Saturday, August 22, 2009

Baker's Hill v.01 - Palawan Chronicles Part 3

Some unplanned visits sometimes turn out to be great cinches. Baker’s Hill was one of them. As we’ve written previously, I haven’t heard of Baker’s Hill until this 3rd visit in Puerto Princesa. When our trike driver asked us if we wanted to drop by Baker’s Hill (it was part of the “city tour”), we weren’t so thrilled about it, but we thought we should at least check it out since we’re in the vicinity.


Baker’s Hill is a mixed commercial-residential compound located in Barangay Santa Monica, on the same street where Mitra Ranch and Commodore Hernandez Mansion are. It was primarily known as a place where tourists buy their kakanin and pasalubong (food gifts). They are known for their hopia - a popular Filipino bean-filled pastry originally introduced by Fujianese immigrants in the Philippines around the start of the American civil occupation. The most popular flaky hopia is Hopiang Mungo and as its name implies, is filled with sweet split mung bean paste. Other varieties include hopia baboy (pork meat) and ube (purple yam). Varieties at the Hill include hopia pinya (pineapple) and hopia hapon (gosh! I hope they don’t stuff them with Japanese folks – kidding!) 

Other food items they sell include the following: mamon, crinkles, brownies, choco slice and droplets, tostadong mamon and pianono. It’s weird though that they don’t have cashew products from which Palawan is quite known for. They also sell souvenir shirts. At the entrance, there are ambulant vendors selling a variety of accessories studded with pearl, another common product of Palawan. I got a complete set for my mom at a giveaway price of PhP200 – which I was able to haggle down to PhP150 ($3).

Hopia ube - This photo only courtesy of flickr's pianoforte.


Now how do you test if it’s real cultured pearl? There are several methods they employ to show you it’s the real deal. One, they clench their teeth on the pearl – and it shouldn’t break. Two, they rub it off a rough surface and it doesn’t scratch. Three, they burn them with their lighter – and these pearls wouldn’t get covered with soot nor melt like plastics. I was impressed with their circus acts so I got myself a pair as gift to my mom. (Check out the next post for photos of these pearl set.)

These days however, Baker’s Hill has expanded their raison d’etre. The compound has been developed into a park filled with mini-gardens of eclectic themes. There are dinosaur statues, colorful birds and animal statues, a Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired captain, quirky and comic statues of Marilyn Monroe and her rather more voluptuous alter-ego, cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck and a –hold your breath!dumping dwarf! There are on-going works seen all over the compound, which should spread between 5-7 hectares.

I was able to luckily sneak inside the Green Room – a garden full of exotic plants, and I suspect it wasn’t for guests. However, I wanted to check out the place where all the magnificent decorative plants were being grown! I was impressed! I saw a couple of gardeners sneaking surprised glances my way, so I escorted myself out. They also have a large toilet for separate sexes – modern, very dry, almost unused and very clean! Entry to Baker’s Hill is free of charge.

Exotic and fat...

When my 6 year old niece saw this photo, she blurted, "Shells..." LOL

The Green Room

Beautiful, beautiful cacti...

There are see-saws, swings and slides for children; picnic tables and wooden swings for lovers. For the hungry, there’s a carinderia (a small food shop) selling really cheap food – a tasty pork barbeque at just PhP15 ($0.30) per stick, a cup of rice at PhP10 ($0.20), a full porkchop meal with drinks at PhP75 ($1.55), a hopia box at PhP35 ($0.70). For the more upscale customers, the sophisticated Twigs Restaurant is a fine-dining option located just 15 paces from the carinderia. Food and drinks bought outside the compound are then strictly and expectedly prohibited – or sanctions of corkage fees might be imposed.

Carinderia (food shop)

Twigs Restaurant

I was in awe of the place, most especially since I didn’t expect anything from it other than that it would be a series of shops for gifts and souvenirs. At the front of the compound stands the multi-story residential complex where the owner lives. My driver told me that this establishment is owned by a Filipina who married a businessman from Saudi Arabia, thus the obvious source of wealth and out-of-the-box artistic and entrepreneurial inspiration. However, Elena, my dear friend who lives in PP, strongly negated this rumor. The Floreses own the place, Elena corrected me. The soft-spoken matriarch, Susan Flores, is the brains behind such quirky park which quickly reminded me of a scaled down Damsen Park (in Saigon). The owners are a very humble, self-made couple who shuns publicity. In fact, journalist Korina Sanchez’s name surfaces again as having allegedly invited the Floreses for a little television feature (probably for her tele-magazine show “Balitang K”), but they declined. That’s what the grapevine said.

What Ms. Sanchez didn't succeed, the team behind GMA's "Mel & Joey" did. They were able to get a sit-down interview with the owner who revealed that their bakery business started as far back as 1967 from her mother-in-law. Then they decided to put up a rest house. The plan to turn it into a fun park came later, and in stages. Baker's Hill is also home to well-loved ostrich pets (Homer and Marge - who were originally housed in Manila) and 7 peacocks, and this feathery company is steadily growing.

There are several areas in this park that’s under construction, and word is that all these sections have been a series of non-stop development for the last 10 years or so. “Palaging may bago, (There’s always something new.)” Elena pointed.

Next up: More of Baker’s Hill (2nd part)

This is the Eye in the Sky.


Anonymous said...

thank you for featuring our place in your blog.Natawa ko dun sa saudi arabian gossip na husband ng mom ko hehe dati canadian naman hehe. We're glad you enjoyed your stay in palawan. Nice pictures btw

eye in the sky said...

It was my pleasure. You know how these unguided visits go. They always end up in idle chatters with "kuwentong cuchero". :->