Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Remembering our Northern Exposure

Sigh! My day at the office ended on a bad note.

The page I was producing hit a glitch-- making me miss my 7pm bus -- and I couldn't refuse an S.O.S. to help a distressed compatriot compose her complaint-affidavit that she needs to file with the Philippine Consulate -- which again made me miss the next bus at 9pm. I also missed my supposed final Tuesday night workout, which would've relieved me of the tension gripping my shoulders for the last 3 or so hours.

Normally (meaning, during my heydays in Manila), when confronted with such situations, I'd either hie off to my usual haunts and hang out with equally stressed out comrades or go straight home and play with the kids.

I was walking back to Gate 6 of Gulf News after waiting in vain for the ever reliably unreliable public bus when a chilly, winter breeze kissed my unprotected ears.

Suddenly, memories of Baguio came running in my mind.

Oo nga pala, it was exactly two months ago -- and exactly at the time I'm composing this entry -- we were on our way to the Philippine summer capital.

It was December 27, 2007. Christmas was over and I was clocking my 4th homecoming day.

Mara and I prepared for this three-day trip as early as September. It's the first time in more than 10 years that we'll be holidaying together with Mama and Tita Moni and the rest of the household.

The last time yata that everyone in the house went for an outing together was way back in 1994 pa when we went to Hundred Islands in Pangasinan. Ara was just two years old. Wala pa sina Aia and Andre. Trinangkaso pa nga ako nun e pero pinilit ko pa rin sumamang mag-island hopping.

Anyway bago na naman ako mapadpad sa kung saan-saan. We motored to the north using our neighbor's Nissan Urvan. Kahit na puyat ako, hindi ako natulog sa biyahe. I didn't want to miss every second, every scenery.

Miss na miss ko talaga ang 'Pinas so it was a visual feast for me to see unlighted streets, criss-crossing jeepneys, Bayani Fernando's u-turn slots and dangerous concrete barriers, kotong (mulcting) cops waiting to pounce on the poor biyaheros, the perennial jam at Balintawak interchange, the ever-present takatak boys, and even the shameless, self-praising billboards and signs mounted by oafs who call themselves "honorable".

Our first stopover was at a Petron petrol (UK English) or gas (US English) station within the North Luzon Expressway, somewhere in Bulacan. Bumili lang ako ng Star and managed to sneak in our first photo op on the road.

Our next stop was at Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. Jollibee was packed full of travellers stopping over for breakfast. Tatawid sana kami sa Chowking pero sabi ko sa kanila, sawang-sawa na ako sa kaka-Chowking sa Dubai, so we decided to look for another Jollibee or McDo.

Pero siyempre, di ako pumayag na umalis nang walang kodakan sa vintage train set that used to haul sugarcane from Tita Cory's azucarera.

Kaso, ang layo pa pala ng kasunod na Jollibee! Umabot pa kami ng Urdaneta, Pangasinan before finally getting our first chow for the day. We were soooo hungry that we forgot all about the picture-taking. From hereon, non-stop na si Boy V. sa pagharurot paakyat ng Baguio.

I would've wanted to make brief stops along Marcos Highway to take some snaps, but Boy was against it since medyo delikado ang daan because of the thick fog.

Grabe na rin pala traffic sa Baguio! Bumperrr to bumperrrr!

It took us almost an hour to negotiate the city's maze. Nagpaikot-ikot pa kami in looking for Ina Mansion where we booked a big family room. Ina Mansion is just across Burnham Park kaso lahat halos ng napagtanungan namin di alam saan siya banda. The place was recommended by my Gulf News colleague, Patrick Masahud. Hindi naman siya kagandahan. The room smelled funny, maninipis ang beddings pero kumpleto naman sa basic amenities. Sa lobby pa lang, feel na feel namin ang country Christmas.

After a quick recharge, we made our first foray to SM BAGUIO -- Henry Sy's only mall that doesn't need airconditioning. Like any typical SM mall, the one in Baguio is perennially full of mall rats.

Here are some snaps of our first day in Baguio....

Our second day was dedicated to the "must see" places. First stop was the horseback-riding trail at Wright Park. Ayaw pa sanang sumakay ng kabayo ni Andre. Ikaw ba naman makakita ng kabayo na pink ang buhok....mawiwindang ka rin nga naman kasi si Starlite (kabayo ni Rainbow Brite) lang ang dapat ganun.

Aside from being the summer capital, Baguio is also known for the flowers, plants and veggies it produces. Kaya naman di ito pinalampas nila Mama and Mara . . .

After loading up on plants, handcrafted keychains which I gave to every staff member of XPRESS and oranges from Sagada, tinuhog na namin ang nearby sites -- the presidential mansion, Wright Park proper, Mines View Park and a quick swing to the Good Shepherd convent for the mandatory ube and strawberry jams.

Btw....may nakita pala akong kakaibang souvenir item sa Wright Park . . .

Oo nga naman.... tsinelas na pantulog yan e...nangengelam ka?!

It was already half past 1pm when we finally arrived at Camp John Hay and we rewarded ourselves with this . . .

Enjoy talaga si Aia sa John Hay.... feel daw niya wala siya sa Pilipinas.

From there, takbo kami sa Philippine Military Academy sa Fort Del Pilar kaso di na kami umabot . . . so picture-picture na lang sa facade ng kampo as proof that we were there.

It was already sundown when we left the Loakan area to go back to the city proper. We were hoping to catch up with the Holy Mass at the Baguio Cathedral but we were slowed down by heavy traffic along Session Road. So what to do . . .

Day 3 . . . we initially planned to take a sneak peek at the adjacent Burnham Park and make a last stop at the Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad. But the "bed" weather was too much to ignore.

So finally, we bid Baguio goodbye, but not after a stop at one of the roadside "pasalubong" outlets that dot Marcos Highway.

Dec. 29 was really foggy . . . time check, 1.30pm

. . . buti na lang, magaling piloto namin!


From Baguio, we went to the Shrine of the Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan.
Flashback 1998: I was at the Shrine a day before the 1998 presidential elections to cover then Lakas standard bearer Joe de Venecia's visit to the Miraculous Lady. JdV -- who was with the then "feeling" First Lady Manay Gina -- claimed that this is his "secret weapon" against the steamrolling candidacy of Joseph Estrada. Well the good Lord knows that not all prayers are meant to be answered.

But the good Lady was kind to Mara, who together with her classmates went on a pilgrimage to Manaoag before taking their Nursing Board exam last June. She passed the exam and fulfilled her promise to Mama Mary.
Haay ... looking back...we really had a great time. At this early, I'm already setting my sights on going on a Viaje del Sol on my next trip home.

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