“Hatch” – What a Match!

Being a resident of the City of Pines, I am in constant search for a cafe that suits my taste — one that serves good food, unforgettable drinks, and a “hard-to-leave” ambiance. Hatch Coffee is a cafe with a pretty laid-back vibe that is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Baguio City life. If you are up for some peace and quiet, this might be your “perfect match”.

I was in Europe when I have heard of Hatch from a friend of mine. I was told that they serve some really nice cold brew and horchata that is why I was eager to try. I was planning to visit the café when I got back home, but then, covid pandemic happened forcing most (if not all) establishments to close or limit their service. So when cafes, restos and the like were allowed to operate again, I decided to finally push my long-overdue plan of trying out Hatch Coffee one Sunday afternoon.

Prior to my visit, I had to send them a message (IG account @hatchcoffeeph) to make reservations or to ask them for seat/ table availability. You have to do this because they are for everyone’s safety making sure that social distancing would be properly observed and that over-crowding will be prevented. As of the moment, they only accommodate around 10 people at a time.

It was raining when I arrived at Hatch with only 2 other people dining. I would have wanted to stay at the garden area but since it was raining, that wasn’t a good option. So I decided to stay by the bar which offers a pretty nice view of the entire place. It is a residential home converted into a café – just lovely!

Hatch offers several cold brew (black, latte, mocha), but the star of their café is the much talked about “hatchata’, Hatch’s version of horchata which is a traditional Mexican rice drink with cinnamon, and sugar. This was my outright choice since I ain’t really a fan of coffee and that for the longest time, I have been hoping we will have cafes in the city that offer more non-caffeinated drinks, in this case, horchata.

I got to try this drink for the first time in Madrid wayback 2018. The horchata they served me then was made of tiger nut instead of rice. Then, I got to taste the classic rice derived horchata in Barcelona last year. Both are actually good but the rice one tastes better at least for me. So, how did Hatch’s horchata fair? It’s pretty good – very refreshing even if it was a rainy afternoon, it didn’t bother me that I was drinking a cold horchata. It is something I don’t mind drinking all day long. Next time I come back, I will definitely try the “dirty” version of this drink.

So what food did I order to go with my horchata? A friend of mine suggested that I get their grilled cheese but being an avid fan of anything ube (purple yam), I was ready to ignore that suggestion and from the get-go, excited to taste their ube grilled cheese. So yes, I had ube grilled cheese which was truly palatine-satiating! The ube filling in between is generous. They also have longganisa and kimchi grilled cheese, something I would want to try next time.

I also ordered a piece of their calamansi tart, and calamansi muffin. The tart taste of these calamansi pastries came in as a surprise as they came off very natural. I prefer the muffin form over the tart though. They also have several cookies, and I bought a bag of their snickerdoodle cookies as a takeaway snack.

Hatch also serves burgers and sandwiches that you might want to pair up with various cold brew — which to some maybe an unlikely combination.

My tummy and my palate are happy that we have a new café in the city that is worth the moolah – from its drinks, food, and vibe… totally a match for my taste and liking.

Hatch Coffee is located along Easter Road (#135 to be exact), around 10-15 minutes away from the city center (depending on the traffic).

Update: You can also order from Hatch via FoodPanda. So in times like this, having these delicious drinks and food at the comfort of your own home, is a really good (and safe) idea.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take eat easy.

Be Benguet.

Whenever someone asks me which among the 76 Philippine provinces I have been is my favorite, I without batting an eyelash, would quip — Benguet. Bias as it may sound, but no one gets close to a place you call home.

Benguet is one of the 6 provinces that comprise the Cordillera Region. The province has 13 municipalities and 1 city. I have been to 9 of the 13 towns and it is quite a shame that I still have to set foot on 4 of them.

Anyhow, be amazed with its picturesque landscape, cool climate, and warm, friendly people — Beautiful Benguet. 🥰

Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust. Take it easy.

Glamping at Valleypoint (Tuba, Benguet)

Valleypoint is a camping ground and event center situated in the mountain valleys of Tuba in Benguet, Philippines.

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They offer the following services:

Prices may changed without prior notice:

A Daytour Package will cost 500php ·

What are included:

  • – Unlimited brewed coffee
  • – Free all-day breakfast
  • – Airsoft coupon: 150 rounds rifle; or Archery
  • – Access to camper’s chill area, board games, card games, darts, books, campsite, restaurant and bar, view deck, rest rooms
  • – Free parking
  • – Up to 70% cash discount on archery & airsoft maze.

Tent Package or Glamping Experience.

The rate varies depending on the number of people. Rates are as follow: Solo – 1,350 php 2 pax – 1,250 php/head 3 pax – 1,000 php/head 4 pax – 850 php/head

  • Inclusions:
    – Waterproof, dual layer, all-weather tent
    – Uratex foam/s
    – Blanket/s
    – Pillow/s
    – Bed sheet/s
    – Flat sheet
    – Shoe box
    – Unlimited brewed coffee
    – Free breakfast
    – Airsoft coupon: 150 rounds rifle; or Archery
    – Access to camper’s chill area, board games, card games, darts, books, campsite, restaurant and bar, hot and cold shower, view deck
    – Free parking

The Backpackers Package with an overnight stay that costs Php750 per head · Check in – 2:00 PM | Check out -12:00 NN

  • Inclusions:
    – Bed bunk, blanket, pillow, curtain divider
    – Personal lighting – Personal locker
    – Unlimited brewed coffee
    – Free breakfast
    – Airsoft coupon: 150 rounds rifle; or Archery – Access to camper’s area, board games, card games, darts, books, campsite, restaurant and bar, hot and cold shower, view deck
    – Free parking

NOTE: They have 3 types of rooms available for backpackers with capacities of 4 pax, 6 pax and 10 pax. The room may be shared with others if a group is unable to fill the maximum capacity of the room.

How to Get to Valleypoint:
If you’re driving, you can search Valleypoint Campsite on Google Maps or Waze.
Campers coming from MANILA by BUS:
  1. Tell the driver that your drop off point would be at GREEN VALLEY, PETRON STATION. No need to go to the bus terminal station.
  2. Once you reach GREEN VALLEY PETRON, take a TAXI and tell the cab driver SANTO TOMAS CHECKPOINT.
  3. Once you reach the SANTO TOMAS CHECKPOINT, tell them you have a booking at VALLEYPOINT. VALLEYPOINT is 10 to 15 meters after the CHECKPOINT.
Campers coming from BAGUIO CITY (Town)
  • by TAXI – tell the driver GREEN VALLEY, SANTO TOMAS. Fare is around 120 – 150 Php.
  • by JEEP – take any jeep from BAYANIHAN (Green Valley, Dontogan, Santo Tomas.)
  • by CAR – search VALLEYPOINT CAMPSITE on Google Maps or Waze
***Note: Upon arrival at the Santo Tomas Checkpoint, tell the guards that you’re heading to Valleypoint Campsite and they will let you through.

OTHER AMENITIES:

A Camper’s Area

This is located on the level directly above the restaurant. It is considered as the visitors’/camper’s chill areas, a common space where everyone can socialize, read a book or play games. There are available board games, card games, and books. Some guests would come here primarily for photo ops, then go (which isn’t surprising because of the large bean bags in the area). However, no food is allowed here.

In-house Restaurant

While the choices of food are quite limited, the servings are generous (maybe good for 2-3 persons). The brewed coffee though is unlimited. AND the view is AMAZING!

They also have their own Art Gallery, by the way.

Take it easy. Don’t be a wasted soul, be ‘juan’derlust.

Agara Ramen: Fills the Tummy, Warms the Soul

If there is one thing I have been wishing to grow in number here in Baguio, that is for more ramen houses to open. Why? Well, hello! With Baguio’s perfect cold weather, having a bowl of hot ramen is what we need! Don’t you agree?

I am a self-confessed ramen person. I am fastidious with my ramen choices. I get easily disappointed if I learn that the ramen served looks and tastes like an instant noodle. My love for ramen is rooted in the fact that it is a culinary art – from the richness of its flavors, its aesthetics and the seemingly delicate techniques used on how they are prepared. A bowl of ramen holds a distinctive place in my tummy. When I slurp its soup and noodles, I feel the warmth filling my stomach, radiating happiness to my soul.I have always thought that Baguio’s weather is perfect for cafes and ramen bars/ restos. Unfortunately, we only have a few that serves really good ramen. I was delighted when Ramen Nagi opened but in the long run, one will feel burdened by the pricey cost of their ramen despite serving really good food. There are other Japanese restos here BUT the ramen they offer doesn’t come across authentic – taste most importantly.

So when I have heard of a new ramen bar (yes, it is a bar and not the usual resto) opening in my lovely city, Baguio, I got excited to try what they have to offer, hence I literally stormed my way one cold, foggy night. The place is called Agara Ramen, a 14-seater, industrial accented bar with a striking brick mural and tiled wall. Some people may have an impression that the place is a tad small in space but I think that is exactly what the owners have envisioned it to be (just like what most Japanese ramen bars are – small, intimate space for people eating ramen together).The menu of Agara Ramen is very straightforward. They offer 6 ramen styles. This includes the following:

  • Chuka Soba (a pork, chicken, fish, and vegetable broth noodles)
  • Tsukemen (a dipping ramen made with livestock, vegetable broth with soy sauce)

***These two are Agara Ramen’s menu flagship.

  • Tonkotsu Shio (sea salt base and pork broth) – if you like something light then this is for you.
  • Tonkotsu Shoyu (soy sauce and pork broth) – This I personally like.
  • Miso Ramen (strong pork miso soup) – My favorite. Because it is miso. I love anything miso.
  • Tantanmen (spicy pork broth soup in sesame seed paste) – Not my cup of tea, just because it is spicy.

Just like other ramen restaurants, you can also add tamago (Japanese soy sauce egg), chashu (braised pork belly), and/ or nori (seaweed). They also serve gyoza (dumplings) and karaage (fried chicken skin). All of these can be perfectly matched with a glass of Japanese barley tea (mugicha) or maybe a can of soda.My Agara Ramen experience was made more special because I got the chance to see how some of these ramen are prepared (and even eaten). The owner, Sir Ray Costa, gamely showed how it’s prepared. Please allow the photographs I took to further do the talking.As the weather here in Baguio becomes colder (and stormy), having a bowl (or two) of ramen is good way to quickly warm us up. I may just switch between ramen and some local noodles my brother makes (Ilocos miki). So if you are up for something “ramen-tic” belly-filling, and smile-inducing — a bowl of ramen goodness at Agara Ramen is what you probably need.

