On Climbing Mountains...

Trip Start Feb 19, 2012
Trip End Mar 22, 2012

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Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Tue, Mar 13-16, 2012

Today I woke up so nauseated that I couldn't keep my breakfast down, I finally had to admit that I wasn't up to riding a bus all day so we stayed an extra day while I recuperated from whatever it was I had. I think it must have been that fresh squeezed lemonade I had in the mall that night. It looked so good at the time but, I should know better than to have something that needs to be made with unboiled water and ice, both of which can be made with tap water at some place that tends to cater to the general public and not tourists. I ended up sleeping most of the day while my stomach rejected everything I tried to put in it.

The next morning I was feeling better, still not back to normal but, at least I wasn't constantly fighting the nausea. So, we packed up and caught the bus to Baguio. It took us seven hours to get to Baguio instead of six. Baguio so by the time we got into town, it was late enough that we decided to stay over and then look into going to Sagada.

The British established Baguio as a hill town station due to the cooler temperatures high in the hills of Northern Luzon where they could escape from the heat of the coast. Later, the Americans took this development further, with better roads and colleges, something the Americans did all over the Philippines. Baguio is now a major college town with so many colleges and universities that the town is crawling with students. Dave and I were guessing that somewhere around 70 percent of the population consisted of college age students. This is one of the most crowded towns we have been to in the Philippines and the majority of the population on the streets were under 25. The town feels like one giant campus.

Not only is Baguio in the hills, it is on the hills...duh...which means the roads are steep, crisscrossing, zigzagging, confusing switchbacks that meant getting lost was easy and a lot of work when we had to backtrack. We used taxis in the town a lot more than we normally do because of it.

Baguio is also the most air-polluted town we have been to in the Philippines. We thought by heading up into the hills we were going to find fresh mountain air...soooo wrong! The air was THICK with black, stinky diesel fumes from the thousands of taxis and jeepneys constantly driving around the town. The air was so bad, I felt constantly short of breath and had a constant headache. I'm not sure if my lack of appetite was due to my illness from the other day but, the whole time I was in Baguio, I could hardly eat anything...nothing sounded good or tasted good to me. I had no desire to eat but, of course I had to eat something...which turned out to be mostly fresh-baked Pan de sal...bread rolls. I find it ironic that thousands of Filipino families are sending their young away from home to this polluted town to become educated in hopes of bettering their lives...and in fact...endangering their health by doing so.

The other thing that stood out to Dave and I about this town is that it is the first town we've been to in the Philippines where the drivers do not seem to respect pedestrians. In fact, there are signs posted everywhere warning pedestrians not to jaywalk. The cars do not slow down if you are trying to cross the street...they will mow you down and of course the traffic is constant since there are very few traffic lights in any town in the Philippines. The locals...relatively speaking since the majority of the population are students sent here from somewhere else in the Philippines...actually look cautious when crossing the streets and often run across. This is so contrary to any other town I have been to in the Philippines or Asia for that matter that I'm really curious why it has occurred here. Could it be related to the fact that the town consists of mostly young people who are not really from here?

Of course, there are some good things about Baguio, too. The St. Louis University has a wonderful museum of history of the native peoples of the Cordillera Mountains. We also found two great stores, Narda's and Teresita's that focus on hand-crafted carving, baskets and textiles, using native techniques. We've been surprised and a little disappointed at how few of these stores we have found in the Philippines. We spent the day touring the museum and then shopping in these two stores.

