Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Exploring Sagada, Mt. Province

Here's another guest post from a good friend, Patty Soliman. Patty and husband Noly were my housemates at Monchit Arellano's house in Marikina in the late 80s. 

January 11-13 2013

by Patty Soliman

It was a dream-come true for Noly when we finally set foot to this marvelous place called Sagada. I promised him last December that if ever my weddings turned-out OK, I’ll make sure to bring him there. I always hear him say ever since we got married about how he wanted to explore the place. On those years, going there was not in our priority lists.

We took the 10pm Baguio trip via Victory Liner last Thursday, Jan.10, 2013. We arrived on a very cold dawn time in Baguio after six hours. As soon as we got off the bus, we got ourselves taxi to bring us to Good Taste Restaurant. That made us warm from having Beef Mami and Brewed coffee. We waited for the Ticket Booth of G Lizardo Bus to open. By 5:30am, I was finally able to get ourselves front seat tickets of the bus. This means getting a better view of our trip. Well, our entire trip, back and forth, were on front seats as privilege for Noly’s condition.

By 6:30 am our bus started heading to Sagada. We were fascinated with those vegetable plantations along the way as our bus goes higher and higher to mountains of Benguet. If only I can ask the driver to stop for awhile for me to pick some flowers I see on the side of the road. Heading there was a bit breath-holding as there were some roads that were on a one-way. I commend our bus driver for maneuvering the bus carefully whenever he needs to give way to another vehicle coming. And this means taking the narrow road with cliffs on the side. By 8 am, I informed Ms. Sigrid of Misty Lodge and CafĂ© that our expected arrival time would be around 12:30pm. I requested her to help us prepare lunch for I know the next diner is a bit far from their place. Their cook at the time of our arrival was on post-Christmas break and told her we don’t mind having any Lutong Bahay. 

We arrived an hour early from our expected arrival time. I was hoping the bus driver will take us off in front of Misty Lodge but he missed. We got off in front of Sagada Weaving and immediately called up Ms. Sigrid asking her how to get to their place. In a few minutes, her husband, Awing fetched us. Upon arrival to Misty Lodge, Noly and I got awed with the place. It was made from Pinewood that we enjoyed the scent of Pine Trees both in and out. The entire lodge is surrounded with Pine trees. We immediately fell-in-love with the place most especially the room assigned to us. Dining hall is cozy which has a fireplace and beautiful French windows with view of Sigrid’s garden. We got the perfect view of Pine trees from our window room.

After a few minutes of rest, lunch was served having fried boneless Bangus and Salad. The crispiness of the cucumber and sweet tomatoes complimented with our Deep-fried Bangus. The place didn’t fail us from the minute we entered the comfy ambiance of the lodge until the last minute we were there. Everyone was so hospitable and making sure your needs was attended properly.

We started our walk heading to town proper around 3pm. We first bought Noly’s walking stick in the souvenir shop across Sagada Weaving. We entered Sagada Weaving hoping to see the actual process of weaving the Igorot cloth. But most of them were busy sewing the weave cloths through the sewing machine. We then started walking again towards the town proper. We saw some people on the road setting up their items for the next day’s market day. I was told Saturdays is market day in Sagada. We then registered ourselves in the Municipal Hall as part of requirement for all tourists visiting Sagada. After which, we headed to St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church. There were some local tourists around the church bell so we failed to get near the famous bell of the church. Noly got impressed with the old stained glass windows of the church. He immediately requested me to take pictures of them on a different angle. We explored the place until we saw sign of “To Echo Valley and Cemetery”.

We then took our chance of exploring the place without guide until we saw 3 wandering ladies from Aklan asking them if they were the 3 ladies I saw earlier heading to lower end of the school. They said they got lost. They were hoping to find the Echo Valley. They were navigating the place with a piece of printed map with them. I said we are also heading to the place. And the 5 of us happily taking chance of finding Echo Valley. We saw the Cemetery and took some pictures from there. What a way of making record of the places we’ve been, including taking pictures in the Cemetery. We trekked the narrow road to Echo Valley. It was quite scary, if we make the wrong step, we’ll end up rolling down the high rocky mountain. Upon reaching the view point we took our camera lenses zoomed-in to view the hanging coffin. It was really mystical and so amazing, wondering, how Igorots from early days, got to place those coffins hanging on the edge of rocky mountain. We enjoyed another shots of picture taking with these 3 ladies with their funny poses. Making poses of See, Hear and speak no Evil.

