Sunday, April 14, 2013

Baguio in 3 days (Part 1)

A few weeks after PAGASA declared the beginning of Philippine Summer of 2013 and a week after Holy Week, my family and friends from Ligaya ng Panginoon catholic community went on a Baguio Summer outing. It was a 3-day mixed catholic community out of town prayer meeting and personal vacation.

We were a bunch of 8 packed in one car with our bags, driving 300 Km from Southern Luzon and climbing up to an altitude of 1.5 Km to Baguio. It was my mom and brother's first time to go to Baguio and my father's revisit of Baguio after more than two decades.

All need to be perfect. I had the car's preventive maintenance done two weeks before the trip, washed and vacuum cleaned 8 hours before the trip, car fluids filled, tire pressure increased for fully laden weight and placed water bottles and snacks for all 7 passengers plus mine.

For navigation, I used my trusty old Nokia 5800 phone which at present I have stripped off the job of being my primary phone but kept lovingly as my GPS navigator and underwater camera sidekick when coupled with a waterproof bag. Nokia still makes the best GPS navigation software to date. Google Maps have great maps, street view and terrain layers. But voice navigation is robotic and needs an always on internet connection. Nokia on the other hand (both Symbian and Windows phone) offers natural voice GPS navigation, whole country road maps saved inside your phone (no need internet connection whatsoever), points of interest with offline search, vehicle speed tracking, over speeding warnings, route and stop over planning. All that a driver needs. A week earlier, I programmed on my Nokia phone our route and all stop overs to, within and from Baguio. The good news is that it never failed me. We got to Baguio and back trusting all our routes to that little old phone. Thanks Nokia.

We left home on Saturday 1:00 AM, enabled Nokia GPS Navigation, said our travel prayers and took a leisurely drive towards Baguio and never going more than 100 kph along the way. No hurry. All is cool. It is a vacation after all. And after it, I do not want to feel too tired and wanting another vacation from this Baguio vacation.


The 1:00 AM drive, nature breaks and short stops along the way were just right to bring us to Shell gasoline station in La Union at 6:15 AM. This point is about a kilometer away from the road fork separating Baguio-bound vehicles taking Kennon Road or Marcos Hi-Way. I planned it this way because S.O.U.L. Cafe, our breakfast stopover, opens at 6:30 AM (I called them 2 days earlier to confirm what time they will open that Saturday). After a Shell fuel top up, we went in and had our breakfast.


At this early we were the first and only customer. It was fun hearing my father talk in Ilokano with the staff. He ordered kinilaw na kambing while the rest of us took our own pick of dinaing na espada with egg, longganisa with egg, batchoy, pinakbet, lumpia shanghai and spaghetti. The chef arrives around 10:00 AM so the full menu with gourmet pasta and steaks were not yet available.


Each set of breakfast meal came with a hot cup of chocolate de batirol. Their version are in small cups the size for espresso shots. It is a rich and thick native chocolate blend that is a good morning kick starter. Smaller cups of milk are also served to mix in as desired. After a good meal and with a promise to go back to S.O.U.L. Cafe when we make our trip back home, we continued or journey to Baguio. We took the route along Pugo-Rosario Road then turned right at its intersection with Ben Palispis Highway (also known as Jose Aspiras Highway or Marcos Highway). Marcos' bust is just a wreck of it's former self when we my wife and I first went up Baguio 10 years ago when it still had a recognizable face. I wish they kept it intact for history's sake like Bataan and Corregidor. 


Our first and foremost Baguio point of interest target of the day is Fort del Pilar of PMA (Philippine Military Academy). I know it is way off and over the other points of interest but there is no stopping at any other location. 


Because it is only on Saturday mornings when PMA cadets go out to the parade grounds and treat visitors to an hour long program. 


The cadets performed their silent drill mixed with pattern formations and three live rifle shots that surprised the audience. The show ended with a fun dance number of the cadets to show their soft side to the tune of Gangnam Style, Harlem Shake and Teach me How to Dougie. It is a show that a PMA visitor must try to catch to add more meaning to the PMA visit. 


By the way, visitors in ordinary slippers are not allowed inside. So wear sandals or shoes. Here are some of the other pics we took in PMA. 



The sun is up and the skies are bright blue but the breeze is cool and relaxing. Standing under a shady tree will instantly give you the feeling how cool it is compared to Laguna. The temperature that day was 24 degrees C and it was almost noon. It was the typical comfy aircon temperature setting you use at home - not hot, not too cold, just right. At night, the temperature dropped to 17 degrees C during our stay in Baguio - colder than the coldest setting of air-cons and enough to force our daughter to use a blanket the whole night for the first time.

Next stop was Camp John Hay. We strolled for a while on the hill where the small Statue of Liberty was located. There were a lot of families having fun and taking an early picnic or barbecue lunch and almost all the picnic tables were occupied.


We paid for the entrance fee and went inside Camp John Hay Historical Core to see more of the previous rest and recreation area of the US Army in the Philippines. Inside it is the Amphitheater. Ten years ago it was free to access this place. A wedding reception catered by Mario's, a popular restaurant in Baguio, was being set up when we were there.


Other parts in the Historical Core are the Secret Garden, Cemetery of Negativism, History Trail, Liberty Loop and Bell House where you go inside the house of Major General Franklin Bell. A portrait of then Philippine Secretary of State John Milton Hay is displayed inside the house.


Having a rest inside the part of History Trail overlooking The Manor. 


We had a late lunch in Choco-late de Batirol located in the Igorot Garden near Gate 2.


It is a famous destination. The time was just right and the place was not crowded. Lunch time for most people just ended and it was an hour before the next wave of crowd come in for merienda.


We had the best place. A cool and private garden nook surrounded by plants and wood carvings. Just right for 8 persons.


Lunch was very good then we ended it with suman sa lihia, bibingka and chocolate de batirol. Their version of chocolate de batirol was not as thick and not as sweet as S.O.U.L. Cafe and it came in a normal sized mugs. It had a slight bitter and nutty flavor most likely due by adding finely crushed peanuts. I like more the chocolate de batirol we had for breakfast earlier. 



Just as the crowd came in for merienda, we headed to The Mansion and Wright Park. No more time for merienda as we were still full but for visitors staying longer in Wright Park, the recommended eating place is just a short walk to Ketchup Food Community along Romulo Drive near Pacdal Circle.


Late in the afternoon it was time to check-in to the retreat house. A year earlier, LNP reserved Assumption Sabbath Place for the Baguio outing. It was a very early reservation because it is always fully booked. We did not check-in early in order to catch the PMA program and also to let the previous occupants check-out and for the rooms to be prepared. After our stay, nuns from Xavier University of Cagayan de Oro were next in line.



The rooms surrounded a naturally lit, naturally ventilated, covered central area where gatherings and activities can be held. Surrounding it are two levels of rooms of different types and sizes. Some have their own toilet and bath and some share a common toilet & bath where there are plenty of cubicles and shower rooms. We settled in our rooms and rested for a while before the night's events.


At 6:00 PM we had the Lord's Day celebration with LNP community followed by dinner and fellowship night of games and fun. 


Lilia won the longest ear, Hannah the smallest biceps and me the longest distance from eye to eye in the Pinaka contests. A good way to end our first day in Baguio.

No comments: