MANILA, March 15, 2006 (STAR) CONSUMERLINE By Ching M. Alano - No doubt about it, it’s an acute case of petal attraction that’s been drawing droves of people to Baguio’s mountain city every February since the seed of the Baguio Flower Festival was planted back in 1995. Recently, we opted to take a break from work and smell the flowers – whole gardens of ’em – as we joined the exodus to this year’s Panagbenga flower festival in full bloom with its "petals of love, peace, and unity."

With expert "chauffeur" Kathy Moran behind the wheel of our trusty SUV, we were off bright and early Saturday morning to Baguio, 254 kilometers north of Manila. Leaving Manila at a little past 8 a.m., we arrived in Baguio, its crisp mountain breeze and the scent of pine bidding us welcome, after a leisurely seven-hour trip with two pit stops-cum-shopping spree.

With people power the order of the day in Metro Manila that was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1986 Edsa Revolution, Baguio’s flower power, on the other hand, had everyone – residents and tourists alike – taking to the streets for the annual Panagbenga.

"Bloom, Baguio, bloom" was the catch phrase of the day. And indeed, the whole stretch of Session Road bloomed with more than a thousand flowers – roses, sunflowers, gerberas, anthuriums, orchids, mums, everlasting flowers, and many more whose names are lost on non-flower enthusiasts like us whose thumbs are anything but green. Later, when we went to buy some flowers (they were selling for a measly P20 to 35 per a fistful of blooms) in the market, the vendors didn’t have enough to sell because a lot of their flowers were used for the floats.

Under the glare of the mid-morning sun (alas, we forgot to dab on some sunblock), participants – including float queens Judy Ann Santos and Kring Kring Gonzales, marching bands, and street dancers – put on their most flowery costumes to showcase Baguio as the city of flowers. Easily getting the most flowery compliments was the float of La Trinidad, Benguet that had a giant rose-bedecked strawberry (truly berry lovely!) sitting on a flowerbed. Meanwhile, a helicopter flew overhead to welcome guests and participants to Panagbenga with a shower of petals. Shades of the miraculous shower of rose petals that happened in Lipa, Batangas decades ago, except that there was no helicopter.

The schools’ attendance in this year’s Panagbenga was quite impressive. Among the participating schools were Bonifacio Elementary School, Don Mariano Elementary School, Lucban Elementary School, Laurel Elementary School, Quirino Elementary School, Baguio Central School, Doña Aurora Elementary School, Doña Nicasia Puyat Elementary School, Pinsao Elementary School, Magsaysay Elementary School, Rizal Elementary School, Josefa Cariño Elementary School, Mabini Elementary School, San Vicente Elementary School, Baguio City High School, and Pines City National High School.

From the private groups came members of the Theater Arts Guild, Bibak Community Incorporated, Yawi Culture & Arts, and the staff of Jollibee Foods Corporation, led no less by Jollibee, who certainly beefed up the grand parade.

The "imported" street dancers came from the Paaralang Barangay ng Caniogan, Malolos, Bulacan and the Bago Society of Baguio represented by the Municipality of Pugo, La Union.

Putting everyone in a festive, marching mood were the homespun PMA Band and the PNP Pro-Cordillera Band as well as guest marching bands University of Luzon-Dagupan City, Banda Kabataan 77-Cavite City, and St. Jude Band-Cavite City.

Fielding their floats for Panagbenga 2006 were the Department of Tourism, Baguio Country Club, M. Lhullier Pawnshop which came up with a gem of a float featuring dazzling actress Judy Ann Santos, Municipality of La Trinidad, Smart Communications, Kiddie Kingdom International School, BFFFI Friends, Kindasan Foundation, Tropical Fruit Virgin Coconut Oil, Benguet Province, and AMA Computer.

