The Relative Calm of Baguio City

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Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Friday, March 12, 2010

I'm sitting in a popular local eatery, Pizza Volante in Baguio City, Luzon, Philippines where last night I had an excellent 8 in personal pan pizza and a great fresh mango shake for 198 pisos ($4.60 CAD). Baguio city is more what I had in mind.  After 2 nights in hectic Manila, 2 nights in sleazy Angeles (really a mistake) and 3 nights at Olongapo beach (very nice but overpriced) I feel like I am where I should be - for now.  Manila is just too much, Angeles has your choice of 3 entertainment options....girlie bars, girlie bars or girlie bars (and if you don't like any of that there are also some girlie bars)...and Olongapo is nice but not as nice as so many world class beaches that I know are fairly close by.  This city seems to have the balance of urban chaos that I enjoy but with areas of calm respite like the central Burnham Park.  Not so completely over the top like Manila. 

The population here is only a little more than 300,000, but it is still very hustle and bustle.  When I think about it comparatively to my home town in Canada (London) which has almost the same population, London is really like a ghost town where you could fire a cannon ball through the center of town on a Saturday afternoon and you would hit a single soul.  If you fired the same cannon ball through Baguio, even on a Tuesday afternoon, you would take out 3000 people, 12 proper restaurants, 28 roadside eateries and half of the local market.   It gives you the impression that if there really are only 300,000 people here, every last one of them must be out in the street 75% of the day or night.  It's a university town so there are throngs of kids filling the streets and cafes, coming and going every which way.  Even still, by Asian standards it is quiet and this place will give me a chance to relax for a few days while I take the time to etch out a better plan for my next step, probably to visit the quiet mountain town of Sagada (pop 1500) starting in 3 days time.  The elevation here is approximately 1400 meters, so it is a fair bit cooler than most cities in this country.  By a fair bit cooler I mean 23 degrees C in the day (73 F) as opposed to the 32 deg C of Manila (90 F) during the day.  When I told locals I was going to Baguio, every last one of them said..."Oh, very cold there, take jacket & pants".  Yes, yes, 23 Deg C, very "cold" indeed. 

No matter where I go the Philippino people are so relentlessly nice and quite polite too, which I genuinely appreciate.  Every last person addresses you with relative formality such as "Mr.", "Sir" or my favorite, the much less formal and casual term of endearment...."Boss".  If you walk up to a roadside food stand you are the "Boss", if you need a pack of cigarettes you are the "Boss" and even if you are just walking down the street you are the "Boss".  And the locals seem to really get a kick out of it if you call them the "Boss".  I think they don't expect you to use their terms.  A young Philippino girl helping a very young boy, perhaps 2 years old, walk down the street laughs heartily when I refer to the boy as the "Boss" and I hear her calling to her friends on the side of the road, recalling the story of how a tourist referred to the boy as the "Boss".  The group of girls breaks into a fit of laughter as I stroll away.

I am endlessly amused by the advertising, TV and just media in general here.  As I ate dinner the other day I watched a bizarre show, which seemed to be about a boy whose skin was made of water (!!??) and this caused a great deal of stress for his parents.  I can imagine how that would be stressful.  I have seen several shoddy looking stores which appear to be low end pawn shops, but the sign outside says "Junk Shop".  It's refreshing to see some truth in advertising.  There is a domestic chain of restaurants called "Shakey's Pizza" which seem to be the equivalent of Pizza Hut, although they also specialize in fried chicken.  The catch phrase for these restaurants which you see embossed on the side of the building is..."The house that Fried Chicken Built".  Maybe I'm easily amused, but I find this stuff very funny.

To say that English is widely spoken here is by far an understatement.  Every last person here speaks English to some degree and most of them quite well.  This is a result of every child starting English lessons as early as grade one.  I can see how a foreigner visiting here would get lazy and not bother to try to speak any Tagalog, and even some of the ex-pats who have lived here for years admit that they have barely tried their hand at it.  If I were staying here long term I would definitely learn some decent Tagalog as I think it helps you earn a little more respect and you can of course have a more in depth conversation with the locals if you can do it well in their language.  Tagalog has some very direct links to Spanish so if you have any Spanish skills at all, you are a little ahead to start with.  All of that said, there are still some misunderstandings as the pronunciation can be quite unusual. 

It's generally agreed among visitors that the food is more or less on the crappy side, and even some of the locals will agree that it's not always the best.  But to be fair, it's not too hard to find some decent quality grub if you look around a little.  Some nice roadside rice noodles with tofu and veggies can go for as little as 20 pisos (about 50 cents Canadian) and one or two of these will easily tide you over for lunch.  The famous Philipppino chicken or pork Adobo, which is a stew marinated in a vinegar base usually with carrots and potatoes can go for as low as 50 pisos (less than $1.25 CAD) at a roadside stand or as much as 200 pisos (about $4.50 CAD) in a proper restaurant.  The Adobo at the roadside stand is typically just as good if not better than the real restaurant stuff and besides, then you get a chance to chat with the proprietor of the shop.  Although the food will never get top billing as international cuisine, it's still far, far better than the junk they refer to as food in any country in Central America for example. 

I must catch the big boxing match that is coming up this Sunday:  Pacquiao Vs. Clottey.  Boxing here is of course wildly popular and everybody is excited beyond belief for the upcoming competition.  Pacquiao (colloquially referred to as "Pacman") is a slight, welterweight champion and there is much trepidation about the match, as Clottey is a monstrous, Ghanaian fighter who outweighs Pacman by about 6 pounds - that's allot in boxing.  Pacman is counting on his dexterity to win but Clottey is just a bulldozer and has been known to take out his opponents with a vicious head-but (although this gets him disqualified).  Even if you don't follow boxing, you will likely hear about this event wherever you are as it is becoming increasingly an international draw and Pacman himself is big business, with a definite celebrity status surrounding him.  Several bars in town offer a ticket to watch this event on big screen for around 500 pisos (around $12 CAD) but it also includes "all-you-can drink" on a selection of local bevies.  I'm convinced that this will prove to be a momentous occasion, even if it is just to witness firsthand how freaky the locals will be as the anticipation builds.  And 500 pisos represents pretty damn good value as well. 

Baguio is known for its love of local music and I'm studying the guide and on-line sources to see where the best place is to head to tonight.  I intended to go out on the town last night to find some music but when I laid down for a nap at about 8 PM, I was down for good and didn't get up until 8 AM this morning.  I think the combination of heat and cheap beer over the last week had caught up with me and I really needed a good crash.  But now I feel right as rain and tonight it will be party-party,
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Laur on

It's like being in a travel show where the host is a drunken horny louse (Hee Hee). Keep 'em coming Jer, and for reals very good insights to whomever will travel this path next, hopefully me one day. Love from dirty ol' Vangroovy from me and the misses.

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