Agara Ramen is located at the Ground Floor of Rancho Guillermo Bldg. (beside Maybank), North Drive (where NBI’s entrance gate is), Engineers Hill, Baguio City. They are on their soft opening (grand opening will be on the 8th of September 2019). They are open from 11AM to 12MN (Monday to Thursday); and 11AM to 02AM (Friday to Sunday). You can also check out their social media accounts: fb.com/AgaraRamen (FB page), @AgaraRamen (both in Instagram and Twitter).So what are you waiting for? Fill your tummy, satiate your buds’ taste – “eats” a wonderful world after all. Take “eat” easy!

Sweets to Try in Baguio City

Sometimes, we do not need to stay too healthy nor focus on eating what is right to keep the body fit and functioning. Our sweet tooth is a part of this wonderful machine, so we have to honor it and spoil it from time to time… to time.

If you have a sweet tooth like me, then, you might want to try these palatine-satiating, delightful sweets once you are in Baguio. They are some of the perfect matches to your hot coffee or tea while reading a book, watching a movie or just lazing around while the weather gets all cool and cozy.

1. Vizcos’ Strawberry Shortcake. An all-time favorite from among locals and tourists alike. This dessert makes use of fresh strawberries and imparts a creamy sensation that seem to melt in your mouth.

2. This avocado-flavored dirty ice cream at the Slaughter house. (well they also have strawberry and mango, but this is my ultimate favorite). If you happen to be in the area for their “bulalo and ihaw-ihaw” look for a local vendor of this ice cream who happens to be just hanging out in the area. Dirty has never been this delicious!

3. The egg tarts of Glycosweet. A small, hole-in-the-wall cafe near the Victory bus terminal (Manila-bound) bakes these small but mouth-watering sweets. So far, they are the best egg tarts I have tasted (besides the ones I have tried in Lisbon, Portugal).

4. Taro Ice Cream of Aura One Hotel. This surprisingly good ice cream topped with a taro chip, is not all smooth and creamy since a gritty feeling will be felt by your mouth. It comes from the bits of taro incorporated in this sumptuous dessert.

5. Ube Champorado of Lihim ni Maria. Another hole-in-wall cafe/resto in Baguio that offers dleiciously unusual desserts and drinks is Lihim ni Maria. I personally like their version of champorado that makes use of a local red rice from Kalinga infused with ube. You’ll end up saying “what a beautiful gastronomic experience” when you taste this.

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6. Sweet Stop’s Apple Brownie & Cassava Cake. This delicious duo are my favorite at this pretty cafe along Session Road. They never fail to compliment any of the flavored hot tea I drink whenever I come by to satiate my sweet tooth cravings. And, you get to buy these sweets at a very affordable price!

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7. Arcas Yard’s Kamote Pie. This signature dessert from the uberly cozy and relaxing cafe-restaurant along Ambuclao Road will never disappoint your taste. I like how soft and not so saccharine it is. It’s a perfect pair for my artichoke tea (an Arca’s Yard fave drink).

8. Mugwort Bread of Le Vain Cafe/Bakeshop. This is an interesting bread at least to me. It’s called a mugwort bread with walnuts, chestnut and red bean. i have learned wayback my Pharmacognosy days that mugwort is a natural anti-malarial but I never knew it is edible. So i did a little research and to my surprise, mugwort is indeed a famous bread from among Koreans and Japanese. Fascinating and delicious too!

9. Ube Taho. Well Baguio is famous for its strawberry taho for sure. But do you know that recently, a new flavor has been abuzz from among visitors? I have just tried the ube counterpart and I personally like it better than the much sweeter strawberry taho. I never thought ube would blend well with this soya product.

So whether you just want to cheat on your diet or maybe just wanting to give in to that outright urge to eat something saccharine, then give these lovely sweets a try. And I am pretty sure you’ll end up with a grin. 😁😁😁

Take it easy.

Reddoorz Baguio: Staycation Review

I have not always been a fan of staycation. I mean, why don’t you go out instead and explore what your surroundings get to offer. Then again, cliche as it may sound but some things change when we grow older. And that includes a changed perception about staycations.

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Living in a Baguio alone is already ideal and relaxing but these reasons didn’t deter me from choosing to “sleep over” in some hotels/ hostels/ BnBs from time to time. I have tried several bed and breakfast places and the experience was exquisite (especially at Lucia’s and The Old Orangewood BnBs). I also did a staycation with my family at a hotel near the Wright Park, and it was a happy one just cuddling and eating together with your mom, pops, and brother.

My recent staycation experiences are 2 Reddoorz Hotels near my place (actually both are just 5-minute walking from my home). These experiences are 2 totally different experiences – one highly pleasant, the other very terrible. I am writing this as a form of review, that may serve as a form of caution to people and at the same time, for me to vent out my frustration over  this very bad experience with one of these hotels.

