Baguio. Baguio. Baguio. Who doesn't want to go to Baguio. The city alone conjures beauty and peace and romance and fun and youth and pines. The once playground of the rich and powerful. The honeymooners' paradise. The weekend retreats and visits. No matter what the reason is, people troop to Baguio.
But for us PASers, it's a different story. The Stardust Observatory is our Baguio magnet. Supposedly more than 20 PASers should come; but slowly, the number trickled down to the magic seven when all kinds of limits restricted the group. Liz couldn't find a babysitter. Cathy can't travel because of her preggy condition, thus Dennis and Joel can't come too. Bamm and Roch had to give way to those members who haven't seen the Observatory. Bernie had to go to Baler for the mercurial transit ocular survey.
So just seven of us finally: George, Line, Agnes, Edna, Jake, Judith, and myself. We all huddled at Victory Liner station at 10:30 PM Oct. 27 after the unusually, not-moving heavy Friday traffic gave us the big scare of missing our bus. The trip to Baguio was rather quick with only one stop. Everyone was asleep except Agnes who kept peering into the windows and exclaiming "I saw the Summer Triangle, the beautiful stars, etc." I kept saying yeah yeah half asleep. (Thank God, Agnes was my seatmate. I was afraid that a stranger would have sat beside me and have her rolling head swap at my shoulders at the winding highway and create possible rilles on my shoulder. She would have seen stars if that happened!)
Before I could even have an hour sleep, we already arrived at 4:30 AM in Baguio. George and Line were huddled together in their seats wrapped with thick blankets and still fast asleep. But we had to wake them up. Boy! It was really cold. Jake and Judith didn't bring their sweaters, so they felt freezing and had to buy the knitted Baguio cap.
At Pizza Volante
After buying our return tickets, off we went to Pizza Volante in one van for breakfast. My goodness, the rice was unusually a huge serving. Good for two people. The group reasoned out it's probably to beat the cold. Rather a sumptuous breakfast.
I called John for the pick up at 6:30 AM. No one of us knew who John is and how he looks. I only know him through the emails and the fact that he is a 1986 Padre Faura awardee.
At 7:00 AM a tall, handsome, foreign-looking guy walked in with the heavy Ilongo accent in greeting us. It's John! What a warm and friendly guy!
He instantly connected to the group because his wife is from Gensan and Iloilo; thus, Agnes and Edna warmed up to him right away.
After his breakfast, he showed us all the pictures of planets and deep-sky objects displayed at Pizza Volante. Then, we had our mini-tour of Baguio sights. We passed by the best mountaintop site for observations with good seeing, as John says, at Mt. St. Thomas. Right after we met him, the group quickly realized that John has such overflowing sense of humor - he made us roll with laughter with his jokes and funny stories.
His house where we were going to stay for the night (no more Rocio Inn for Jake and Judith) is huge, and the glass windows/walls and front/back azoteas gave a 180-degree full view of Baguio City. Ang ganda ganda naman ng scenery. It's so meditatively peaceful, soulfully quiet, and expansively beautiful! Especially when I saw the big ammonite and Dusky the Rottweiler. Space. Space. Space. Beautiful house indeed.
First hand at the Celestron
John immediately taught us how to manipulate his 4-inch Celestron refractor for solar observation at his front porch. Then, we went up to his Observatory. Ah, finally! In front of us was the imposing 14-inch Celestron on a Titan mount! He showed us all the other gadgets and accessories in his collection and gave us tips on observations and astrophotography. Then, he rolled the roof exposing the sky.
Everyone exclaimed with such delight! Could you imagine how the heavens would be here at night with a clear sky? After the Observatory tour, the group had three splits. While Judith, Jake, George, and Line slept, the tres Marias' Agnes, Edna, and myself went to Star Café for lunch and went back to John's place to sleep after lunch. Meanwhile, the kids went out too to Burnham Park for the boat ride (Jake and Judith) and to go to the strawberry farm (Line and George). John and family had to attend his brother's birthday party.
After Dinner Fun
Unfortunately, nighttime when we were supposed to have our observations was cloudy. We more or less knew that was coming because of the expected weather disturbance. John texted and emailed us beforehand about this; but we thought, forget the observations. We wanted to go to Baguio to see and to bond with John, with his Observatory, and with Baguio City, as Ronald also advised.
So we had a bonfire instead at his back azotea overlooking the City. What a beautiful nighttime sight with all the glittering lights. After the hosted dinner, George and I played table tennis while the rest were at the azotea. Stories of all sorts including ghosts crossed the conversations. Saturday night culminated with Edna's presenting the PAS Certificate of Appreciation to John. To add, I also gave him a PAS hat and three copies of the Appulse. Oh, I didn't forget to show him too Dr. Torres' Vol. XVI book - hoping that a Filipino astronomer like him with those gorgeous images will contribute to Doc's next-edition book, as Doc Torres said.
Words of Wisdom
Throughout our overnight stay at his place, John had words of wisdom from School of Life for all of us. He also shared us his expertise on astrophotography and showed us all his collection of telescopes and tips on what's best telescope to buy and to use. Do not sacrifice quality. Buy the best you can afford; but it's not the telescope size - it's the technique that eventually gives the best observation and effects the best images.
He did present to us a slideshow of all his prized images after breakfast the next day. (Roch, your CCD will have to come later.) Yes, John is now a full-fledged PASer with his membership renewal. As he said, he never felt outside PAS because he has always been a part of PAS.
The group left for Manila after lunch and after a trip to Baguio's famous ukay-ukay on Sunday Oct. 29. What a trip. John, with his overflowing sense of humor and very warm hospitality, infused a tight bonding and camaraderie among us. Mae, his wife, was also very sweet and friendly to us. Although we didn't get to do any observations, we had the best time, the best place to be in Baguio, and the best experience in a lifetime.
Thanks to you, John, for making all these possible.