Baguio: Brr, Blooms, BenCab, and Beshies (Part II)

For Part I, click here.

***

I am writing the second part of this blog feeling exactly the way how Day 2 in our little Baguio trip turned out – que sera sera.

We woke up the next day feeling more at home in the chilly city. Not bragging but I never used a heater going into the shower during our three-night and two-day stay. The cold never bothered me anyway, so says the Frozen song. I’m strong like that.

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BenCab Museum was the non-negotiable first item in our Day 2 ‘itinerary’. And it wouldn’t be an overstatement that the museum visit was the highlight of our trip. We are not art enthusiasts but that’s the point – we came into an uncharted territory because we were ready to learn new things.

I am not entirely aware of who BenCab is, but I do know he is a National Artist with a considerable prominence and relevance in the Filipino art scene. I also remember a random TV report which said Iza Calzado would be playing ‘Sabel’ in a musical based in the work of BenCab.

Now it was time to see his work.

If there would be any takeaway from being in close contact with a National Artist’s work, it would be that pride to be Filipino – something BenCab champions up to this day by supporting young artists whose work are also exhibited in the galleries of his museum. By portraying the Filipino identity in his canvas, BenCab is able to immortalize for the times who we are and will always be as a people.

It was past noon when we left BenCab Museum, and naturally very hungry. After a quick drop at the house we were staying in, we proceeded to grab lunch at one of this restaurants in the city center called Steaks and Toppings. The food was familiar, tasty, and best of all, filling.

We had such a hearty lunch that we couldn’t decide where to go next. Until came a surprise.

Suddenly, the roving police car advised the pedestrians to clear the lane because apparently there will be a parade. Yes, a parade! We almost forgot it was Chinese New Year.

So the next thing we knew, we were lining along the sidewalks anticipating the passage of different floats, drum corps, dragon dance performers and what not. It was a very festive parade celebrating Chinese traditions. We also had so much fun trying to catch and collect candies being tossed from floats.

Plus, who would have thought we’d also see Igorot performers live?

By obligation, SM Baguio was the refuge we headed to after a long day.  We soon grabbed dinner and headed to bed because we would leave early the next day.

***

Baguio City, amidst it cold breeze, received us warmly and with such comfort. I am specifically thrilled of how well mannered the taxi drivers are, and how efficient the transport is, save for the peak hours of course. It is also commendable how they strive to keep their public places clean against the surge of tourists year-round.

Truth to be told, we have so much more to see and explore in this little city but that’s the beauty of it – you can always come back with new eyes to see new sights and build new memories. So until we see again, Baguio. xx

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Baguio: Brr, Blooms, BenCab, and Beshies (Part I)

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Baguio is dubbed the summer capital of the Philippines because of its climate, but there’s more to the city than just the cold. Located around 5,000 feet above sea level, Baguio is also called the ‘City of Pines’ and is famous for its strawberries. BUT, we did not go to there for the strawberries. In fact, we deliberately avoided the strawberry farms or follow a concrete itinerary. It was mostly spontaneous.

Our first agenda was dinner – we were all hungry after settling in our backpacks in the transient house, which we booked from home.

 

First logical thing to do was walk around the city centre and spot some place that fits our taste and budget. And so we walked along Session Road and found this noodle house –Ersao – that served comfort food. Next thing we knew – it was upon us – dinner! (Trivia: It was the first time I ever used chopsticks as an eating implement – and the store hasn’t even made its official launch when we ate there. Talk lucky.)

And then it happened – night life! Found this very chill hangout place somewhere in Ampersand, it’s called Sala. The place was very cozy, and seemed to be peopled by mostly young adults and even students chilling after exam week. And we played Jenga, of all things!

We went back to our home for 3 nights – weary, tipsy, and ready to hug our beds goodnight. The next day would be long.

Day 1

Considering it was a week before Penagbenga and coincidentally the Long Weekend for Chinese New Year, we have already anticipated the throng of people in public parks. We weren’t wrong.

For one, Mine’s View Park was ‘di mahulugang karayom. It was impossible to take a photobomber-less shot with the overlooking view of the mountains – although you can always wait for people to clear out of your frame, and maybe do the next best thing – crop people out in the post production.

Well I can’t blame them as the view was just breathtaking.

The Good Shepherd Convent, where the nuns make the most famous pasalubong, was also peppered with tourists who were queuing just to get a taste of special delicacies including strawberry jam, ube jam, and what not.

We had a good walk so lunch had to be nothing short of rewarding.  Cinco Antonio Bistro, just a few meters away from Mines View Park, had just what we needed – a big, homey meal with a view no less.

It was a park raid so Wright Park was right (pun intended) next on the list. It was somewhat a terrible idea after a big lunch – ascending to the upper area and into The Mansion. But the view of the pine trees and sunflowers everywhere was enough reward.

Up next was Baguio Botanical Garden, where as you would guess, nature is solace. Considering the city’s climate, flowers grow and bloom abundantly, hence Penagbenga which literally means season of blooming. There was no shortage of blooms of all colors. It was florgasmic! (I made this term up, obvi.)

Just before the day ended, we headed to Burnham Park and man, it was c r o w d e d. If anything, it looked like a market than a park to me – and yes, you can wear sandos and feel like you’re somewhere else because the people pollute the air. LOL. Although we got to check out the amazing garden contest exhibit for the Penagbenga Festival, and also bought pasalubong. (Hint: Good Shepherd products are quite pricier here than from where they are made, so that explains the long lines.)

We headed home, freshened up and went back for dinner – yes, at Burnham Park again because we had shawarma cravings, and for some reason, there was just too many joints that sell them in the park – I am still baffled.

But the real main agenda of the night was the famous Night Market. It’s a whole strip of tiangge, ukay-ukay, and also food stalls that will overwhelm your poor, weak shopaholic soul. There should have been an ‘Enter at your own risk warning’. So much that all I got was a 20-peso jacket that I would probably never ever wear.

Overall, the first two nights plus a day was enough to introduce me to Baguio – a melting point of nature plus people.

Part II coming up.

Something About Siargao

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So finally, I got to watch an MMFF movie a week after the film fest itself, because (1) I hate crowded cinemas, (2) The screening of the movies that I thought were worth watching is usually delayed in my city, and (3) I was waiting for the reviews. Yes, I read reviews FIRST before watching because I don’t want getting disappointed. And I’m not worried about spoilers because the reviewers I read aren’t a**holes.

Obviously (hello title) I watched Siargao starring Jericho Rosales, Erich Gonzales, and Jasmine Curtis Smith, and directed and produced by Paul Soriano under his Tent 17 Production. We all know the movie raked in a few awards from the MMFF including Best Picture Runner Up, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for Jasmine.

So on with my ‘review’ (Charot Review if you may).

I liked the movie, that’s given. It was well made technically with very glossy imagery and aesthetics, taking advantage of the beauty that is Siargao. For most part, it felt like the whole point of the film was to tell its viewers to come and experience the titular island or maybe learn how to surf.

There is no problem in that.

BUT if you came to the cimena expecting to make hagulgol or open old wounds in your life, then this is not the movie. It is not a movie that will make all types of audiences affected.

It was visual rather than emotional.

An echoserong reviewer friend who watched the movie ahead of me said “the storyline was flat and if not for the mainstream actors, the movie would be boring.” That can be a little harsh but true. The closest to a climax or the conflict one could get was that part where Diego sang in a fair. It felt like there was barely a story to be told.

You can even call it an advocacy film, considering how much emphasis has been put on cleaning the oceans and preserving nature.

But then, maybe, it was the point of the movie. You come to Siargao as a tourist, you meet people, you learn just a little about them, probably ‘kiss them at a party’ and then you leave with the memories.

And then maybe come back again like waves do. But will you stay? Maybe. If you’re a surfer.

 

 

’12’ is about finding youself

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We were supposed to cancel movie date night because the weather was terrible in the morning thanks to #SalomePH. Good thing it turned better in the afternoon, but little did we know we were about to watch another storm.

 

The movie 12, in a nutshell, was 90 minutes’ worth of conversation on how love can make you lose yourself.

