To the Mountains: How to get to Baguio

With a 5 AM wake-up call and one toddler to wash up and dress, we managed to get into an Uber at 6 and made it to the Victory Liner bus terminal in Pasay at a half past the hour. We were right on schedule for the 7 AM bus until we heard at the ticket counter that it was already full and that we would have to wait another hour.

We ate our breakfast at the terminal: baguettes from Mr. Park’s Bread & Cake with ham and cheese from Kehl’s Swiss Italian Restaurant and a small jar of dijon mustard. This was our lunch later on the bus, as well, and it kept us full all the way until dinner time.

Just as we were taking the last bites of our sandwiches, the 7 AM bus to Baguio pulled up and started loading and we noticed, after a few minutes, that it was not full at all. The ticketing agent told us to go ahead and hop on, so we threw the guitar case in the luggage compartment and found some seats.

According to Google maps, you can make the trip from Manila to Baguio in under five hours on the new highway, and we were making good time when we reached the halfway point in Tarlac City in about two-and-a-half hours.

After that, the bus stayed on provincial roads instead of getting back on the highway and with one half-hour stop in Tarlac and another in Sison, it ended up being a seven-hour trip. That’s not to say that the trip can’t be enjoyed, however.

What’s the first thing to love about Baguio? Without a doubt, it’s coffee.

Almost anywhere else in Luzon or around the islands, if you ask for coffee at a typical road stop or sari-sari store, you will get Nescafe 3-in-1: instant, sweet, and dreadful. In Tarlac, I didn’t bother with coffee. In Sison, however, just before heading up the mountains to Baguio, I got us two cups of Benguet coffee for just over a dollar each and spent the next hour on the bus trying to drink it without spilling (too much) on my jeans.

A few minutes past 2 PM the bus pulled up at the familiar Victory Liner terminal in Baguio, where our longtime friend awaited us. Another hour later we arrived at his home in La Trinidad, by the Strawberry Farm.

In the taxi, on our way to La Trinidad, we passed Team Lakay Gym, which I was particularly excited to see. I recently started a free trial at B.A.M.F. where, after a month at The Den and about eight months of boxing and Muay Thai at Elorde Boxing Gym before that, I started an MMA fighter’s training. B.A.M.F. is a great gym and they’ve trained their share of champions, but it’s known primarily for Ju-Jitsu. On the other hand, if you’re into MMA in the Philippines, you will know or at least have heard of Team Lakay.

So, in an upcoming post then, I might be documenting my MMA journey and who knows, maybe I’ll get into a fight before I leave the Philippines. What I mean is, I might train and sign up to compete as an amateur, possibly in Muay Thai. On the other hand, I might end up chilling on a beach somewhere instead. We’ll see how it plays out.

For now, let’s get back to the present moment. Having passed the Lakay gym and driven through La Trinidad, we entered “The Strawberry Farm”, where our friends stay. The area is called Balili, after a nearby river.

As soon as we arrived, my husband rushed back out the door and headed straight to Lily of the Valley, the oldest organic farm in the Philippines, to meet Jeff, the owner. He was heading to China first thing the next morning and had only this afternoon to go over plans for the farm.

You see, while I’m most excited at the possibility of getting a taste of the rigorous mountain training regimen at Team Lakay, my husband is here for permaculture. He is most excited at the opportunity to help Jeff and his wife optimize their farm by implementing permaculture design, which he studied earlier this year at Geoff Lawton’s research institute in Australia.

This is another interesting story all of its own–or maybe a few other stories–which I hope to get into soon. Let’s keep it short for now: my husband was called up here by Patrick, an American friend of his who had been doing hybrid farming in rebel territories of Mindanao for many years and is now working with Jeff at Lily of the Valley to help teach sustainable farming techniques.

As chance would have it, our longtime friends who recently moved here to Balili–just five minutes away from the organic farm–are longtime friends of Jeff and his wife and a few weeks ago they ran into my husband’s friend Patrick. As they were talking about sustainable farming and permaculture, my husband’s name inevitably dropped and they quickly realized the mutual acquaintance.

So here we are. Andy (that’s my husband) is at the farm meeting Patrick and consulting with Jeff, my daughter is playing with the children of our friends and, at this point, all the children of the neighborhood, and I am enjoying another cup of mountain coffee.

I don’t know how long we’ll be staying here or what exactly we’ll find ourselves doing. The next few days or weeks may bring challenges and fulfillment, they may bring relaxation and rest, or they bring a combination of all of the above. Either way, I’m up for it.

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