Sunday, November 5, 2017

Concert in the Clouds rocked Sagada Mountains

Joey Ayala in Sagada.

The gargantuan task of putting together 30 great artists in faraway Sagada in one show for a cause can now be rightfully called the greatest show in the mountains.

Freddie Aguilar singing with toned-down voice.
The artists include Gary V, Acel, Adinkra Lumads, Kat Agarrado, Sinosikat, Freddie Aguilar, Aoui, Apartel, Asch, Abbey Asistio, Joey Ayala, Edgar Banasan, Behind Bears, Blue Jeans Junkies, Ely Buendia, Noel Cabangon, Lolita Carbon, Giniling Festival, Dane Hipolito, Kordilyear Jam ni Peter Wasing, Raymond Luchenco, Lenses, Lunar Landings, Maude, Monolog, Moonwalk, Native Flavor, Ransom Collective, Reggae Mistress, Skymarines, The Ringmaster and Up Dharma Down.

“And if only from my perspective, then this one was,” said Formosa who also produced the music of many of the Manila artists who came to the show.

Noel Cabangon shared his time and talent to the cause.
Working together with Sagada folks, Formoso said “when you put all its components and working parts together, assembled and analyzed as a whole, 'A Concert in the Clouds' in Sagada last weekend was a piece of work beyond anything anyone could ever imagine.”

One of the reasons for the event’s success is all of the artists agreed to do this for charity. Formoso said all “the artists agreed to do the event without talent fee.”

Majority of the artists who came were friends of mine. That being said, it was like a family reunion and birthday party. Everyone was a gift, everyone brought a gift. It was a family thing. It was the same on stage as on the field. A family affair," said Formoso.

The concert was attended by thousands of guests, the highest at any one time reaching up to 3,000. Major Key players who made it possible were the Department of Tourism, Victory Liner and the Henry V. Moran Foundation. He said “the Sagada Art, Music & Peace Fair was a work of love. And those who put it together and those who participated in it delivered that love to those who came to witness.”

As one Sagada folk Tessie Baldo said, “I am a small person who can’t afford a ticket to a concert or to even go to Manila.” “The performance of these artists in Sagada is a great experience for a simple person like me,” she said.

While there were several oppositions, most business owners had supported the concert dubbed as the greatest show in the mountains.

Gaia Café proprietress Gawani Domogo had to open up earlier than her planned re-launching to cater to the vegetarian guests and artists. “We still don’t have doors and our extension is still underway but we have to open up as I am the only one serving vegetarian meals,” she said.

One petitioner who also went to the concert to observe said their fears were not realized because the targeted guests were not met. “It probably would have been different if there were more guests who arrived,” he said.

Siegrid Bangyay, one of the organizers said “those were all assumptions. If all of us will help each other, those fears will not materialize.”

Domogo on the other hand said “Sagada has been experiencing an influx of tourists during long weekends especially during Holy Week.” “During those times, we managed. How much more for an event like this where we have a long time to prepare and we can have more volunteers to utilize,” she said.

One of the best part of the event happened not during the concert but during the sound check of Garry V. It was not witnessed by many but it was special to the people who witnessed it. While he was doing the sound check, a small crowd was gathered to watch him.

Garry V. was surprised so he chatted with them and performed for them. “I don’t usually have people watching me during sound check but I’m glad you’re here today,” he told the audience. “Tonight you might not be sitting here, baka nasatabi-tabi kayo so please allow me to perform for you today.”
He sang several songs that he would again perform for a bigger crowd that night. The star was even apologetic for having to communicate with the technical people. “Since this is a sound-check, please forgive if I talk to my sound guys every once in a while,” he said.

He ended up singing more songs that necessary during his sound check and delighted the gathered crowd whom he even granted to have selfies with.

Bangyay said the concert was a success although it did not meet the targeted sales as many sponsors and guests backed out because of the petition. “For the people of Sagada to watch big stars perform in their neighborhood is already a big success,” she said.

Other activities during the event were art exhibit Baguio and Sagada artists and free art workshops for kids of Sagada.

Formoso said some told him it was impossible to do. “Too ambitious, others said it was insane, but no one laughed it off...and so, it happened,” he said. 

Will it ever happen again? Formoso said “the answer depends on my friends in Sagada.” “It is now theirs and for them to decide. I will be in the audience for the next one,” he said.
Formoso said “there are other dreams that I need to mold.”

“Perhaps 'A Concert in the Ruins' and 'A Concert by the Sea'... both of which, when realized, will be "once-in-a-lifetime" experiences. I need to take some time to pause and reflect. THANK YOU to all my artist friends who came to play. THANK YOU everyone who supported it. THANK YOU Sagada. Till then.”

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sagada’s Ap-apoy, a Merging of Christendom and local Tradition

Sagada's annual Ap-apoy.

Sagada’s Ap-apoy is a celebration of All Saints Day combined with the traditional way of commemorating dead loved ones.

