A well-paved but tight twisting road snaking across the mountains of Benguet province opened before Christmas to offer at least an hour less travel time along Marcos Highway to Baguio City, or back.
Although signs had alerted us about the presence of that road at the junction of Marcos Highway and Pugo, the light traffic when we drove to Baguio last Friday did not convince us to take a left. Besides, I had taken the Isuzu mu-X through the same road at midnight a year ago — and I felt confident it would be a pleasant drive even if some slow moving trucks turn up ahead.
We still stubbornly followed Marcos Highway on our way down on Sunday, but the slow-moving traffic of trucks, buses, vans, SUVs and sedans pushed us to leave that road. We took a right turn towards the area of BenCab Museum and from there navigated our way to the new road.
It will pass through a new classy subdivision with large houses and for some time you may think you have lost your way.
The new road is known as the Aringay-Tubao Alternate Road which was inaugurated after the completion of the 360-meter Anduyan Bridge in Tubao. Before the bridge, locals had to ride rafts when the water is up, or cross the riverbed when it’s dry season.
Our drive from the Bencab Museum to the Pugo-Marcos Highway junction was about 34 kilometers of tight twisties and beautiful mountain panorama. We passed through two tunnels cutting across a mountain. If a vehicle conks out there, that would really be a problem. The place is rather isolated with no visible roadside emergency assistance.
The Isuzu mu-X again offered pure driving pleasure — sure-footed, no body roll, precise handling, and a responsive transmission system that woke up to a quick tap and gripped the engines at the descents.
Motorists who choose to take the alternate route should be very sure that their vehicles are in good condition, their tires properly inflated, and their fuel adequate. There are no service stations along the way.
If you plan to buy vegetables and strawberry jam as pasalubong items on your drive down, there won’t be any place you can do that along the alternate route. I counted only three small roadside vendors selling lowland variety vegetables and no bottled jams at all.
No one can get lost on that road; just follow the paved highway. I did not notice an intersection along the way that could mislead drivers to another road.
The road will also take you to the Asin hot springs in Tuba. There’s a line of small resorts in that area.
If you are not on in a hurry to go back to Manila, it would be a good time to visit the BenCab Museum. I’ve been there several times, not only to appreciate the art works (which always takes much of my time) – but to enjoy the food at the coffee shop and the serene view from my table. Twice, I caught a glimpse of the great artist himself, but I hesitated to strike a conversation. I did not want to break the aura in my mind with irreverent talk.
After the visit, you will pass a long line of woodcarvers’ workshops. They call that the Woodcarvers Village. I have not yet stopped to look because always, my vehicle is full when I go down from Baguio, I do not have space to carry what I shall surely buy from one of those shops.
While in Baguio, find time to enjoy a long walk through the beautiful pine forest in Camp John Hay. The Camp John Hay Management Corp. has opened a trail for “forest bathing” recently along the eco trails in Camp John Hay. Either start from gate adjacent to the tree top adventure or find the start of the path after a short walk from the horseback riding trail at the back of Le Monet Hotel.
“Forest bathing” — or basking in the energy of nature — is a well-known therapy that boosts health and wellness, and has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve the ability of focus, and to lift your mood.
By Pinky Concha Colmenares