Let's face it: 2020 hasn't been the year we thought it would be.
A volcano erupted, we got hit with numerous storms, and there's still a pandemic. Schools were shut down, malls were closed, and gatherings at places like church or birthday parties were banned. Non-essential businesses had to close down, and we had to learn an important acronym: WFH.
When we did have to go out, it was only to access essential goods like food and medicines. We were reminded to wash our hands and sanitize them regularly. We had to distance ourselves from others. We had to wear masks. Later on, we had to wear face shields. All these were designed to give the medical field -our brave front liners- a fighting chance to bring the pandemic under control.
Today, however, that's starting to change. Destinations are starting to reopen gradually. The first destination that was reopened by the Department of Tourism was Boracay, which is fantastic given how they just gave the island a cleaner and thorough upgrade in infrastructure. For that, you'll need to fly. The second destination is Baguio, and that's where we're driving with Nissan.
Nissan Philippines and the Department of Tourism have actually teamed up for a campaign called Safe Trips, promoting tourism in the new normal. It's really about highlighting road trips by your own personal vehicle as the safest and most secure form of domestic tourism. It means families, a group of friends, or couples can visit places for some much-needed respite from a difficult last couple of months and have some fun. And smile.
What is clear is that it won't be exactly the same as before. Traveling to Baguio isn't as simple as packing a few bags, booking a hotel, loading up your RFID tags, and heading out. As visitors to a newly reopened destination, there are a few more things we have to prepare.
It goes without saying that while there is still a contagion out there, we'll have to prepare the usual things we've become accustomed to these past few months. Frequent handwashing means we should bring our own little bottle of liquid soap and even our own tissue. If you're on the go, that means you should also have a bottle of alcohol or hand sanitizer handy. You should have facemasks along with the fashion accessory of 2020: the face shield. And yes, you should have spares for both too. If you have a vehicle as big as the Patrol Royale, having all your luggage, gear, and protective equipment won't be a problem.
You may be wondering, there's nothing new to report with all those, but to get to Baguio there are two more things you need to do. The first is -you guessed it- a negative SARS-CoV-2 test. The minimum requirement is the antigen test variety (AKA: rapid swab), but the recommended one is the RT-PCR test.
As you wait for your (hopefully) negative test result and the medical certificate, the second thing you need to do is log on to http://visita.baguio.gov.ph, the website that Baguio City has established for tourists that want to visit the City of Pines.
Here, you'll enter your personal information, your travel dates, which hotel you'll be staying at, the usual health declaration, so on and so forth. Basically, it's reminiscent of those arrival cards for international travelers. They do this for two reasons: one is for contact tracing/screening, and the other is to be able to limit the numbers of tourists they can admit per day to just 300... about 10% of the normal tourists during a peak season.
Once you get your medical certificate, you can upload it to the site, and click apply. Don't worry about waiting too long; Baguio sends their approval quickly along with a QTP with a QR code that will be effectively your travel pass. You can either keep it handy on your phone or print it out. Once you and your companions do that, you're good to go.
Driving up to Baguio is actually easier, so long as you have your RFIDs for the expressways (NLEX, SCTEX, and TPLEX). This kind of driving is perfect for the Nissan Patrol Royale V8, and will comfortably take you to the end of the expressway network at Rosario. There's no need to hop onto MacArthur Highway as the expressways will now basically end at the foot of the mountain range heading up to Benguet, and you can enjoy the winding road.
We encountered a checkpoint at the base of Marcos Highway; all you have to do is present your QTP ID and keep on going. Once you do get up to the border of Baguio City near the row of auto dealerships, there will be another checkpoint. Here you present your QTP again, and you'll be directed to a triage center. If you're staying in a place like Manor, you'll be redirected to the John Hay Trade and Cultural Center so they can verify your tests, documents, and issue a pass that you'll present whenever you go into John Hay. Actually, you can take the antigen test in Baguio City, but it may be better to get it out of the way before setting off.
Some do have misgivings about being a tourist amidst a pandemic, but tourism is a huge driving force behind the economy and the livelihood of people. Every time you check in to a hotel, buy a souvenir, or eat a meal is a contribution to the local economy and the families there. All you really have to do is comply.
Tourism is possible in the new normal. So long as you prepare and comply with the new regulations, you can go out for a bit of R&R, and the DOT will start to reopen other destinations that are accessible by car, and Nissan will be there to support this new normal drive.
Yes, there's a bit more work to put in, but after months of being cooped up in the city, getting to the cooler temperatures of Baguio will be so worth it. And given the limited numbers of tourists approved daily, the air will be a lot fresher and traffic definitely a lot lighter.