I am not really promoting Reddoorz app but since this experience involves this app, it will be mentioned every now and then. (Also, I have other travel and accommodation apps i my phone since I am an avid fan of travelling with Bookings.com still being my personal favorite and Skyscanner). My 1st Reddoorz app experience was also beyond terrible that I ended up not staying in that hotel in Iloilo even if I booked 4-days and they would refuse a refund.

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Room at Reddoorz Aura One Hotel

I told myself not to use Reddoorz app again but when I got back home in Baguio, I got curious with Aura One Hotel being part of Reddoorz. I had a wonderful experience with this hotel back then during a Christmas party with my pharmacy colleagues. So I wonder how it was like to go for a staycation. Since I earned some rewards during my unpleasant 1st Reddoorz experience, I went on to use this in booking my stay at A1.

And woooow, woooow, wooow! My Aura One Hotel experience via Reddoorz was great. Everything was really great. Got the room for a really good price, the hotel room itself is lovely and the hotel staff are beyond nice and really kind. This 1st staycation at this hotel was followed up by 3 more bookings (that I didn’t notice I was already staying with them for almost a week).   I even went for a Red Club membership just because of my very pleasant stay at Aura One. (perks of being a member includes a special discounted price for every booking). So it is safe to say that my Aura One experience overshadowed that very bad experience in Reddoorz Iloilo.

After a few bookings at A1, I decided to try out other Reddoorz hotel hoping that the experience would be, if not as great as A1’s, pleasant and satisfying. And so I booked this Reddoorz @ Aurora Hill Hotel. It is just a stone’s throw away from A1. So the day of my booking at Reddoorz @ Aurora Hill came and boooy! I was shocked with different kinds of disappointments.

I arrived at the hotel at 12:43 noon. And I asked the receptionist if I can already check-in and she told me I cannot check-in unless it is 2pm. I asked why and she said just because that is what she was told. I understand 2PM is the standard check-in time in most hotels/ hostels around the world (not only in the Philippines) BUT in ALL past hotel/hostel experiences I have had, whenever I arrive between 12-2pm, and the room you are supposed to stay is already available, they allow you to do an early check in without paying extra. Some reception staff would tell you to wait for a while in case a room is still being cleaned up, nonetheless, they always allow early check-in. So I was in for a surprise of my life when I was told I can only check-in at 2PM.

I even wasn’t able to contain myself in comparing my Aura One experience. From the 4 previous stay with A1, 2 instances involves an early arrival at the hotel (around 12:15-12:30) and without batting an eyelash and raising an argument, was I allowed to check in immediately. I even asked if I could talk to someone about this and after a while, I was talking to someone who seems to be a “manager” of this Reddoorz @ Aurora Hill hotel. Talking to her over the phone gave me an impression that this person does not know how to properly deal with customers. SHE obviously does not know how to therapeutically and professionally converse with enraged clients and she just kept on insisting of their rules. This person even told me that Reddoorz allowed them to make their own rules when I asked, where in their written rules is this and that. I just really hope that what she said about Reddoorz, allowing them to incorporate rules they want to without their consent is true or else, this is a bad image for Reddoorz.

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Room at Reddoorz @ Aurora Hill

Then came the part where I had to pay a deposit. I understand that hotels usually ask for a certain amount. I paid Php500 in Iloilo Reddoorz, and I also pay Php500 whenever I check in at Aura. I gave Php1000 here at Reddoorz Aurora Hill. I was waiting for my change when the staff said that the deposit is Php1000.00. What a surprise!!! I felt enraged again! She said that is the usual deposit asked same as other Reddoorz Hotel, she even mentioned that it is the same amount asked by Aura One Hotel to which I vehemently denied and told her they only ask me Php500.00.

NO WONDER that out of the 5 Reddoorz Hotels in Baguio City, they have the lowest rating. Now I understand why! All these things happened even before me getting checked-in. So the time I got check-in to my room, I was no longer feeling the staycation vibes I have wanted. Instead of feeling relaxed, all I wanted to happen is for this 2-day staycation to end.

Assessing their room, I would say without a bias that they have a way inferior room to even the cheapest room at A1. I know this is way too early to say but I definitely will NEVER stay or book this hotel again. I will never recommend this to any of my friends coming to Baguio for sure!

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View from Aura One Hotel

Anyhow, I am looking forward to staying at Aura One again where my staycation experience was remarkably satisfying. Or maybe try this hostel I saw using my Zen Rooms App.