During late afternoon of November one, people of Sagada visit the tomb of their dead loved ones carrying with them bundles of firewood. The practice was also adopted by the people who migrated to the place whose dearly departed are buried in the cemetery.

I went to this event hoping not only to understand the culture but to find the tomb of American anthropologist and educator William Henry Scott. From what I heard, he fell in love with this place and made it his last resting place.

It was a fortunate visit as I not only found his tombstone, I also found his foster family who come here often during this event to commemorate him.

Miguel Talaney is one of the 15 foster children of Scott. Talaney, who is now 85 years old, was closest to the anthropologist as he and his family were the ones who stayed with him. The family explained to me about the tradition.

The old folks according to Wileen Lasangan, daughter of Talaney, did not practice the annual November one Ap-apoy until Christianity came.

In the old tradition of Sagada, lighted firewood is usually carried ahead to light the way when they bring their dead ones to his/her last resting place, either to the burial caves or to be included in what is now the famous hanging coffins.

“The light is a symbol that shines the way of the spirit of the departed,” said Lasangan. With the arrival of Christianity, cemeteries were created and eventually the people adapted this practice.

Came with Christianity was the annual observation of All Saints Day. But instead of candles, firewoods were used.

“It’s not only part of the tradition but it’s more practical as it doesn’t easily put out from the windy weather of Sagada,” said Willa Langbay, also a daughter of Talaney.

The ap-apoy usually starts in the late afternoon with each family arriving to light their firewood one after the other. Recently, they organised to do it simultaneously where a mass is scheduled at the start of the event. After the mass, they all heed to the cemetery for a simultaneous lighting.

After the Ap-apoy, each family goes home to honour their loved ones over dinner. Sometimes, they are joined by invited guests. I was fortunate to be invited by the Talaney family.

The Talaney family at William Henry Scott's residence. Miguel is standing 2nd from right.
Ap-apoy is open to visitors as long as they observe the solemnity of the event. Contrary to some misleading info by some travel agencies, this event is not a festival  and group tours are usually closed to this part of town during this event.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Shell’s Annual Bike Fair

If you’re a biker and close to the next annual Shell Bike Fair series, you might want to get a chance on free motorbikes being raffled.

With its cool climate known as bikers’ favorite, Baguio was the starting point of the fair series. The bikers are treated with performances by Sky Dive, Uptown Rascals, Sky Light, Imago, Go Girls, and the “pambansang banda” Parokya ni Edgar. It was also attended by Shell’s celebrity endorser Diana Meneses.


With the growing number of motorcycle riders in the Philippines, Metro Manila has 860,517 motorbike owners while up north, there are 576,573, the fair was well attended. The succeeding series are expected to fare the same.

I made a short stop at the Fair at the CAP Building in Camp John Hay hoping to win in the raffle for another motorbike, but with more than a thousand bikers assembled, it’s exactly more than a thousand to one chance. But I was lucky to bring home some souvenirs, thanks to the media privileges.

The next fair schedules are Bicol, Cebu, Davao and Metro Manila, which will run from July to September. For more updates, visit their website

Monday, May 8, 2017

Missing Cafe by the Ruins? Check out Cafe Dua

This article was first published in ABS-CBN New Online

 BAGUIO CITY -- “Don't forget, we still have Cafe by the Ruins Dua!”

This was the message posted by the management of Cafe by the Ruins on its official Facebook page after the original branch of this well-loved Baguio restaurant was hit by fire last April 30.

“If you're craving bagnet or our fan-favorite strawberry shortcake you can get that here along with other great dishes,” it reminded its customers.

The loss of the original Cafe by the Ruins was quickly mourned by the Baguio community and other guests who have been regular patrons of the restaurant.

“After 29 long years, it’s heartbreaking to see it go out in flames,” said managing partner Benguetaña Villanueva, who came home just three months ago from Canada to co-manage the business.

Villanueva is the daughter of the late Roberto Villanueva, who named her after his birth province.

The surrealist painter was among the restaurant's founders, a motley bunch of artists that included the late Christine Arvisu, one of the owners of the property; the late anthropologist Dr. Dave Baradas; the late writer and artist Baboo Mondeñedo, who also delved into documenting the mountain culture; art patron Boy Yunchengco; Louie and Susan Llamado; National Artist Ben Cabrera; and Adelaida Lim.

The restaurant, which opened in 1987, started as a dare -- to build a cafe over the ruins of a World War II building originally owned by the first governor of the region Phelps Whitmarsh and his Ibaloi wife.

From the start, this group of diverse individuals decided that Cafe by the Ruins would be a venue for community events, providing food, friendship and information and operating beyond profit. The menu changes every four months, with daily specials made from what's fresh from the market.

The menu is as colorful as the diverse culture of Baguio City that has become a melting pot of highland and lowland traditions. Vegans and non-vegans alike enjoy the restaurant’s offerings.
Journalist Desiree Caluza commented on her Facebook post: “The cafe is the heart and soul of the culinary community in the city.”