Heading back is quite manageable, telling Noly to hold on to my shoulders back as I move forward. Step by step we were able to head back to the church. Sunset was almost over so we took early dinner at Kimchi Restaurant. What’s so funny about this place, well, it’s supposed to be a Korean Restaurant, but the entire interior was set with Bob Marley’s posters, Hippie-style curtains with background of progressive jazz songs. We ordered for Sweet and Sour Pork and Fried Pork with Vegetables. The taste is just ordinary and the meat needs more cooking time for tenderness. After dinner, we were prepared to head back to Misty Lodge using the flashlight lent to us by Sigrid earlier, until Awing saw us and gave us a lift. Upon arrival, I coordinated with Sigrid for a tour guide to help us explore the Sumaguing Cave and the Kiltepan Peak for sunrise viewing. I met with the guide, Errol who happens to be at Misty Lodge. He explained that entering the Sumaguing Cave would be difficult for Noly so he encouraged us to have the Kiltepan peak Sunrise viewing and the Lake Danum sunset viewing instead. And I was more satisfied with the suggestions he gave me.

After talking to Errol, we prepared to take showers before calling the night off for tomorrow’s next activity. The Bathrooms in Misty Lodge is common, so every guest were politely taking turns in using them. Though they have hot shower, it was still difficult to take bath on night time due to the very cold temperature from outside. Our first day in Sagada ended at around 9pm exhausted from the 12 hour trip, trekking from Echo Valley and strolling around town proper. Cuddling our soft blanket kept us warm from very cold temperature.

The next day was set to visit the Kiltepan Peak but the rain was drizzling outside. We had breakfast at the lodge’s dining hall prepared by the lodge’s cook Mico. Noly had Ham, Bacon and Egg with toasted bread. Mico cured their ham which I can honestly say, tastes so good. While for me, I had waffles with Strawberry Jam. Mico also makes the jam. I also enjoyed my waffles with Mico’s Strawberry jam. Not too sweet. We both enjoyed our Sagada coffee. For Noly’s personal opinion, it is much better than in commercial coffee shops in Manila.

After breakfast, Awing brought us to the town proper together with other 3 lodge guests who were set to visit Bomod-ok Falls with their guide, Errol. As for us, we set to see the entrance of Lumiang Cave for the coffins and to have market buying. Saturdays in Sagada is Market day where people from nearby towns bring  to Sagada their crops and other sellable items. Just like the Tiangge in Manila. We enjoyed buying vegetables on a very cheap amount. We bought 2 kilos each of Zucchini and Broccoli, 1 Kilo each of Bell Peppers, Big Green Tomatoes and Violet Cabbage all for 150 pesos. We requested Awing who was still around the town center to help us bring in his vehicle the vegetables we bought and we’ll just take it later after our walk.

While we take the road down town proper with rain drizzling, we met again the Aklan ladies we met the day before. We took another souvenir shots with them before they headed back to Manila. It was almost lunchtime when I asked Noly for the time, so we decided to take rest and have lunch at Lemon Pie House. I liked the interior of the place. They had small wooden chairs and low tables. For some tables, partnered with throw pillows on banig mats. I ordered Chicken Adobo while Noly had Chopsuey. After a few minutes, the girl who took our orders went outside. She then went back after another few minutes with handful of assorted vegetables harvested outside. The servings for both our orders were so full that seems good for two. We shared a slice of Lemon Pie and brewed Sagada Coffee for our dessert. Again, it was another tasteful meal for us for a very reasonable price. While having our lunch, two male customers came in. We had few chats telling us that they came to Sagada just to experience the Sumaguing Cave exploration without knowing how to get there. I told him to see guides from the Municipal hall or the Saggas team.

Right after lunch, we started walking again heading road to the caves. We enjoyed the views we saw along the road looking at another rocky mountain with coffins hanging. We were walking for more than 500 meters when the 2 men we met at Lemon Pie House offered us to give a lift. We finally introduced ourselves properly. They are Tony and Rey from Bulacan. Tony, the car owner, even offered us to join him explore the Sumaguing Cave with the guide he hired from the Municipal Hall. At first, I told the guide that Noly is a stroke victim that he might not be able to make it inside. He doesn’t seem listening to what I was saying and was just prepared to make the cave explorations. Tony was in full gear that he even lent us flashlights. We started taking the steps going down the entrance cave but their pacing were too fast that we decided to discontinue the exploration. We just reached the entrance of Sumaguing Cave and decided to just head back and try to see Lumiang Cave Entrance. We asked another guide around how to get there but his instructions was not clear that we missed it again on our way back.

