February 10, 2017
A COFFEE SHOP HIGH UP IN THE FOG
Kalugong means “hat” in Ilocano. There’s a mountain by that name? From the Provincial Capitol in La Trinidad, Benguet she points to a mountaintop―high up in the fog! “There’s my café,” she beams with pride, and you almost don’t believe her.
So the following week, we decided to take the challenge of reaching Mt. Kalugong before the rains come. It rains almost daily now in Baguio and trekking up to the “Kape an”(coffee shop on Ilocano). It is a ride and a walk through a road filled with old tires that Susan Pablo calls her “tire path.”
After driving up on a two way street that’s only a few meters wide, we finally reached the top―the highest a car would be able to park at. Next, we walked on tires and stones. Then, you get to the top―and gasp! “Oh my God!” The rock formations are straight out of the Coron or Vietnam limestone―but up here in Baguio?
The doubting Thomas in me started to feel the rocks. Yes, they were not a movie set. They are real rock formations because the elders said that La Trinidad used to be under water.
I almost crawl on the last few tire steps, still in awe. Finally, with a very steep rise of the succeeding tires, you arrive at the building of Susan’s dream coffee house. Kape an, it says, a welcoming door brings you to a cafe with a scenic view of La Trinidad Valley. You see Benguet State University, the strawberry fields, the Capitol (from where we saw the cafe last week), and to the far left even is SM Baguio. It’s almost a 270-degree view, not just 180 degrees.
In the rear of the cafe are eco lodges. The huts are made of nipa and had no electricity. It’s just Nature and you. They are rented by eco travelers who want to unplug with a book and a coffee.
Susan used to be an OFW in London. When a relative got sick, she decided to come home and take care of family matters. Having been to London’s coffeehouses, she thought she may as well put up her dream cafe in her hometown. After all, coffee literally grows just in her backyard.
To add another feather to her cap, she took up Q coffee grading exams, a rigorous test that she passed with flying colors! She now has the title of the first Q grader in Cordillera. It’s an honor that her community is proud of. She is also the first woman Q grader in Benguet and she may even be the first Third wave cafe owner in that part. Susan brings honor and a lot of expertise to her local farming community, so they can now taste and grade their coffee harvests, unlike in the past.
Mount Kalugong Eco village has the cafe, the eco lodges, and soon she will be serving local Benguet food. These are traditional slow food like Pinikpikan (chicken that is prepared in a very traditional way, best left for you to discover) and Kini-Ing or smoked pork, and of course Benguet Arabica coffee.
Do something different the next time you go up to Baguio. Drive over to La Trinidad or take the bus going to Atok and Bontoc. At the Barangay Cruz area, trek to Mount Kalugong on a winding steep road. You will come back a different person. The sight is unbelievable and the coffee is magnificent!
Stay the night maybe? Well, call Susan first. She may be fully booked. Who knows how many people want to unplug and just enjoy the beauty of Nature?
Photos by Chit and Ros Juan
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