Saturday, February 10, 2007

Private Kitchen

Private Kitchen

In a chance encounter in a supermarket in Quezon Avenue, I spotted Rene and Joan, semi-retired climbers who caught the climbing fever not post graduation but post employment. I remembered this couple in our Tirad Pass climb in 2001 with the AOC (Ateneo Outdoors Club), a climb with the history professor and adviser of the high school club Jay Hernando who combined historical perspective and trekking . (Tirad Pass was where Gregorio Del Pilar was finally captured by the Americans in 2 December 1899.)

Rene and Joan were known to take their climb slowly relishing every sight and step. Reaching the campsite was rewarded with a full meal complete with wine and brewed coffee. The couple equally shared the load of bringing the kitchen and their shelter.

Not having climbed for months, they mentioned they continued their other passion-cooking. As a result of the encounter, I was extended an invitation to sneak in their kitchen with my guests. I volunteered for the drinks, dessert and coffee with them taking care of the main meals.

I asked a colleague, Tec Manalac who joined me in Sagada in 1998 when 4 wheel drive was still a luxury. Tec, an apprentice at the Manila Peninsula confirmed she was interested and was bringing something special. I asked Bob Tongco who was with us in Tirad Pass if he can squeeze it in in between his internship. He found the time. Jonnell did not pose any objection.

That introduced me to the concept of a Private Kitchen. Meals are designed and prepared right in the home kitchen by chefs served to your guests in a fine setting in their company. Served that evening were: Squash Soup, Baked Chicken, Bell Pepper Viand, Mountain Rice and Strawberry dipped in Chocolate prepared by Rene, Lamp Chops marinated by Tec, Chocolate Sans Rival and Chocolate Ganache baked by Tec and South African Wines and Segafredo Coffee contributed by me.

While this happened in April 2001, Jonnell todate could not forget the delight of eating Tec’s ganache cake. I still could recall the satisfaction of a gastronomical meal. What they say about good food was thus validated correct that "Gastronomy hurdles the language barrier, makes friends among civilized people, and warms the heart."

December 2006 while taking the elevated walkway in Glorietta, I had another chance encounter with Rene and Joan. They have not climbed in months and still have the passion for cooking. I asked casually, “will there still be another private kitchen?” "Anytime," they gladly replied. Now I made that partly public.
7 February 2007

There is Still Magic in Sagada
There is still magic in Sagada despite the thousand lowlanders who escaped from Baguio and the city this Christmas 1997. Even if you are denied several times in various instances.

No Ride. We missed the Lizardo Bus at the Dangwa station in Baguio for the direct trip to the town. As early as 6 in the morning of Sunday 28 December, all the 6 buses were filled up and dispatched early.

No lodging. All inns were full. Some patient travelers had to contend with the hospital bed at the community hospital.

No Food. And rejected several times the Log Cabin, St. Joseph, Masfierre Inn and Shamrock for food and drinks.

Still there was magic in Sagada. The Celestine Prophecy attributed it to the pure energy of the mountain. Everything just flowed.

I planned this trip in December and finalized the details only in Baguio via pager with my friends in Manila the day before. All of us met at Chowking in Session Road Sunday. I came from Baguio, some straight from the bus from Manila and one from the beach of San Fernando La Union. Mitch Soria, a PAL MC colleague, Arney Nocum, a freelance photographer and a broadcaster, Tec Mañalac, a youth leader working at the Office of the Manila Mayor and I were directed to a bus headed for Bontoc. We got off at junction and hitched a ride in an open van. We were treated to an open-air view of the Sagada Mountain together with about twenty other passengers.

Upon arrival at the cooperative store, we saw Dax Cobarrubias and Beatrice, our friends from PSI (People Synergistically Involved) who invited us to the St.Mary's orphanage (now rented by a Canadian Funded NGO IA for Transformation). That free accommodation freed a lot of time for all for us. It was a big relief to first timers Arney and Tec who had no idea what was in store for them.