And participating in the barangay landscaping and beautification contest were the Middle Quezon Hill Barangay, Imelda Marcos Barangay, M. Roxas Teacher’s Camp Barangay, Engineer’s Hill Barangay, Dominican-Mirador, San Luis Village, Hillside, Guidad Central, Upper General Lim, Pinsao Pilot Project, Hillside, Sta. Escolastica, and Lualhati Barangay.

Panagbenga has become a national tourist attraction of sorts, redolent of the scents and traditions of Baguio and the Cordilleras. The various sectors of the community – government, NGOs, education, business, and private groups – come together to stage this annual event.

Well, this year’s no different (perhaps just bigger and better). Picture thousands of schoolchildren out on the streets strutting their stuff. Unmindful of the blistering heat, they painted their faces and bodies and even went barefoot as they put their best foot forward for a spectacular street show. We sure hope these kids didn’t report sick for school the next day. Certainly, they deserve an A-plus for A-ffort, creativity, and stamina.

Speaking of creativity, a flower-painting activity dubbed "Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom" was sponsored by Boysen Paints. The works of the artists were posted on banner stands all over the sprawling Camp John Hay. These works of art also adorned the facades of Baguio’s landmark buildings.

Truly, there’s something about this mountain haven, perched 5,000 ft. above sea level, that inspires the artist in people.

"Oh, yes, there are a lot of Baguio artists and some of their works hang at the Manor," says Camp John Hay Manor general manager Heiner Maulbecker.

Imagine being surrounded by the finest that Baguio’s arts and crafts can offer at Camp John Hay Manor, your home sweet hotel in Baguio (call 446-0231 to 50/845-0892/845-0911 or the Manila sales office at 687-6710/687-6524 for inquiries or reservations). Imagine enjoying five-star amenities in a mountain enclave miles away from home. I can only pity a friend who’s allergic to pine trees and avoids Baguio like the plague.

A 246-hectare leisure development in the heart of Baguio City, the Manor houses 180 luxury rooms including 54 suites with lots of view that’s yours to enjoy for free. But of course, each room has its own cable TV, IDD/NDD phone system with dial-up, Internet access, refrigerator, in-room safe, mini bar, and coffee and tea making machine.

And then there’s Billy King, truly the king of restaurateurs, with his Le Chef at the Manor and Le Chef Delicatessen. On our first night in Baguio, rather travel-weary and sleepy, we ordered room service: Sinigang and carbonara, that came with freshly baked bread rolls straight from the delicatessen kitchen. Hmmm! Yummy! From white snapper filet in dill-chardonnay sauce to braised beef to chicken cordon bleu in lemon butter sauce to vegetable paella with chorizo, name your favorite dish and Billy King will probably whip it up for you. We helped ourselves to the bountiful breakfast buffet that featured dishes good enough for lunch. We were certainly thrilled to try the restaurant Billy King opened recently at Westgate Alabang: Voulez Vous. Hail the King!

For those who just can’t get enough of the Manor, GM Maulbecker dishes out this hot and fresh news: "We’re opening the Manor Suites – I hope by mid-April – which will have another 160 rooms. And we’ll revive the 19th Tee. If you remember, the old 19th Tee can seat 15 to 20 people. This one will seat 200. It’ll be a fast-food type of restaurant, but upgraded, for the whole family. Kids can have their pizza, burgers and ice cream while their parents can have their pork knuckles, and you can have your tandoori chicken. We’ll have Japanese and Indian chefs. We’ll have all that in one place. Everybody who will come to Baguio will go to the 19th Tee. Even the local people will bring their visitors to the 19th Tee for ice cream! Like in the old 19th Tee, you’ll have the afternoon sun and view the golf course. And at night, we’re gonna light up the trees on the golf course. It’s romance! You have to fall in love again!"

Coffee, tea or tee?

Maulbecker is proud to add, "We’ll have a lobby which will also be a restaurant, like The Peninsula Manila, but with a beautiful fireplace in the middle and maybe some pianist or band. But the place will be so busy you won’t really need entertainment."

Surely, life is a bed of roses at the Manor.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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