SUMMARY of Review:

Question Reddoorz Aura One Hotel Reddoorz Aurora Hill
ROOM – Temperature room comfortable upon arrival Yes Yes
ROOM – HVAC functional and in good condition Ceiling fan is ok Electric fan is ok
ROOM – DND Sign in good condition Yes Yes
ROOM – Entry door good condition Yes Yes
ROOM – Entry door functional Yes Yes
ROOM – Entry door lock functional Yes (makes use of a key card) Yes (makes use of a regular key)
ROOM – Entry door frame clean Yes Yes
ROOM – Telephone works Yes No telephone
ROOM – TV works Yes (+ they have Netflix and Youtube) Yes
ROOM – TV programmed correctly Yes Yes
ROOM – TV remote works Yes Yes
ROOM – Thermostat operational N/A N/A
ROOM – All electrical outlets functional Yes Yes
CLOSET – Safe instructions posted No No
ROOM – Minibar clean N/A N/A
ROOM – Minibar functional N/A N/A
BED – frame good condition Yes Yes
BED – Bedding clean and free of stains Yes Yes
BED – Frame good condition Yes Yes
BED – Headboard good condition Yes No headboard
ROOM – All flooring/carpet clean Yes A bit dirty
FURNITURE – Nighstands good condition Yes None
FURNITURE – Trash bin clean Yes No trashbin inside the room, just inside the toilet
FURNITURE – Desk chair good condition Yes Too low
FURNITURE – Desk chair clean Yes A bit
FURNITURE – Other chairs clean Yes No other chair
FURNITURE – Desk clean/ good condition/ functional Yes Not conducive
CLOSET – All accessories in closet present and in good condition Yes Yes
CLOSET – Light(s) functional No lights No lights
CLOSET – Doors open & close properly Yes Squeaky when opening.
CLOSET – Door good condition Yes A bit.
CLOSET – Interior clean Yes No
ROOM – Art hung straight/ good condition Yes Yes
ROOM – Mirrors clean/ good condition Yes Yes
ROOM – General area lighting clean/ functional. Yes A bit dim, not conducive for reading.
ROOM – USB charging ports work throughout room Yes Yes
FURNITURE – Tables good condition/ clean Yes Too high
FURNITURE – Sofa clean/ good condition N/A N/A
ROOM – Wall paint good condition Yes Yes
ROOM – Walls damage free Yes Some dent
ROOM – Windows clean/ good condition Yes A bit dirty, and one window cant be closed.
ROOM – Windows function (if they can be opened) Yes Defective
ROOM – Drapes/Sheers functional/ clean Yes Not so.
ROOM – Ceiling clean/ good condition Yes Yes
ROOM – WiFi functional throughout room Yes Yes
ROOM – Vents clean/ good condition Yes Yes
BATH – All  surfaces clean Yes NO
BATH – All bathroom tile and floor clean Yes NO
BATH – Shower glass streak free and clean Yes None
BATH – All drains in room clean and non-obstructed Yes Yes
BATH – Sink(s) clean Yes Yes
BATH – All countertops and surfaces clean and streak free Yes No
BATH – All lighting clean/ functional Yes Yes
BATH – Presence of foot rug and hand towel Yes None
BATH – All towels clean and in good condition Yes Yes
BATH – All amenities refreshed and present in bathroom Yes No
BATH – Trash bin clean and in good condition Yes Yes
BATH – Toilet clean Yes Yes
BATH – Toilet has functional bidet and shower Yes Yes
BATH – Water pressure functional Yes Yes
BATH – Hair dryer functional Yes None

Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy.

Aran Cave (Benguet, PH)

Spelunking or caving is about exhilarating exploration, discovering a furtive underground landscape of stalactites and stalagmites, caverns and crevices where seemingly creepy silence echoes. The ghostly feeling these concealed wonders, and all that it keeps like the delicate formations growing inside them and surprising finds like waterfalls and natural pools — are enthralling natural phenomenon.

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I trace my first caving experience wayback May of 2008 in Sagada. I can’t say it was love at first sight, but it definitely was one of a kind experience. The following year (January 2009), I got to explore the then unknown Aran or Tukang Cave. 10 years after, who would have thought I would get to explore this very same cave again. During the 1st time I went spelunking in Aran, I was with a good friend, Jelaine and some other new found Korean friends. We did some high-angle rappelling, rock climbing, river trekking and airsoft range shooting before we culminated our day then with a caving adventure. Those moments are still pretty vivid in my memory.

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Left photo was taken in january 2009 during my 1st Aran Cave exploration while the photo on the right was taken last February 03, 2019. A 10 year gap for these two captures! 

Last weekend (February 03, 2019), I joined a group (a big one) for an Aran Cave exploration at Camp 3, Tuba, Benguet. I was on tenterhooks the past days having come from a surgery a week ago. I was bound to resume work the following day following more than a week of bedrest. The required rest of just staying put at home made me bored and feeling uneasy. If you know me as a person, you will definitely say that staying put is a very challenging state for me. That is why during that weekend, I went on to search for an event I could join. Luckily, there is the Aran Cave trip.

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So how was the experience during this trip? I always have had a soft spot for extreme adventures. The adrenaline rush it gives me is just great and invigorating. Just like my previous caving experiences, it remains to be exciting. Caving in Aran is pretty unique since the cave boasts off several levels of waterfalls. During my 1st visit, we managed to go up to the 3rd level. This time though, due to the aftermath of a strong typhoon last year, some of the ropes going to the 3rd level were damaged hence visitors are only limited to visiting upto the 2nd waterfall. Nonetheless, the adventure inside is nothing short but amazing!

