My first glimpse of Baguio frustrated me. It wasn't the picture in my mind. I was expecting clean and well-maintained parks with lots of blooms and fresh greens. Had I not been to Camp John Hay, and if not for the cold breeze, I would have not enjoyed Baguio. I tried to sense the scent of pine trees but nada. In the 80s, Baguio has lost its pine scent, but at least, not its fresh cold breeze. The fresh air was gently soothing; something you can't breathe in in Metro Manila.
In the 90s, I visited Baguio again. What I saw was a struggling Baguio, trying to recover from the earthquake that devastated the city dwellers. It saddened me because Baguio was losing its charm and beauty. I thought to myself, walking in the streets of Ayala Center was far better than the downtown streets of Baguio. There was no cold breeze and the pine trees completely lost their scent.
My first client this year happened to have its office in Baguio. So, I had a chance to visit the city of pines once again after more than 10 years. Baguio has redeemed itself. The cold weather made me feel the pine atmosphere, though according to one local, Baguio has become warmer for years now.
I saw 3 faces of Baguio: the commercial area, the highland residentials, and the commoners' residentials. The central Baguio, or let's call it the cream part of Baguio is where tourists stay. Hotels and restaurants are everywhere. Baguio at night is still up. Tourists, mostly Koreans, keep the night alive. This is the area where you visit popular places like Mines View, Camp John Hay, Burnham Park, and SM City that used to be where the ruins of Pines Hotel rested for years. This is the area that tourists would find appealing.
The commoners' area is much like the downtown Quiapo or Sta. Cruz - saturated and thickly populated, structures are cramped and not a pine tree nor a plant can be seen around. The roads are poorly lit and it doesn't look safe at night for tourists.
What saddened me most was the ruined hills of Baguio. They were no longer green. Instead, residential houses have mushroomed in a disordered grid. It could have been well urban planned for a more attractive view like regulating a common architecture; but it was an eye sore actually. At least, it would be a consolation for losing the hills' natural beauty if the homes and other structures show a distinct character that you can identify with Baguio. Something that's similar to the houses in Greece and Italy that just by looking at an aerial view, you know it's Greek or Italian.
Pine Trees Gone, Hotels Come
If there's a reason why it's getting warmer in Baguio, one is that pine trees are being replaced by hotels and inns, and lots of establishments. Maybe, there should be a law in Baguio that protects its natural state; that for every lot area, only 50% can be used to build a structure while the remaining 50% should remain in its natural state. That way, there will always be room for pine trees to grow and sway with the cold breeze.
No wonder why people flock SM City in Baguio. The place exudes charm because it balances natural and architectural beauty.
Hail the Cabs
You can't be lost in Baguio. Just call a cab and tell the driver where you want to go. Taxi cabs are very tourist friendly. The drivers are honest. They won't complain even if your destination is just a minute away. They don't mind receiving the exact taxi fare even if it's as low as 27 pesos. They would even give you the exact change. City regulations strictly prohibit taxi drivers from being unfriendly to passengers. If a passenger complains about a cab driver's unwanted behavior, according to the locales, his license will be confiscated and he won't be allowed to drive a cab for one month. Every city and town in the Philippines should imitate Baguio's tourist-friendly taxicabs.
Taxicabs in Metro Manila are Scorpions
While in Baguio, I had used the cabs many times; and each time, my taxi fare never reached a hundred bucks. My taxi would just be between 25 pesos and 50 pesos. Little did I know that after my business trip to a friendly Baguio, Metro Manila would piss me off.
We already know that here in Metro Manila, some taxicabs are pain in the ass. Here are some of the unwanted behaviors and dangers of riding some of the taxis in Metro Manila.
- They can reject passengers.
- They don't give exact change, if not at all. They lie that they don't have change.
- They kidnap passengers.
- They drive off with your groceries and shopping bags.
- They hate both short trips and long trips. I wonder what they want.
- If you complain about a cab's unwanted behavior or crime, nothing happens.
- Don't expect a cab to give you a ride when it rains.
- If you're not familiar with the place, they'll drive you to the longest route.
- Whether it's daylight or nighttime, they'll send you to an unfamiliar place and hold you up.
I remember when my mother was hit by a cab, the driver tried to run away if not for his passenger's show of concern to my mother. (Thank you, Mr. Passenger. You're a good samaritan.) The cab was impounded but the taxi operator, who was a doctor at East Avenue Medical Center, gave his driver money so that he could escape from his crime. To make things worse, Makati Medical Center wouldn't admit my mother had I not guaranteed that we could pay. Talk about doctors saving lives. What an irony!
Here's what I experienced Upon arriving at the Victory bus terminal in Pasay. I left Baguio at 10:15 PM. I arrived in Pasay at 3:00 AM. As soon as I got off the bus, a guy and two young boys cornered me, pretended to be nice, and walked me to a cab. He said that I had to pay a flat rate of 250 pesos. Before I got in, I already noticed that there was a piece of paper on the seat. While I was seated inside, the man, still pretending to be friendly while preventing me from closing the door of the cab, insisted that he liked to throw away the piece of paper into the trash can, His persistence bothered me. I felt he was up to something. I suspected that He would pick my wallet the moment I move my butt away from the seat. Disappointed, he asked for a tip instead. I gave him 20 pesos; he asked for more. He also asked 50 pesos from the cab driver.
When I reached my destination, instead of getting off at my house, I decided to get off in a crowded place. Good thing Makati Avenue was a busy street even in the wee hours of the morning. I gave the cab driver 300 pesos. I was expecting a 50 pesos change but the driver pocketed all the bills. So, for just one taxicab from Pasay to Makati, I spent 340 pesos; more than what I paid for the numerous times I used a cab in Baguio. It's so frustrating and I was so angry at what kind of system we have in Metro Manila.
If there are good taxicabs in Metro Manila, they are but a few and I salute them for being good. I hope their tribes prosper.
Get Rid of the Scorpions in Metro Manila
- As precautionary measure to both local and foreign tourists, don't get off at Victory Liner bus terminal in Pasay especially if you're alone or arriving at around midnight or early morning. It's safer if you can ask a family or a friend to pick you up instead of taking a cab. Stay in the waiting area inside the terminal.
- Victory Liner management should prohibit those people that lurk inside and outside the terminal for the sake of the safety of its passengers. The management should also prohibit the cabs to park near the terminal but allow only those accredited by the management with an agreement that they should not charge the passengers at flat rates.
- DOTC and the city and municipal governments should have strict implementing rules that would guarantee the safety of the passengers not only in Metro Manila, but in every town and city in the Philippines.
Though I was disappointed about the missing pine trees, the friendly taxicabs of Baguio made my trip comfortable and convenient. I left Baguio, not with the memories of pines' scent but with the tourist-friendliness of its taxicabs.
I hope someday, we would be able to smell again the scent of the pine trees of Baguio. I also hope that starting today, Baguio will have a program that will restore and protect its hills, and implement a common architecture for residential houses. The city government can start with recommended colors and roofings.