Blog Updated! June 5, 2013
Story Updated! August 2, 2012

DAY THREE: Baguio, the City of Pines

This sums it up pretty well. That place was so cold people had to wear jackets.
It must have been like, 75 F. Like the Arctic.

We headed up into the mountains the next day to Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines. Baguio was founded by the American military in the early 1900s and the original city was laid out by the famous architect Daniel Burnham. Burnham is best known for designing the National Mall in Washington, DC, he also designed the city of Manila outside of Intramuros.  We didn't spend much time here but Baguio is to the north what Kansas City, Missouri was to the Oregon Trail. The Victory Liner and other buses don't run around the mountains and the unairconditioned GL Lizardo buses were out of the question for a long trip through the Cordillera. It's also the last stop for hitting the bank or ATM because after Baguio I wouldn't find another working ATM until we hit Bontoc two days later.

Offloading from the Victory Liner a man named Alex approached us offering tour and van services for Baguio and further if we were interested. We checked around and his price for a ride to Bontoc seemed the most reasonable. Catching up with again he and his driver talked to Oli, as she speaks Tagalog and I barely do, discussed what we wanted to see. Originally we wanted to see the epic rice terraces of Banaue but ruled them out because it seemed impossible to hit Banaue and Sagada if we took the bus. So the driver offered us a deal- 25,00 pesos and he'd take us a four day trip to Banaue, drive through Bontoc to the next stop in Sagada and leave us in Vigan.

Pictured: Emilio Aguinaldo on a horse. Not pictured: Every inch of the surrounding area covered in graffiti. Oli's brother didn't recognize the statue without the graffiti. Punk kids.

While in Baguio we visited the Baguio Museum and the Aguinaldo Museum. Emilio Aguinaldo was the first president of the Philippines. Well, he was the second guy to call himself president but then he won a rigged election fair and square... it's complicated. The Aguinaldo Museum looks like it's in Aguinaldo's great-grandson's house's basement from the outside. Inside it's a full-on real museum dedicated the Aguinaldo's  role in the Philippine Revolution, the Spanish-American War and up to his capture in the Philippine-American War. Apparently the American's Trojan Horse way of capturing him was sneaky and underhanded but Aguinaldo's taking a massive pay off from the Spanish to quit the revolution and leave the country, but then using the money to secretly restart the revolution isn't. Also, don't ask about Andres Bonifacio or General Luna and you should be fine. (SPOILER ALERT: He had Bonifacio, one of the early Revolution leaders killed for being a 'potential problem'  and Luna, his best Philippine-American War general assassinated for fear of Luna's popularity surpassing his own.) It was a great walk through with engaging presentations. The highlight of this visit was seeing the first Philippine flag, handmade in Hong Kong by the widow of Dr. Jose Rizal, the martyr who's death ignited the revolution. (And who's furniture we'd already seen.)

The first Philippine flag. It was first officially flown at Aguinaldo's Cavite home on June 12, 1898.

The Baguio Museum has artifacts from all the different mountain tribes in the Cordilleras. Most were made in the mountains but there were some exceptions. Goods from China were traded to the mountain men so Chinese jars, like some of the jars from the San Diego wreck, were among a family's most prized possessions. Even more so than trophy skulls, but more on that later.

It's interesting how much these mountain tribes are like some of the other former headhunting tribesmen I saw in Borneo. The clothing, houses, headhunting and even music instruments were very similar, despite the distance between them and the cultural differences between them and the lowland Filipinos.

HOTEL: Burnham Suites

The Park View. I think it used to be, anyway.

I got a reasonably priced family room here for $125 with a park view. The park view perfectly complimented my bay view from two days prior. The Suites are located on the backside of Burnham Park, the big green park surrounding a picturesque lake full of colorful little paddle boats. We had a perfect view of the shanty town on the park's backside and some of the trees. Buildings obscured the rest. Truth be told I don't care for Baguio, it's like the small-scale mountain equivalent of Manila. Really it was a waste of cash as by time we were done sightseeing it was late and we had to leave at 4 A.M. the next morning.

DAY FOUR: Kaingan & Banaue

The village of Gurei, just outside Mt. Pulag National Park. You can practically smell the pines through the computer. If you can't sniff an air freshner or down some gin while looking at this image and get back to me.

I didn't get any sleep in the van. The mountain roads are very bumpy and it was several hours of non-stop turning and going up and down mountains. I was pretty sick for the first few hours until Oli gave me a generic Pepto-Bismol tab to quell the nausea. The mountain scenery was very beautiful and the fresh air was heavily permeated with the sweet scent of pine trees. The only thing this hard-wooded mountain land had in common with the rest of the country was the shanties built on or over the cliff edges, though unlike the lowlands it didn't feel like one long string the entire trip.

Alex, the tour guide who set us up with the van originally wasn't part of the deal but that morning he showed up anyway and rode shotgun. At first we weren't happy as it felt as if he was angling for something the entire time. Like he was trying to find ways to cheat us out of some money. Turns out he was just really good tour guide.