We had hoped to go on to Sagada but discovered that contrary to what the tourist office told us, Sagada was another six hours away. That meant we would have to spend four days of traveling time and only get one day to actually do something in Sagada. We decided instead to hire a taxi to drive us along the highway to the highest point, stopping along the way for pictures and then driving us back to Baguio. It took us a good hour to escape the cities but, finally, we got to see some of the beauty of the mountains. The Ifuego people of the Cordilleras are known for their terracing rice fields, many of them hundreds of years old. Now, potatoes are more common than rice in these fields, at least in the territory we covered. These mountain slopes reaching somewhere around 9,000 feet no longer have any old growth forest. The entire area has been cultivated. There are a few pines here and there and tiny strips of tropical jungle, hinting at what these hills may have looked liked before they were cultivated...I'm guessing these strips have at least seasonal creeks. My mind kept flashing back to my hikes in the Cascade mountains and comparing those slopes to the Cordillera slopes. The amount of work that went into these steeply terraced fields is impressive but also left me feeling at little sad. This drive turned out to be the perfect solution for seeing the Cordilleras without wasting a lot of time on buses where we can't
take pictures.

We found this great vegetarian restaurant for dinner that night, Oh My Gulay. It's high on the top
floor of this building with an imaginative layout of artsy little nooks and crannies. Art is scattered throughout the restaurant with lofts and balconies surrounding a fairyland atrium in the center.One
could spend hours just walking through the restaurant viewing the art on the walls and stashed in corners. It was great fun and featured many local artists.

We'd had enough of Baguio's fumes though and decided to head back toward Manila the next day. Since we now have time to do something else, we've decided to head to Mt. Pinatubo...the Mt. St. Helens of the Philippines...and maybe even climb it.

Sat, Mar 17, 2012

Today we took a taxi to the bus terminal so I wouldn't have to haul all my gear...now feeling pretty
heavy despite the fact that I haven't really bought many souvenirs. Then it was back on the bus heading for the town of Dau...what looks to be a transit hub and the closest town we can get to by bus from Baguio where we can arrange a trip to Mt. Pinatubo. It was five hours to get to Dau, leaving us plenty of time to arrange our trip. Dau is a scuzball of a town, filled with American men, looking to get laid...we had no idea it was going to be like this. It's the closest town to Clark Air force Base, once an American base but, now used by the Filipino's for the same purpose. Apparently, this town was “servicing” the Americans while it was still an American base and it continues to do so even though the Americans no longer occupy the base. It's the only reason we could think of for why this town is the way that it is. Old habits are hard to break, I guess...the Americans keep “coming” so the Filipino's continue to service them. I really didn't want to admit I was an American in this town.

We ended up staying at the America Hotel in an “Executive Suite” complete with giant wall mirror
angled for the best view of the bed. When this hotel was new, it was probably pretty upscale and it has a lot of American features such as a real bath tub but, it is pitifully run down at this point and there was no way I would take an actual bath in that tub. It had a nice big swimming pool in the center of the court...typical motel construction of the American 50's I would say...but sleazy old American men were sitting all around it. So there was no way I was going for a swim. We did see a Filipino family complete with screaming kids playing in the pool. So, I guess the Filipino's are making use of the hotel too.

We were able to arrange our trip to Mt. Pinatubo through the hotel for a reasonable rate,  comparable to what we would have had to pay even if we had arranged it online ourselves and it saved us from a lot of leg work to get it to happen the next day. That was our primary goal and that was all we really cared about, so we were happy. Also, the food was geared toward American
tastes, making it pretty bland and at this point that was actually a good thing for us. We were just starting to get our appetites back and good old American standards like Clubhouse Sandwiches sounded pretty good. We had dinner and then closed ourselves up in our room and watched TV the rest of the night...and in case any of you are wondering...no, we did not take advantage of the big mirror...the room was just too scuzzy for romance...the sheets were clean though. It wasn't as bad as the hotel from hell in Miri, Borneo (see Borneo blog: http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/lilly_annew/4/1264700882/tpod.html.)

