It was five years ago that friends and I embarked on our Philippine holiday. Our time in Baguio was packed full of adventures big and small; whether it was to find a restaurant that served vegetarian options, eventually finding a beach upon which to relax and soak up some sun, or the epic journey to find the bone cave in Kabayan
One attraction we visited which was much closer to our base was Camp John Hay. A US ex-military base, the camp had been repurposed for public recreational use and was a peaceful retreat, the sort of place one would go for a ‘lovely day out’.
Built in the early 1900’s and named after President Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of State John Milton Hay, the camp was used by troops stationed on the island for rest and recreation. Damaged by bombing during the Second World War, it remained under American control until it was handed back to the Philippine government in 1991.
The site now offers a variety of activities and a tranquil, natural escape from city congestion and pollution. Baguio’s high altitude and natural pine forest landscape provides spectacular views and the camp has trails, and even a treetop adventure for the more daring, where one can absorb the beautiful surroundings.
The official residence, named Bell House after General Franklin Bell, is available for tours. We wandered through the rooms as our informed guide gave us background to the American occupation of which, I’m sorry to say, we knew nothing of. It was fascinating to have a history lesson while in the location and feel more immersed in the story.
The grounds were stunning; steep gradients and natural vegetation providing a dramatic backdrop for what could potentially be a very meditative location. The main reason we wanted to visit the camp though, was not the history nor the view.
In the 80’s while still under the command of an American general John Hightower, a cemetery was established on the grounds; however no bodies have been buried on the site. The collection of headstones planted on a steep slope is known as The Cemetery of Negativism as well as The Lost Cemetery, built to symbolise the burial of negativity. Comically adorned headstones embellished with cartoon like decorations are scattered among trees as the place where bad vibes are laid to rest.
The truly bizarre collection of phrases written on the headstones are strangely funny and oddly contemplative. It was such a charming yet challenging curiosity to visit and it feels quite appropriate to think back on it right now. The human population is becoming more divided and the atmosphere feels increasingly combative and polarised.
The recent results from the latest UK general election may not have been a complete surprise, but what the Prime Minister represents strikes fear into the hearts of many of us. Feeling powerless is awful, but I’ve been inspired by the cemetery to turn negativity around as the best way to deal with such an anxiety riddled situation.
Commandeering a piece of land and building headstones may prove tricky, but the idea of building a monument in order to let go of these bad vibes feels therapeutic. Instead I would suggest anyone who is worried about what the future will bring can replace a monument with a good deed.
Austerity in public health services has killed 130,000 people (according to charity think tank Institute for Public Policy Research) and the continuation of the same political party with increased majority does not bode well for the vulnerable and infirm of fewer means. Inspired too by a tweet shared by a friend, I’d like to take my concern and turn it into action by regularly donating to charities that have increasingly had to pick up the slack for those who can no longer cope.
As an example, a colleague of mine set up a drive to donate supplies to a local foodbank during the last week in the office which was a wonderful initiative. Making regular donations will now be a part of my usual shopping. Another way to help is by donating to Samaritans, who provide essential support to those suffering acute emotional and mental crises.
We can also remain vigilant of our government’s actions and fight tooth and nail against changes that complicate or hinder access to essential services. We can help by uplifting the agencies filling the gaps and supporting those who need assistance and look to restore a sense of community that political polarisation seeks to destroy.
The festive period is a time that inspires giving of all kinds and I hope we can all carry that spirit of charity into the new year. Wishing everyone a safe, happy and peaceful season.
Charities worth looking into linked below:
- Crisis: https://www.crisis.org.uk/
- Shelter: https://www.shelter.org.uk/
- Samaritans: https://www.samaritans.org/
- Find a local food bank – Trussell Trust: https://www.trusselltrust.org/get-help/find-a-foodbank/