Baguio and Itogon, Benguet, the Philippines
April 3 – 4, 2022
I had long lost interest in Mines View Park. Mines were not much of a view and there was hardly any park. My woke self considered unbridled mining as environmental rape, not to mention the park’s choking commercialism as a kind of cultural rape. But this trip was not mine. Cabin fever drove Ki to Baguio for a much needed breather; I just tagged along. He booked us Airbnb-style accommodations a few corners from Mines View Park. We dropped in upon arrival. Rain was pouring; we could see dark, heavy clouds bearing down the slopes of Itogon, the mining town next door.
The sky cleared up the next morning, allowing us a window of time to explore the vicinity on foot. Along Outlook Drive, several Benguet pine trees almost entirely enveloped with fern-like creepers caught our fancy. The sight merited a turn downhill as we came to a fork. Google Maps pinned a bakery somewhere down the road. At least we could have some bread and, perhaps, hot coffee if we were lucky.
No such luck. The bakery turned out to be fakery. It was simply a sari-sari store near the dead end, which morphed into stone steps zigzagging through a residential area. By then, intermittent rain momentarily detained us at the barangay covered multi-purpose court with a rowdy gang of kids. Google Maps, once again, dangled a restaurant at the foot of the slope. Hunger was getting the better of me. I snapped open my clear umbrella and trudged down the paved trail.
A young man had advised us to turn right at the fork. He failed to say which among the many forks in this long and winding trail. We kept right anyway through what Ki likened to a Brazilian favela, a densely-packed slum swathed across the mountainside in Rio. I begged to differ. There were no informal settlers here and remnants of the original forest thrived among clusters of houses. A dog, for a moment, considered to investigate our presence, then decided against it and hurriedly took shelter from the rain.
The surrounding foliage appeared lusher; I swore I could hear the trees breathing. At one point, the footpath cut through a pocket of golden candle plants blooming brightly in the rain. The yellow flowers so defiantly erect while laden with wetness came up with the most satisfying climax.
There were more houses several steps downhill. The rain had stopped, luring a few people out to their yard. And, finally, we saw parked vehicles, an indication that the trail’s end was near. Ironically, we learned of the place name only then. We had traversed Barangay Pucsusan, so named for the flow of spring water (in Ibaloi language: pucsu nan shanum) that we may have crossed up the trail.
We exited through a wooden gate slightly ajar to a busy highway, the Baguio-Bua-Itogon Road. The welcome sign to Itogon was a few paces away. We crossed the border to the actual view of Mines View Park and barely found the small and rather nondescript logo of Big Belly Restaurant set too high up the gate. It was, most likely, made for their car-riding clientele as the remote location seemed unlikely for walk-ins. But we were the unlikely diners.
Big Belly, as most restaurants in Benguet, looked like it was formerly a house. Only two tables were occupied as it was way past lunch hour. We were famished and tucked in their hefty servings of sweet and sour fish and the house specialty (tender liempo with salad). Their rice had an identity crisis – it could not decide to be white or brown – but it went quite nicely with the main course.
The late lunch was a happy ending to our unplanned trek down to Itogon. It was not really Pucsusan per se I was desperately seeking; I had never heard of the place prior. It was what it represented – to just go with the flow (pucsu nan shanum) and be “in a good place,” a state of calmness and contentment even in circumstances not of our own choosing. VP Leni was right,
after all of course.
Thank you for reading! Your support is much appreciated. Donate now: