Episode 20: Memories of Baguio (Part 3) – Of reunions, soul food, and high heels

…or should I say, “Thou shalt not make a woman walk around Session Road while on her high heels.” But that’s too long.
I met up with an old friend from college during one of my trips to Baguio. It’s been God knows how many years since we last got together, so when she agreed to meet up with me at Session Road, I was naturally excited to see her again, and how.
So there she was, sitting near a table by the window at Ionic Cafe one chilly Sunday afternoon… Okay, I better move on before this turns into a cheesefest.

Jad is one of the most sensible friends I’ve met in college. Hard-headed, serious and whimsical at the same time, she’s also simple and down to earth. She’s someone you can confide to or talk with about anything under the sun. She’s open-minded and tolerable of others, but if you get to her bad side she’ll whack you with everything and the kitchen sink. (I guess, I never tried.)  In spite of her quirks, she is one of the few people I look up to and respect.

After hanging out for some time at Ionic Cafe, we walked around Session Road and Burnham Park, just enjoying the scenery. Much of the time she had to hang on to my arm. Yup, she’s wearing high heels – I never bothered to asked how high, but yeah.

Jad updated me on several things about Baguio. For example, UP Baguio is now encased in walls. Most of the buildings there have changed. a few of the people from the Guidance Office (where we worked as Peer Facilitators) are still there, although one of our guidance counselors has left. Some of the so-called couples among the Peer Facilitators have split.

Baguio itself hasn’t changed much though. The volume of people (especially Koreans) has increased and new establishments have sprouted up through the years, but thankfully things are looking up.

Burnham Park barely changed through the years, she said. The skating rink is now covered. There are more boats plying at Burnham Lake. The park’s cleaner than before. The football field has been rehabilitated; it’s no longer muddy and rocky, and football players can now practice there.

Next thing we knew, we were on our way to Cafe By The Ruins.

Cafe By The Ruins is one of Baguio’s most unique restaurants. The cafe stands on the ruins of the house of Phelps Whitmarsh, the first governor of Benguet. Bamboo walls, wooden planks and poles complement what’s left of the old house. The soft lights and music enhances the cafe’s homey, relaxing feel. One can savor Baguio’s clean, crisp air amidst the hanging plants, trees and vines. The place offers a great view of the city.

The cafe serves a variety of Filipino, Asian Fusion, and vegetarian dishes. The food is home-cooked and made from local organic produce and other fresh ingredients, a homage to traditional cuisine and a reflection of the Cordilleran’s penchant for healthy food.

Cafe By The Ruins is a sanctuary for Baguio’s artists. Artworks and turn of the century items showcase the cafe’s vibrant and artistic environment. The cafe is also a popular meeting place, the venue of many canaos (native rituals to appease the gods), poetry readings, art exhibits and dance performances. All in all, Cafe By The Ruins is a place to feed the body, the heart, and the soul.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t remember much of Cafe By The Ruins, probably because I don’t visit the place frequently when I still lived in Baguio. I do remember drinking tapuy (native rice wine) there once in a while. And then this was where I joined my first poetry reading, a Valentine’s Day event, back in college.
Anyway, snacktime.

Cafe By The Ruins is offering strawberry-based dishes for a limited time, one of which is the Strawberries with Chocolate Fondue. The chocolate dip’s not so sweet, but the strawberries are.

Also on the table is Olenick’s Open Face Tuna Sandwich. It is said that National Artist Nick Joaquin himself scribbled the following recipe: “Butter the bread, spread flaked tuna evenly over the buttered surface, dip in beaten egg, and fry in MORE butter.” Imagine your open face tuna sandwich in all its crisp, flaky, buttery goodness. (Bonus points for the mustard.)

The snacks we washed down with  civet cat coffee (also known as kape motit) and Moroccan mint tea. Now, this is the first time I tasted civet cat coffee, and I realized this is way unlike your usual brewed coffee. Even when drunk on its own, it’s warm and flavorful, it smells like hazelnuts, it has a mild aftertaste and it doesn’t give you that strong, palpitation-causing kick you get from kapeng barako. The mint tea I will try some other time.

Jad is now a lawyer, although she insists she became one “by virtue of force majeure”. She’s usually busy handling her cases and it looks like she’s doing well. And she has no plans to enter politics, or so she says. (Her dad’s a politician.)

She changed quite much from the past years. Not only did she grow her hair long, she also developed her love for fashion. And yeah, high heels. She still loves her old music, poetry, and thinking of stuff that make people pull their hair in frustration (like keeping your sanity).

Among the things I treasure in Baguio are the relationships I built over the years. Many of my friends are born there; some are from other parts of the Cordilleras, while others are lowlanders like me. Despite our differences in background and mentality, my friends there were the best I’ve ever had.

Now I’m based here again in Metro Manila, and most of my friends are gone. Some are already staying overseas, others are somewhere around the country, while some are probably nearby though I don’t know how to get to them (except through Facebook).

Going back to Baguio reminded me to look back at all of the ties I’ve made and kept there. My friends were there for me in both good and bad times. Thanks to them I learned how to appreciate my life, things both mundane and profound, solitude, and the occasional company of others.

I regret that I haven’t done much for my friends, and I’m not good at showing appreciation. Still, suffice it to say that my prayers are always with them. Then again, it would be nice if I could see them all again and catch up with old times.

I love my friends. You too, Jad.


Up next: Poetry, coffee cat blues and film noir fantasies.


Cafe By The Ruins

23 Chuntug Street
Baguio City
Email: cafebytheruins@gmail.com

Phone: (+6374) 4424010