 

That the circumstances and insights are realistic and honest is a given. It gives you that glimpse of how a seemingly perfect relationship of maybe someone you know can suddenly take a dreaded detour, crumble, and shatter. That is thanks to screenplay by the talented Alessandra de Rossi who has been on a roll lately. (Speaking of, you’d get a glimpse of Tonyo just saying, yeah I spoiled that!)

 

Speaking of screenplay, the film was all about dialogue, literally and figuratively. For 90 minutes there, you become a friend eavesdropping in a conversation between your friend and her boyfriend. And maybe, you would get a feel of wanting to cry with them, comfort them with a hug, or actually hit them with something because you can’t stand the situation.

 

Also, it was about talking – an activity that many relationships tend to forgo or forget. At some point, Erika (played by Alessandra) said, “Yung iniyak ko nung seven years iniyak ko ngayong buong araw.” I guess that is the biggest insight one could take from the movie – talk to your loved one, and I mean communicate, discuss, debate, argue, confide, fight – there are so many ways you could say it – talk so that the other person knows what you really think, what you really want, and what you really are.

 

While Alessandra sashayed the role of Erika effortlessly, something could be said for Ivan Padilla who played Anton. Nitpicking here, but his Tagalog can be quite distracting. But there is a weird sense of comedy in that too, like becoming the punchline itself. Also, why so galit kuya? Or maybe, he was the foil intentionally placed there to stand against Alex’s thespian.

 

Leaving the cinema, you might have to ask, ‘Yun nay un?’ and yes, that’s already it. They just gave you what they wanted to talk about. Some things you need to find for yourself, the same way you must find yourself.

 

P.S. I need that song right now.

 

What Lasts in Last Night

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I had the perfect mood to think about this review while nakasabit sa jeep, feeling the polluted air against my cheeks, and staring at the moon on my way home #LastNight

Because I had read some reviews before actually watching the film, I have already set questions and expectations for myself. The reviews were mixed, and I understand why there were a couple of not so pleasant ones. It’s not a movie that everybody will like.

In fact, it’s hard to file the Bb. Joyce Bernal film into a certain genre. Is it a romance? A romcom? A dark romcom? A horror film? Nevermind. What’s sure is that it’s nothing like a film you see all the time from Star Cinema, props partly go to the screenplay by Bela Padilla.

Going back to my “questions”, it didn’t take half an hour to find my answer, because there were just too many clues given early in the film. The symbolism were a little too obvious at least for me, or maybe because I had a preset bias early on. Also, the end half gave out so much. It chose to tell rather than show. Somehow the mystery that the film tried to build got lost.

But I digress.

The film tackles suicide. I understand how some movie watchers called it out for “trivializing” and “simplifying” an otherwise very complex condition. My guess is that the story struggled to decide what it wanted, and maybe it settled to showing an unusual ‘love story’, first and foremost.

In that case, the film delivered. Toni and Piolo played roles that fit them. I have to say Toni’s final scenes showcased a different side to her, vulnerable and almost real.

All things in, Last Night was a new experience. More than the flaws, what matters is how it makes you feel leaving the cinema. And I did take away some feelings, which is something because otherwise I’m dead inside. Sabeh?

Out of a 100: 100 Tula Para Kay Stella

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We walked into a quite packed cinema to watch the LFS; we were 10 minutes early, and had to be seated at the front because there were barely any other nice seats. It was surprising to see a lot of students among the crowd, considering this wasn’t a film featuring a popular love team with an established fan base. And this was not a rom-com either.

So the film opened with JC Santos’ Fidel who has this speech defect (stuttering), a college freshman, 17! I thought it was hard to believe he was 17 but anyways. The opening sequences already right away established a throwback feel – mid2000s and I bet a lot of the young watchers couldn’t get the allusions. I felt old at that point.

You know it’s a Jason Paul Laxamana work when it’s set in Pampanga, but there was little attempt to make it a “local film”. In fact, it could have been set anywhere else. The movie would still work.

