Baguio captivates tourists with their fresh strawberry and cooler weather, but what most people don’t realize is what happens before dawn breaks
Text and Photos By Thaddeus C. Hinunangan, MD
My friends and I waited inside a Jollibee on Session road. It was seven in the evening, and we were decked in out leather jackets and blue jeans to slug it out at the night market. It was our first night in Baguio, on an impulse trip we took in search of faux fur coats and gypsy bracelets. How on earth we would find use for a fur coat in Manila, was hard to justify, but a friend said she always wanted to visit Japan in the winter and wear a fur coat.
We were all newly minted physicians. Tin was a Fatima School of Medicine graduate, Lala and Lili, twin sisters, were from West Visayas State University, and I from Remedios Trinidad Romualdez Medical Foundation in Tacloban. We were in the pre-residency phase of the Pathology residency application period, and it was a long weekend so we thought of visiting the summer capital of the Philippines.
Last time I was in Baguio was in the 80’s as a child, and a decade ago I briefly passed by the city during a trip to Sagada, Mountain Province. The city was still the same, with the serene Burnham Park as its centerpiece. Landscape architect Daniel Burnham was commissioned during the American occupation of the Philippines to design a city in the highlands as a vacation spot for US Officials and military.
As we got off the bus, the cool breeze greeted us. It was the familiar chill of being a couple of degrees lower than sunny Manila. The first order of the day was to find a taxi, and there were several Tamaraw Fx metered taxis near the bus station. In fact, one of the most convenient things about Baguio was the presence of these large taxis with polite and courteous drivers. Many have been so used to taxis in Manila who would overcharge or purposely take you for a spin which would blow up an otherwise reasonable fare.
No reservations, no problem
We first tried Hotel Veniz, which was a stone’s throw from the night market but unfortunately it had no vacancies. We have come without reservations. Luckily for us, Session road was dotted with hotels which made it easy to find a modest place to stay.
It was almost 9:00 PM, the road was closed off to vehicles and traders were starting to put up their stalls. The Baguio night market spanned at least three blocks, selling everything from fashion accessories, to home decors, to flowers, to food, and of course ukay-ukay or second hand clothes.
I know flea market shopping is not for everyone. Some people don’t like the idea of wearing someone else’s garments, but after five years of wearing our white uniform, I was more than ready to revamp my wardrobe. The catch was that I did not have enough funds to go on a regular shopping spree at the mall. A dress slacks would cost somewhere between PhP1,000 to PhP2,000. For black belt ukay-ukay shoppers like me, we can sometimes find similar slacks of good quality at Php100 or less if you can bargain. A little caveat- there is almost always something wrong with it, like a little stain or a faded area, or the size doesn’t quite perfectly fit. Hey, if it were perfect, the owner wouldn’t have let go of it in the first place.
On good days though, one can find a treasure in a mountain of clothes. Like the time a friend found an authentic Vivienne Westwood blouse in good condition for a Php100. I once bought D squared designer jeans for a fraction of the cost of a regular one. This was the time to be whimsical, and for fashion lovers, this was a Mecca of outrageous one-of-a-kind outfits.
The exotic, the practical, and the frivolous
All four of us blended in to the crowd. Rows and rows of clothes racks covered the streets; there was hardly any place to walk. The original plan was to stick together, but the girls and I had somehow separated along the way. There were jackets of all shapes and sizes, blouses from plain to sequined to gossamer, skirts and pants on every fabric and design known to man.
We were planning on coordinating our outfits for the days to come, we had “denim day,” we had winter wear day, trying on fur hats like the one we saw on Angelina Jolie’s Russian character in Salt, hats that looked like animals, scarves which I bought at 40 pesos each. The prices were outrageously low. Denim jackets cost PhP2, 000 at the mall, here it was on sale at PhP250, but I showed the owner a little rip on the elbows so we agreed at 200 pesos.
There were Japanese dolls and jars, home decors laid out on the pavement. Fake samurai swords and shogun dolls. There were cellphone accessories, bracelets made of carved ivory and stone, wood carvings, and dreamcatchers.
I had lost track of time, and lost track of my companions. I was buying my way through the crowd, arms full of clothes and scarves and even a body bag. The thing about bargain shopping is that you don’t really notice how much you spend because they were all cheap. Everyone laughed when they found me trying on a violet bathrobe which was so comfortable I bought it anyway. There was no room left in my luggage, that’s for sure.
We went for refreshments at the stalls. They had barbeque, pizza, hotdogs, corn, balut (duck egg), a native delicacy and even cakes! In the end, as much as we wanted to go back to the night market, it almost midnight and we decided to call it a day. As we walked towards our hotel, an old bookstore selling vintage books caught our eyes. We laughed amongst ourselves and promised this was the “last” stopover for the night. The sound of cars honking and people milling about could still be heard from Session road, while the rest of Baguio had begun to sleep soundly.
August 2017 Health and Lifestyle