Monday, October 29, 2007
MANILA - SAGADA - BAGUIO - MANILA
GOOD EATS IN SAGADA
Initially, i was apprehensive that there would be a lack of good eating spots in this quiet, remote part of the country. However, in the course of doing research for the trip (mainly long private reading of Lonely Planet and other guidebooks at Fully Booked), i was pleasantly surprised to find out that i needn't be worried.
1. YOGHURT HOUSE
C. had previously eaten here, and heartily recommended it. "We must absolutely eat here" were his exact words.
The name Yoghurt House is actually a misnomer, since this resto also serves a fair range of sandwiches, rice dishes, pastas and the like. It is quite small, comprised of six tables. During peak season, you have to be here before 6:00 PM to ensure a table.
We had a couple of meals here, and i whole-heartedly agree with his sentiment.
Cozy interiors. You can browse through their book collection while waiting for your food.
Below are pics of some of the dishes we ordered:
Fried Rice with Meat and Vegetables (above) - simply superb, and they didn't scrimp on the meat. PHP110.00.
Roast Chicken with Cheese Pasta and Bread - looks yummy, tastes even yummier! PHP160.00.
Other dishes getting our thumbs up were their Pasta with Tuna and Cheese, which was unexpectedly spicy (PHP120.00); Pasta with Mushroom and Cheese (PHP120.00); and Farmhouse Sandwich (egg, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, at PHP60.00). The pasta dishes, in particular, were quite filling, as the portions were good for 2 persons.
Of course, let's not forget the yogurt. I ordered the Banana Yogurt (below). It was presented quite simply (too plain-looking, in my opinion), but the portion was generous; and the tartness of the yogurt was just right, balanced by the sliced banana chunks. Simply great! And only PHP65.00.
All in all, if i were a Michelin inspector, i'd give this place two stars: "Excellent cooking and worth a detour".
2. MASFERRE INN
Particularly interesting are the black & white photos on the walls, depicting the native populace. Taken by the late famed photographer, Eduardo Masferre, a native son of Sagada.
To find out more about him, please click here.
In general, their food was not as good as Yoghurt House, although they have a much more extensive menu.
The Lemon Chicken (pictured above) was above average. Not a bad deal at PHP160.00.
Friday, October 26, 2007
MANILA - SAGADA - BAGUIO - MANILA
THE HIGHWAY FROM HELL
Woke up quite early today, as we hoped to make the 7:30 AM GL Lizardo bus bound for Baguio.
It wasn't a good morning, that's for sure. First, it was still raining continuously, and the sky was overcast. Second, came a brownout, so i had to take a shower in the dark AND using ice-cold water. Third, we couldn't find anywhere to eat, as all restos were closed, including our beloved Yoghurt House (even though the proprietress clearly told us last night that they open every day at 7:00 AM!)
Then, the final blow. Due to the non-stop rains yesterday, there was a landslide in one portion of the Halsema Highway. Thus, the buses plying the Baguio-Sagada route and vice-versa would not be able to make their daily trips today.
After some discussion with C., we thought of skipping the Baguio leg of the trip altogether and head back to Manila. I called Cable Tours, only to find out their bus bound for Manila from Bontoc will leave only by tomorrow 3:00 PM.
Uh-oh, we seem stuck here in Sagada for another day.
But friendly locals proferred an alternative solution: we could take the Sagada-Bontoc jeepney, which would travel up to the landslid portion of the highway. Then we would transfer to where the GL Lizardo bus was waiting for Baguio-bound passengers.
Around forty minutes later, we disembarked from the jeepney. A fairly long line of vehicles were parked on the side of the road, waiting for the fallen rubble and dirt to be cleared. Among others, there were delivery vans, a convoy of cars promoting this Oktoberfest battle of folk bands, etc.
That's C. checking out the landslide up close. Note his heavy back pack and box of carrot cake he is carrying.
I stopped to take photos of the scenery below. Beautiful, isn't it?
We had to take a detour through a small path, in order to reach our Baguio-bound bus waiting somewhere below. This seemed quite easy at first. True, we were carrying heavy luggage; but the weather was cool, and no hurry naman, right?
Along the narrow path onwards to our Baguio-bound bus.
Unfortunately, this was as good as our detour path got. From this smooth paved portion, it eventually turned into a steep, muddy, slippery path. Not only was it difficult maintaining one's foothold (lest one fell into the shallow ravines below) ; there was hardly anything one could grasp to steady oneself, save for some anemic-looking tree branches.
Fortunately, both of us did not take a tumble like Humpty Dumpty. Then it was a ten-minute trek along the highway to reach the makeshift bus stop. At this point, we were both sweaty, and huffing and puffing, from the exertion (and uttering curses under our breath at the weather).
After some waiting, our GL Lizardo bus finally was on its way to the City of Pines! Okay, okay, no need to get excited, i told myself, since it was a six- or seven-hour trip under the best of weather conditions.
As a backgrounder, Halsema Highway is 2255 meters at its highest point, the highest in the entire Philippine highway system. Believe it or not, despite being opened all the way back in 1931 (NO, THIS IS NOT A TYPO), it is literally not yet finished. It is alternately concreted (in short sections) and muddy and pot-holed (in much longer sections).
And did i mention that it consists only of ONE lane? So if two vehicles come upon each other head-on, one has to back up and make way. Incredible, isn't it?
From my window seat, i could see that our bus barely had enough room in several instances to navigate the highway. The tires were just a matter of inches from the edge of the road (okay, okay, i'm doing my damnest not to think of the sheer drop below!!!!)
The ride has been called "hell on your butt"; ass-numbing; teeth-rattling; mind-bending; whatever, it lives up to its reputation. As the Lonely Planet guidebook put it, "whizzing around hairspin turns with barely an arm's length to spare, it produces either amazement in the driver's skill or terrible anxiety."
Fog. . . .
and more fog.
Compounding our woes was the persistent rain and the cold wind. I am normally not susceptible to cold weather, but this time, i was shivering and had to close the window.
Oh, and the fog! As we went into higher and higher altitude, the fog blanketed not only the breath-taking mountain scenery; the mini-rice terraces amongst which galvanized iron-roofed houses nestled below us; etc, it also obscured what was in front of us.
Forward visibility was reduced to 10 - 12 feet, at best. From my vantage point, everything seemed enveloped in a gauzy, translucent white haze.
I imagined, just one wrong turn of the steering wheel or one mis-timed press on the brake pedal, we could be hurtling down the ravine below to Kingdom come.
Not exactly a comforting thought to have in your mind for seven hours.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
MANILA - SAGADA - BAGUIO - MANILA
"ANG MAHIWAGANG CARROT CAKE . . . BOW"
(C. and the Hapless Carrot Cake)
My friend and traveling companion, C., is one of those amiable, happy-go-lucky chaps who seem not to mind any favor(s) you ask of them, no matter how inconvenient.
So it was that during our time in Sagada, we were kept occupied looking for the ff. items a friend of his had asked him to buy:
1. Local red rice
2. Chili powder
3. Carrot cake
Alas, items no. 1 and 2 could simply not be found. Helpful store owners advised us to drop by the Saturday morning market, which we did. No luck though.
I did call my Baguio-based friend, S., whom we were scheduled to meet later on in our trip. She quipped that the local Mountain Province rice is actually BROWN, and becomes red in color only once cooked. While this factoid was interesting and all, it was NO help at all in locating the rice!
Weekend market scene in Sagada, with C. doing his search.
Fruits and veggies everywhere, but no red rice and chili powder.
Good thing we had more success with item no. 3, the carrot cake. C.'s friend specified that it should come from the Sagada Cooperative Canteen, located just beside the fire station and some fifteen steps away from St. Mary's Episcopal Church.
The coop is actually nothing more than a small, tin-roofed shack with a few wooden tables. Aside from the carrot cake, they also serve lemon meringue pie (which i tried; it tasted kinda horrible), custard cake (looked yummy), chocolate cake (looked yummy AND too sweet), etc. They do have PHP15.00 hamburgers, which seemed such an absolute bargain that C. bought one and ate it on the spot. His verdict? Well, let's just say you really do get what you pay for.