How can Sagada not enchant anyone? We were billeted in an old, big schoolhouse made of wood, now a rare commodity in this town. We experienced a 12° C on our first morning, the coldest ever for the year 1998 I was told. The pine trees bursting with pine cones all over surrounding the valley contributed to the cold, clean air that lingered with us all throughout our 3-day stay. Baguio may have been like this over 50 years ago with hardly any vehicle to pollute the air. To warm us up on our first day, Beatrice and Dax set up a bonfire.

Sagada to me is one modestly sized theme park with the exception that everything is its natural state. The country music of John Denver and Kenny Rogers played incessantly at the buses complemented the clean country atmosphere. To move from one wonder to the next, one walks for as short as 5 minutes from the Plaza (Echo Valley) to a long half a day (Sumaging Cave or the big waterfall).

We viewed the morning sunrise amidst streaks of light and mist at the Keltepan tower at the East Side of Sagada at 6 in the morning (elevation about 2,200 meters ASL). Saw the same sun go down from the top of Lake Danum Mountain at the west side. Instead of streak of lights, the sun displayed various shades and layers of orange and blue set in pure unadulterated air. We stayed until the threatening clouds claimed the view and the temperature dropped.

The entire town celebrated the Cañao wedding which kept everyone, residents and a close to thousand guests alive the whole night of Monday even with the 9 PM curfew imposed. This gave drinkers like Mitch and I a chance to enjoy beer at the Shamrock.

We walked North, East, South, West and trekked from 1,200 meters to 2,200 meters ASL. Dived at the waterfalls, entered the cave, patronized handicrafts, ate a lot of red rice, drank a lot of Sagada tea, met old friends like Ronald and Mavic Arcilla, offered new friendships, avoided the Cañao mating dance. We expelled the urban air of Baguio and Manila and breathed in fresh ones from the mountains.

Sagada this year was different. Different from last summer and the 1996 holidays when there was just a handful of guests. What with all these lowlanders, I thought the place has lost its charm. But in the company of Mitch, Arney and Tec and the energy all around us, nature still worked on us. It energized us to do about almost everything that can be done. It erased all the obstacles that got into our way. Means showed up when they was no ride to the town, no inns at the Plaza, no food, no way to the sunrise and no way to the sunset and no ride way back to Baguio and Manila.

We sneaked out of Sagada in a passenger jeep at 5:30 am on the 30th Tuesday to Bontoc to take the 7 am bus ride to Baguio via Dangwa Transit. At past noon, we were perhaps the first batch of backpackers to be back in Baguio from the enchanted place.

Then with the fun group of Jerry Balignasa and Russel Aguinaldo, we met up with the PAL MC Group headed by Mayan, Wing, Art, Minerva, Ivy, Rhoda, Darwin, Ruel, Juno and his wife. We got a preview of the adventures of federation climbers as Jun Cipriano, Jun Martin, Gerry Girl N., Butch Ballesteros, Resil, Rudgir, Loyd, Ann, Joy and Dulce that trekked up to Pulag that same weekend led by EL RomyValdes. We drank and narrated with gusto our stories until the bus schedule late that night and early morning said it's time to go.

What's with this mountain range that everyone has an infinity of experiences and stories to tell? Traveling back to Manila on the 31st, I kept on hearing in my mind the song of the late John Denver, very popular singer in the Helsima Highway asking to be "
brought home to country road where he belongs." With all these enchantment, it may not be that remote that we backpackers settle in the rocky mountain high where we too perhaps belong sometime in the near future. If Sagada’s enchantment is still still after the turn of the century.

Happy New Year!
17 Jan 1998


  1. Di po ako ang tochs na astronaut na tinutukoy sa article na ito.

    tochs the First Human Being on Mars !
    tochs stepped onto Mars today. Plasma engines were used, which operates using super-heated gas as fuel. After making a 55 million kilometers journey, we finally landed a human on the mystical red planet.