Okay so I won’t attempt to make this ‘review’ technical because I know nothing on those aspects anyway. Although I can say the attention to detail to subtly establish the milieu was impressive. In terms of the look, the film didn’t offer something groundbreaking (not that it needs to), but I think it works in a way that you know this was a rather simple, laid-back storytelling to make you feel feels rather that a self-proclaimed cinematic masterpiece to set technical standards. Hanash.

Anyways, JC Santos and Bela Padilla were charming, effective, and affecting. Perfect casting. JC is so awkward as Fidel. Bela, although she does not really fit the mold as a wannabe rockstar, has infused her usual charisma into Stella’s character. Ana Abad Santos delivered, as expected, as a mentor to JC’s Fidel. (However, her character’s backstory felt out of place IMHO even when it was supposed to make sense in the end). Dennis Padilla was surprisingly pleasant to watch as a doting father to Fidel. All the other support characters didn’t really leave so much to me. Oh Prince Stefan was there to, as himself basically.

You can expect many singing moments that I was almost convinced it was a musical. There are a lot of allusions to the music scene of the 2000s and to a point, the film has used this as a punchline (AKA cringe-worthy cowboys). And quintessential artist JC sings in here, too. So he’s smart, a poet, and can sing. And a great person. So why Stella?

Now the story. I won’t spoil so no worries. Very generally speaking, 100 Tula Para Kay Stella is about chances missed, choices made, and consequences faced. It’s ultimately about love kept, given, unrequited – in the words of Fidel, too much love can make your world crumble to pieces. And yuck it’s corny.

Well, I don’t feel worthy to pass criticism but I wish the film didn’t have to expose the story that much, or left more unanswered questions so we could talk it out later.

But then again, Fidel needed some closure so he could move forward, and so did we.

What I Saw in Kita Kita

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This will be my very first attempt at film review in a blog. And I am sorry if this will be nothing like one, but let me proceed.

As a moviegoer, I look for three things in a film: Story; Visuals; Insight. Kita Kita, directed by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo and starring the unlikely pair #AlEmpoy, that is, Alessandra de Rossi and Empoy Marquez, delivered in these three aspects.

Story. This was a rom-com but not quite. Or maybe because we are so used to the formula we get to be served almost every month that offerings like Kita Kita which break the mold become a breath of fresh air.

Without having to reveal so much (besides my keyboard would not sufficiently do so), the film opens with Lea, a tourist guide based in Japan whose two-year relationship with a Japanese guy named Nobu begins to crash. An incident leading to the temporary loss of her eyesight (as the title suggests) leads her to meeting Tonyo, who makes her see things differently (pun intended).

Quite typical for a storyline? Right, but it is the smallish albeit essential details that really deliver the package, and maybe triggers the tears. It was an experience – bicycling up a hill, reaching the apex, and then finally slipping downhill.

Visuals. Shot entirely in Japan, particularly in Sapporo, the film capitalizes on its setting to create not only stunning frames but (should also) evoke moods for the scenes – whimsical, fresh, and panoramic that you’re almost there. There is a certain feel of lightness and simplicity in the photography.

And did I mention Empoy and Alessandra looked surprisingly pleasant together?

Insight. It doesn’t always end up happy in life, but what we leave behind in people matters and lasts. That would probably be the most non-romantic takeaway one could get leaving the cinema.

Aside from the fact that you’d probably not look at paper cranes, banana mascots, and cabbages the same way again.

#LostInIlocos | Old City

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”- Martin Buber

(Part 3 of 3) Day 3. Vigan City Where the Old meets the New

We woke up already feeling consumed by the heat and weary of the last two days, but this was our most awaited part of the tour so no one’s complaining! And it started really full of spice as we dropped by a souvenir buying area where the best of Ilocos spices are sold – locally produced suka, basi, onions, and garlic, among others.

We met our new tour guide (the one we had during the first two days was a newbie so you probably know what I mean) who gave us supplemental info on the places we visited. And it changed so much about how we appreciated the places. Where were you “Manang” when we needed you? Also, she shared a few Ilocano phrases and words, and even tips on how to get tawad when we buy souvenirs.