Kaingan overlook on the Chico River. Far more impressive in real life, I swear.

About mid-day we paused in Kaingan to take pictures at on overlook near the Chico River. He asks us if we want to see where Yamashita surrendered, which was an obvious yes. We took a small detour through the town of Kaingan to the Kaingan National Shrine, which looks like a stylized and over-sized Ifugao hut, but is actually the surrender site. Not the prettiest or best kept shrine but still worth going just to say you did. There's not much here about the actual surrender, no pictures or artifacts. Just a wooden relief inside the shrine that rises high into the unlit shrine and is very hard to see beyond the parts lowest to the ground. When I say 'surrender,' I mean turned himself over to Allied forces. He signed the instrument of surrender at Camp John Hay, near Baguio. There's a nice observation point at the top of the shrine with a stern warning to all teenagers and probably a few adults, "Strictly no DATING inside. Viewing Only." I asked what DATING is, thinking dat-ting is some kind of Tagalog word. Nope, just dating. I guess this place was the Lover's Lane of Kaingan and this is how they put a stop to it.

Kaingan Shrine, site of Yamashita's surrender and the Makeout Point of Kaingan.

The view that puts you in a mackin' mood.

On the shrine grounds is the Ifuago Museum, which has many of the same tribal artifacts of the Baguio Museum, but whereas Baguio covered many mountain tribes this one covers only the Ifugao.

Ifugao Museum; unlike the Baguio Museum they let me take pictures. You rock Ifugao!

Audrey being adorable. I could make the entire travelogue of just that and I don't think anyone would complain.

See those guys riding atop the jeepney that goes up mountains? That's nothing...

What epic looks like. Ifugao Rice Terraces at Banaue. As soon as we saw the terraces I wanted to stop and get a picture but Alex insisted we keep driving until we got this spot for the best view. It certainly was excellent.

Another view.

We made Banaue early afternoon. The town is built along the mountainside and in a few flat spots in the valley as well as between rice terraces and paddies. The Ifugao Rice Terraces were amazing, it's hard to properly convey the vastness of them. Sides of mountains terraformed into steps that reached into the valley and started up the next mountain. Beautifully shaped rice paddies of green and brown filled the view from good vantage points. The Ifugao, descendants of a Southeast Asian people who also immigrated to southern Japan, built these terraces 2000 years ago over the course of 500 years.  Their achievement graces the back of both the 20 and 1000 peso bills. We took pictures at the view worth a thousand pesos and posed with a congenial older Ifugao gentleman in full tribal garb wielding a spear.

Spear wielding... like a boss. Not shown: He also wore traditional Ifugao Crocs. His teeth are red-stained from betel nut chewing, which is as disgusting as tobacco chewing but it's bright red. There are No Spitting signs all over Banaue, usually next to a red-spattered soda can.

Our tour guide was familiar with this area so he also took us to the Banaue Museum, which again, same stuff as the Ifugao Museum but this time with lot variety. Oh and a human skull. Did I mention the Ifugao were headhunters? They were until the 1920s when the Americans made them stop. The Spanish were never able to fully conquer this area, they controlled it but the Catholic church was never able to make any in roads or convert the natives and they eventually decided dealing with people who adorn their abodes with the skulls of their enemies simply wasn't worth it. Protestant missionaries came in as doctors and teachers in the early 20th century. Their less heavy-handed approach won over a lot of the mountain peoples making this one of the few areas of the Philippines that is not predominantly Catholic besides the Moro controlled areas. Back to the headhunting, they stopped until World War II when some took up the practice again and used it against the Japanese.

Traditional Ifugao huts at Hiwang Village. They were surrounded by fine stone and woodwork.

Alex also took us to Hiwang Village, which was one of the highlights of our trip. It looks like a series of old fashioned Ifugao huts but the first pair are actually full of stone and wood artifacts. Not the work of a single craftsman but rather the accumulated work of native craftsman over the course of generations. Some are depictions of the rice god, an obvious deity in the land of endless rice, but there were also stone Buddhas and finely detailed animals. Then there were the other artifacts, old coal-fueled irons which every museum seemed to have, a Japanese sword with a European style hilt and a Japanese helmet. Outside was the skull that came with it. More skulls here, many strapped to carabao, Asian water buffalos, skulls because the only thing better than a skull trophy is a skull trophy with more skulls tied to it.

You know what I like to decorate my skulls with? More skulls. The big horned one in the center is a carabao skull.

The village was another rice terrace picture vantage point, and as we climbed higher to each successive hut in the village we had another different view to see the terraces. While we were up here the weather abruptly changed from bright and sunny to overcast. A fog descended and then it rained. Sitting under cover of a hut we watched the rain and fog play off the terraces and the mountains developed smoky tops.

The rice terraces in a light rain.

It's not all skulls and more skulls here. Hiwang is a repository for traditional Ifugao stone and woodwork.

