In Baguio, when it rains

We just had our first typhoon, and I’m very thankful that PAGASA got it wrong again – what they forecast as a typhoon that would hit Baguio directly only brought about moderate winds and gray skies for a day, it was actually nice.

While known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines – originally literally when the American colonial government declared this highland paradise as the official seat of government of the country during the dry season, I have always loved Baguio even more during the rainy season. Having less tourists during that time may be one of the reasons for that.

Now as in when I was growing up, summer for our family meant the going to the beach, so way before I chose Baguio to be my home, my mother would bring me with her on her numerous trips to visit friends here usually during the rainy season. We used to take the Pantranco bus from Quezon Avenue, I’d sleep off the first few hours of the journey and wake up just as the bus perilously starts to make its way up Kennon Road, I’d keep the window open to feel the gradual drop in the wind’s temperature as the bus climbs higher and higher.

Coming here then was like entering a theater to watch a play. Open house starts at the bottom of Kennon Road, with house music provided by the sound of the rushing Bued River. That music slowly fades out as curtain time nears – and you know that the magical Baguio experience is about to begin when the curtain of fog closes, gradually hiding everything from view. The lowland flora slowly exits the scene and a new cast of highland greenery takes its place, waiting in the wings behind the clouds to make their entrance. The air gets colder and everyone in the audience of tourists, students, Baguio folks on their way back home, change costumes – out come the thick jackets and sweaters and scarves and bonnets – back then it was cold enough to wear gloves or mittens.

And the performance begins – the curtains are drawn to reveal a majestic sight of towering pine trees, mossy rocks and thickly vegetated mountainsides. It is a multi-sensory experience – the wind chills and gently moistens the tip of your nose as you stick as much of yourself out the window to take in as much of the ongoing performance as you can, you take a deep breath and smell the unique scent of pine, and your eyes feast on the one of the most beautiful skylines you’ve ever seen. And it’s only the beginning.

A gentle drizzle would complete the overture as the bus enters the center of town. The bus slows down and even before it comes to a full stop people would be getting off their seats already, picking up their bags from underneath their seats or from the overhead luggage rack and start making their way down the aisle. You get off, and Act 1 of Baguio in the rain begins.

In Baguio when it rains, you don’t rush to hide from it like you do elsewhere. Here, you look up towards the heavens and take it all in, and it’s a wonderful feeling.

In Baguio when it rains, walking around Burnham Park is like being inside a watercolor painting where all the colors seem to feather into each other, flowers cross-fading into leaves into earth into people’s faces.

In Baguio when it rains, the lagoon across the Mansion House and the pine forest beside it are a Zen garden.

In Baguio when it rains, artists gather for an exhibit opening and later around the fire to make music; around a table for a warm drink; every establishment along Session Road provides a welcoming, warm sanctuary; the cold brings people closer together.

In Baguio when it rains, you breathe out and make a cloud.

In Baguio when it rains, at night, the lights of the houses in the distant mountains are like fireflies.

In Baguio when it rains, at night when you call it a day, the mountains sing you a lullaby and beginning with your toes and the tips of your fingers, numbs you to sleep, a welcome intermission.

In Baguio when it rains, the next morning when you wake, the sun comes out and the world is young again.

So one rainy day more than a decade ago, I decided to never be elsewhere again but here, in Baguio, when it rains.