Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Archive for July, 2018

Breathing Adventure: Fully Satisfied in Baguio (Part 3 of the Atok-Baguio tour)

Our two-day escapade in Benguet would not be complete without dropping by in Baguio. Despite the rain, we did not let it spoil our last hurrah. A little food trip would be a great finale before we venture into our five-hour trip back to Manila.

Calajo

I heard that this restaurant has another branch along Session Road in Baguio, but this one near La Trinidad is enough to curb the hungry dragon from within. My friend, who’s a native of Baguio, told me that “calajo” is derived from a word from their dialect which means “Welcome” or “Come in”.

Actually, meal prices in Baguio are way cheaper than those in Manila. Even so, their meals have huge servings. Most of what we’ve ordered are made for three people, but it seems that there’s more room for one more foodie.

Pumpkin soup and pancit. Just right for the cold and damp weather.

Their salad is made of strawberries, raisins, green apple and lettuce, topped with strawberry vinegrette. I couldn’t believe this is made for three, but we managed to finish it. The yellow fritters are called dokto. These are made of camote fritters, and they are made sweeter by cinamon sugar. My friend said they’re better with coffee, but we can try that combination in another recommended restaurant next time.

All of these cost less than Php500. Not bad for the tired and hungry traveller.

Baguio Craft Brewery

This brewery has been making unique crafted beers along Marcos Highway since 2014. The weather was getting a bit dull and boring, but the homey, garden-like vibe of the place made us feel warm and upbeat.

We were allowed to taste four beers before finding the one that is for our liking. Going beyond four would confuse the taste buds, so we have to choose wisely. I admit I’m more of a wine person and not a beer fan. But these crafted beers made me appreciate the drink as they don’t have a strong, pungent scent, and their flavors stand out from one after another without leaving a bitter aftertaste as most commercial beers do.

I went for a pale ale called Englishman In New York. One of my friends opted for a light, fruit beer called Fruit Swine while my other friend ordered a strong, black beer called Russian Stout, which has dark chocolate aftertaste.

We were lucky because we have arrived at the brewery’s happy hour. Visitors dropping by the place between 1 and 7 pm on weekdays are rewarded with a 10% discount. Not bad for first-time visitors.

I guess I have to wrap up at this point. Since there are more places undiscovered in Benguet, I’ll make sure I’d be a regular visitor. I just hope that tourism and industrialization would not fully wreck this province, which has brought so much romance and serenity to our souls polluted by Manila’s toxicity. I hope people my age would find the time enjoying a whole new world away from the lowlands and find a whole new perspective to our country’s hidden treasures.

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Breathing Adventure: Reaching the Highest Point of the Philippines at Atok, Benguet (Part 2 of the Atok-Baguio tour)

As the clouds begin to settle on Mt. Timbak’s lush farmland, we finally embarked on our tour around Atok. Atok currently offers three tourist spots as the Northern Blossom Flower Farm is temporarily closed due to replanting season. Besides, the area has only opened up to tourism early this year and tourism authorities are still discovering new sites that can be visited.

Highest Point

Actually, the Highest Point is not a mountain, but it is the highest point of the Philippine highway system. Google says it sits at 2,255 metres or 7,400 feet above sea level (no wonder the road from Baguio was elevating at every turn). A view deck has been established to view Mt. Timbak before we can finally say goodbye…unless, the clouds try to intervene. The best views could be captured early in the morning.

Yours truly with Lans and Tina

Bosleng Lourdes Grotto

The grotto was born after a mysterious, celestial light was found pointing upon this humble rock formation surrounded by cabbage and sunflower farms. This place has become the pilgrimage site for the faithful of Atok since then.

Every visitor is invited to climb atop the grotto and stand in awe before God’s creation.

Just be careful in descending the rock.

This place is also surrounded by other interesting rock formation like Mt. Cotnon, which they say is a gravesite for an old hermit who lived on this mountain.

Plants, especially cacti, make the place even more beautiful.

Sakura Park

This site is quite new. The white and pink cherry blossom trees have been planted by a group of Japanese people two years ago, but they’re expected to bloom later. A sneak peak would not be bad, though. Besides, we predicted that tourism in Atok will boom once the sakura fully blossom. I might find myself here again three years later.

Why not a jump shot ’cause we’re excited for the sakura to bloom soon?