Sun, Mar 18, 2012

We had to get up early today because the driver for the Pinatubo trip, Jun (pronounced June) was picking us up at 6:00 AM. He picked us up in a 4x4 jeep because the first portion of the trip they drive us through some lahar flows, saving us some tedious hiking time. He drove us to the little village town of Santa. Juliana where he picked up all our permits, I'm not sure how many we needed but, that was one of the reasons we scheduled the trip through the hotel...so we wouldn't have to worry about what permits we had to get. Then we stopped at the Pinatubo Spa Town Restaurant...also a spa where you can take a shower using the natural hot springs water and get a massage...where we could put all our luggage into lockers for safe keeping...we weren't planning to return to the hotel or stay in Dau a second night so we were happy to find out they had a way for us to secure our luggage while we were away on our trip. This is also where we picked up our guide, Willie, who will travel with us the rest of the trip. Willie is one of the few Filipinos I've met who was not a happy man. He wore a scowl on his face the entire time of our trip...never smiling once. I asked him toward the end of our trip if he liked his job and he shouted, “No!”  He was also a man of few words, mostly one or two word phrases because he spoke and understood very little English...not the best guide to have but, we didn't let that detour us from having a good time.

We headed up the road from the restaurant and then veered off into the lahar flows. The jeep ride
from here was great fun, driving through bumpy, rocky terrain and crashing through creeks for about 12 miles until we couldn't go any further. We passed many Aeta villagers along the way collecting something from the riverbeds, so I asked Jun what they collecting. He told me dead beetle bodies...I never did figure out from his explanation why they were collecting these. His English wasn't very good either. There were already many jeeps at the stopping point as we were obviously not the first to arrive at this point. We had to pick up a couple passengers along the way because their jeep broke down..thank goodness ours never broke down.

This is where we left our driver, Jun. and continued on by foot. We hiked through a narrow gulley of lahar flow passing many other hikers along the way because Willie was hiking fast and since we could keep up the pace, he wasn't stopping. We stopped whenever we saw a picture opportunity and Willie would grudgingly have to stop to wait for us...constantly urging me to move along but, I ignored his whining...I just smiled back and took my time whenever I wanted a picture. We must have passed over a 100 other hikers so I knew we weren't being too slow...he was just in a hurry to get this thing over with because he hated his job. We had to cross the creek numerous times and at first we struggled to keep from getting our boots wet but, after the second crossing we realized we were going to have to get them wet, we gave it up and just walked right through the creeks...the cool water actually felt great on our hot feet. The trail wasn't that steep and it followed the creek we are guessing another 3 miles through narrow cutouts of lahar walls and then finally some vegetation and actually some bushes and trees until we could finally see the crater lake Mapanuepe. From here we hiked down into the crater to the lake and then climbed into a heavy
wooden boat where another villager rowed us across to the other shore where you could feel the heated water from underground hot springs in the lake.

This villager was wearing an example of a strange fashion phenomenon where the men wear a long sleeve tee shirt on their head, placing the head opening over their eyes, letting the rest of the shirt drape over their head and then using the sleeves to tie it securely around their neck, apparently to give them some relief from the sun. It made me really curious how this fashio started. I have seen it in a couple other locations here and
there but, this fashion is used heavily by the men in this area. I imagine one day, some guy was feeling too hot and used the only thing he had available to shield himself from the sun...his tee shirt. Some other guy saw him doing this and thought, “Hey, that looks like a good idea. I'm going to try it. Then another guy saw him and said, “That's pretty clever, I think I'll try it too.” ...and a new
fashion trend is born.

There was just one other group of people at this shore, Koreans working on a travel video promoting the Philippines as a vacation destination. We had to pay extra for the trip across the lake but, it was worth the price to get away from the rest of the crowd of mostly Filipinos students and get some great pictures and video of the entire crater. The water was pretty hot in spots but the whole lake was not heated. You could see bubbles escaping here and there near the shore. We ate a snack here and Willie didn't even complain. It turns out that we were expected to take a swim in the lake and when we didn't Willie was quite happy to be heading back.

