New Sight

I was already pining for a proper out-of-town trip when the chance to go up to Baguio presented itself. Throw in my two-week-old camera and it was just impossible to resist.

It had been two years since my last visit there, which was a long time considering my family went up there at least once a year. This time though I was determined to see it with fresh eyes. I always enjoyed Baguio, despite all the “progress” problems it’s dealing with.  When the day of the trip finally came, I was only too excited to board good old Victory Liner (check them out here!) and get started on the six-hour journey.

We arrived near dawn to the cool Baguio air and fresh smell of pines. Even if neither were as intense as they used to be, it’s still a far cry from Manila’s muck. Luckily we were allowed to have a super early check-in at the hotel, Casa Vallejo (visit them here!). We were hungry though so instead of sleeping in, we went right back out to hunt for food. Casa Vallejo is just a stone’s throw away from Session Road so we just took to our feet and went.

One weird thing I noticed about Baguio in this visit was that all our usual early morning haunts in Session Road now opened later. Favorites like The Flying Gecko and Vizcos Restaurant and Cake Shop, where we usually go for super early  breakfast (Gecko used to be open 24 hours) weren’t opened til 9am. What we got instead were 24-hour Jollibees and 24-hour Chowkings and 24-hour fastfood chains we have here in Metro Manila.

It’s probably nothing. It just bothered me so much because part of the charm of Baguio was how different it looked and felt from Manila. But now here were these culture-killers sucking up local business and thrashing it with their cheap plasticky burgers and MSG. I mean, come on, if you were going to encroach on someone’s space, at least give them the courtesy of letting them thrive with you instead of competing with them. Then subsequently threatening locally owned businesses and local culture itself. Honestly, this annoyed me so much the thought is still grating up to now.

The only good side of all the restaurants being closed in Session Road was the walk. When Session failed to offer food (fastfoods don’t count as real food) we decided to walk all the way down to Burnham Park to give good old Solibao a try. We failed. It was closed as well. The walk itself though took me to a lot of little corners I otherwise wouldn’t have seen. I guess the walk, plus the new situation in Session Road kept perfectly in theme with my “seeing with fresh eyes” goal.

Finally we just decided to eat breakfast at the hotel. Afterall their restaurant, The Hill Station, is fast-gaining good repute.   And rightly so too. It’s cozy and inviting, like you could sit with your leg folded under you (as I was prone to do) and not be judged, without scrimping on luxuries and little details that really make a place. And the food! Honestly not what I expected in a little B&B. Sorry though I have no food shots. Right when the plate of Huevos ala Lucio was placed in front of me, I dove in and forgot everything else. (Oh look, they have a website!)

The full tummy, plus the long trip, plus the long-ish walk finally bore down and we ended up sleeping in til early afternoon. Right after which it was food hunting again. (Honestly I don’t know what it is about my family that we seem to have bottomless appetite. It does translate to belly fat, but we still eat nontheless! It’s so weird.)

We had a particular place in mind, Chef’s Home, near The Mansion. It’s a hole-in-the-wall, carinderia-looking place with a Malaysian owner who happened to be a former Sofitel executive chef. But in our brilliance none of us thought to get the address, and we even had trouble remembering the actual name. After walking around some more in search of it, we found nothing.

Instead we stumbled upon this quaint congregation of small restaurants right across Wright Park. Ketchup Food Community had everything from Thai to Indonesian to Italian to Pinoy. We settled for Thai, Happy Tummy, since we were already in the mindset of Asian. Seriously, I haven’t had hole-in-the-wall (or in this case, hole-in-the-pine-forest) Thai food this good since Som’s in Makati. I think I even like The Happy Tummy a bit better because of the surroundings and the really nice owner, who also a child with the same name as me (she told me so.. haha). The whole set up was so intimate, it was definitely something I’m going back to.

Like with The Hill Station though, I have no food shots because food erases my brain. Just trust me and order their Thai Salad. It’s so perfect in cleansing the palate between bites of bagoong rice, chicken pandan, deep friend spring rolls and fish. (And that’s saying a lot too coz it takes so much for me to eat greens.)