Anyways, back to the carrot cake. Turns out it has to be ordered one day in advance, and it has to be kept refrigerated, AND it lasts only 3 days before spoiling.
Undeterred, C. reasoned that the cool weather in Sagada and Baguio would act as natural refrigerators, and the bus we would be taking from Baguio to Manila would be airconditioned anyway. Hmm. . . not exactly Einstein-esque, but i couldn't fault his logic.
Thus, the carrot cake was duly ordered, and its carton box bound by thin nylon string picked up the following day, and patiently lugged by C. during our circuitous route down the steep dirt path to get to our Baguio-bound bus. I'm sure he was tempted once or twice to just fling the box to the ground, curse and stomp at it with all his might, but hey, the guy's a saint.
Finally, finally, finally, a warm shower after our 7-hour nail-biting bus ride ordeal from Sagada via the infamous Halsema Highway. This Microtel Inn Baguio isn't so bad at all, it actually looks the same as in the brochures!
I was happily soaking in the warm jets of water when my cellphone suddenly rang. C. (who had decided to take a stroll along Session Road) was calling. The ensuing conversation below:
Me : "Yeah?"
C : (with panic in his voice) "Peter, the cake, the cake!!!"
Me : "What cake?"
C : (snarling) "The carrot cake, you dimwit!"
Me : "Oh yeah. What about it?"
C : "My friend just called. She says it can't be put in the freezer, it has to be in the ref only!"
Me : "Well, we deposited it with the Microtel front desk, diba? And they said they will put it in their fridge."
C : (shrilly, with annoyance in his voice) "Yes, but they also said they might not have space in the fridge and may just put it in their freezer instead!!"
Me : "Really now?"
C : (now ready to kill me) "YES, REALLY!! Can you please go over and check?"
Me : (now in a bad mood) "Huh?! What difference does it make anyway? Eh diba freezing is just like refrigerating, only 10X faster and more powerful? It might actually do wonders for your cake!"
C : (throwing up his hands in exasperation) "Nonsense!! If it's frozen kasi, once it's taken out, it will become moist and watery!"
Me : (reverting into normal smart-ass mode) "Oh, you mean, the gross differential between ambient temperature and normal sub-zero temperature inside the fridge has deleterious effects on the cake's molecular structure, by causing precipitation, thereby afflicting acute gastro-intestinal distress on the end-user?"
C : (buying a broomstick from a vendor with the intent to stick it up my ass) "JUST GET TO IT, okay???!!?"
Me : (meekly and resignedly) "No problemo, you just have to ask, you know."
27 seconds later, at the hotel front desk. . . .
Me : (with panic in my voice) "The cake, the cake!!"
Staff : "What cake, sir?"
Me : "The carrot cake, you dimwit!"
Staff : (staring at this wild-eyed, overweight guest dripping water all over the tiled floor) "Ah, do you have the deposit receipt?"
Me : (handing over the soggy deposit receipt) "Hurry! The cake! It shouldn't be kept in the freezer, only in the refrigerator!!!"
Staff : (squinting to decipher the blurred writing on the receipt) "Err. . .i have to check first, sir. But freezing is just like. . . ."
Me : (cutting him off) "NO!! You have to take it out of the freezer!!! It will become soggy if not!!"
Staff : (hesitating, not remembering what the employee guidebook mentioned about carrot cakes) "Ahh. . .err. . .hmm. . ."
Me : (doing my best Jack Nicholson scowl) "Are we clear?"
Staff : (in a tiny voice) "Ahh. . .yess. . ."
Me : (getting the hang of my pseudo-Jack Nicholson scowl) "I said, are we clear??"
Staff : (resignedly) "Sir, yes. Crystal."
46 seconds later, the staffer returns. . . .
Staff : "Sir, we confirm that your cake was placed on the third level of our ref, not in the freezer."
Me : "Oh? Are you sure?"
Staff : (smiling smugly) "Yes, sir."
Me : (in a demanding tone) "Can i see it?"
Staff : (ready to press the red button to call Security) "No."
Me : "Ow."