There were hundreds of people swimming in the lake when we got back to the other shore but, we really didn't feel like swimming so we started back before any of the others did, giving us a chance to enjoy the hike in peace and quiet. Willie was like a horse heading home, speeding up the closer we got to home. We were practically jogging by the time we got back but Dave and I still enjoyed the hike back and lunch was waiting for us back at the restaurant so we didn't complain about the breakneck speed...we were hungry. Lunch was probably one of the best meals we've had in the Philippines. They claimed it was Filipino food but, it seemed more like Chinese to us. A pork stir fry with saifoon noodles, a vegetable stir fry with lots of different vegetables, grilled chicken, rice, kang kong, and a really great potato salad using some ingredients we still haven't identified but, we plan to search for a recipe online at some point. I thought maybe some coconut milk was used but, we aren't sure. Unfortunately, we didn't get to ask the cook. After lunch, Jun took us back to the bus terminal where we caught a bus leaving within minutes and we were on our way back to Manila by

We checked back into the Rainbow Hotel...these guys are getting to know us pretty well by now since we've been going back to this hotel each time we stay in Manila. We wanted to try a Japanese restaurant but, so far, our experience has been pretty bad. So we decided we would try one sushi roll to test the quality of the food. It was not very good so we decided to look for something else. We finally ended up eating at the Adriatico Cafe again. Our appetites are still waning and we are having a hard time finding anything we feel like eating. This seems to happen to us every time we go on a long vacation.

Mon, Mar 19, 2012

Today we decided to go to the aquarium which turned out to be walking distance. This is a pretty big aquarium, especially geared towards kids. There were all sorts of special shows for the kids, and you could even buy a dive in the tank with sharks for P995 ($23)...we just went to the aquarium though. We saw a number of new fish we had never seen before. We spent most of the day just at the aquarium. It was well worth the price of P400. Then we did a little shopping at the Robinson's Mall, a huge shopping mall with a main building and two wings each with four floors...we kept getting lost in this mall. We tried a Chinese restaurant this time and it was OK but, the lunch at Spa Town was so much better. Tomorrow is our last day so we plan to shop 'til we drop...I'm looking forward to that.

Tue, Mar 20, 2012

Today we went to the Mall of Asia because it has, reportedly, the biggest book store in the Philippines. Dave is looking for books on Mt. Pinatubo and so far we haven't found one book on the eruption. This is also a very big mall but, we still didn't find any books on Pinatubo. Dave and I split up when we got there and met back up for lunch. Then we caught a taxi and went to this big store full of crafts from the Philippines. This was a great place to shop with everything marked down 50% off. We had a great time shopping at this store...lots of fun items here...wish we could have brought some of the great furniture home with us. When we finished shopping here, Dave headed back to the hotel and I went shopping at Robinson's again...I said I was shopping 'til I dropped, didn't I? When I finally had enough of shopping I went back to the hotel and Dave and I decided to try one more Japanese restaurant right next door to our hotel. This turned out to be really good and we laughed at ourselves for not having tried it sooner. Tomorrow we fly home so we spent the rest of the night packing up and chilling out for the long trip back.

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Cline on

The book store looks likes fitting way to end what appeared to be an epic trip.

Barb on

What an interesting trip you have had. Thanks for sharing your adventure with us.

joan clark on

This last blog was fascinating. We lived at Clark AFB and in Angeles City (I think very similar to Dau), and watched Mt. Pinatuba in it's very active state the whole time we were there. It erupted within a few years after we left....so active that we never tried to get close to it. We went to Baguio...and it was a treacherous trip. I'll have to tell you about it. But it wasn't nearly as dirty as you describe. That was disappointing to hear. I still have some jewelry I bought when I was there. Safe travels back. I'll be in Leavenworth at the beginning of April. Maybe we can do a hike. :)

Kirsten on

Just got to the end of your Blog--what an adventure you've had!! You guys always seem to choose the most interesting places to visit. It's neat that Joan could identify with many of the things you did, having lived there. We're spending a few days in Bisbee, a town I think you'd really like, and then on to the Chiricahuas, another neat place, for a little R & R from our "hectic" life, lol. The kids come next week for Spring Break and then we'll be heading home. Cline's like a horse to the barn looking forward to rock climbing in the valley. Looking forward to seeing you then.

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