The City of Baguio is the most popular travel destination in the Philippines for local and foreign tourists, particularly on weekends, holidays and during the summer months from April to June. The city is located in the south central part of the Province of Benguet. It is a highly urbanized city, with an area of 49 square kilometers and with an average elevation of about 5,000 feet above sea level.

The surrounding terrain around Baguio is rugged and sloping, dotted with hot springs and cut by rivers that drain into many valleys. The city possesses a pleasantly cool climate. Just like the western half of the island of Luzon, Baguio and the rest of the province of Benguet has wet and dry seasons of equal duration, but experiences heavy rainfall because of its high elevation.

The map on the left shows the three major roads that provide access to Baguio City. One is Kennon Road; the other is Naguilian Road and the third is the more recently built Aspiras Highway which was earlier called Marcos Highway. These three major thoroughfares have been carved out of the slope of the mountains. The Halsema Highway, which connects Baguio with the Mountain Province and the rest of the provinces comprising the Cordillera Administrative Region, is another access road but not as widely used.

KENNON ROAD

Kennon Road connects Baguio City with the town of Rosario, La Union. It was originally called the Benguet Road and was later named in honor of its builder, Col. Lyman Kennon of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Coming from Manila or the provinces in the central plains of Luzon, it is the shortest route up to Baguio. Although Kennon is the shortest of the three major access roads, travel time is just as long as through the other two because of poor road conditions.

It usually takes an experienced commuter from 50 minutes to an hour to negotiate the 41.2-kilometer steep and winding climb by car. The upward climb reveals a picturesque view of the mountains, lush vegetation, and pine trees as you get closer to Baguio. A mountain river flows along a rocky canyon from the lofty heights, and following this course the road was cut above the river bed.

Kennon is a toll road and the tollgate is located about 2.5 kilometers from the junction at Rosario. The original road was a macadam telford-type road which was in the following years constructed into an all-weather asphalt roadway. Lately, some portions of Kennon Road have been replaced with concrete pavements. There are small settlements along the road, known as Camp 1 to 6 which were originally established by the original builders of the road.

Unknown to many is the fact that its initial construction way back in 1903 was cutting across the mountains of Benguet with the combined efforts of Filipinos, Americans and Japanese nationals. Aside from Filipino engineers and U.S. Army Engineers headed by Col. Lyman Kennon, one thousand five hundred Japanese immigrant workers persevered to accomplish the difficult road project. The Japanese workers contributed substantially in the construction effort until its completion in 1905. To carve out the road against river canyon walls, five hundred Japanese workers died while engaged in the project. By ratio, the toll of one Japanese life was sacrificed for every ninety meters of the road length.

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Zentoku Nakahara, a Japanese who visited Kennon Road in 1936 and 1937, wrote: "As you look up from the road, it were as though a solid stone mountain above would fall on you, and as you look down, still a rocky cliffside plunges below. A fearful feeling chill you as you contemplate the sight." Nakahara further mentioned that, "To curve out the road, massive rocks had to be blasted with dynamite and in the process accidents would happen so that human bodies would be blown to pieces and the scattered bits of flesh would disappear in the lush growth and rocky crevices around."

Inspite of numerous accidents along Kennon Road, many visitors and tourists still pass through it to see the breathtaking scenery that unfolds at each bend of the road. There are beautiful and scenic sites along Kennon Road such as the Bridal Veil Falls, Bued River gorge, Twin Peaks, Colorado Falls, a pedestrian suspension bridge, the sculptured limestone lion's head, and the spectacular view from the observation deck at the upper end of Kennon Road. These are portrayed in the 18 digital photographs shown above which I took during my visit to Baguio City in October of 2003. There are also some small stores along the road where you can buy an assortment of native handicraft, vegetables, brooms, and locally made delicacies.

NAGUILIAN ROAD

From San Fernando, La Union and the other provinces in Northern Luzon, Naguilian Road serves as the shortest access to Baguio City. It is the most northern of the three access roads. The 46-kilometer stretch from Bauang to Baguio can be negotiated by car in about 55 minutes.

Being in the center of the town of Bauang, the turnoff from the National Highway is clearly marked and impossible to miss. Travel within this town is usually slowed down by tricycles and passenger jeepneys, however driving conditions get better outside the town's boundary. The road passes through the towns of Naguilian and Burgos. It then climbs steeply up the Cordillera mountain range in the vicinity of Burgos, Sablan, and Irisan.

The road's surface varies from asphalt to concrete. During inclement weather conditions, it will be touch and go as you climb in the thickness of the fog that would envelop the mountain. At its higher elevation, vehicles crawl at a snail's pace usually in the afternoon when the fog moves in. However, the road is less affected by landslides than Kennon Road.

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From the town of Burgos to Irisan, Maguilian Road follows mountain ridges and the ascent is quite sharp. There are a number of sharp hairpin turns and blind curves.

ASPIRAS HIGHWAY

During inclement weather conditions when Kennon Road is closed to vehicular traffic due to landslides, travellers from Manila and the provinces in Central Luzon take the Aspiras Highway (formerly called Marcos Highway) in going up to Baguio. By car, it takes about an hour to negotiate the 49.2-kilometer stretch from Agoo to Baguio.

The Aspiras Highway was originally designed to be the premier route to the City of Baguio. This access road is between Kennon Road and Naguilian Road passing through Rosario or Agoo, La Union. It cuts through the slopes of Mt. Sto Tomas. A more direct route along this road is by way of Rosario going to San Luis and then to Pugo, La Union. Most busses usually go from Rosario to Agoo, La Union, and then go on a gradual climb to Pugo, La Union.

The turnoff at Agoo is clearly marked with a sign. A few meters past the junction is a large concrete statue of an eagle. There are a number of roadside stalls selling fruits and vegetables, woodcarvings, and furniture. When rice is harvested you will find farmers using the road shoulders to dry their rice. As you go further up in Taloy, a sitio of Sto. Tomas, you would see the what is left of the bust of Ferdinand Marcos which has been carved out of the mountain. It was constructed just before the people's revolution which took him out of power. The bust overlooks a DOT aborted project, the Marcos Park consisting of a golf course, conference buildings and tennis courts are now badly deteriorated.

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It would be a steep climb after passing through the Marcos bust. At various vantage points, view decks have been constructed where one can gaze over the wide span of green vegetation below contrasting with the view of the coastline and the South China Sea in the horizon. About 10 kilometers before Baguio is a concrete tunnel which was constructed along a landslide-prone stretch of the highway. And just like the two other access roads, the Aspiras Highway also gets blanketed by a thick fog in the afternoon.

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