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Archive for November, 2011

My Zamboanga Interlude

Something kept me awake these past two nights. I was thinking about the weekend I spent in Zamboanga. It was going to be just another place I’ve visited; new people I’d meet but faces I’d sooner forget. But I was wrong and that trip made such an impression on me because of the kids I became acquainted with.

 

Zamboanga was typically like the rest of Mindanao – exotic, teeming with colorful and vibrant flavor, both from its Islamic as well as indigenous cultures. It was also unfortunately reflective of the economic and political realities that have plagued the region. The abject poverty was apparent from the lack of high-end amenities if not basic facilities, the obvious limited infrastructure and public service utilities. The presence of police and military personnel also depicts the state of peace and order in the area; where there is always a fragile sense of safety and security, when armed conflict, evacuations and senseless bombings can occur anytime.

 

A week before I went to Zamboanga, there were already reported bombing incidents. Days before we arrived, there were at least two clashes between the rebel groups and the government forces. My sister told me our Mom worried about me. But Zamboanga was already a compromise location, since our original target audience were actually the youth from Jolo, Sulu. Our friend and local LGBT partner insisted we reach out to these LGBTs in the far-flung areas. Part of us sincerely wanted to, but we also worried about logistical arrangements and the feasibility of the activity. The monetary costs alone would be staggering. But we promised we’d try, and we always do our best. So three months later, after some support from embassy friends, we managed to do so.

 

The more than a dozen kids who were supposed to be our participants were clearly excited, as well as their guardians, two local women working with human rights groups. They felt honoured to be visited by people from all the way from Manila. They were not used to being given such importance. For people who feel that they have been forgotten by everyone, especially the government, they understood it was important that they come and meet us.  Opportunities like this do not reach them often, and they really expected to learn from us.

Beforehand, we were already told about the communities where these youth live. Make-shift houses, wooden bridges and dirt roads are their immediate environs.  They come from very poor families and most of them have already stopped schooling because of financial constraints. While they belong to a populous ethnic tribe, the Tausugs, majority of the members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and Abu Sayaff forces are also Tausugs, so this negative stereotype and notoriety likewise rubs off on them.

In a Muslim dominated region, where patriarchy and machismo also abounds, religious and cultural practices make for an oppressive situation for females. And to be a sexual minority in these parts, is even doubly riskier. Add to that the fact that they are minors, lesbian teenagers just barely out of their childhood.

Before giving my lecture, I knew it would be hard to talk about LGBT human rights and all, when the most basic of human needs is not even satisfied. So I decided to speak about identities and individual empowerment instead, through gender and sexuality concepts. The exercises and workshops were no different from our old modules, but this time, we chose to emphasize on raising their awareness and understanding possibilities. For people whose minds were conditioned to accept specific gender-stereotypes in their culture, the mere possibility of changing people’s perspective about them was already mind-boggling. Yet in a way, I believed they knew these things all along; by challenging hetero-normativity in their communities alone, these thoughts were the same dreams and yearnings they’ve harboured within themselves for so long. These are unarticulated hopes and dreams, yet cultivated within for a chance to be actually lived.

From stories shared by their two guardians, Ate Jocelyn and Ka Julma, the kind of trouble these kids get into are not only typical, but also partly expected. Because they have stopped schooling, without any other productive activities to occupy them, some of them are drawn to barkadas who get into minor scrapes with the law – be it fist fights, drug busts or girlfriend-related issues. The problem is, their criminal offenses only adds to their troubles and further justifies such labels as “siksah” or cursed one, and “haram” which is violative of, if not an actual affront to Islamic beliefs.

Of course, such negativity cannot be escaped and is bound to have an effect on the youth.  Low self-esteem, insecurity, and even self-hate can result. This discriminatory and homophobic bombardments will no doubt adversely affect a lesbian youth.

