Hidden just outside the mountain city of Baguio – summer capital of the Philippines – sits Tam-awan Village. An artists’ colony based around a cluster of the traditional dwellings of the Ifugao and Kalinga (two of the many tribes of the Cordillera region), Tam-awan was founded in 1998 and continues to attract the more intrepid visitors from all over the Philippines, and, indeed, the world.
Approaching from the winding mountain road, on a clear day you can see how the village earns its name, meaning ‘vantage point’ – the views stretch all the way over hazy slopes to the South China Sea.
Inside the complex, huts nestle on their stilts in the greenery, staggered up the steep hillsides from the entrance point. When we arrived, early one New Year’s Eve, all was quiet.
Our booking seemed to have been lost, but the smiling girl in the office assured us that one of the huts was free. A glance around at the decidedly adult artwork and décor confirmed that ours was the ‘love bug hut’ – perhaps less traditional than the others, but certainly full of character.
The rest of the huts are built of dark polished pinewood and were transported from different parts of the Cordillera before being reconstructed. One enters through a small door, emerging in a room whose walls are low, but which is surprisingly spacious due to the pitched thatch roof. Two of the larger huts at Tam-awan are employed to display the eclectic artwork of the Filipino artists who use it as a base. As part of the village’s aim to preserve and promote Philippine culture, guests can also participate in workshops and see music and dance demonstrations.
Getting ready to head into the city that first night, we stumbled down stone steps, wrapped up against the evening chill and already steeped in the smell of wood smoke. We stopped off first in the café, whose blazing lights offered the only illumination in the otherwise pitch dark. There the music was of an altogether less ancient provenance. The staff sat round the videoke (karaoke) machine with beers: they ushered us in and plied us with longganisa (Filipino sausages) and ice cream. It was all we could do to resist the enthusiastically proffered microphone.
Mornings up in the village were cold but fresh (the showers, presumably supplied by the nearby spring, even more so); the mists rolling in from the mountains adding to the other-worldly feel of the place. Nonetheless, days started early, and even here there was no escape from the clamour of Philippine life. Just as the Tokay gecko finished its nocturnal football-rattle-and-hooter call, the videoke machine would spring back into full voice, distant buses would blare their horns and visitors to the village would arrive chattering animatedly.
Tam-awan feels a long way from the tropical beaches the Philippines are perhaps better known for, a long way from anywhere, in fact. It’s a very Filipino kind of sanctuary, and I’m not sure there’s a better.