Baguio: drastic change of plans and breakfast at the ‘Slaughterhouse’
I woke up just in time to catch my favorite view of Baguio City. From my window seat, I could see the hundreds of houses scattered precariously yet beautifully at a hill across us. Their tin roofs glisten under the midmorning sun.
This scene lasted for just a few seconds though or right before our bus made its way to the Badiwan Viaduct. I have seen this fleeting image several times before, but one morning in September, it gave me some sense of hope.
You see, the night before, my heart sank when I learned that my friend and I could not get on the last evening bus bound for Tuguegarao. The Victory Liner staff sympathetically added that all the tickets for Cagayan were actually sold out a day earlier. So even if our evening flight out of Cebu miraculously arrived an hour earlier in Manila, there was still no way we could have hopped on that 11:30 PM trip.
In a matter of minutes, my friend and I then decided to take our chances with Bontoc by getting on the next available Baguio bus. We’ll basically wing it out until we arrive in Buscalan, and then proceed to Tabuk and finally, Tuguegarao. We would be traveling in a direction that was opposite to what we have originally planned.
After we alighted at Victory’s terminal in Baguio, we quickly took a cab to Magsaysay Avenue, where the buses bound for Bontoc are stationed.
“Dude, I think we’ll be spending the night at Bontoc since the last trip to Buscalan leaves at 9:00 AM,” I told my companion who was impossibly composed and more upbeat than I was that morning.
“How about your strawberry jams?” he replied. I wanted to buy a few Mountain Maid bottles at the Good Shepherd but since we only had 30 minutes before our Bontoc bus leaves, I told him that the preserves can wait and that we’ll just settle for a quick breakfast at the ‘slaughterhouse.’
We asked the konductor where we can have good bulalo around the area. He told us that there’s an eatery beside the basketball court down the street. There were other bulalo stalls that we passed by, but the few locals that we asked for further directions pointed us to a narrow alley nearby. Finally, we saw two stalls that probably serve the same fare and we chose Auntie Ester D Original Half-half Eatery.
We had a few minutes of indecision as to what to order. Eventually we settled for a Bulalo and a Half-half Kambing. I was curious with the Tinuno Inihaw Dinawis, which one of the owners explained is their bestseller, so we got a serving of it as well.
‘Half-half’ is a brilliant concept since it allows a hungry diner to sample two different dishes at just half price. The resulting pairings could either be disastrous or result to an interesting study in texture and flavor. In the case of the tinuno-inihaw-dinawis, the earthy tinuno (blood stew) paired surprisingly well with the inihaw or the dinawis (grilled pork). It was a weird marriage of proteins, but for reasons that still escape me now, it worked for me.
The goat combo was another pleasant surprise. It reminds me of paklay or the papaitan. The properly cooked goat innards in this dish added a layer of bitterness to the grilled pork.
The bulalo, however, had more tendons than I would have wanted. It was also too straightfoward in flavor, but it was warm enough to chase my previous worries away.
As I finished my broth, I convinced myself that maybe, having a well-detailed itinerary can be an enslaving bitch at times. Maybe I should travel like this often – be surprised as the day unfolds, rely on the kindness of strangers for directions and basically, ‘wing it out’ from the start to finish. This rather heavy and satisfying breakfast as an example, was never in our original itinerary.
“Topload?” my friend asked as we returned to the terminal. I politely begged off thinking that it will probably rain somewhere in Halsema. Besides, there were just a handful of passengers that morning. At the back of my head though, I kept toying with the idea as the top of the bus would give us an unobstructed perspective of the breathtaking Cordillera landscape.
Before I could change my mind, the driver climbed to his seat and brought the bus engine to life.