During one of our workshops, they were asked to dramatize in a short skit their own ideas and experiences of homophobia and discrimination. They instantly got creative, albeit shy with their performances. But it was clear to them that these instances hurt deeply and were wrong to happen to them. Later, they were given the opportunity to showcase their talents. We didn’t have ordinary icebreakers or energizers, we had a full-blown intermission number from them. One was a modern hip-hop dance worthy of being featured in Pinoys Got Talent; the other was a traditional Tausug dance called “pangalay”. Moving to music slightly reminiscent of the popular “dayang-dayang” tempo and also the Indonesian “dangdut” music, I was told that the extremely difficult steps are also ritualistically performed atop two bamboo poles. By some happy accident, the venue’s operators (Philippine National Red Cross) saw them dancing and asked them to perform at the Ms. Red Cross beauty pageant they were having next door. The kids jumped at the chance, of course. That night, during the fellowship videoke party we had, they also sang their hearts out – never missing a beat or singing out of tune.

The next day, I reminded them about these small things – that as Tausugs, they belong to a proud “warrior” tribe; they should harness the best qualities of their culture, strength and bravery but not violence or unlawfulness. Similarly, I told them that they are young and talented, that they should enjoy their lives and not fall into the hopelessness of their situation. Instead of getting depressed and involved in drugs and petty crime, they should become productive and earn a living which will greatly improve their lot. For some of them who want to study but without resources, we reminded them of academic as well as athletic scholarships, of financial assistances not only for formal schooling but even for vocational and technical trainings.

I also pointed out to them that being lesbian does not mean acquiring all the “manly traits” including their “bad habits” of womanizing, drinking, smoking, gambling, and physically abusing their partners. These negative trappings of maleness are not the best part of “being like men”; instead, it is their sense of responsibility, loving and protecting loved ones, and being able to provide for the needs of their family. These are the things they should remember.

After all of these, it was then that I realized that these kids only needed positive role models. To have lesbian images similar to them, but also different in a good way. They also needed to be taken out of their situation, to be exposed to other things…possibilities and opportunities outside Jolo. It was only then that I realized that our real work, and possibly one clear achievement, was in giving them hope.

But this is easier said than done. During our fellowship gimmick at Catribu, a local drinking and party spot, military men with armalite rifles heard them speaking Tausug and suddenly cursed at them, calling them mga “Puta…” For whatever reason they were subjected to such verbal abuse, I can only speculate. But I continue to worry for these youth nonetheless.

(For Mers, MM, Nadz, Coms, Vaness, Alex, Teems, Marwa, Elvie, Raidz, Ridz, Sam and Sheva, and the rest of Tumbalata-Jolo.)

Of Pilgrimages and Prayers

During a chance visit to a high school last year, I came upon a bulletin board displaying some favourite pilgrimage sites for the Virgin Mary in the country. Among these were Our Lady of Manaoag in Pangasinan, Our Lady of Piat in Cagayan Valley, Our Lady of Penafrancia in Naga City, Our Lady of Namacpacan in La Union, and Our Lady of Antipolo in Rizal.

The Lady in Manaoag is one of the most famous and thus, most visited among them.  Second only to it is Our Lady of Penafrancia which has its own share of crowds every September. Their popularity is based on their supposed tradition of miracles and the power to grant petitions. And their counterparts are no less than miraculous. Our Lady of Antipolo is actually also known as the Lady of Good Voyages, and travellers, especially overseas contract workers, visit her for safe journeys.  Our Lady of Piat is originally from Lallo, Cagayan and her image was said to have saved the people from a great flood when the Cagayan River overflowed. It is also one of those rare “black” virgins because there is a dark-skinned version of her in honor of the ethnic Itawis tribe that populate the region along with Ibanags and Ilocanos. Our Lady of Namacpacan, on the other hand, is exactly what her namesake means in the Ilocano dialect – her miracle was having “fed” the people during a time of famine and drought. To this day, her chapel has a deep well where people draw miraculous water which is said to heal ailments.      

I realized I was fortunate to have been able to visit all of them, some them more than once.  It has always been my practice to visit pilgrimage sites whenever I travel.  Besides sampling the local cuisine and learning about the folklores of the place, I usually make it a point to include religious sites part of my tourist itinerary.  Maybe I owe it to my religious mother or my Catholic upbringing, but somehow this makes my trips special. It is part honouring the place, part marvelling at the church architecture if it happens to be an old structure as well, and part “self-interest”. Self interest because if it’s my first time in a church, I know I’m supposed to get three wishes. This becomes all the more significant if I have my own petition or special intentions for something really important to me.   

