BAGUIO CITY, November 2, 2005 (STAR) By Joseph O. Cortes - Whether the weather turns warm and toasty or cool and crisp, only one place is foremost on everybody’s mind: Baguio City.

The cool upland weather is a soothing balm during the summer months when the city bakes under the hot tropical sun. In December, when families meet for the Christmas holidays, the nippy air offers an excuse to light the fireplace and don mothballed woolens.

Nowadays, Baguio City is known for its ukay-ukay, entire markets of vintage wear sold for a pittance… even less if you are an expert at bargaining. It offers fashionistas the chance to glam up or dress shabbily, depending on how you look at it, and keep a complete wardrobe of finds bought at rock-bottom prices.

One Baguio City institution that hasn’t lost its touch whatever the weather or season’s fashion is Camp John Hay. For long the R&R base of American forces in Southeast Asia, it is now the choice destination in the City of Pines. Whatever the season – summer or Christmas, rainy or not – there are 101 things to do at this exclusive destination north of Metro Manila.

Shean Bedi, senior vice president of Camp John Hay Development Corporation, points out that Baguio City and Camp John Hay are no longer seasonal.

"The rainy season is really the best time to be here," Bedi says. "It is less crowded, and you get to experience both sun and fog and enjoy the fragrance of pines. It’s bright and sunny in the morning giving you just enough time to have a round of golf. In the afternoon when it rains, you can stay indoors and enjoy the fog and cool weather."

From 1903 to 1991, the camp served as the American military’s mountain retreat, with the growth and prosperity of Baguio City tied to the base’s existence. When the facility was formally turned over to the Philippine government on July 1, 1991, it was transformed by the Department of Tourism into a class AA resort. Following the completion of a master plan for the development of the facility, in compliance with 19 conditions set by the Baguio City Government, the management contract for Camp John Hay was awarded to the Camp John Hay Development Corporation, which will develop, manage and operate the facility for 25 years from Oct. 19, 1996.

Managing the mountain resort has been a difficult one, since a balance between modern developments and the preservation of the forested areas must be maintained. Bedi says none of the new developments have touched the forests. All new constructions are built on the original sites of old buildings. For example, Camp John Hay Manor stands on what used to be the Main Club.

With more than 250,000 pine trees throughout Camp John Hay’s 249 hectare area, Bedi says there is now not much room for planting new trees within the facility. An environmental contract prohibits the cutting down of trees within the Camp. That’s why new seedlings and saplings are now planted in the area around its boundaries. Apart from pine trees, coffee trees, which thrive well on the acidic upland soil, are now being planted in selected areas around Camp John Hay.

Apart from the trees, Bedi is busy trying to convince people to come up to Baguio City and visit Camp John Hay. He is now correcting the notion it is an exclusive retreat for the rich and foreigners.

"This camp is not just for the elite, but it is also for ordinary Filipinos," he says. "Apart from the exclusive golf club, there is the Manor Hotel, the picnic grounds and the Eco-Trail. We would like to encourage people to take a break from their routine and spend time here."

The Eco-Trail is a1.8 kilometer hiking trail that takes guests through a part of the Camp John Hay forest. Towering pines trees offer a shade from the sun, while diverse plants and bubbling brooks give kids and parents alike a chance to discover the wonders of nature.

Kids who want to ride horses no longer need to go out. Horses are available at the Shalan ni Kabadjo. There are guides who will take them through a riding path that goes through the forest.

The little ones will also enjoy running after butterflies at the Butterfly Sanctuary. Built over what used to be Mermaid Park, the sanctuary doubles as a learning center and breeding facility for butterflies. And yes, the mermaid statue that gave Mermaid Park its name is still there.

Those who want to learn more about Camp John Hay’s past will find much to see at the Historical Core, a living museum where the story of the camp from its roots dating back to the 1900s is told through photographs and memorabilia. Also a must see in the Core are the Bell House and Amphitheater and the Cemetery of Negativism, or pet cemetery.

The Bell House stands at the highest point inside the camp. It was the quarters of the camp commanding officer during the American era. The house has been restored to its past glory, with photographs of the old camp hanging throughout the house.

Bell Amphitheater is an authentic open-air theater where performances used to be held in the camp. Go down to the stage at the center, recite a poem or sing a song and you will be surely be heard up in the gallery. The Cemetery of Negativism buries a number of bad habits and misdeeds, which are contrary to a happy and productive life. Each grave comes with a witticism that will give you much to ponder.

And there’s still more. Aside from the outdoor activities, Camp John Hay has complete amenities. For the hungry, thirsty and shopaholic guest, there are restaurants, bars, duty free and coffee shops, fast food stalls and souvenir and novelty shops at the Mile High Center.

A new addition to the Camp John Hay development is the residential area built at strategic sites in the camp. These developments will transform the camp into a community, a retirement haven for balikbayans and achievers.

The Camp John Hay Estates are prime lots located inside John Hay. Different designs are offered to select clients based on their tastes and lifestyles. The Country Homes are three-storey, three bedroom units near the Camp John Hay golf course that come with the features and conveniences of a modern home. The Country Log Homes are single-detached, two-storey units complete with an attic, living room, fireplace, living and dining areas, bedrooms, T&B and built-in bath tub and sauna. The Luxury Log Homes are three-storey, three-bedroom units made with red cedar hardwood flooring and clay shingles for roofing. At the Scout Hill area are the Forest Cabins, a cluster of duplex cottages, complete with gas-fed fireplaces.

Bedi himself has sort of retired at Camp John Hay. When he was given the job to lead the development of Camp John Hay in 1999, he thought it would be a step back in his career to move to Baguio City.

"After six months, my attitude changed," he says. "I discovered the beauty of Camp John Hay, that life here is beautiful."

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 For details about developments in Camp Hay, contact its Manila office at the ground floor of Renaissance Center, Meralco Ave., Ortigas, Pasig City, with telefax 637-6966. Visit its website at www.campjohnhay.com. In Baguio, contact the marketing department at Camp John Hay Special Economic Zone, Camp John Hay, Loakan Rd., Baguio City, with tel. nos. (074)442-7902 to 08, fax (074)446-5175, and e-mail cjhsales@campjohnhay.com and cjhmarketing@campjohnhay.com.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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