And then we head to Ilocos Sur! Two hours from Laoag, we reached Baluarte, which I already had an idea about following the Miss Universe Pageant held in the Philippines early this year. This mini zoo was one of the spots visited by the candidates during their tour, and it’s not surprising because the zoo is owned by no less than Former Ilocos Sur governor and businessman Chavit Singson who also was a major sponsor of the pageant hosting. Talk about a rich man.

The free-admission zoo (applause) features some wild birds and land animals although the main attraction is Chavit’s golden mansion! But besides that, there is a safari museum where preserved animals are on display; but not just any wild animals but those that the main man has hunted himself, and he got proof!

And then we explored the rest of Vigan City! St Paul’s Cathedral is huge! And the details of the interior are gorgeous. There are gold trimmings in the ceiling and the altar’s baroque scrolls and curves. There is opulence in almost everything.

And then a few meters away, there’s Calle Crisologo! This was truly the highlight and most-awaited part of the trip. And did I mention it was also my birthday that day? The City of Vigan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for preserving its Spanish Period architecture, while seamlessly integrating commercial and modern spaces. And this is pretty evident in Calle Crisologo no less. I mean, the photos speak for themselves.

Vigan is also a one-stop shop for all sorts of souvenirs you can think of – food, shirts, bags, wallets, antique items, and thousands of key chains to choose from and more! Don’t forget to try the sorbetes and the mangga with alamang!

If this was not enough, we also enjoyed a caleza ride strolling around Vigan for an hour, with drop-offs at certain important landmarks. One of which is the Bantay Watch Tower, which you can climb up to the very top. The tower, just like the other churches we have reached so far in Ilocos, is detached from the main church (St Augustine of Hippo Parish Church). Another peculiarity of this belfry is that you need to ascent a brick stairway to reach the top, or maybe just stay at the stairs and strut your best stuff like a supermodel would.

***

Celebrating my 26th in the heritage city of Vigan has been an item I can now tick off the bucket list and then it’s more than that! The entire three-day Ilocandia tour, for a fact, has been a phenomenal experience thanks to the loads of fun, food, fanfare, and friendship shared with lovely people. Sunburn aside, we have so much takeaway from this quick trip – quirky souvenirs, tons of photos, funny anecdotes that we’d rather keep to ourselves for the meantime, and best of all, the picture of a thousand warmest smiles the people of Ilocos have shown that made us feel most welcome rather than #LostInIlocos.

 

#LostInIlocos | Wind, Warmth, Water

“Travel, in the younger sort, is a part of education; in the elder, a part of experience.”- Francis Bacon

(Part 2 of 3) DAY 2. Pagudpud Strolling

Mornings at Ilocos are always warm. Considering how the previous day went, it was already expected that another grueling second day will be up for us under the blazing sun. And we can’t complain.

First item on the itinerary is Cape Bojeador Lighthouse which is also known as Burgos Lighthouse named after the town where it is located. Built during the Spanish era, the structure may be reached through a quick tricycle ride for 50 pesos (max of three people) upwards and another ride down to the highway. Be prepared to take beautiful snaps of the scenic surroundings – the lake and greenery from the tower base. And to this date, the lighthouse still functions.

The Kapurpurawan Rock Formation in Bangui is difficult to reach. You would need a 100-peso horse ride to the site itself, although you can use a trail for walking. Well, we sadly did not risk reaching the rock formation as it was severely scorching, so we just bought some souvenirs at the shops by the seaside nearby and took photos of the Bangui Windmills at the same location.

We had lunch at Pagudpud, where one of the eateries served, wait for it, BAGNET! Okay, to be honest, bagnet is simply our lechon kawali but according to locals, the secret to their famed dish is in the way it is cooked. Apparently, they deep-fry the large pork parts three times to achieve the best balance of tender and crunch. Well, it did not disappoint. Perfect paired with the Ilocano Pinakbet which does not have kalabasa.

After our quick lunch, we also had time to take photos of and with the Windmills in Pagudpud. Ilocos Norte must really be bent on harnessing green energy through their initiatives because aside from their windmills in Burgos, Bangui, and Pagudpud, they also started a solar power plant to help supply and sustain their energy needs. Go green!