The moments I love the most during this experience includes the rappelling part, the worming-squeezing our way in and out of small crevices (really super exciting), and the freezingly cold dip into the cave’s natural pools. The part I most appreciate is when we reached a certain portion of the cave and our guide asked everyone to turn off their headlights. It was pitch black and the coldness inside felt a little colder. Kuya Arthur, our guide, shared some stories about the cave (like how the story of a giant named Aran lived inside these caverns). He also told us that the very narrow portion we had to go through was symbolical as we go out of the cave. It was like a form of rebirth.

That thought had me thinking. True enough, there are some experiences in life that would make us feel we are born again. Challenges in life (just like those we encounter inside the cave), will test our patience and determination. There are moments when we are close to giving up but we have no choice but to go on. And that if we do not endure these struggles, we will never know what would be instore for us at the end of the adventure.

This is the itinerary we followed during this trip:

0630: Call time at Jollibee, Lakandula near Shoppers Lane (here in Baguio City)
0700: Expected Time of Departure from Baguio to Camp 3
0730: Expected Time of Arrival at the Jump off of Aran Cave in Camp 3, Tuba (which is part of Benguet)
0730: Preparation and Registration of Payment.

A short orientation was also made wherein do’s and don’ts were given as reminders for everyone’s safety. Also, our group was divided into smaller group of 10 (since we were 40 something), guides were designated and a warm-up exercise was even initiated.

0800: Trekked our way to the Entrance of the Cave. Another short talk was given here wherein a bit of Aran Cave’s history was shared by one of the guides.

0815: 1st group entered the cave. I joined the 4th/ last group so we had to wait for a while. A 20-minute interval was given every after a group enters the cave (which is good so that it wouldn’t be too crowded inside). So this signaled the start of the spelunking adventure.

1100 The expected time of exit for the 1st group. I wasn’t sure if this was followed. Nonetheless, once the spelunking is over, the participants could shower back at the orientation area.

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1200: Lunch was supposed to be served but our group (the last group) managed to eat at around 14:00 since we were the last ones to exit the cave and arrive at the lunch place.

Side trips were made that included visiting two waterfalls along Kennon Road. These are the Colorado falls and the popular Bridal Veil waterfalls. It was a quick visit where we only took photos. I have a separate blog for these waterfalls along Kennon Road.

1630: We left Camp 4. A bit late than the original itinerary but it was fine. We arrived Baguio at around 17:30.

The trip costs Php650/ person and it included the following: transportation (back and forth), a really sumptuous lunch (pinikpikan, adobo, and the oh so delicious dinuguan + drinks), a deadlight and skull guard head cap were provided (which I so appreciate), entrance fee, tour guide fee, and environmental fee. No fees for the waterfalls.

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Activities like this usually require the following: the use of non-slippery footwear (whether shoes or slipper/sandals), the use of dri-fit clothes (preferably long-sleeved and maybe leggings since some of the rock formations inside are sharp), extra clothes, your own water/ energy drinks, some trail food, ziplock or dry bag for your valuables (since there are instances when you have to cross some pools inside), kneepad and gloves (since some parts require crawling and rappelling).

Life, as Helen Keller would say, is a daring adventure or nothing at all. The things we choose to do with it defines us and make living extra beautiful. So have the courage to squeeze your way through narrow caves, climb over slippery mountains and boulders, and explore all possible adventures out there. Along the way, you will get to learn more about life and the many things you are capable of.

***Grabbed some photos from Sir Clifford of IBenguetTourGuides2018.

Don’t be a wasted soul, be “juan”derlust. Take it easy. Follow me on Instagram: @nojuanisanisland

 

Baguio’s Local Folks

“Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world where people so often either ignore or fight each other. It is a sign that we don’t need a lot of money to be happy–in fact, the opposite.” – Jean Vanier, Community and Growth

What does a community mean to you? Your university class, or your theatre family, or maybe your neighborhood? Is it a place you go to whenever you need some breather? Or, a particular individual you seek advice when confusion and problems arise? Or in a nutshell, a community could be any space where thoughts (or opinions), talents, and passions are made communal, acknowledged, and shared in an encouraging and fruitful manner. A community, therefore, evokes a sense of support to people and their creatives.

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I have always taken pride that Baguio, my city, is a creative community where locals (and visitors alike) can freely express their ingenuity in any form that is inspiring. Last June 20, I finally got the chance to attend one of The Local Folke’s monthly gathering. THE LOCAL FOLKE is an inventive outlet for various kinds of creative individuals from travelers to writers to photographers to artists of different kind. As I see it, it hopes to become a peer-led community for connection, inspiration, inclusion and of course, creative expression. Moreover, I sense that The Local Folke can eventually become a space to feel at home, to spend time with others, to be to be one’s self, to be accepted, and to learn and grow.

During this recent gathering, a very timely topic was discussed. It was about financial management and the troubles that go with spending and saving one’s money. I usually say no to any invitation about financial advocacy talks. For one, I feel that such talk usually leads to networking. I am just glad that the sharing made through this get-together was enlightening. It has dawned on me that the problem is not the lack of money, but the lack of financial literacy. I won’t put into details the things we talked about, but I must say that I have learned a thing or two. (Thanks to Sir Galang of Insular Life).