Two hours later, i asked C. if the carrot cake was really as good as advertised. After all, his friend had heaped all sorts of superlative praises on it, short of calling it the greatest thing since sliced bread.
C. just shrugged. It turns out he hates the taste of carrot cake!
Friday, October 12, 2007
MANILA - SAGADA - BAGUIO - MANILA
"Exhale. . .you deserve a soothing mountain experience!"
NORTH HAVEN SPA
Woke up all groggy this morning after our late night out with my Baguio-based friend, S.
Despite my half-conscious state, i was thinking, "what to do during this free morning, before we head back to Manila after lunch?" Hmm . . . let me count the ways:
Boating at Burnham Park? Nah, done that before already.
Horseback riding at Wright Park? Ditto.
Buying Good Shepherd jam and walis in the market? Tempting, but no.
Walking through Session Road to take in the local vibe? Yeah, why not? And check out whether that cheapo, fleabag hotel named Hotel 45 that C. and i stayed in years ago still exists. . .maybe next time.
Check out the Mansion house? What for? I couldn't care less if it blew up.
SM Baguio? Heck, i didn't travel through storm and rain and wind, risking life and limb, all the way here just to go to a freaking SM mall!!
Go for a massage? BUT OF COURSE!
One hour later, i was standing outside North Haven Spa's porch, waiting for them to flip the "CLOSED" sign on their front door to "OPEN" (i'm serious! :D).
Located in a quiet, non-descript and rather run-down residential neighborhood, it can be rather inaccessible. Best option, i think, is to go there by taxi.
The two-storey brick house is nothing really to rave about, and i felt the interiors, while clean and inviting, were a bit too dark. I'm not sure if it's the lack of lighting, or their heavy curtains. . . i couldn't take a decent picture inside at all.
Thankfully, to my pleasant surprise, North Haven's spa menu proved to be quite extensive, ranging from massages to body treatments/scrubs to facials to complete pampering packages. My close friends know i'm such a sucker for exotic treatments with "natural" ingredients and what not, so i was obviously charmed by some of the more unique items on offer:
Gis-Gis-To (60 min) - traditional head massage of the Mountain Province. "Must try!", according to the blurb.
Tal-Talad-Tad (90 min) - indigenous Mountain Province body massage using gentle and soothing strokes.
Hilot with Ventosa (90 min) - traditional Filipino healing method, releasing built-up lactic acid in the body and thereby facilitating relaxation. It also makes use of circular glass vacuums that draws out toxins and excess cold energy from your body (aka. that phantom illness known as "lamig")
Dagdagay (60 min) - traditional foot massage of the Mountain Province, which uses "runo" sticks to stimulate the soles of the feet "to restore a sense of complete balance and harmony".
Baguio Strawberry Scrub (105 min) - uses fresh organic strawberries, resulting in improved skin tone and texture. (Yep, just add condensed milk, and you're all ready to be eaten)
Benguet Coffee Scrub (105 min) - uses ground coffee beans from the Mountain Province to cleanse the outer layer of the skin and improve circulation.
Cordillera Rice Scrub (105 min) - uses the thick red rice variety from the Mountain Province. It stimulates better circulation, cleanses the pores and removes dead skin cells. (No wonder C. couldn't find any red rice for sale in Sagada, it's all being used here!! Hahaha)
I had assumed that the above mentioned scrubs already incorporate a 60-min. massage, only for the staff to clarify that the entire 105 min. is for the scrub only. Talk about being thorough!
Various essential oil blends, etc. used by North Haven. No, that isn't mango jam.
Regretfully, i didn't have the luxury of that much time, so chose the Hilot with Ventosa instead. It was my first time to get a hilot massage, and i was quite curious what made it different from a Swedish or Shiatsu. My therapist vaguely mentioned that hilot focused more on long, downward strokes.
Not that it mattered much, anyway. Her touch was firm and powerful, and she hit all the right pressure points. Coupled with the Ventosa treatment, it greatly relieved the residual aches on my shoulders and upper back and legs from our Sumaging Cave adventure a few days ago.
Overall, i'd rate the massage 9 out of 10. And quite a great deal at PHP595.00 only.