To be honest, my belief in these was strengthened when I was a Bar reviewee and like the rest of  aspiring lawyers, I was one of those who trekked to Manaoag, Antipolo, St. Jude near Malacanang, Sta. Clara along Aurora Blvd., Quiapo church and Baclaran. Looking back now, I think part of these rituals is “conditioning“ one’s body and soul. It’s when you discover that not all things are within your control, especially when you’ve done everything humanly possible already.  It’s when you finally accept that there are greater powers at work besides your “genius brain and egotistical nature”.  It’s when you ultimately succumb to prayers because hey, saying a few could never hurt your chances.

Holy Week Escape

With Holy Week coming up, there is a mad rush to book accommodations and tickets for places far away from Manila. Since most people head off for beaches, most resorts at the popular coastlines or island paradise are already fully booked.

On the other hand, most Filipinos’ Catholic guilt kick in about this time too, and they opt for places which also provide some religious significance. While one’s own provincial hometown is always a safe choice, most vacation spots fortunately have enough churches to visit come Good Friday.   

The Ilocos region has the best churches to do Visita Iglesia. Besides the proximity of the churches to each other that will easily allow you to comply with the standard 7-church visit, the beautiful Augustinian designs are always something to marvel at. The common bell tower-beside-the-main- church design, built with sand, coral and limestone mixed with eggs and molasses make for lasting structures that survived various earthquakes and human conflicts. Grand altars within recessed enclaves housing statuettes of known patron saints, twin pulpits hung on major pillars that also serve as strong foundations holding up the arching ceiling, an occasional ancient confessional or organ are among the things to watch out for in this walking lesson in Philippine history.

 In the South, I believe Iloilo, especially Miag-ao, would be Ilocos’ closest rival in terms of grand churches.  And also Bohol, even for the small island that it is, can also compete with Vigan and Laoag  for the sheer number of churches it has. Besides the popular Baclayon and Loboc Churches, in and around Panglao island as well as the drive to Chocolate Hills will allow you to visit a few more churches.

The ritual of doing the Stations of the Cross is also a classic practice during Holy Week.  And while all Catholic churches are required to have the full 14-scene Passion of Christ on their walls either by paintings or sculptures, there is nothing like life-size statues to pray to. In Cagayan Valley, the town of Iguig boasts of its bigger-than-life figures depicting Christ’s passion. Installed over a vast expanse of rolling hills, the whole scenery also has a wonderful view of one of Cagayan Valley’s largest rivers. Nearby, another relic of our colonial past, the remnants of the Church of St. James proudly stands. Together with the ruins of its ampitheater, it has survived earthquakes and fires to still be an operational parish till now. 

Another must-see Stations of the Cross is the one on Camiguin Island. For this little island of numerous active volcanoes, their 14 scenes-of-the-Passion are actually built on a mountain (or a dormant volcano, I am told). The initial climb to the first few stations still have concrete steps or ramps and are posted quite close together. After some time, the scenes become farther apart and the walkway turns into a dirt road. The climb alone is enough to compose one’s penance for an entire Lenten season. But the view of the sea from this elevated portion of the island is a gift that more than compensates one’s sacrifice. Soon, the climb becomes steep as well, and without proper footwear, you can seriously slip on the gravel. For the faint of heart, the height at this point is quite nerve-wracking as the path also narrows and turns into sharp corners with scary drop-offs into ravines. Nevertheless, the sight is spectacular.

As I believe, being on vacation at some exotic tourist spot is not an excuse to miss doing one’s Lenten obligations. So this Holy Week, pick a good venue for your annual spiritual retreat as well.

The Treasures and Pleasures of Bolinao

It is always the beach that one runs to when one thinks about getting relaxed and refreshed. After a busy month, I felt so drained I needed to get away before I could get back to work again. Far-off Pangasinan was a perfect place, but I wasn’t prepared for how far off Bolinao was.

A drive to Pangasinan usually takes five hours, but it all depends on which route you take and what town you are heading for.  The western municipalities of the province are known for Dagupan’s bangus fishponds and the seafood that abound in the Lingayen Gulf. It is also known for its beautiful beaches that stretch from San Fabian near Manaoag to Labrador and Bolinao.

