Travel

Baguio City is Much Too Crowded Already

Baguio City is Much Too Crowded Already

More about the horse with the Superman logo later.

The original plan was to drive up to Baguio, spend a couple of nights there, drive north to Vigan, spend a night there, drive north to Laoag, spend a night there, drive south to La Union, spend a night at a beach resort then go back to Manila. For non-Filipinos and Filipinos living abroad who have not yet made the road trip, let me explain. Baguio, a mountain resort town, is a four to five-hour 249-kilometer drive from Manila. To get to Vigan from Baguio, one has to drive back to La Union and take the National Highway all the way to Vigan — a three-and-a-half to four-hour drive. Laoag is some 80 kilometers north of Vigan.

Of course, there are local flights to Baguio, Vigan and Laoag. But we wanted to take photos. And we wanted our own transportation to get around because we always carry a lot of photo equipment. So, a road trip was the answer. Nice plan. But until last weekend, we didn’t know when the last day of school was for the Lenten break so it wasn’t until Monday, the day before the trip, when I started to frantically call hotels and resorts. Speedy took care of the Baguio accommodation (he knows the manager of AIM’s Igorot Lodge at Camp John Hay) so I got that out of my hair.

Vigan, Laoag and La Union were more problematic. I couldn’t get accommodations in Laoag and La Union. Beaches, you know, and people had made their reservations months ahead. I was, however, able to make reservations at a tourist inn five minutes outside of Vigan. So, the plan was modified a bit. Two nights in Baguio then on to Vigan which would be our base camp. We would check in at the Vigan tourist inn, see Vigan, spend the night and, the next day, do a day trip to Laoag and beyond (to the Pagudpud beaches) then go back to Vigan for the night. Then, we would drive home via La Union, hope that some people would have checked out by Saturday so we could get a nice room by the beach.

I printed out road maps and itineraries, including lists of restaurants and eateries. I made sure, however, NOT TO INCLUDE recommendations by bloggers-for-sale and bloggers-for-hire. And, after the Casa Punzalan experience, I also excluded recommendations by media writers. See, I took a room at Casa Punzalan after reading a story at GMA News TV.

Anyway, Speedy and I left the house on Tuesday at noon. We were going to pick the girls up at the condo at around 4.00 p.m. and begin our trip. It was 5.00 p.m. when we left the condo, it took us forever to manage the short distance between Manila and the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) even though we took the shortest route via Port Area and Caloocan because traffic was just horrible. We entered NLEX at 7.00 p.m., we were starving so we went to the least crowded place — Burger King. After a rather hurried meal, the obligatory trip to the rest rooms and final checks, we were off by 7.45 p.m.

We couldn’t have been at the NLEX more than 15 minutes when it rained. Poured, actually. And Sam whined that she was not destined to see Vigan and Laoag without rain. She was there late last year on a school trip and she was dismayed that the skies were too gray to take good photos. Her experience of Pagudpud — those white sandy beaches that are reputedly as beautiful as the beaches of Boracay — was standing on the beach while holding an umbrella.

Fortunately, by the time we exited NLEX and entered the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX), the rain had stopped. We reached Baguio at midnight, drove straight to Camp John Hay, checked in at the Igorot Lodge and slept blissfully.

50s Diner, Revisited

At the corner of Upper General Luna and Brent Roads in Baguio is a diner that seems to be never wanting in customers. It’s called 50s Diner and it’s the place to go to for familiar, comforting, uncomplicated and very inexpensive food. My daughters love it there so when asked where we should have brunch last Wednesday, they unanimously chose 50s Diner.

Baguio City 50's Diner

The name 50s Diner should already give you an idea of how the place looks, feels and sounds — straight out of a scene from “Grease.” The walls are adorned by posters of movies from the 50s, there is a jukebox (didn’t seem to be working anymore) and there’s music from the 50s to the 70s.

Baguio City 50's Diner

The menu is all about all-time favorites, loved by kids and adults. Be like Sandy in “Grease” and go for a strawberry milkshake. Or have a mango milkshake for a more Pinoy touch.

Baguio City 50's Diner

Servings are huge, I tell you. My plate had chicken, pork chop, spring rolls, egg, rice and sautéed vegetables.

Baguio City 50's Diner

Alex had a pizza burger.