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After this basic discussion about financial management, every attendee got the chance to know each other better by sharing something about themselves. It was such a diverse group wherein there were musicians, photographers, travel enthusiasts, and more. The best part (and the one I enjoyed the most) was when each of us were asked random questions that allow sharing of thoughts/ opinions and be an inspiration to others. It was such a delight to listen and learn from different people’s viewpoints and sentiments. Such simple meeting provided a humbling opportunity to mingle and gain confidence in a situation where we are all appreciated.

It definitely won’t be the last time I am attending such get-together. I am beyond ecstatic that I was able to meet like-minded individuals over good talks and laughs. Special shout-out to Micah and Mikka for organizing this wonderful event. Thanks too, to Lance Oneil for the photographs.

Take it easy everyJuan.

Let’s Talk about ATOK

For most people traveling this side of the Cordillera region, Atok, a town in the province of Benguet, has become the usual “stop-over” for buses, and other vehicles that are plying the Halsema Highway system. But lately, this chilly municipality is slowly gaining local and foreign tourists’ attention. Looking into Benguet’s map, Atok is centrally located, and it looks like a heart, hence the moniker – “The Heart of the Highlands.”

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My first encounter with Atok was in 2008 when my friends and I went to Sagada for the first time. The 1st stop-over of our 6-hour bus ride to Sagada is actually in Sayangan, Atok. A friend of mine even said that we should not miss the “siopao” at this stop as it is really good. That was the highlight of my first encounter with Atok, buying and eating a siopao.

Well, kidding aside, the town has been famous for two other reasons. One, it is where the Philippine Pali is located. This is the “Highest Point of the Philippine Highway System,” which is a part of Halsema Highway. And second, Atok is home to the 3rd highest mountain in Luzon, Mt. Timbak or Mt Singakalsa. I was fortunate to have scaled this mountain on two different occasions (first in 2009, and then in 2011).

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After seven long years, I got the chance to re-visit Atok together with my Couchsurfing guest, Justin. So one weekend, we decided to explore Atok a little more. Here are the other places one could visit while in the heart of Benguet. Read along.

Northern Blossoms Flower (and Vegetable) Farm

This two-hectare farm has been supplying some of Metro Manila’s top society gatherings and hotel chains with their flowers. The farm boasts a wide variety of beautiful flowers and other plants like a cabbage rose, larkspur, snap dragon, alstroemeria, amaranthus, delphinium, eucalyptus leaves and many others. They are such a sight to behold! I am pretty confident that anyone visiting the farm will be smitten as to how lovely these flowers are.

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Going to Northern Blossoms is pretty easy. When one arrives in Sayangan, locate the municipal hall so that it can serve as your point of reference. From the town hall, walk your way down, and on the left side of the road, you will see signages indicating where the flower farm is. It is a short road that goes down further.

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The owners Mr. and Mrs. Ganayan, are two humble and hospitable individuals who have been in the flower business for quite some time now. They have decided to open their farm to both local and foreign guests. They have a 2-unit lodging cottage/ homestay should visitors decide to stay longer in Atok. My friend Justin and I stayed over-night since we wanted to witness the sunrise at the farm.

For further inquiry, you may contact Mam Lany at +639081513368. Entrance fee at Northern Blossoms is now Php250.00 per person while an overnight stay is at Php350.00 per person(subject to cange without prior notice). I highly appreciate that after a tour around the farm (with a very knowledgeable guide), a visitor is treated to a hot coffee and bread. Perfect for the frigid weather in Atok. (Mind you, during our stay, the weather went as low as 4 degrees Celsius, and the range of temperature was from 5 to 9 degrees Celsius the following day). So it is a must to bring with you some warm clothes.

NOTE: The flower farm is close every Monday for maintenance.

The Benguet – Kochi Sisterhood Park

I am pretty sure a lot of us have been dreaming of seeing a sakura flower. I saw some when I went to Taiwan last year, and most people I know books a flight either to Japan or Korea to see these pretty flowers. Well, Benguet will soon have its sakura park, and it is located in Atok.

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In 2016, about 40 Japanese Sakura trees were planted at an area in Paoay, Atok, Benguet. Two varieties of these famed flowering plants were planted: these are the Sindaya (white flowers) and Yakiwari (pink flowers) Sakura varieties. I was happy to see that during our visit, the Yakiwari Sakura trees already have flowers.

The park is notably cold and seems to me a perfect place for the growing sakura. I could already imagine how lovely it would be when the time comes that all the cherry blossoms would be blossoming. The area is also surrounded by vegetable farms and mossy forest.

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Mount Cotnon and Bosleng Grotto

Around 30-45 minutes’ walk from the Sakura park, one could visit Mount Cotnon, a mountain with rocks atop and a stunning view of some vegetable terraces. A few turns from this mountain is a man-made attraction called Bosleng Grotto. It is a cave underneath big rocks with an icon of the “Lady of Lourdes.” Just like Northern Blossoms and the Sakura Park, these areas have a cold climate. Locals say that the cavern has served as a pilgrimage site for them and other visitors.

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Philippine Pali

Located along the Halsema Highway, this is considered the highest point in the country under the Philippine highway system. It has an elevation of 7,400 ft above sea level. The name Philippine Pali was coined because of its similarity with that of Pali, Hawaii. It has a view deck, and some local stores are found in the area. Aside from the greenery brought about by vegetable gardens, a commanding view of Mount Timbak also serves as a picturesque background.