193467_10150185870458714_788228713_8523379_1496661_oArriving at Puerto del Sol in Brgy. Ilog-Malino, the sight alone made the long trip worth it. The wide expanse of the beach revealed an open sea made safe only by a breakwater.  Accompanied by a glaring sun, the sea breeze brought with it clean, fresh air in spite of the saltiness. Glancing at the white sand, I saw assorted shells and corals mingling with live seaweed that had floated unto the shore. There was even a seabird foraging along the mocca-colored sandbar exposed by the mid-day low tide. Little holes that punctured the sand signalled crabs were there. At this end of the Philippines, the sea is still brimming with life. Maybe that’s why there is a UP Marine Sanctuary nearby.193467_10150185870463714_788228713_8523380_828241_o

We enjoyed a sumptuous late lunch at La Playa, the veranda-like restaurant which looked out into the sea. This is where meals were usually served. But on extremely windy days, guests may eat in the indoor restaurant which was decorated with traditional Ilocano furniture. Its walls were heavily painted in yellow and the linings were mahogany brown. Post-modern paintings played harmoniously in the room that exuded a grand, yet old and musty aura. An old piano sat in a corner; its ivory was already turning yellow and some keys no longer played. Heavy wooden cabinets, tables and chairs adorned the rest of the space.

A pond outside not only had some fish, but actual red-eared turtles that regularly sunbathed on the rocks. That would certainly keep the kids entertained while they waited for their food. There is also a playground nearby that had swings, a slide, monkey bars and see-saws. A little way off near the gardens, there is another pond over which a small wooden bridge was built. Kids would love to play on that except that it’s now overgrown with vines and a suspicious black spider has a giant cobweb on it.

P1011684The gardens are quite something too. It can actually give Sonya’s Garden and the La Mesa Ecopark a run for their money in terms of plants and flowers. Ornamentals are planted all over – giant gumemelas in red, yellow, and peach, santan, as well as white and yellow oleanders. Just don’t be surprised with the statuaries honoring the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Francis here, because the owners are probably devout Catholics.P1011687

As we were being shown to our deluxe lodgings in the Mansion Villas, I noticed that the walkway had a trellis covered with flowering bougainevillas. Besides keeping out the sun, these white and fuschia-colored flowers would greet your mornings as you look out from your room. With pipe-in music being played all around the resort, the atmosphere was a complete spa-like ambience.209319_10150185858373714_788228713_8523363_5042669_o

In the Indonesian-inspired huts around the pool area, you can have your full-body massages, and manicures-pedicures. Lounging in the jacuzzi one morning, I looked up to see native swallows nesting in the cogon-thatched roof. Talk about communing with nature! As for other resort facilities, there is also a Game Room where adults can play billiards, pool, table tennis and darts. I was told videoke is also available and can be arranged by the resort.

Sunrise comes late to this westernmost part of Luzon and on my first morning there, I woke up at dawn to walk the beach. As I had hoped, the sea left many gifts by the shore. Besides seashells and corals, I even came across a live sea urchin before it was swept away by the waves. It was a good thing because people would soon come out to swim and woe to him/her who steps on the spines of that poor sea urchin.193519_10150185796133714_788228713_8522956_585055_o

For three days and two nights, I had my fill of swimming in the sea and the pool. So on the second morning of my stay, I decided to do as kids did and tried building a sandcastle. The soft, wet sand was perfect. But the tide was coming in and I had to work fast. I realized that what made sandcastle-building efficient during my youth was because I had my siblings with me. With no sisters around to get seawater to regularly douse my sandy fortress or to pick the best corals and shells to reinforce my grainy towers, my work of art was constantly in danger of crumbling. I finished it in time before the waves filled-in my miniature moat. Despite its rundown appearance, some guests  liked it and even took photos of it to the delight of the resort personnel.

While my tired body enjoyed the adult pleasures of a massage, the jacuzzi, airconditioning and cable TV, the child in me was awakened by the simple joys of swimming, beachcombing, and even sandcastle building.sandcastle

Since the resort staff were also locals, they boasted of other attractions in this distant gem of place. Besides their white sand beaches that are powdery-soft, unpolluted and still teeming with marine life, they have coral mountains that house beautiful caves. At the popular Enchanted Cave (site of Marian Rivera’s “Dyesebel”), fossilized coral line the hillside before revealing a magical underground cave that reminded me of Bohol. Before descending the steep stairs, we chance upon the halves of giant clams said to be millions of years old. These were clear evidence that many parts of the Philippines were really underwater many eons ago. Besides Enchanted Cave, there is also the Wonderful Cave and Cindy’s Cave which similarly had cool, freshwater to swim in.