Baguio City 50's Diner

Speedy had another kind of burger. Both burgers were thick and juicy, and they came with French fries.

Baguio City 50's Diner

Sam, as usual, ordered the classiest meal which, it turned out, was the tastiest too. Cordon Bleu. Just look at the crosscut to see how beautifully cooked it was.

The bill was a little over P600 (about USD13) — if that’s not inexpensive, I don’t know what is.

Wright Park

After brunch at the 50’s Diner, we drove to Wright Park. When the girls were younger, one of the highlights of every trip to Baguio was horseback riding. At Wright Park when they were very young. When they were a little older, at Camp John Hay where they cantered on real horse trails.

At Wright Park, most things have remained the same except for a few details.

Baguio City Wright Park

I’ve been to Wright Park countless times but last Wednesday was the first time I saw a hair horse with pink mane — with a bright yellow flower on one ear too. Others wore pendants with a Superman logo. I was speechless.

Anyway, we didn’t go there for the horses but for the export overruns sold at the stores behind the park. Bargains galore. I discovered those stalls about 15 years ago when I had nothing to do while waiting for the girls to get off their ponies. I would learn later that a lot of big brands source out the sewing to the residents of Baguio and the vicinity — Laura Ashley, Banana Republic…

We bought lots of tops at P50 pesos each (little over a dollar) — not the kind with “I ♥ Baguio” prints but pretty, girly tops that cost at least five times in Metro Manila if you can manage to find similar ones at all. There was a beautiful corduroy jacket that was too small for me so Alex got it — P250.00. The girls and I had a great time there.

(You’ll find the export overruns at Mines View Park too but the prices are higher. Besides, I hate going there because parking is a headache and the place is too crowded.)

Baguio City is overpopulated and overcrowded

After Wright Park, it was time to drive to La Trinidad Valley for strawberry-picking. As Baguio got farther and smaller, it was easier to see how overpopulated it has become.

The strawberry fields of La Trinidad Valley

Strawberry fields at La Trinidad Valley

Traffic to La Trinidad Valley was horrible. And it started to drizzle. But, as Philippine weather goes, a drizzle does not always lead to rain so we just proceeded to the strawberry fields.

Strawberries were at P250 per kilo if we do the picking; P120 per kilo if we buy those that had been picked already. But we were there for the picking part so never mind the higher price. Cameras slung on our necks, we left the pick-up and walked to the fields.

The raindrops got larger and larger, and a thick fog started to creep in. Then, it poured. I didn’t know where to put my camera. When Alex hid hers under her shirt, I did the same. The girl who guided us to the field provided us with huge umbrellas (thank you!) but we went back to the pick-up all the same. The rain did stop after some ten minutes but the fog was thick and, from experience, I knew that it could last for hours.

Strawberry fields at La Trinidad Valley

We ended up buying the P120 per kilo strawberries instead. We said we’d buy cream on the way back to the lodge and feast on the fresh strawberries.

We drove back to Baguio and Camp John Hay. We went to the commissary for snacks and more shopping. Sam and I didn’t bring jackets (Baguio in the summer rarely warrants a jacket) but the rains had reached Baguio and we were already shivering. The skies still overcast, taking photos was no longer a good idea so we called it a day and went back to the lodge. As we passed The House of Waffles (on the same road as the lodge), we decided we’d have dinner there. At the lodge, the girls went online (oh, yes, they brought their Macs) and watched cartoons (oh, yes, they still love cartoons).

Camp John Hay at night

I went out for a walk. Never mind the drizzle. I wanted to see the pine trees and smell the mountain air that I loved as a child. At Camp John Hay, one still gets a glimpse of the old Baguio.

Camp John Hay at night

Later, we walked to The House of Waffles for dinner, went back to the lodge then realized we forgot to buy cream for the strawberries.

Strawberries in wine

We brought a bottle of wine so I started dropping the strawberries into my glass of wine. Then, I had an idea. There were sachets of sugar for the complimentary coffee…

Fresh strawberry

Speedy put the sugar onto a saucer and we started dipping the strawberries in sugar. When we ran out of sugar, Speedy went to the front desk and asked for more. One has to be creative, right? Who knew it would rain on Holy Week? I’ve never known that to happen.

The next day, we drove to Vigan. But that’s another story.

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