Casa Vallejo & going back to one’s roots
LIVE FEED - Bibsy M. Carballo (The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2013 - 12:00am

It was going to be a simple attendance at Baguio’s Panagbenga Flower Festival graced by Sen. Bong Revilla in an Indio float from GMA 7 and Robin Padilla atop the ABS-CBN’s Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw float, both met by screaming crowds. Together with Jose Cabaltera and Christian Jutic from Manila, with Elvie Reclosado and Aljin Locano from Baguio, we ended up doing a full tour of places we remember, no longer remember, and now would like to remember.

Over a period of three days and two nights, it was a weekend of surprises we hadn’t experienced in a long time. This included getting squashed among people who had lined up at Session Road from 5 a.m. to watch the parade, boating on Burnham Park, eating street food we have long missed, discovering a butterfly sanctuary, visiting the Chinese Bell Church, peeking into the remains of the old Hyatt Hotel that went down with the disastrous earthquake of July 1990, shopping at the market, picking strawberries at La Trinidad, missing the view from Mine’s View Park, dropping in on The Mansion, finding an entire building of locally woven products at the Easter Weaving station and being with old friends.

Easily the highlight of the visit was Casa Vallejo. We were born in Baguio and each summer, our mother would bring us to Baguio to stay at the Vallejo. The two-day festival of street dancing and float parade had brought in some two million merrymakers to the city, resulting in voluminous traffic jams. The Casa Vallejo of our youth had been given a cleaning job resulting in a handsome edifice that nevertheless kept its original wood and look, and added an artistic flavor. We met the owner Mitos Yñiguez Benitez whose parents made Mario’s a respected name in Baguio and Morato; bumped into Padmapani Perez, daughter of film director Butch and production designer Laida Lim Perez at the Mt. Cloud bookshop she operates, and met those in charge of the Baguio Cinematheque, curator Joel Tibaldo and assistant/projectionist Mike Zarate.

Being the very first Cinematheque put up by the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) under Briccio Santos, Baguio was privileged to have experienced a slam-bang opening on Sept. 22, 2011, screening the classics Anak Dalita, Giliw Ko, Tunay na Ina, Pakiusap and Ibong Adarna. Rates for films at the 75-seater ranged from P100 for Lav Diaz’s six-hour film Siglo ng Pagluluwal (Century of Birthing) of two unrelated stories, to P50 for Anac Ti Pating (Shark’s Child) of a shark living in the forest of the Cordillera, to normal P30 entrance.

By luck, we got to watch a nostalgic documentary Project 66: Nowhere yet Everywhere, tracing the history of the 66th Infantry, a Benguet-based guerrilla regiment of the US Armed Forces in the Philippines North Luzon (USAFIP-NL) formed to resist the Japanese. Members of USAFIP are known today as World War II veterans. Interviews of living veterans intersperse with videos of attacks by the Japanese in the film. It was especially important to both Jose and myself whose fathers were both in WWII.

The hotel portion of Casa Vallejo has 24 rooms in various sizes and has become a favorite for foreigners and businessmen. The restaurant portion dubbed Hill Station had been restored with only three major changes — the widening of windows, the addition of stairs and the exposure of ceiling beams, according to Pia Salazar, manager of Hill Station. With a capacity of 65 diners to 100 for special functions, and a delectable menu, the restaurant is the prime attraction among the tenants of Casa Vallejo. Other tenants are the Cinematheque, the Mt. Cloud Bookshop and The North Haven Spa. All together, this package makes for a wonderful mix that continues to attract visitors who return again and again like we did during the three days in Baguio.

Of course, our gallivanting around left much more we wanted to see. We wanted more bonding time with our host Ameya Signey whom we last visited more than a decade ago. We know that most certainly, we shall be back.

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