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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry Farm, LaTrinidad, Benguet Province
Last weekend I went on a trip 6 hours north of where I am to Baguio City.  For someone who is used to Chicago’s weather at this time of year, this trip was breath of fresh air.  It was 70s, but enough to have a fleece jacket on and at times a ski cap.  Baguio is known as the summer capital of the Philippines and doesn't disappoint.  I went along for the ride with my school along with 100 other students in two buses.  We left at 2 am early Saturday morning or late Friday night for some of you reading this.

The hills and streets of this city remind me of San Francisco because of the way they go straight down one minute and the next you’re climbing.  Plus, the weather is similar there to Baguio as well.  It’s awesome for mountain biking as there are many cycling events happening throughout the year. 

Before we saw the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), our bus made a pit stop and it was there where I tried strawberry taho.  This snack is something that is served quite often from vendors up here because of the abundance of strawberries in the province of Benguet.  Strawberry taho is like a strawberry sundae.  It consisits of Strawberry Syrup with Chunks in the syrup containing Soft Tofu and Sago (seeds of a sago tree) in a plastic cup.

When we arrived at the PMA, we saw a live drill (picture below) by the Philippine soldiers.  PMA is equivalent to West Point in the United States.  Once the drill was over, the students and I walked over to the PMA museum.  Before we arrived at the museum, we saw a wall of PMA accomplishments over the years.  I also noticed that the PMA wasn't the first name of the academy.  The PMA was originally called the Constabulary Academy before the name change in the 1930s for those history buffs out there.  At the PMA museum, I saw many artifacts used by Philippine Military in the early 19th century.

Next, the bus took us to Wright Park and we there literally 15 min to take a snapshot of the President’s Mansion, that is the current President of the Philippines, Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

After that we drove to Mines View Park where we had lunch, took photos & shopped at the market.  This break allowed us to take in the incredible view of the mountains.  It was at the market where I discovered a shop of Ilocano artifacts and bought the CD I am listening to now on my new CD player that arrived in the mail.  It’s a CD of Filipino locals in the Baguio area playing old favorites from the local culture using the flute, guitar, lovely vocals and other beautifully sounding instruments.  As I am listening to this, I am imagining myself on horseback going slowly up a trail and this music is the soundtrack echoing in the mountains. 
I am in the back and to my right in the purple jacket is my supervisor Mam Juliet Canlas.  Two of the girls in the picture are my students.  The dog steals the photo.

Then, we drove to the Catholic Cathedral Church where everyone visits, but all the students probably spent less than 5 minutes inside the church in order to rush to SM mall. Although they have a mall in Olongapo City, it didn’t open until last weekend.  Here in the Philippines, Malls are a big thing as it’s something they’re not used.  However, not everyone enjoys the malls taking over.  My language tutor’s priest said the malls are “Mountains of materialism” meaning they’re just stuff for people to spend their hard earned pesos on and the Priest is right. Nonetheless, students flocked over there in droves, but luckily for them they didn’t bring much change and only bought fast food as everything was too expensive to buy.  Everything one needs to buy around here, food included is at the market & much less expensive, plus one can tawad with the seller.  Tawad is the same as bargain in the tagalog language.  I can do this at my site in Olongapo City as well.
After the long day, we arrived back at the hotel ready to crash except for one thing blankets.  Since I was the teacher chaperone, I let all the students have the blankets; I just slept in my jeans and used my fleece as my blanket. In Baguio city, it’s freezing at night; I was shivering most of the night.  However, to my surprise when I woke up the next morning for my shower, they had hot water for showers and that felt great because I never have hot showers and this was a morning I needed a hot shower.  Then, we boarded the bus and headed to breakfast, which hit the spot (two helpings of eggs, sausage & rice), Masarap (delicious).

After that, we headed to Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad, Benguet, which is 30-45 min away from Baguio City. At Strawberry Farm, I bought a couple of kilos of strawberries, which tasted scrumptious.  The next day I put some strawberries on top of McDonalds pancakes and that made for a mouthwatering meal with syrup and hash browns.  The first photo you see doesn't give this field enough justice, but believe me they're are plenty of strawberries here, they're just well hidden in the fields and they're not all small either.  Unfortunately, this is the closest place to my site to buy fresh strawberries.  This may be the only place in the country to buy fresh strawberries, but that is yet to be determined. Nevertheless, it really does feel like the Beatles song, "Strawberry Fields Forever."

Finally after Strawberry Farm, we headed to Burnham Park where we spent the afternoon shopping or just walking around.  I would compare this to a large neighborhood park with 10x the amount of vendors.  I took a taxi with the tour guide back to Mines View Park and headed towards the Good Shepard shop where I was told by my fellow teachers who weren't able to make it that I had to bring back pasalubong (gifts).  I think I brought back to much, but they loved it.  Plus, by bringing back more this time, it takes the pressure off future times I go back to Baguio, which I am hoping will be two more times before this journey ends.
The bus ride was longer this time around, but I didn't mind as we all had the day off the next day and could sleep in.

View from my hotel in the early morning.

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