The Patapat Viaduct is interesting as it connects Ilocos Norte to the Cagayan Valley Region. More than the scenic view of the Pacific, tourists also enjoy taking risky photos literally ‘on the edge’ although not advised.

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Finally, to wrap up Day 2 we visited the Blue Lagoon where the prominent Hannah’s Resort and Convention Center is located. The beach was literally peppered with tourists when we came, coincidentally since it was both Holy Week and Summer Vacation season. Aside from swimming, other activities that could be tried are zipline (which they say one of the longest there is in the world) and aquatic rides offered by Hannah’s.

I was hoping I could get me some vitamin sea but the beach was overpopulated and I don’t think it was the time of the year when the ocean was prettiest. But then, some real nice strawberry ice scramble (slurpee meets shake) and the view of the ocean was enough to cap off Day 2.

 

#LostInIlocos | City of Sunshine

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” -Marcel Proust

(Part 1 of 3) DAY 1. Laoag City. The City of Sunshine.

The first thing we feasted on in Ilocos was their famed empanada – a stuffed bread commonly sold on the sidewalks. What makes the Ilocano empanada special is the use of unripe grated papaya instead of the usual potatoes; they also fill the flour bun with bean sprouts, a whole egg, and of course, the Ilocano longganisa. Best of all, it can be cooked while you wait which means you’ll enjoy it crisp and warm.

And that was the warm welcome we received before officially starting our three-day tour of Ilocandia. Our first destination was Paoay Church (or the St. Augustine Church) in Ilocos Norte famous for its expansive courtyard and delicate baroque architecture, which earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site accolade. Interestingly, the bell tower is separate from the main church.

According to our second tour guide (who we’ll meet on the third day), there are a number of reasons why the bell towers are separate from the main church. First, the towers were built way before the church. Second, detaching the bell tower is also a form of protection against earthquake damage. Thirdly, the bell towers were originally used not as bell towers per se, but as observational posts of the revolutionaries against the Spaniards. History baby!

St. William’s Cathedral is located right at the heart of Laoag City. Similar to Paoay Church, its bell tower, famously known as the Sinking Bell Tower, is quite far from the main church, this time by around 100 meters. According to folks, the tower sinks because its main foundation is soft sand.

Upon entrance to the Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Center also in Laoag City, you are greeted by a video presentation on Marcos’ reign and a display of some of his portraits, among other important memorabilia. The two-storey center also features some of Imelda Marcos’ custom ternos on display. Trivia: Marcos courted Imelda for only 11 days, according to one of the exhibits!

The Malacañang of the North boasts a scenic view of the Paoay Lake. According to belief, the lake was once a thriving village whose inhabitants were extremely materialistic. A curse came to drown the area in water after the people denied a mystic stranger something to drink or feed on. The lake is supposedly shaped like a palm with five fingers.

Back to the Malacañang building, it is home to old furniture used by the Presidential family during Marcos’ reign. The two-story house has been preserved to showcase the best local architecture and cutlery Ilocos has to offer. It’s an understatement to say antique lovers and collectors would surely have a time of their life going around Ilocos.

Sta. Monica Church in Sarrat is known to be the largest church in Ilocos Norte. Its long aisle makes it ideal for weddings, reason why it has also been a choice location for movies and TV shows. Another attraction is the ruins (Casa del Palacio Real) to the right of the church. The red brick façade and interior make the spot perfect for prenup shoots and even themed wedding receptions.

La Paz Sand Dunes, now called Laoag Sand Dunes was our last destination for the first day of tour. Under the dessert-like heat, there are activities one could try such as the 4×4 ride or sand surfing. But the heat is unbearable even when just taking photos or strolling. The struggle is real.

NIGHT STROLL AT LAOAG CITY. This was not part of the tour but since we headed to our accommodation early, we decided to explore the city by ourselves during the night. And it was still scorching even when the sun was down. There is no scarcity in lights and fountains – that was my first impression. And as someone who loves me some art, the umbrella street art installation which copied the one in Portugal was a sight to behold. Truly Instagram-worthy! We also got to go nearer to the Sinking Bell Tower before grabbing some fries at McDonalds because why not?