The tour only lasted for two hours, but I honestly enjoyed it. I guess more sites will come up soon, so tour packages might become a bit more complex in a year or so. The tour guides were kind enough to bring us to the bus/van station going to Baguio where we’ll have another set of tour.

Breathing Adventure: Unveiling the Heavens at Mt. Timbak (Part 1 of the Atok-Baguio tour)

The cold weather at Baguio was nothing compared to the freezing temperature at Atok in Benguet. Still, I was confident in my three-layered clothing as we arrive at Baguio’s Dangwa Station. The two-hour 74-peso ride to Atok was a thrill in itself. Atok is an almost untouched abode as the pine trees tower proudly along the meandering Halsema Highway, which goes higher and higher to one of the highest points in the Philippines.

The blanket of clouds, the lush green mountains, the cold, fresh air and the ocassional whiff of chicken dung were signs we were already in Atok. The region’s climate is perfect for farming and agriculture. Patches of cabagges and lettuce could be seen lined up on the side of the mountains. Wild flowers are vibrantly growing in some of the farmland. We were enjoying the view while getting a bit dizzy in this rollercoaster ride. The bus was old and a bit rugged, but the aged driver has managed to smoothly pass the freaky sharp curves and winding lanes that could go on forever.

We were instructed to register at Atok’s Municipal Hall in Sayangan before beginning any tour. My heart sank when we learned that the Northern Blossom Flower Farm was closed,* but the young tour guides have offered us two packages. We opted for the one with Mt. Timbak. It costs about Php1,500 because it includes three other tourist spots and a van that would take us to these places. The price is meant for five people, but my friend and I were willing to take it at any cost.

If taking that tour option, I suggest you should start with Mt. Timbak first. The travel time from the jump-off point to the top of the mountain could take about 15 to 20 minutes through car (or van in our case). Otherwise, it could be taken in an hour by foot (or two hours if you take loads of selfies). Ice, our tour guide, offered us to stay for a night at a transient house on the mountain before we continue with the rest of the tour on the next day. A night at a transient house costs only Php200. But if you are brave enough to brace the cold weather in a tent, one night in the mountain costs only Php100.

The potted plants at our host’s house. These are sold from about Php25 to Php100, depending on their sizes. I’m just afraid they won’t survive in Manila. šŸ˜¦

Our host, Josie Camsol, told us that tourism plans at Atok has only started on February this year. She said her family is used to mountaineers dropping by their house. She admitted she does not want to charge her visitors, but representatives from the Tourism Department have instructed locals to do so. I believe these instructions are made to help Atok’s residents as tourism is a financially viable industry.

White astromeria are quite common in Atok, as well as other beautiful flowers.

Cactus thrive in Atok

Locals don’t advise you to eat these berries, but they say some are brave enough to try them and found out that they were edible…although not tasty.

The afternoon became lazier as the clouds have completely covered the scenery. We tried to pitch a tent on the balcony, but we ended up spending the night inside the house.

By the break of dawn, we trekked the summit to catch the sunrise. We were lucky because our host’s farm is located on the summit. I was amazed with the astromerias and the daisies that stood stoic in the cheery, cold wind. The cabbage heads, although not ripe for harvest, appeared sumptuous as they were covered with dew. They became more alive when the golden rays touched them. The sun was already stretching itself from sleep behind the nearby mountains.

As the third highest peak in Luzon, Mt. Timbak offers a grand view of nearby towns like Kabayan. The sea of clouds could be seen on the nearby mountains. Mt. Pulag clearly hovered the others on the other side. Hello, pet, it’s been three years since I first fell in love with you.

A station of the cross sits solemnly the other side of Mt. Timbak. One can pass there upon descending. Everything around the mountain is simply breathtaking and I cannot help but thank God for His wonderful creation.

We thanked our host and her family for accomodating us before we embarked in the second leg of our tour. It was 8 am, but the clouds were starting to descend upon the mountains again, slowly covering the lush farmland. The heavens seem to have given us a sneak peak of Mt. Timbak’s beauty only for today. But the place is enveloped into their sanctuary again because they want to preserve this treasure for generations to come.

From right: yours truly, Josie Camsol, her husband and my friend Tina.

* As of this writing, the Northern Blossom Flower Farm will re-open on Sept. 25, 2018. It is currently closed due to the replanting season as the flowers were already harvested.

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