northern Luzon tour: Baguio

Compared to our 10-hour drive to Vigan City, the trip to Baguio seemed relatively short. The scenery was quite different – jungle instead of rice paddies and steep hairpin turns up the mountains instead of straight bumpy roads. Because of the altitude, the temperature is cooler – no wonder Americans wanted Baguio as a summer capital when the Philippines were a US territory. Hotel Veniz (pronounced veNIZ, not Venice) has a little less character than Vigan Heritage Hotel, but it is an improvement in amenities — the bed is even more comfortable and we finally have free WiFi so we started catching up on uploading photos and blog posts!

After checking in we headed to a museum on the 5 different indigenous people groups in this area. Their dress, crafts, and customs were fascinating. For dinner, we ate at Café by the Ruins, which is a café at the remains of an old house damaged during WWII. Instead of restoring it, they left much of the remains, adding a roof and walls as needed. The atmosphere was amazing! Apparently it's pretty popular in the artsy scene. Baguio is a mecca for arts — music, painting, sculpting, weaving, carving, you name it.

menu @ cafe sabel

Saturday brought more rain as we're still catching the edge of the typhoon, so instead of the gold mine tour, we went to the BenCab museum. BenCab (derived from his given name, Ben Cabrera) is a national artist of the Philippines and raised funds to build a museum housing some of his work, work of other artists, and his large collection of tribal art — rattan weaving and woodcarvings mainly.

native carvings
native carvings

Our streak of good timing continued at the museum, as we got to meet BenCab. He must have made the short walk from his studio to the museum. Not only did we talk to him for a while (and he was a very gracious person genuinely interested in you) but he also showed us around the museum for a little while. I still can't believe we met a Filipino celebrity!

ben cabrera
ian admiring ben.cab's work while ben.cab explains it to him

We ate lunch at the museum café, which is a sister restaurant to Café by the Ruins. The menu was different but the food was just as good! I'm really going to miss the hot chocolate from here – it's the real deal. After lunch the rain abated and we wandered around the gardens (lots of the produce for the café, including coffee, is grown on site). We discovered the path up the mountain alongside the waterfall. The stone steps were covered in moss and blended in so well you couldn't really pick out where they were. But when you reached the top step in a section, the next set of stairs was right in front of you. I think the walk up will be one of those experiences that stick with me for a long time.

ben.cab landscape

When we finally left the museum, we headed further down the mountain to a resort with natural hot springs. We were a little disappointed when we found out they weren't natural pools, but baths they built that they could fill from the natural hot springs. Nevertheless, it was quite relaxing and nice to warm up from the cooler weather. On our way back up the mountain, we stopped at some local woodcarving vendors and picked up a few things, including a little carved man I've nicknamed RG, short for Rice Guy — most of the carvings like that are apparently rice gods.

Sunday morning we kicked off the day with breakfast at McDo (you can probably guess). It was fun seeing a McDonald's menu with rice, spaghetti, and longaniza (Filipino sausage).

mcdonalds breakfast in baguio

We headed to mass at a beautiful cathedral, which I admired for an hour because I couldn't understand any of the service – it was in Tagalog. After mass, we headed back down the 104 stairs and down the street back to our hotel to check out – we weren't leaving, just switching to a five-star hotel for our final night on vacation from vacation. Normally we couldn't afford a hotel like this, even in the Philippines, but it's half price because it's off season and it's just one night.

Before checking into The Manor at Camp John Hay, we took the Balatok gold mine tour we missed the day before because of the rain. A very bumpy ride down the mountain (a few sections of road were unpaved), seven pairs of rubber boots and seven hard hats later, and we were walking into a working gold mine.

the family @ the gold mine

Our lovely tour guide explained the various equipment, how it takes a bunch of cartloads of ore to make one bar of gold, how a stick of dynamite isn't dangerous without the fuse... then we went to the miner's lunchroom and they blew half a stick of dynamite. The blast was so loud and you could feel the wind rushing down the tunnel. After the dynamite, we rode the mine train back out and toured the processing facilities. A miner gave us all a piece of gold ore!

We headed back up the bumpy road to town and checked into the hotel, and we didn't leave again until it was time to check out – it would be such a waste not to enjoy the room to the fullest!

our view @ the manor @ camp john hay
dinner @ cjh

We had dinner downstairs at the hotel's nice restaurant — business casual dress required. The food was tasty — I especially enjoyed my French onion soup, and the atmosphere was great. The décor was a simple cabin look with walls that opened to the outside. While we were eating, the fog drifted into the restaurant giving everything an ethereal glow. After dessert, we took a short walk outside to admire the fountain, then listened to the live band for a bit. They instructed the audience to inform them of any celebrations: "birthday, anniversary... divorce... circumcision..." We then headed back to the rooms to relax and enjoy the luxury. We discussed morning plans: should we have breakfast then Jacuzzi, or Jacuzzi then breakfast. Caleb suggested "or we could have breakfast IN the Jacuzzi."

The next morning we slept in then ate some tasty bread mom bought from the bakery downstairs before getting everything packed up (deciding in the end to skip the Jacuzzi so we wouldn't be rushed).

On our way out, we stopped at a convent for some famous jams, Café by the Ruins for a final lunch (again, I'm going to miss that hot chocolate!), and the market street, where I finally scored a sarong for 150 pesos (about $3).

market in baguio

The drive back to Makati was pretty uneventful, and we enjoyed a late family gathering at Starbucks when we returned (us, including Didy, Tito Nilo, Tita Gerts, and Tito Pete).

We've got a couple days to relax before heading on our big trip to Singapore, hooray!