There will be undoubtedly be comments about the Baguio City today about how it has lost its ‘mountain town’ charm because of overcrowding and pollution. While that may be true to a certain extent, there are still spots in the City of Pines the traveler can visit to find solace in the highlands.
One of them is found by heading out towards Quezon Hill on Naguilian Road. Here, the traveler will find the very quaint and picturesque Tam-Awan Village, a haven of tranquility in Baguio. The village was a creation of notable Philippine artist Bencab (Cabrera) and some partners. While the famous painter no longer runs it, Tam-Awan is in the able hands of like-minded folks who aim to preserve aspects of traditional mountain culture in the face of ‘lowlander’ commercial onslaught.
Several traditional Cordillera tribal huts have been transplanted here to lend a totally authentic experience. The village pays homage to the major tribal cultures of the highlands like Ifugao, Kalinga, Ibaloi, Itneg and others, collectively known as Igorot. These tribes were never conquered or subjugated by the Spanish during their 300 and some years of colonization of the Philippines.
They have kept their culture of thousands of years relatively intact, although incursions by outsiders since the beginning of the 20th century have eroded it somewhat. There is a resurgence of ethnic pride among tribal youth as they seek to regain vestiges of an ancient culture that was slowly being lost to modernity.
Tam-Awan Village sprawls across a hillside, composed of several native huts for dwelling and some ritual and ceremonial spaces. A winding trail goes up to the hilltop for panoramic views of the surrounding valley. On a clear day, you can just about see the South China Sea. From a backpacker’s perspective, the huts are sturdy and comfortable; beddings – a mattress, blanket and sheets – are provided.
Travelers can stay here for less than $10 a night. The café has inexpensive home-cooked food and it is decent. Try their strong locally grown mountain coffee or herbal mountain tea. Strawberries are grown seasonally in nearby Trinidad valley and so there is no shortage of these most of the time.
Oh, and the crepes are very good at a couple of dollars an order. One of the Tam-Awan huts is dedicated to exhibitions of native art. There is always something interesting to see as creations of local artists go on rotation at the Tam-Awan gallery.
The overall atmosphere at Tam-Awan is one of serenity, conducive to reflection, to communing with nature and ancestral spirits, which according to locals, are never far away and always lurking about, available for guidance and channeling. Of course, one must not forget the preliminary requirements of these spirits; hence, the rituals of divination and appeasement that are part and parcel of everyday life of tribal natives who are still living traditionally.
If you stay at Tam-Awan while you are in Baguio, it will take a little longer to get to the city’s other points of interest. But it will be well worth it because Tam-Awan itself is one of Baguio’s more interesting spots. In this case, the stay itself is the reward.