Osocan Tunnel

A potential man-made attraction added to the Atok Tour Packages, Osocan Tunnel is a Spanish Trail. It was constructed as a horse trail during the Spanish Period that exists up to this time. It features three man-made tunnels carved through colossal rock formation about 10 meters long each. This though is something I have yet to see.

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Mount Timbak

As I have mentioned earlier, I have already scaled this mountain twice. During the 1st time, my friends and I camped out on top of this mountain after visiting the mummies of Kabayan. During my 2011 visit, we did a day hike. It is a pretty easy climb. My recent visit though was a surprise. One can already reach the mountain by not spending much time trekking. As a mountain enthusiast, I was somehow disappointed that the registration and guide fees are priced at Php 50.00 each (so one person will have to pay Php100.00). Moreso, the climb to the peak now has become way too short and easy.

One can avail of tour packages being offered by the Atok Tourism. They have combined these attractions into various packages that include guide and transportation fees. You may contact the following number for inquiry: 09301892757 or 09465147799.

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How to Reach Atok from Baguio:

Ride a bus or van that passes by the municipality of Atok in Halsema Highway. These include public transport going to Sagada, Bontoc, Mankayan, and Abatan/ Buguias. You can find these at the Dangwa terminal behind Center Mall in Magsaysay Avenue. There are also buses at the Slaughterhouse in Magsaysay Avenue. Earliest bus is a Sagada-bound Lizardo bus which leaves at 3am.

Inform your driver to drop you off at Marosan’s Restaurant in Atok or in front of Atok’s municipal hall. The fare for the bus is Php 73.00 while van fare is at Php100.00. The travel time is 1.5 to 2.5 hours. There are on-going road works that could slow down the trip.

Also, there are vans (which leaves as early as 5am) in La Trinidad and Baguio (back of Center mall) that passes by the town of Atok, so that is another option for travellers.

Going back to Baguio, you either take a van or bus. These public vehicles only stop by Atok so the availability of seats has no guarantee. Time of transportation availability is also not fix.

If and when you miss the early morning bus (especially if you are after the sunrise at the flower farm) one can hire a taxi in Baguio City. Now depending on your haggling skills and your fate to meet a really nice taxi driver, then you can go for this option. During my second Atok visit, we didnt get to ride the 3am bus because apparently, its peak season and bus tickets should’ve been purchased on reservation. Since we didnt want to spoil our trip, we opted to try our luck and talk to a taxi driver. We met Kuya Hans who is probably one of the nicest driver I have met. He agreed with our proposed budget for transpo and he took us to Atok. He also waited for us and brought us back to Baguio. We got his number and now I am sharing it in case you want to get him and his taxi going to Atok. Here’s his number 0912 878 5098, Hans Deleña.

Also, visitors are encouraged to register at the Paoay Barangay Hall located near the municipal hall.

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Don’t be a wasted soul, be JUANderlust. Take it, easy everyone.

Baguio is Home

You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right. — Maya Angelou

Sometimes I feel there’s a love-hate kind of relationship that exists between me and Baguio, the city I call my home. Occasionally I think it is too small and limited regarding opportunities and expanding my horizon. I once left the city for three years thinking it would be a real escape from forgetting the bad memories of a failed relationship. I thought leaving Baguio was a good excuse to explore the things outside my comfort zone. It made me believe that leaving my home will help me find where I want to be, and who I want to become.

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After ten weeks of backpacking around Europe, I was reminded that there is no better place like home… that there is no better feeling than being in the city that I love so much. So here are the main reasons why I will always be happy to stay in the City of Pine, Baguio.

The Weather: Baguio has the best weather from among the Philippine cities. Well, it may have gone a little warmer over the years, yet the weather here is incomparable. Moreover, the smell of the cold air is so comforting to my body and soul. You’ll feel it the moment you arrive in the city. It is distinct from anywhere else. I think this is the prime reason why a lot of people come to visit Baguio.

The Good Food: I want to believe that Baguio offers an array of excellent food. I am a self-confessed foodie and so exploring food possibilities with my palate is one thing I love doing. I go out and try new gastronomies whenever a new café or restaurant opens. I want to think that Baguio is one big food hub ideal for a food crawl. Home-grown eateries like 50s Diner, Vizcos, Arcas Yard, and Canto are some of my favorite. Just like Baguio’s unruffled weather, the food here is soothing to the soul.

The People: Baguio may have become a melting pot already, but Baguio people remains to be some of the most hospitable and genuinely kind individuals and families. Aside from having the best taxi drivers in the entire country, on a personal note, the people I have met here in Baguio are incomparable. These people I call friends and family, these people whom I have made a lot of memories, these people who have contributed much to my growth as a person – are the main reasons why I love Baguio to the core. Not all of them may no longer be here with me (as they are already living their own lives), but the moments we have shared together are here to stay no matter what.

Lastly, I love Baguio because this is where I get to enjoy my time and my space. I love that reassuring feeling that I will be fine whatever the circumstances are because I am in Baguio… because I am home.