Monday, February 22, 2016

Monday, February 22, 2016
My booked room



"Why Baggao?"

It's the reaction that I received one too many times weeks before my planned Cagayan Valley tour from Manila. I was determined to have a layover in Tuguegarao City after a 12-hour grueling bus ride and eventually end my northern Philippine adventure in Sta. Ana. It's the usual tourist route in the province anyway. Between such destinations, I was set to spend at least a night in Baggao, a town next to Gattaran, Peñablanca, Amulung and Alcala. It's considered to be semi-remote by local travelers that I talked to because getting there meant making a detour from the Baybayog-Alcala junction and tackling a long and winding road that have patches alternating in dirt and cement.

A resident of the province contended that there was nothing to see there. Even Google was brutally clear in warning me of the town's history of being a communist rebel base. However, all these didn't faze me because I spotted online a cozy looking lodging called Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant. For starters, I was able to book a room over the phone without any hassle. I figured that if there's something that's as inviting in pictures as that establishment, a natural attraction is definitely close by.

Picturesque cornfields
(left) Clubhouse Sandwich and Fries; (right) Ilokanong Pakbet and Grilled Liempo
Spring Chicken In Mushroom Sauce

Two Hours From Tuguegarao

It's safe to reveal that my travel instinct didn't fail me. Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant is where it is in the quaint village of San Jose because, as it turned out, there's a couple of waterfalls and caves, plus a hot spring nearby. I only managed to learn about this right before I had my dinner of Ilokanong Pakbet and Grilled Liempo at the hotel's restaurant. As a result, thinking about my next day itinerary left me convinced that the additional two hours of travel that I endured from Tuguegarao aboard a van was worth it. Heck, the Club Sandwich and Cheese Fries that I had after check-in was appetizing enough to make me remain unfazed against the previous contentions of my peers. Its accompanying glass of lemonade was also so refreshing that it relaxed my nerves.

The clubhouse
Quirky and Countryside

I comfortably settled into my booked room at the two-storey hotel after spending a few minutes checking out the garden where it's located. It appeared that the space outside also serves as an open-air garage for cars of guests whether on overnight stay or as part of a special event at its clubhouse. It's pleasantly tucked away from the main road where the restaurant is, so it's understandable for someone new arriving from any neighboring town to always mistake the latter to be the actual hotel. An interior pathway connects the two although there are also guestrooms at the second floor of the restaurant.

My booked room was exactly how I saw it online, only better on site. I was a bit astonished to see that something fancy like it would exist in the rural setting of the town, especially after coming from the highly urbanized city of Tuguegarao where most establishments were next to nondescript.

Frozen Cookies 'N' Cream
The irrigation across Duba Cave

The inn was neither modern nor dated. It was simply teeming in countryside feel that's normally palpable in Tagaytay and Baguio. If anything, it's a home away from home.

Instagram-Worthy Restaurant Treats

As for the restaurant, its quirky interiors belie uncompromising attention to dishes and featured treats. Outside, the sight of sad-looking eateries seems to be the norm. At Country Inn, though, a wall can't just be a wall. It needs to have a splash of colors and a display of bric-a-brac for enhancement. Even the food is plated with fondness and served in inventive ways that are truly Instagram-worthy. Most of all, they are not lacking in attractive taste. My orders of Spring Chicken In Mushroom Sauce, pork bits-topped Chopsuey, and Baby Back Ribs for lunch were quite memorable for being delicious. For dessert, I highly recommend the Frozen Cookies 'N' Cream for solo indulgence.

Special Event Venue and Catering

I noticed that the restaurant seems to be the only decent dining destination in the town that can serve a panoply of dishes which makes it sought-after by locals three times a day (morning, noon, and night) and in between main meals. As a result, its Clubhouse and KTV Room are also the favorite venues for the residents' special events as the restaurant also offers catering services for formal and informal parties.

The clubhouse
Lyka Herrero of Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant
Hotel grounds

Young Innkeepers Maiyo and Lyka

The young couple of Maiyo and Lyka Herrero are the innkeepers of the hotel and restaurant and they seem to be breathing new life into the 2003-built establishment. As a matter of fact, it's Maiyo's doting mother, Audrey, who started the brand that can now also be seen via Country Inn By The Sea at a beachfront of Sta. Ana, three hours away from Baggao.

Should you visit the place soon and find that everything seems to be a bit different, it's because a renovation plan is on the way this year to make it before its anniversary.

Breakfast of Ilokanong Longganisa
Attraction Side Trips 

After a tasty breakfast of Ilokanong Longganisa, I took advantage of the whole morning exploring the rest of the town where Duba Cave and River is. And, since Peñablanca's Laglagto River and Rock Formation is just a 30-minute hike away from its border, I also made the easy side trip giving me the chance to cross an old hanging bridge in the province. It was just unfortunate that I had to cancel a visit of an attraction called Bluewater Falls and a hot spring as I had to make a necessary check-out for my next two-hour journey to Sta. Ana.

Cornfields in Baggao
The facade of St. Joseph Parish in Baggao
I took my last glimpse of Baggao's picturesque cornfields that cover epic plains and hills aboard a van bound back for Tuguegarao as there are no direct commutes to Sta. Ana. They were what a visitor would see last when leaving the town. I got off at the Baybayog-Alcala junction to hail a van for my next destination and realised that, like the Ibanag word "abbaggaoan" from where it was derived, the place is truly a hunter's paradise where one can revel in his own mud hole to wash a catch before setting out for another endeavor. With the presence of Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant in the town, I can certainly dispute the apprehensions of other travelers and locals of Cagayan. Instead of similarly asking why, I'm compelled to quip, "Wow, Baggao!"

Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant

Official Facebook fan page of Country Inn Hotel and Restaurant

Address: San Jose, Baggao, Cagayan, Philippines 3506
Mobile: 0917-685-2837 and 0915-397-2300

More to come of my Cagayan tour soon!

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