The Happy Tummy

After the late lunch, we went back to the hotel to gather our wits and plan what to do next in Baguio. I was also able to check out another little gem in Casa Vallejo’s seemingly bottomless treasure chest, Mt. Cloud Bookshop. I loved it so much I wanted to relocate to Baguio and work there. I swear.

It’s small; two giant steps and you’ve covered it’s width. It’s so quaint though with its warm lights and pinewood walls and rows and rows of books, ranging from poetry to philosophy to art to children’s books. It has origami cranes hanging from its open windows and antique typewriters decorating its shelves. It also has nooks lined with  fluffy giant pillows and cozy little couches nestled between shelves for hanging out and reading. To top it off, you have the girl that mans the cash register in her dangling earrings and black beannie, and her friend, the wiry guy from the neighboring cinematheque, in his buttoned-up polo and glasses, chatting about the Palanca awards and how poetry is the abstact form of literature. It tugged at my heart strings so hard.

I ended up buying another ton of books I wouldn’t be able to read until I finished the ton of books still in my reading list.

It was Camp John Hay afterwards for coffee at another favorite spot, The Filling Station. That place was always our night cap after hectic touristy days. I was so excited for this since it was to be my first sniff of pure pine air since we arrived that morning. I was looking forward to taking night shots with the tripod too, something I’ve never done before in Baguio.

But when we got there I got so jolted my brain fizzled out for a while. What used to be winding, serene streets lined with tall pines was now replaced with buildings housing Yellowcab, Pancake House, Army Navy and the like, and even some clothing shops like ROX and Sanuk. It was so bright and cemented that it took me a while to readjust my memories of the sleepy, little compound that was John Hay.

What’s more, our quiet coffee place at The Filling Station under the fresh Baguio air was replaced with sing-along bars and a new hotel. Le Monet seemed pretty from the newspaper clippings (and it wasn’t so bad at day), but at night it had gaudy neon lights dancing at its facade like the street lamps of Alfredo Lim’s Manila. It was pink and green and purple and plain icky. To make it worse, they seemed to be playing loud music too that was just too much to bear, with the lady belting out her soul in a bar right beside them.

I was so sad I lost my John Hay, and I had a creeping fear I was really starting to lose my Baguio, that I just oggled blankly at it while my mom bought clothes at the newly-relocated surplus shop across the street. Finally when I decided to take a photo of this travesty, I realized that I left the screw that attached the tripod to the camera at the hotel. So I would be doing you the justice of sparing you from that sight. Just visit the place at day time to give it more of a chance. (Le Monet really is quite okay by day, plus they have really pretty rooms too. You’ll see no hints of the kitsch taking place at night). We ended up at Pancake House in Technohub and I had the most exotic experience of my stay thus far. Ugh.

I understand this was progress. I just wish they did it with more urban planning. Concrete blocks did nothing for the American-colonial feel of the place, with its cottages and chalets, not to mention the pine forests still standing there. It just stuck out like a sore thumb. What harm would a little blending in do, really?

Anyway, after the overall disappointment of Camp John Hay, what used to be my favorite area of Baguio, we got back to the hotel and found that we were right in the middle of Earth Hour. Finally I was able to do the tripod some justice.

I woke up the next day to a cool morning breeze and the bustling Sunday streets. It was Palm Sunday and everyone was up and about. After a really good sleep, I was rearing to go as well.

Casa Vallejo

We forewent breakfast and saw Mass instead. The streets were lined with palaspas vendors. Even the front of the Baguio Cathedral was swarmed with people waiting for their palaspas to be blessed. I had no palaspas with me but I joined in to take photos anyway.

After Mass and breakfast at The Hill Station again, we were back to Camp John Hay where we bought breads for pasalubong. Then we had a light snack in one of the small cafes in the Mile-hi Square. For those familiar with the place, the old surplus shop is now replaced with Mango and Levi’s outlet stores. Meanwhile, the old Adidas, Nike, and Kipling outlet stores were still there.

I was a little downhearted then because my short Baguio weekend was coming to a close.  As for my goal of seeing with fresh eyes, I was pretty happy with it. My camera, and Baguio being in the cusp of change, did me wonders photo-wise. Hopefully I get to go back sooner than two years and be able to laze around a little more.

The parents on yosi-break in John Hay. Tsss.