On the way to see the famous Bolinao Lighthouse, we passed by Brgy. Patar’s rolling sand dunes and white sand beaches as magnificent as Boracay. With no protective breakwaters, and rock formations reminiscent of Currimao, Ilocos Norte rising like islets in the sea, these beaches had powerful waves crashing unto them. I was willing to bet the area also had some pretty strong undertows on bad days.

In Bolinao town proper, there’s the St. James the Great church. Reminiscent of our colonial past, it was built in 1607 and is considered one of the oldest churches in the Philippines. Made from the classic materials of eggyolk and molasses mixed with sand and coral stone, it must have survived numerous earthquakes in the past. There is likewise the Bolinao Museum which proudly displays geological and biological finds, as well as historical and archeological artifacts from a 14th century burial site, including some Chinese coins and pottery wares.

All in all, there is a lot to see and enjoy in Bolinao that would make the long drive worthwhile.

En Route: Getting Lost and Getting There

The long drive itself was bound to clear my mind already. A good four to five hours on the road, looking out the window and enjoying the changing scenery, usually has a “cleansing” effect. On the way, we discovered new routes that actually cut your travel time in half. Here’s a tip for those driving up north for the Holy Week, Quezon City residents have the option of using the Mindanao Avenue exit to the NLEX. It spares you the agony of sitting through the traffic of SM North-Munoz until Balintawak. Located at the Quirino Avenue-Novaliches junction, the ramp automatically takes you to MacArthur Highway in Valenzuela, Bulacan. That’s around 30-40 minutes off your drive time.

After enduring the stench of the piggeries of Bulacan and Pampanga, you have the option of using the SCTEX at Dau. Again, this road will reduce your 3 hour drive to a mere hour and a half. You don’t have to deal with the heavy traffic from the heavily-populated towns of Mabalacat, Bamban, Capas and Tarlac City where tricycles on the highway have the “King-of-the-Road” attitudes.

SCTEX cuts across Pampanga and Tarlac lands, specifically the great Hacienda Luisita. The long stretches of asphalt and concrete are a stark contrast to the endless tracks of sugarcane fields and other plantation crops. You might also enjoy a closer look at Mt. Arayat as it rises against clear blue skies. Occasionally, you might even see a few birds from the nearby Candaba swamps.

In Tarlac City, there is a rotonda area which directs you to either take the road going to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija, the usual route towards Baguio (which is the commonly used track) or the city proper of Tarlac which has a shortcut to the lesser known towns of Pangasinan. For those heading for the Hundred Islands of Alaminos or the beaches of Labrador and Bolinao, the latter is the perfect road to take. It just goes straight up, with minimal vehicles or traffic on the road. It allows you to avoid the tricycles and heavy traffic from Gerona until Urdaneta, as well as the circuitous backroads of Sta.Barbara and Lingayen.

On the other hand, should you happen to get lost (like we did) and reach Urdaneta inadvertently, you can do a sidetrip to Manaoag and do a quick visit to the Blessed Virgin of Manaoag, enjoy the old churches in Lingayen, or catch a quick seafood lunch from the freshest catch of Dagupan. So here’s another tip for the Holy Week, while you do your Visita Iglesia at the numerous old churches of Pangasinan, you can also gorge yourself on your favourite Bangus, prawns or squid.

At Sual and Labrador, the changing panorama might confuse you. One moment, you see the perfect coastline, the blue sea and rushing waves on the beach, and then suddenly, you are in the rolling hills of Mabini and Burgos. The twisting roads can give Naguilian Road a run for its money in terms of the breath-taking views – the distant coastline and the vast Pangasinan plains. Soon the hills’ red earth and white sand beaches give way to a rocky, gray landscape. These coral mountains characterize the westernmost towns surrounding the Lingayen Gulf. It all ends at Bolinao which boasts of freshwater caves carved into coral mountains and powdery-soft white sand beaches. Once more, the stark contrasts of natural formations make for an interesting site-seeing trip.

As with Life, there is no such thing as getting completely lost; you just get detoured once in a while. You still get to where you want to go, and end up where you’re suppose to be.