To quote Velma Dinkley, "What a ham."

The town of Banaue itself is a big shantytown, like a modern day version of an old west city in the mountains. Or that town in the latest Tomb Raider. The first restaurant we went to the owner pretended we didn't exist and the other patrons glared at us. We ate at the eclectic Las Vegas Lodge & Restaurant which was full of old knick-knacks, Aussie stuff and a pregnant cat. Oli said the only thing missing for this place to be a folk bar was someone jamming on a guitar. Then after our waiter served us he pulled out an acoustic guitar, his buddy grabbed a set of drums and they began to play 3 Doors Down and classic rock tunes.

Banaue city center, the city itself is spread all over the mountainside.

Fun Fact: They really love American country music here. A lot.

Viva Las Vegas!

We had our first scare here. The road was tight and we couldn't leave the van in the street so Alex and our driver  drove off. After lunch he didn't answer his phone for over fifteen minutes and we were afraid they drove off with our stuff. No, I hadn't paid him yet. I gave him 7000 of the price with the rest when we got to Alderaan.  Alex had just dozed off thankfully and they picked us up shortly after.

Tam-An Village

Modern traditional Ifugao huts. They, like almost every other building in the Philippines this time of year, are covered in political ads extolling you to vote for your favorite cousin or celebrity.

Before leaving the next morning for Sagada we descended from our hotel hilltop to the village of Tam-an, which unlike Hiwang is a real working village of rice terrace tenders and of course souvenir shops. The first one we stopped at immediately rolled out their ancestors bones and offered to let us play with them. Hell yes I'm going to play with grandpa's bones! I sincerely doubt they were real but the whole thing was so amusing it was worth the 300 pesos they asked. They said that since they don't roll out the bones for just anyone, just the first people to pop in apparently, they have to sacrifice a chicken and that bird is 300 pesos.

In some ways it was like a trip to Daria's bedroom. There was an Alice in Chains song going through my head when we shot this.

After that Jimmy, the shop owner, with a toddler on his shoulders, took us down and through the rice terraces. The terrace edges are just wide enough for walking on and mostly safe so we followed him through the terraces to another part of Tam-an, this one with metal versions of traditional huts and like everything else around here during this election season, plastered with campaign posters for the local politician. He said eventually they'll turn that area into a more traditional Ifugao village and offered to bring us back after lunch to watch a traditional dance. We would have liked to but we needed to get going and after returning to the hotel, which going back up the hill really took it out of my companions a lot more than I would have though, we left for Bontoc.

Viewing a terrace from a terrace

The Banaue Hotel is at the top of the mountain, I think we went down then back up 300 feet.

While in Tam-an we did see a real interesting sight, children playing a game that looked like bowling with a yo-yo. A set of wooden yo-yo tops were set up like pins and the child would wind a chord around his yo-you then launch it at the pins to knock them over.

Before leaving Jimmy also offered me a betel nut, which as a member of the US Navy I'm not legally allowed to even try as it's technically a drug. Betel nut chewing is very common here and you can tell the chewers by their red teeth. In town I'd noticed signs stating that spitting  wasn't allowed and nearby would be cans covered in red spit, which is somehow more disgusting than regular tobacco spit cups.

HOTEL: Banaue Hotel

Finally, a room with a real view. I took this from our balcony.

We stayed at the Banaue Hotel, which was erected by Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and is the only decent hotel in town. Marcos may have done a lot of horrible things like martial law and assassinations, but the man has probably done more than anyone else to promote Filipino culture and heritage. The hotel had a cozy  hunting lodge atmosphere to it, but no air conditioning or wifi. Luckily the credit card reader in the front office was working that day and I was able to afford our room, which was about $60. Our room had  an incredible terrace view and a balcony to enjoy it on, which we did several times that day. The aircon was unnecessary anyway as we just left the balcony door open at night.

The hotel restaurant had a good Filipino buffet and warns you'll be charged for whatever you take but don't finish. I didn't test their threat.

Sunrise from my balcony

It's good the credit card reader chose to work that day because there is no bank in Banaue and the ATM exists solely to screw with silly outsiders. I think these people barter with chickens and rice.

I hope you enjoyed the travelogue so far, next we'll continue the journey to Bontoc and Sagada.

Philippines Vacation 2013: Manila-Capas

Philippines Vacation 2013: Bontoc-Sagada

Ghosts of Seattle

Mariveles, Bataan Province, Philippines

This metal 'Soldier's Grave' is part of the Death March Memorial at Kilometer 0, where the march began in Mariveles. An identical sculpture is on Corregidor as well. We found this by accident, we were driving to the bancay boats to get to Corregidor when we missed our turn. I noticed the Death March marker we passed said "2 km" on it, so I asked our driver if he could go another two kilometers before turning around. Sure enough two kilometers down the road, across the the beach and nestled in a quiet little park next to a Jollibee fast food restaurant was the Death March Kilometer 0 Memorial Park.

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