deal with my friends that together, we would explore all the attractions that the Philippine countryside has to offer. So far, we have checked two often-recommended hot spots off of our list during a week-long trip devoted to the two destinations.
Our first stop was Baguio City, often touted as the City of Pines or the Philippines’ summer capital. It is found nestled in between whiffs of cotton-candy clouds and the Cordillera Mountain Range. Tourists frequent this city for the favorable temperatures paired with scores of tourist sites, like the quintessential ones we went to: Session Road (a long, winding road filled with restaurants specializing in different foods and cuisines), Mines View Park (named so for its past as a mining quarry), and the Mansion House (the carbon copy version of the Buckingham Palace aka residential house of the Philippine president).
What took up most of our time though, apart from the camera loving, was shopping. Our mission here was to scour for ukay-ukay clothes. These are second hand clothes that are still in great condition and are resold for very low prices. Ukay-ukay has a big following in the Philippines and more so in Baguio, for it is the hub of the country’s many ukay-ukay stores. We also took giddy advantage of the Baguio City Market, where anything from fresh, organic-grown vegetables and fruits to the walis (a Filipino broom made of tiger grass) is sold.
On our way down from Baguio City, we were enthusiastic to visit one more tourist attraction that would complete our Baguio conquest. We were drawn to the Good Shepherd Convent, like the droves that flock there every single day, because of the mouth-watering delicacies and fruit preserves made by the nuns of the convent. My friends and I sought the taste of the nuns’ popular ube (purple yam) jam and their crunchy, caramel peanut brittle. Together, these items provided us with enough sugar-induced endorphins to fill us up for our next stop.
From high up in our breezy Baguio dreams, we descended back to the lowlands and towards the direction of the prickling heat of Alaminos City. Located on the outskirts of the city and extending into it, Lingayen Gulf is also known as the Hundred Islands National Park. It is named as such, because the park encompasses 124 pint-sized islands on high tide and 123 on a low tide.
Therefore, island-hopping was our first agenda. It didn’t matter that there were only a handful of islands to explore (three islands were developed for tourists), because within our rickety but homey bangka (boat), we were graced with a horizon full of floating, emerald hills woven with sparkling, clear waters. It was truly mind-boggling. Once we got over our initial awe, we soon decided to try the kayaking offered at Governor Island, one of the three developed islands. Though we aren’t professional boaters, the high levels of kayak-excitement blended with the pristine nature that encased us produced a winning combination.
In closing, the Baguio-Hundred Island experience whetted my adventurous palette and made me thirsty for more. After I finish my studies, I plan on revisiting these destinations. One of goals once my feet land on the warm Philippine ground is to complete the countryside checklist with my friends. I invite you now to sight-see with me. Come and check out the Philippines’ countless colorful and eye-pleasing sites. The country still has many of nature’s best keep secrets hidden, simply waiting to be discovered.