Baguio Circa 2011

For my eldest sister’s annual Manila visit this March, she brought along her daughter, Katkat. As a medical student, this was Katkat’s last chance to have a really long vacation. And since I mentioned I would be going up to Baguio for the week, they decided to come along especially since my niece hasn’t been to the North much. 200098_199475790084516_100000662880550_609839_4861459_n

I’ve been to Baguio many times over since those summer vacations of yore. Mostly the visits are for official work and advocacy, and I had managed an easy mix of business with pleasure. I also had friends over there with whom I meet up regularly, and sometimes, someone just manages to tag along for the occasion. Hence, I had seen Baguio’s slow transition from the cool get-away place to the hustling and bustling metropolis it is now.

Ate Marichu’s last Baguio visit, on the other hand, was during her own honeymoon in the 1980s; back when Pines Hotel still stood and the hottest disco was at Hyatt Hotel. But both are gone now – one lost to a big fire and the other to a devastating earthquake.

When we were kids, our Dad would always bring us to Baguio at the end of each schoolyear. Back then, even at high noon, you can see your breath as you exhale. Afternoon showers automatically bring thick fog that made travelling the roads dangerous because of diminished visibility. Nowadays, the coolness is manageable with appropriate thermal wear from the Ukay-ukays.

Going up to Baguio via the alternate route from Pangasinan-La Union, she asked why we no longer passed the La Union coastline where beaches abound. I told her there have been various roads developed aside from Kennon, Naguilian, and Marcos Highway. In fact, I believe there are two other shortcuts now coming from Abra and Nueva Vizcaya. She also wondered if we would see any waterfalls along this road, but I said I doubted it. The numerous waterfalls along Kennon and Naguilian have already disappeared with the continuous mining activities by the big corporations. And while the giant, sculpted Lion on Kennon Road still remains, the old Marcos bust has long been destroyed…first by pro-Cory sympathizers and finally, by NPA rebels supportive on indigenous peoples rights.

Arriving in the city proper, she immediately commented at the number of people and vehicles on the road. Indeed, Baguio appears to be overpopulated during the day and causing several traffic jams in some areas. It is said they number several hundred thousands here already, lowering slightly at night as some people go back down to their homes in La Union or Pangasinan after a day’s work. Ate Marie marvelled at Baguio’s own flyover in the downtown area, but the marketplace on Abanao St. beside Burnham Park is still as congested as she remembered. I noted that the lack of jaywalkers on the streets below was because of the adjoining walkways or overpass built to connect business establishments. The city government was also strict about its routes, seriously implementing one-ways and rotondas that makes for a tedious travel on vehicles rather than simply walking up to your destination.

For lunch, I took them to the ever popular Café by the Ruins near the city hall, but besides having to wait in line, Katkat was unimpressed with the menu offerings at the prices they charge. Ate Marie remembered Sizzling Plate and insisted we try that instead. Daddy’s clients always took us there and the restaurant now had other branches. Funny that upon getting there, we opted for pork viands and not the steaks Sizzling Plate is known for. Ate Marie inquired about the old Slaughterhouse near Daddy’s quarters at Times Transit along Magsaysay. I told her it is still there and locals still strongly recommend visiting the place for the best papaitan and other chevon or goat’s meat dishes. We both wondered whether they still serve asocena even with the Animal Welfare Act having been passed into law.

The great earthquake in the early 1990s destroyed many landmark establishments, including the Nevada Hotel and a commercial area known as Nevada Square now stands where it once was. Teachers Camp still existed, but I am not sure if Inn Roccio was still around. On the way to PMA Fort del Pilar, we passed by Loakan Road and we spoke about the White Lady. Our taxi driver showed us the area which had the old cemetery and could be very dark and eerie especially on foggy days. It now had streetlighting so it’s not so scary anymore except for the vehicular accidents that still keep happening due to the sharp curves and the mist that cause low visibility. As we were leaving PMA, we heard another tourist group speak about going to the Diplomat Hotel, an old abandoned and condemned building with lots of ghost stories. I guess the White Lady of Loakan was indeed passe’.190783_197791186919643_100000662880550_597999_6211694_n

After the token foto-op w/ Katkat and Ate Marie at PMA, we headed for Camp John Hay. Once an exclusive facility for American servicemen and their families, it soon opened to the rich and the famous for golf. Now, anyone can just go in for a look-see, as call centers and high-end hotels occupy its prime lands. The miniature golf is still open, as well as the restaurant that serves the best American-sized cheeseburgers, and the little cemetery of “negativity” which had cartoon characters on headstones.   190519_197792870252808_100000662880550_598055_1244031_n

Ate Marie was bent on showing Katkat our usual haunts, so we headed for the Mansion and Wright Park since we saw Burnham Park already after lunch. As with Burnham, which had boat rides and bikes for rent, she just wanted to see where we used to ride ponies and horses of our youth. We got quite nostalgic, but Katkat was unimpressed. After having been informed that Mines View Park had no more “view” to speak of, and is now cramped with commercial business establishments, we decided to skip it and head instead for the Botanical Gardens. Previously known as Imelda Park, it boasted of an assortment of ornamental plants and flowers, so colourful you’d think you’re in some fantasy land. But upon entering, Ate Marie was disappointed. The gardens were no longer as carefully cultivated as we remembered. Indigenous folk in their native costumes now charge for every photograph with them as numerous stalls inside sell wares tourists would naturally fall for as souvenirs.

As we headed back to the DSWD cottage, we passed by SM Baguio. Proudly sitting on a hill, it was likewise strategically located just a few steps from Session Road. That main street seems to be the only familiar place to Ate Marie. But with even our DSWD newly-renovated cottage, the face of Baguio still keeps changing indeed.

The Wonders of Winaca-Tublay

197831_199478086750953_100000662880550_609863_887771_nAs my friends have often said, there is more to Benguet than Baguio City. Some of them have gone up to La Trinidad and Sagada to enjoy the “dislocation” from urban life. And while Baguio will always hold a special place in my heart, I believed it was time to make new memories as well. So when the invitation to see Tublay came, I jumped at the chance; even if it’s only for a day.

My latest senior citizens talk was for the Federation of Senior Citizens Associations of the Philippines (FSCAP) representatives of the Cordillera region. Our venue was to be the Winaca Eco-Cultural Village, a new tourist attraction that is still in its development stage. Arriving at the site on the very night of the “Super Moon”, the rough roads and seeming isolated destination made for a perfect horror movie scene. It wasn’t until the next morning that we experienced its grandeur.

Our lodgings was a quaint, log cabin-style structure. Intended to house numerous guests, the three rooms were for sharing of three to four people with built-in double-deck beds. There were two baths and three toilets, and a living area. There was a functional fireplace and the wooden furniture were the classic, low seats of the region. I appreciated this little taste of Cordillera culture.207957_199477653417663_100000662880550_609859_3599690_n

Waking up to a chilly dawn, I joined the seniors in their early morning trek. I marvelled, of course, at the view. Here the mountains are not as bare or heavily populated as in Baguio. Pine trees still abound and the village itself was purposely planted with ornamentals like anthuriums and orchids. As an eco-village, vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage and carrots are also grown here, albeit organically. They also promote waste segregation and refuse is strictly identified as bio-degradable and non-biodegradable.

The mealtime fares were satisfying enough, but I heard Winaca is known for its signature Carrot Cakes. So besides the sweet, native strawberries from La Trinidad which I feasted on during this summer’s Strawberry Festival, I gorged on carrot cake as well.

There is a provision for an outdoor campfire for guests. Besides the hiking trail, other amenities to be enjoyed include wall-climbing facilities, a mudslide, a mini-obstacle course for teambuilding activities, fishing and horseback riding.200612_199478886750873_100000662880550_609871_7888328_n

As a cultural attraction, life-size examples of native houses in the Cordillera are displayed. There’s the elevated huts-on-stilts of the Ifugaos, the slightly lower Bakun-Benguet huts, and the roof-dominated stonehouse of Sagada-Bontoc tribes.189694_199478310084264_100000662880550_609865_6753062_n

While I have always been partial to nature-tripping, visiting new places always gave me the opportunity to experience nature in a different way. Up North, besides the cool weather it is known for, there is a rich indigenous peoples’ heritage that must be appreciated and preserved for all its historical and cultural value.

I found myself promising to return to this simple, yet almost “sacred” place.