Saturday, June 16, 2012

Back to Baguio

Pardon the 'unrotated' photos. The vertical photos were automatically changed to horizontal orientation by Blogger when I uploaded them. I'm still figuring out how to fix this problem :-)

“Back to Baguio”
Sun.Star Davao, June 16, 2012

As I zipped my pants on the last day of our one-week break, I did not realize that I was in for a shock. They were so tight that I had to inhale deeply so that the buttons could be closed. Blame it on all the glorious food we enjoyed in the City of Pines (and maybe the slower metabolism that comes with age?). No regrets though, as the unforgettable memories we made far outweighed the excess pounds.

Indeed, Baguio will always have a special place in my heart as this was where many childhood summer vacations were spent. Twenty-two years after my last visit, I went back again; this time, with my two daughters and other family members revisiting old favorites and discovering new spots as well.

Braving the almost 6-hour road trip, we were relieved after seeing the iconic Lion’s Head along Kennon Road which meant that we were just a few minutes away from our final destination.

The kids shrieked in delight as they saw our family friend’s impressive rest house at Camp John Hay, which would serve as our home for the next few days. It was not just a log cabin but a well-appointed mansion with its own helipad!

On our first night, we celebrated my mom’s 70th birthday at the famed Le Chef at The Manor Hotel, also located at Camp John Hay. The fine dining restaurant was truly the ideal venue for the significant milestone. As we ate our sumptuous dinner, Le Chef’s musicians serenaded my mom and sang a birthday song as the staff presented a complimentary personalized mini birthday cake.

The following day, we didn’t have difficulty in waking up the little ones as they eagerly prepared for their most awaited horse ride at Wright Park.

Hundreds of horses and ponies were ours for the choosing with hair colored in different hues---black, brown, blonde, white, hot pink and even the combined colors of the rainbow. As expected, the kids did not settle for anything else than the most vibrant ones. Seeing the kids, each with their individual horses and ponies all lined up was a sight to behold. It reminded me of an old cartoon show during my childhood days, Rainbow Brite.

We opted for the one-hour horse ride (P300 for one hour; P200 for half hour) with tour guide (P150 per hour). It was a terrific choice as we were able to tour around the side roads of Baguio and observed its surroundings more intimately, including the summer home of tycoon Lucio Tan.

Afterwards, we met up with my mom’s Baguio-based first cousin, Aunt Agnes, at Good Shepherd Convent where we stocked up on our pasalubong shopping of peanut brittle, strawberry jam and ube jam. What’s heartening to know is that every time you buy Good Shepherd’s products, you are also supporting the convent’s scholarship fund for the Cordillera Youth.

Lunch was at the Baguio Country Club followed by a private tour of Brent International School, the alma mater of my Aunt Agnes’ kids. Established in 1909, the sprawling campus is spread across thirty hectares of forested land. It was given the status of National Historical Site by the Philippine Historical Commission. My kids and teen niece were awed as we visited the art room where the life-sized masterpieces of the high school students were showcased.

Of course, a visit to Baguio will not be complete without dropping by Burnham Park for its famous boat ride. For P150 an hour, you get to choose from a plethora of boat designs and paddle your own boat around the man-made lake.

We capped off the day with a visit to SM Baguio where we comforted our tummies with traditional Korean food in an al fresco setting.

Another adventure awaited us the next day as we woke up early to pick strawberries at La Trinidad’s Strawberry Farm which is just 30 minutes away from Baguio City.

Because it rained heavily the night before, the farm was muddy and slippery but this did not deter the kids who were extremely excited for their strawberry harvest.

Donning the farm’s rubber boots, the wannabe ‘fruit ninjas’ bended and maneuvered themselves in the narrow rows of the strawberry field picking the juiciest and biggest strawberries they could find.

A few times, they slipped in the leg-deep canals. There was a lot of laughing and teasing in between. But, overall it was one memorable morning as the young ‘farmers’ learned a valuable lesson, “Never take your food for granted”. This message rang true for them as they experienced the hard life of an Ibaloi farmer even only for a brief moment.

Before we headed back to Baguio, we tried the strawberry ice cream being sold in the streets. It was one of the best I’ve tried---creamy with just the right sweetness; and full of fresh fruit bits. It was such a pleasant culinary surprise!

Our next destination was The Mansion, the official summer residence of the President of the Philippines, for some photo ops with the historical structure including its Buckingham Palace-inspired gate.  Outside, there was even an adorable Igorot boy who gamely posed with us for wacky shots.

Mines View Park offered a marvelous view of Benguet’s gold and copper mines as well as the Cordillera mountains. A host of souvenir shops in the area were teeming with keychains, knit products, jewelry, silverworks, food, home décor and a lot more. Fancy wearing a full Igorot costume? Bahag or tapis; vests and headdresses can be rented for a very minimal fee for that perfect “It’s more fun in Baguio” picture.

During the late afternoon, we trooped to one of Baguio’s latest attractions, Tree Top Adventure at Camp John Hay.

My daughters, niece and I tried the Canopy Ride Adventure (P350) which took us from one tower to another via a cable chair with our feet dangling in the air. Changing towers several times, we felt safe as the very efficient Tree Top Adventure staff secured our gear to the cable chair. From 20 feet to 100 feet up, it was an awesome feeling sailing over towering pine trees with the cool mountain breeze gently touching our faces.

Jasper and Arnold, the thrill seekers in the group, tried almost all of Tree Top’s attractions: Superman (P300/zipline), Silver Surfer (P200) and Tree Drop (P150/free fall).

We ended the day with a wonderful meal at Forest House which was awarded as one of the Philippines’ Best Restaurants in 2011.

The 3 Dip Forest House Special Salad (P375) was highly recommended by the friendly staff. It had a generous serving of fresh lettuce, crispy cucumber, carrots, turnips, nuts, raisins and cherry tomatoes. We hand-wrapped the veggies and dipped them in strawberry dressing, blue cheese and honey vinaigrette.

The Forest House Bagnet Family Meal (P1,475) was good for four persons. Bagnet is a must-try Ilocano deep fried pork dish, similar to lechon kawali. The family meal came with garlic rice, Vegetable and Tofu Farmer’s Salad, two kinds of dessert (we chose the heavenly Double Decker Chocolate ala mode and Black and White Torte) and two orders of Goren Pisang, a banana  flambé artistically arranged in fried wanton sheets topped with ice cream.

The group also enjoyed the Baby Back Ribs (P405), T-Bone Steak (P595) and Fettuccine Carbonara (P270).

It was raining hard on our last night so we decided to order hot chocolate from the quaint cottage-style Starbucks at Camp John Hay. At the rest house, we paired this soothing drink with the fresh strawberries harvested earlier in the morning.

Nostalgia sets in and I feel like I am five, falling in love with Baguio all over again.

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