July 04, 2010, Stars and Stripes forever. Maybe at one time, yes but Uncle Sam let go of us in 1946. As Americans in the USA celebrate the beginning of their summer with backyard barbecues with the legal minimum of clothing, its hot, humid and 42 degrees here. And its the end of our summer. Missing my own long summers in New England, the nearest I can pretend to without taking a 14 hour business class flight, is up north, where I spend my summer solstice.
There's always some romance in taking an all American vehicle to this last vestige of turn of the century Americana. Admittedly now a dwindling specie even in Big Prairie-Big Truck Heartland USA, the Ford Expedition still answers to a need since 92% of Expedition buyers use them for family vacations, 60% for carrying outdoor leisure equipment and 84% to carry passengers behind the first row (with 80% carrying three or more behind the back seat). Seeing another Expedition on the road this wet off season in the City of Pines is easier than finding the remaining old cottages inspired by clapboard Adirondacks or even flagstone walled Lake Tahoe bungalows. Sigh.
La Trinidad Valley nearby is actually older than Baguio. It is named after the wife of Guillermo Galvey, the surveyor commissioned by the Spanish Crown to establish a sanitarium in cool weather to energize Europeans wilting in humid and hot lowlands. Hence, Baguio was to be the quintessential colonial hill station. Unfortunately, there's little left of Baguio City's colonial hill station charm as the forested areas of South Drive are slowly being overrun by cookie cutter pitched roof townhouses, as crowded as shophouses in any Chinatown.
2010, a year after its centennial, the old Vallejo Hotel has reopened as Casa Vallejo 1909 with a restaurant aptly named Hill Station serving hearty highland cuisine and tapas. Only a Filipino steeped in the rich traditions of our history will appreciate what goes into a slow cooked Cocido Mexicana or Cordero Estofada. At least the opening of the John Hay Suites at the Manor has doubled the bed capacity for those who, like me, believe that the genuine summer capital is only where chef Billy King's cuisine is just a stairway landing away surrounded by umbrella pine. And whoever is the mayor of the City, Baguio's expertise in flexible circulatory one-way systems is still top notch. Makes going to Casa Vallejo and SM Baguio easier too.
Yes reports of its demise have been exaggerated, even if there was heavy demand for air conditioning in downtown during the heat wave of 2010. Now that the afternoon showers have returned, classes have commenced, Baguio City returns to cooler and less hectic routines. Like PMA time, the fog rolls in and the cicadas sing for one to relax and coddle up with loved ones, ideally in front of a roaring log fire. Its no Southern hemisphere winter, but the mile high elevation guarantees that clouds closer to the Tropic of Cancer find their way to either cool or douse the pine clad slopes.
Farewell and thanks to thee
Thanks to frenetic road building programs of the past 9 years of the pervious administration, piloting a big Expedition, and they don't get any bigger than this super stretched Eddie Bauer EL edition, through the Tarlac-Nueva Ecija-Pangasinan countryside and the narrow tar and mine blast aggregate roads of South drive does not need a heavy truck license. Providentially, the Bued bridge's 3 spans, washed away by last year's super typhoons have been fully restored 8 months later, a parting gift from the former President who also shares my undying love for the South Drive side of Baguio.
To get here, none other than American Business Class, self drive would suffice. Behind the wheel, it leaves no doubt as to its 5.6m length and 2 and half metric tons kerb weight. It doesn't ride like a truck, as it is surprisingly surefooted on bumpy curves but it won't steer like a Focus RS on a twisty road, narrower than Marcos Highway. Stopping power, continues to be a strong suit.
Without the NLEx and SCTEx, it would be quite a stretch to claim cruise control highway consumption as a significant statistic. At a cruise controlled 80km/h, the 300hp 5.4 liter Triton V8 engine with a 6-speed auto transmission is turning at a little over idling speed, registering 12.5km/liter on its consumption computer. Its consumption is comparable to any truck-based diesel mini bus, which is miles behind in creature comforts. Sure, it all goes to pot when idling in traffic. At maximum speed [electronically governed] the engine's 365 lb-ft of torque is turning at just 2,750rpm in 6th gear and consuming fuel at 4.54km/liter. Used as a land bound business jet, we saw 9.35kms/liter on the expressway while the best urban consumption was 5.26 km/liter. The mastodon's natural habitat is clearly the prairie and not the CBD.
We've grown to take for granted the '09 Expedition EL's stretch to 376mm in the rear, its 680 liters of trunk space behind the power fold 3rd row seat and the fish eye rear view video of the back every time you engage Reverse gear. Far quieter thanks to "quiet steel" and thicker glass. The AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control (RSC), which can apply one or more brakes individually to restore vehicle stability, saved me more than once as I miscalculated my entry speed into a receding radius corner.
No fuel cap
This 2010 election year special has Easy Fuel capless fuel system and a new TrailerSway Control Feature. 2010 Expeditions look even better with 20" Chrome Clad Alloy Wheels. The new MyKey can be programmed to limit the car's top speed or warn at pre-set speed limits, among many others. The "Tow-Haul" button on the shifter allowed quicker downshifting for climbing and overtaking.
Our mission was to find the most remotely American influenced of dwellings we can find, as most of the Commonwealth era architecture were either demolished or bastardized. We had better chances with newer builds that paid more respect to history. Like this yellow and white clapboard near Mansion House that looks built in the 70s but made to imitate the Hamptons. With such a comfortable search vehicle, we had to stay in appropriate surroundings. Baguio Country Club, older than the City itself, was to be the spiritual anchor for our search for the last traces of the Gringos [Norte Americanos]. If the original 1905 wooden club house didn't burn down a year after the Great Earthquake, I would have stopped my historical search there. Still, whatever bit of America one can find in Baguio had, at one time, the generous blessing of one William Cameron Forbes. The sylvan treat of cottages bordering undulating and forested golf courses and polo fields was the template. As for the city itself, Forbes' successors got an expert: Daniel Burnham.
Cookie Cutter from Diamond Head
Nothing could get more original than the late 60s military officer housing of John Hay Air Base. The current managers of John Hay's Commander Estates faithfully restored the green and white bungalows, adaptations of Pearl Harbor or Clark Air Field tropical cottages from the 40s. What could not happen more than 100 years ago is the log by log import of Canadian log cabins and reassembled here in Baguio, a feat only managed by the privatized John Hay. There were other clapboard houses long Paterno drive and Leonard Wood but many of them were derivatives of lowland ranch style bungalows.
It was the little not so old chapel of the Parish of St. Padre Pio on the peaks along the road to Ambuclao dam that brought out another kind of American influence, the non-Gringo Latino kind. You see, the Expedition, along with the Suburban, is the favorite big shot - good guy or goodfella - transport in the America, South of the Border. There it was in a small company barangay, a cantonment, established by Bechtel, working on the Hyrdo-electric power transmission project. Here, the parish priest was able to cobble together a Roman Catholic community next to the large public school. A litter of kids, a poor community, a makeshift church and the big Gringo mobile: it was a vignette out of a Benicio del Toro movie.
But my hunger for Baguio style American authenticity was better satiated by the 1909 Casa Vallejo. Sure, the tin and wood frame siding was not a transplanted copy of the New England idyll I was looking for. It was the American adaptation to what Baguio, in Hispanic Filipinas had to offer. Merely beyond the name, it was the Spanish American influence, akin to Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, et al. Fourth of July? NO! Cinco de Mayo, SI! Come oil price hell or inundating high water, Expeditions of all ages, just keep going and going, several dynasties and colonies thereafter, as American as Cocido Mexicana.