Cafe by the Ruins buys its supplies from local suppliers like the La Top organic farmers, which supply vegetables; and honey from beekeepers at the St. Louis University in Bakakeng, Baguio. Supplies which are not found nearby are sourced from other provinces like the Padas bagoong produced in Lingayen, Pangasinan or the Jamaica hibiscus grown in Bauko, Mt. Province, which is made into a sour red drink.

“Our suppliers for chocolate, coffee and milk are from all over the country ranging from Davao to the Cordillera,” Villanueva said.

The restaurant also buys from the families of the cafe's employees. “We support our own family members,” Villanueva said. “A cafe that cares for its family members.”
About eight years ago, the management of the cafe was turned over the second-generation owners, who have added more innovations.
They also decided to expand by opening Cafe by the Ruins Dua or simply Cafe Dua. (Dua is the Iloko word for number two.)

Cafe Dua has a different ambiance compared to the original cafe. It has a second floor with roomy seating that "offers great lighting from our windows during the day and cozy at night,” Villanueva said.

“Our open kitchen allows you to watch the cooks prepare your dishes and make you feel like you are a part of that delicious process,” added Villanueva. “It’s good to know where your food is coming from.”

But there are also similarities. For one, the cafe, located on Upper Session Road, also hosts art exhibits and many of the decorations are art installations by Baguio artists ranging from pieces by Bencab and the late Santi Bose to struggling local artists, who eventually enjoyed their own moments of fame.

Also held every now and then at Cafe Dua are poetry readings. The original Cafe by the Ruins was a known gathering place for literary giants, budding poets and creative writers who would share and bare their hearts in rhymes and rhythms.

Cafe Dua also serves as the production house with a commissary that supplies all the needs of both cafes. It also has a bakery that supplies the bread daily.

Villanueva said it is heartwarming to hear people offer their sympathies after Sunday's blaze. “I would like them to know that we see it and we appreciate it,” she said.

“Stick around. We do plan to rebuild at some point. We will come back bigger and better,” Villanueva promised.

“We have survived for 29 years and we intend to stick around for a long time.”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

New Baguio attraction inspired by world's best gardens

Hidden deep in Benguet Mountains is an outdoor Green Living Room featuring 24 beautiful landscapes inspired by the best gardens in the World.
Each garden has its story to tell: the origin of life is a legend told at the Inca garden, the love story that was torn apart at the Romeo and Juliet garden, the musical garden that rhymes with the wind, and many more.
The Zen garden and concentric garden are places to contemplate and meditate. The favorite of many visitors is the mirror garden where they can have creative photography of themselves.
Aside from the Award winning flowers from All American Selections (AAS), other materials like rocks, twigs, sand, cement, pebbles, even strings and mirrors are artistically used to design the 24 gardens and ponds located inside a 3-hectare mountain resort called Mount Costa.
The clean, crisp and fresh mountain air amidst the sound of tranquility is a glimpse of what Baguio used to be before the hustle and bustle of modern society.
It has 5,500 meters walking trails with paved or graveled horizontal trails and senorita step rises on vertical trails.
Park designer Pat Acosta said “There is a total of 24 gardens initially designed inside the 3-hectare compound.” He said they “pick up the best garden designs and put them in the park for Filipinos to get a taste of the best gardens in the world.”
Some of the designs, however, are their own like the Spectrum Garden designed by her daughter Vita Acosta who finished Fine Arts.
Acosta, a horticulturist said this family property along the Pico-Lamtang Road in La Trinidad was bought in 1978 by their parents Col. Voltaire Acosta and Cleotilde to develop as a strawberry farm. However, due to a virus that plagued the farm, it was discontinued. Sometime in 2015, the Acostas arrived at a notion that will become a game-changer in the tourism landscape of the Cordillera.
The family hoped that this resort located 30 minutes away from Baguio will bloom like the flowers of the Panagbenga Festival. At the moment, only half of it was developed and they are planning to expand to the remaining 3 hectares with more garden designs.
Mount Costa has other amenities like park benches, a playground, clean toilets, food kiosks and picnic tables. With the exception of baby food items, outside food and beverages are not allowed inside the gardens.
“This is a place where one can take all the time they need to stroll and reflect,” said Acosta. However, he said the place is not for the general audience but only for those who really appreciate nature and designs.
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With the soft opening entrance fee of P350.00 that will likely to increase on the grand launching this May, it is indeed not affordable to everyone. But that amount is small to someone who is looking for inspiration and ideas.
“The Green Living Room symbolizes the reuniting as one with Mother Nature with the green advocacy that the family upholds,” said Acosta.
Mount Costa was derived from the owners’ family name and being developed by three generation of Acostas from the Baby boomers to the Generation X and Y.
“Mount Costa serves as Voltaire and Cleotilde’s legacy, perseverance and the very essence of the Cordileras where nature prospers together with nature,” said Acosta.
TheAcostas are cousins of comedian and author Garry Lising.

This article was first published by ABS-CBN News