It has been a while since my last travel and this would be my first out-of-town destination for 2016 outside Pampanga, my birth province. I was invited by my former classmate in STI College – Global City, whom I became friends with, on his graduation in Philippine Military Academy (PMA), Baguio City. How can I say no to 2nd Lt. Joseph Stalin Fagsao who made it to Top 4 for PMA Gabay-Laya Class 2016. I cannot contain my happiness for his achievements– something that can be proud of.
I guess the feeling is mutual among his friends and family because all of us want to have a “piece” of him after the graduation ceremony–we all want to have a selfie taken with him. He was also a favorite to be interviewed by media because of his unique story and ironic name with his chosen profession slash duty and responsibility slash career.
We were in Victory Liner Cubao Terminal at around 8PM on Friday, 11th March 2016, as my friend, Joe Mar, still needs to report from work that day. We were eyeing to take the 9:30PM bus departure but the bus conductor that will depart at 8:30PM announced that there are still five (5) seats available. We decided to take it without knowing that we will be occupying the last seat row at the back, which is really not very convenient for a long travel.
We tried to take a nap in the bus as we both do not have sleep yet for that day. I work at night and I was up since I got off from work in the morning. I know I should get a good sleep for us to be able to visit many attractions in Baguio City. We were able to take a nap but it was too shallow as we were seated at the back and the whole travel wasbvery “bumpy” so to speak.
We arrived in Victory Liner Baguio City terminal at around 2:10AM. We planned to take a sleep in the terminal but it was very uncomfortable, we decided to go to Burnham Park instead. But before that, I asked my friend to taste the strawberry taho, a Philippine snack food made of fresh soft/silken tofu, arnibal (sweetener and flavoring), and sago pearl (similar to tapioca pearls). They sell it for Php20.00 for a small cup, which is not bad thinking that these vendors needs to earn decent money to get through the day. As we wanted to travel cheap as much as possible, we just made our way to Burnham Park by walking. Of course, it was with the help of Google Maps. Along the way, we passed by Sunshine Park, Baguio Museum and the University of the Cordilleras. If I am not mistaken, we also passed by Teleperformance, one of call center companies in the country. I thought it would be cool to work in Baguio City especially for those people who are up at night and asleep by day. You do not need an air conditioner just to have a comfortable sleep in a tropical country such as the Philippines.
We stayed in Burnham Park looking for accommodation. Good news for people who like to go online. Burnham Park is a Wi-Fi Hotspot. We tried searching online for accommodation in Baguio City but ended up finding our accommodation when we killed time in an eatery located at the corner of Lake Drive and Perfeto Street. The rate was Php400.00 a night per person. This is relatively cheap as compared to other accommodation with the same feature that ranges from Php600.00 to Php800.00. According to Kuya Robert who happened to be the uncle of the owner of the transient house and also a member of the tourism frontliner in Baguio City, there are some accommodations that can go as low as Php200.00 per person per night during off-peak season. I guess this accommodations are a one-jeepney-ride from the city proper. You can reach Kuya Robert (Robert J. Datuin) on his one of his cellphone numbers: +63.926.922.5822, +63.929.420.4490 and +63.942.040.6835. He said he can find you the cheapest accommodation in its classification (e.g. hotel, apartelle, homestay, pension house, etc.).
At the eatery, we ordered chicken mami for Php50.00 and a cup of coffee for Php25.00. I find it pricey for a short order but then again, it is Baguio City where tourism is a booming industry. A granny was selling bonnets for Php50.00. My friend and I bought one for ourselves. I also encouraged other tourists to buy. I told them that it would be a great help for her, which they happily did.
We checked in at 6:30AM and took a sleep for 2 hours. We had a brunch in Jollibee – SM City Baguio branch. After that, we walk around the mall to check what it offers. As expected, SM City Baguio is an open air mall. They do not have indoor air conditioner which is an environmental friendly approach and of course to think that the temperature in Baguio City does not to have an air conditioner to cool a place.
We headed at the strawberry farm. Again, we find our way to the jeepney terminal that will pass by the strawberry farm from SM City Baguio. We just paid Php10.00 each for the fare. From the main road, the strawberry farm is just a 5-minute walk away. Along the way, you can taste a homemade strawberry ice cream. Filipinos usually refer to this type of ice cream as “dirty” ice cream because it is produced manually with improvised tools. Nowadays, I do not think this is true anymore as electric mixer are sold at an affordable price and are very much efficient.
If you want to experience picking strawberries, the price is Php200.00 per kilo. It is a little higher than those being sold in the make-shift stores in the area. You can also buy cardigans, sweaters, bonnets and other sweet delicacies of the province. The prices are comparable to the prices in the public market in Baguio City and are definitely much lower as compared to other areas like Minesview Park.
From strawberry farm in La Trinidad, we went to the Bell Church. There are two bell churches in the area. One is located in La Trinidad and the other one is in the boundary of La Trinidad and Baguio City–the one near the welcome arc. Most tourists go to the latter. You can ride any jeepney from the main road of strawberry farm that ply the route of Baguio City. Just ask the driver to drop you off at the welcome arc or across the Bell Church. It will be better to monitor your location using Google Maps as some jeepney drivers tend to forget it.
The Bell Church opens from 7AM to 5:30AM with lunch break between 12NN and 1:30PM during weekdays and from 6AM to 5:30PM with lunch break between 12NN and 1PM during Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays. We spent about an hour in the area taking photos and selfies. For a minimal fee, you can use their comfort room, which is located inside the church itself–left side. If you arrived at the vicinity at lunch time, you can kill time by staying at one of the eateries in the area.
From the main road of the Bell Church, we took a jeepney going to the city proper. There are two roads leading to the city. One is via the Bokawkan Road and the other one is via Magsaysay Avenue. You can check Google Maps which is the best route for your destination. If your purpose is just to get to the city proper, you can take either route and you can just walk your way to your destination. In our case, we took the jeepney that plies the Bokawkan Road and we were dropped off at the Rizal Park near the Burnham Park. We just walked our way to the jeepney terminal.
Our next destination after Bell Church is the Tam-awan Village but we couldn’t find the jeepney terminal and aside from that jeepneys that ply that route are very seldom. We were afraid to take the chance and experience difficulty going back to the city proper from Tam-awan Village. We decided to skip Tam-awan Village and went directly to the Botanical Garden. Just a friendly advice, I highly recommend that you visit Tam-awan Village during your stay in Baguio City as it is a must-see attraction. You can do this first thing in the morning of your itinerary.
Jeepneys that ply the route to Mines View will pass the Botanical Garden. Fare is just minimum. When we went there, we just paid Php10.00 each. Yes, minimum fare in Baguio City is relatively high compared to Manila and other places. You can ask the driver to drop you off at the Botanical Garden but again, I suggest that you monitor your current location using Google Maps. We spent about 3o minutes in Botanical Garden taking photos and checking the area. You can try the Igorot’s native dress for a small fee. You can then take unlimited selfies or photos with your friends.
We navigate our way to Wright Park, which is just a 10-minute walk from Botanical Garden. You can try horseback riding in this park. They also have some activities that you may find enjoyable and they are worth trying. We just stayed here to check the area and to take few minutes rest.
Our next destination was The Mansion. We just walked our way to this tourist destination where one can take a souvenir photo of the official summer residence of the President of the country. There is nothing much in the area but it is worth visiting. You are already in the area, why not try to visit as many places as you can while enjoying the cool breeze of air. I highly recommend that you apply some sunblock lotion while hopping to different locations in the city. You may not notice it because of the cold temperature but you will eventually realized that you got sunburn once your back to your hometown.
I encouraged my friend to just walk from The Mansion to the Mines View. Google Maps say that it is just about a kilometer away. Easy eh? Do not get too confident as we never anticipated that the road to Mines View, although paved, is a little challenging. You are like hiking an easy trail of a mountain.
Of course, we took selfies and photos in the welcome mark of Mines View. One can expect to see a lot of plant vendors. Most vendors are selling herbs that can be grown back home–a way to access fresh herbs for your favorite dish! You can also take a photo with a horse or a dog. The main attraction of the place are the mountains where you can enjoy watching while breathing fresh air.
Our supposed next destination was Camp John Hay but it is a bit late for an eco-trail adventure so we decided to go back to our transient house. We were too tired and we just slept without taking dinner. Although you can buy foods at the nearby sari-sari store, I still suggest that you bring foods before heading back to your transient house especially if it does not offer meal preparation. By the way, do not forget to bring basic medicines like paracetamol or ibuprofen. My friend has an upset stomach due to the cold temperature. He said, he has been suffering from that condition whenever his tummy is exposed to cool air. He needed to find a convenience store in the middle of the night.
We needed to check-out at exactly 6:30AM so our wake-up and preparation time is set at 4:30AM. I think all accommodations in the city are equipped with hot shower as you cannot bear taking a shower with water as cold as an ice. Before we head to PMA in Loakan, we took some souvenir photos of the transient house so that people who are interested to rent the place will have an idea and if it will suit their taste and budget.
As usual, we walked our way to the Burnham Park, at Perfecto Street where the jeepney terminal that ply the route to PMA is located. If I remember it correctly, we paid around Php20.00 each for the fare. This is much cheaper than taking a cab. The only problem is that you need to walk from the main gate of PMA to the barracks or visitors area of PMA. It is about 15-20 minutes walk. This is your best option if you want to take some photos inside PMA compound.
We were told that the ceremony will start at 8AM and that we would need to be there by 7AM. It was not entirely true as the official start of the ceremony is set at 10AM but it will definitely not going to start without the President of the Republic of the Philippines, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).
It was a nostalgia for me watching the cadets performing their acts as I once became a model cadet who participated in the same acts back when I was in high school. I then realized that, those performances demonstrate the chain-of-command, which I did not realized when I was in high school. Back then, all I care is to be able to perform our acts without errors.
The ceremony took a little over 2 hours and when it ended, we were allowed to come closer too the graduates. All of us felt proud for our own friends or member of the family who graduated that day. As with our friend, 2nd Lt. Joseph Stalin Fagsao, most of his friends from different locations were there. He was also one of the favorites to be interviewed by the media, an added “proud factor” for his friends and loved ones.
We then headed to their rented accommodation in Baguio City. Unfortunately, we was not able to meet our friend again as he attended a luncheon with the President of the country and we also need to go back to Manila as my companion has to report from work the next day.
It is highly recommended that you plan your itinerary when going to Baguio City especially the schedule of the bus going back. Although, one can take to be a “chance” passenger but during peak season, this is a big no-no. I was told by an acquaintance, that just in case you missed your booked bus, you can still use your reserved ticket provided that you pay a small amount, about Php50.00. Not bad, instead of paying a new fare. Also, if you need to get off, let say in Tarlac or Dau Bus Terminal, you really need to check the schedule of the bus that will allow you to get off to your desired location other than bus stops in Manila as most of the bus do not allow it. This is based on my experience. I wanted to get off in Tarlac or Dau Bus Terminal but I was told by the bus conductor that they do not allow it. I ended up going back to Manila that night.
Here is a quick look of PMA Graduation Ceremony at the PMA Grandstand.