This guy looked like he enjoyed his massage, too!
For me, one more good reason to visit the City of Pines! A return visit to North Haven is definitely in order!
(North Haven Spa is located at 21 Avelino St., Ferguson Road, Baguio City.
Tel. no. is 074 300-5022 or 0917 506-1349.
They do have a website at www.northhaven.multiply.com. Operating hours are 10AM to 10PM daily)
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
MANILA - SAGADA - BAGUIO - MANILA
(This is a series of posts regarding my recent trip to Sagada and Baguio. I've decided to do a little writing experiment as well: While the posts can be considered "stand-alone" articles, there is some narrative thread holding them together [at least, i hope so]. And i've decided to write the posts in reverse order, so this is the reason you are reading Part VIII first. Enjoy!)
FOREST HOUSE BISTRO & CAFE
I first ate at Forest House back in 2001, just a few months after it opened. I remember one of the owners, Ari Verzosa, chatting with us; if my memory serves me correctly, they used to rent this place to the mayor (or was it the vice-mayor or the congressman?), before deciding to kick him out and setting up a restaurant/cafe instead. As he said (or at least, what i vaguely recall him saying), it was time for their generation to show they could run a business and make money.
Since then, i've made it a point to go back here every time i'm at the City of Pines.
The food is above average, but not really spectacular (it won't make you go, "wow!"). For me, it's really the interiors which provide the charm of Forest House. It just feels so warm and cozy that after finishing your meal, you would prefer to just stay put, and tarry, and read their magazines, or exchange stories with your friends, or even just to be alone with your thoughts.
Close your eyes for a second, and suspending disbelief for a minute, you can easily imagine yourself transported to a winter ski resort, warming your hands in front of the fireplace while toasting marshmallows and chugging mugs of steaming Ghirardelli chocholate. . . okay, okay, i'm getting carried away, but you get the drift.
Today, i met up with S. for lunch before our 2PM bus back to Manila. Unfortunately, C. couldn't make it, as his lower back was acting up yet again. Poor guy, i guess his heavy backpack was just too much to bear, especially during that hike down the narrow mountain road to get to our Baguio-bound bus.
Check out the pics below:
The inviting exterior of Forest House.
Forest House is located quite near Nevada Square, a complex of bars/lounges/restos where most teen-agers seem to congregate on weekend nights. Between Nevada Square and Forest House are three dark, wooden, eerily-quiet houses (one of them is actually a hotel named Hotel Veneracion), which seem haunted. Scary, no?
Private table near the entrance.
Wooden high-beamed ceiling with comfy sofa and fireplace.
Thing is, i'm not sure the fireplace works, though. It could be props only. :-D
The bar area.
View from the inside.
Let's talk about the food for a minute. Forest House serves a very extensive array of steaks, soups, salads, meat/fish entrees and desserts. It can be quite difficult to decide what to order.
Below are some of the dishes we decided on:
Three-Cheese Spring Rolls (PHP215)
This dish was simply superb! Lightly fried, not greasy or oily at all. The cheese wasn't overpowering, and the dip proved a nice complement to balance the tartness of the cheese.
Forest House Lamb (PHP325)
I thought at first they had made a mistake, and given us a pork chop instead. At any rate, this was a tasty dish ("marinated in wasabi with garlic", as the menu says), and the lamb was tender.
Lamb Caldereta (PHP270)
S. felt that her entree was served rather cold, and i agree. It could have been a lot warmer. The lamb was tender, but unfortunately, the sauce a bit too spicy for both our tastes. And the staff interchanged our sidings: S. should have gotten the fries served with my lamb; and vice versa.
An average meal would cost something like PHP500 to PHP650 per person, with drinks. In my opinion, good value for money, taking into account the ambiance of the place.
Which means, S. is expected to make libre at Forest House next time i'm at her part of the world again!!!
(Forest House Bistro & Cafe is located along 16 Loakan Road, Baguio City. It opened a branch at Silver City Mall, Frontera Verde, Pasig City, Metro Manila earlier this year, said to be an exact replica of the Baguio original branch)