The entire 2km walk for us was already satisfying. We got to view more rice terraces along the way. We had fun looking at some vegetable farms beside the rice terraces. We had chance of passing a small strawberry farm and most importantly, we enjoyed the scent of Pine trees around. I noticed from our long walk, that we see more foreign tourists exploring Sagada by foot and the local tourists by van. Well, we proudly made the entire walk back to town proper for about 30 minutes. By the time we reached the town center it was almost 3pm so we waited for Awing to be back with the 3 ladies and Errol from the falls and made few more market buying. We can’t resist buying additional kilos of Zucchini and Broccoli which I can’t buy in Manila for that amount. On our way back to our lodge, the 3 ladies who went to Bomod-ok falls were soaking wet and chilling. They still tried taking the dip from the falls despite the very cold water and drizzling rain. And they had fun. We had our snacks at Misty Lodge over pancake and Strawberry jam and hot Sagada coffee served by Bogan, Mico’s wife. Their staff made fire from the fireplace that made us warm from the chilling weather outside. The scent of the pinewood that was used made it so relaxing for all 5 of us who were dining in the hall complimenting jazz songs played on. 

We ordered Pizza and Green Salad for Dinner also made by Mico and was served on candlelight tables and the continued jazz songs playing. The ambiance of the whole dining area feels so relaxing from day’s exhausting activities. The pizza satisfied our taste buds too. Rain was starting to stop and I was excited to see stars again from outside. I then talked to Errol for our Kiltepan Sunrise viewing for the next day’s activity. He said we’ll push through with the plan if weather condition will be better. I was optimistic from the stars I see outside, I knew we will have successful viewing of sunrise. I set the alarm at 5am and expecting Errol to fetch us by 5:20 am. 

By 3:30am the following day, we can hear some guests preparing to leave for Manila catching the first trip back to Baguio by 5am. We continued our sleep and were awaken with the alarm I set. Looking at the window, Noly saw stars from outside that we were confident that we can successfully view the sunrise from Kitepan Peak. It was already 5:30 am when I got no words from Errol and tried calling his phone. He said sunrise may not come out due to rainy weather the previous day. And from the sound of his voice, I knew he was not interested to guide us there. I then texted Sigrid whom I thought went out to assists the guests who took the 5am trip to Baguio. Only to find out was only outside our room cleaning the other rooms that were used. I went out to see her and asked how and which road to take going to Kiltepan. She then offered that instead of hiring a guide, we can hire Awing’s vehicle to bring us to Kiltepan. I agreed to her suggestion and immediately told Noly to get ready to catch up with sunrise viewing. When we got there, some local tourists were already preparing to view sunrise with their cameras ready. The view of the rice terraces and the town down our peak site was incredibly fascinating and  both Noly and I were astonished by the bed of clouds we see down us. And in a few more minutes the transformation of colors of clouds from afar, yellow to orange until sunburst from the sky started to show. It was a fulfillment from this Sagada trip. We failed to see inside of Sumaguing Cave but we were lucky to view the sunrise from Kiltepan Peak. It was remarkably beautiful.

We happily went back to our lodge with a feeling of amazement inside us. We then ordered our breakfast. While waiting, we stayed at the garden as Noly continues to examine each Sigrid’s flower plants. I asked Noly where else he wants to go after breakfast. I was explaining to him that we can try walking again to finally see Lumiang Cave entrance and to experience pottery making from Sagada Pottery and head to Danum Lake for Sunset viewing in the afternoon. But he was already too tired to try them all and so we decided to head back to Manila on a mid-day trip to Baguio. He said those other places would be in my list for our next visit in Sagada. I knew that he had great fulfillment for having this trip and I’m happy for making his Bucket List #1 possible.

* See also Patty's other travelogue,  Amazing Trip to Puerto Princesa

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gramercy Condo, High Living with Hidden Costs?

Last May 05, 2011, I wrote about the tallest building in the Philippines, the Gramercy Residences in Makati City and developed by Century Properties. It was still under construction then, the structure was something like 90 percent finished. See my article here,  Gramercy Condo, Tallest Building in the Philippines

The structure is finished, it can be seen from afar as it is simply very tall, 70+ storeys high.While the interiors are still being completed, several unit owners have already moved in. At night, the building is well lighted, it's like Sofitel Hotel at the CCP Complex where each room has a light outside.

I have read from a condo unit buyer though, that the developer will not give the key to unit owners, even if fully paid, if they will not purchase the cable and internet services being offered or pushed by Century Properties, P5,000 per month and should be paid one year advance.

The unit owner said Century asserted that this is a mandatory arrangement even though it is not stated in the contract. So all unit owners must pay this extra cost to the developer. I think this is unfair. If it is not stipulated in the contract, it should not be forced upon them.

I think this is one of those examples where some developers have some hidden costs to pass to condo unit owners later on. I doubt if unit owners will backtrack especially if they have fully paid the unit already. They will be forced to bow to the additional costs passed on to them by the developers, or go to the court, and spend much higher cost plus time consuming litigation procedures, not exactly a good alternative. Oh well.