Spontaneous travels: Baguio City edition

Author’s note: I’ve been a planner for as far as I can remember. I love going through checklists, I bought my 2017 planner last September, I started working on my biggest Christmas gifts since July, I even got myself a BA II Plus calculator 4 years prior to entering the actuarial industry. XD

It makes sense then that interrupted or postponed plans are quite disappointing, though it can’t be helped ’cause there usually are so many variables to consider (especially the unreliable schedules of busy people). I’ve found that unplanned get-togethers have the biggest success rate, so I had this idea to start a “spontaneous travels” series for when my friends and I would find ourselves having the free time and courage to explore the gastronomical and cultural offerings of places outside the city. ๐Ÿ˜€


Photos by Tristan Cervas

How it started

One day, approximately 6 months after I set a cosplay photoshoot that got postponed due to unreliable weather (imagine how sad-looking a beach is during rainy season), my photographer friend and colleague Tristan proposed to convert it to a day-long food trip to Baguio. ๐Ÿ˜€ It was certainly feasible, since dreary weather is typical of a mountainous region and I was pretty sure that the Christmas vibe will offset the dreary mood, if any. I had no cold weather attire to use, save for my jacket from 4th grade (which still miraculously fits!).

Based on our satisfactions and regrets that day, here are our recommendations on how to survive a spontaneous trip to Baguio:

Bring cold weather clothing!

We got there in the afternoon so it wasn’t as cold as we expected, I was able to survive with only a light jacket and knitted gloves (Tristan says it’s way colder in the office, haha). It did become chilly at night though, and I bet it stays that way until the sun comes up. Good for you if you’re used to a cold environment, but if you’re like me (6 months later and I’m still not used to the office temperature, lol), it’s best to at least put on multiple layers of clothing. Fortunately there are many shops in the city that sell knitted sweaters and scarves, which make nice souvenirs as well.

Travel super early!

Unfortunately, we were only able to meet up as late as 10am ’cause he had some business in a certain bank that opens at 9am to attend to, lol. That greatly limited our exploration time cuz his family wanted him to be back in Dagupan by 9pm or to just come home the following day. This wouldn’t have been a problem if we could go there early morning for an extra 6-9 hours of seizing the day.

Plan your itinerary (even on the spot)!

Upon meeting up, we went straight to an internet cafe, rented two PCs, and took 45 minutes to simultaneously look for the items we wanted to include in our itinerary and take screenshots of maps and (haphazardly) research the walking/jeepney routes to get there. Since we weren’t expecting a fine weather, we decided to make our itinerary mainly food-based. We sorted through travel blogs and got recommendations from some colleagues.

Downloading offline maps (or having one on hand) is important to be able to get around in case of poor cellular reception. This proved to be useful when we went to the Wright Park area, where I found it hard to connect to the internet (it depends on the service provider I guess?)
Since we were both pressed for time (travel from Dagupan to Baguio took longer than expected — roughly 3 hours), we had to constantly adjust our itinerary to fit the limited time we had. There were a couple of places that we wanted to go to but had to disregard cuz we decided to prioritize proximity.
Most parks and scenery can only be appreciated during daylight, so we had to give most of them up past twilight. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Estimate the expenses!

This will depend on your itinerary. It’s useful to have an idea of the bus fares beforehand (as of writing, 109php from Dagupan to Baguio, 245php from Baguio to Tarlac City, 445php from Baguio to Manila). From what I remember, taxi fares around the city usually range from 100-150php due to medium to heavy traffic. Jeepney fares have a minimum of 8.50php. In my case, transportation fee didn’t exceed 1000php. (Random note: I prefer taking the Dagupan-La Union-Baguio route because it allows me to gaze at the blue sea for an hour or so from the western window seat * u *)

For the food trip, there is an advantage to bring more friends along for a lower price per capita. ๐Ÿ˜€ We stuck to one to two dishes per resto since we’re not really hefty eaters (had to request take out and give the food to our colleague Glenn, who met up with us at the overpopulated Night Market).
We had lunch, dinner, and dessert in 3 different places, and that cost us approximately 500php per head.

Many of Baguio’s attractions don’t require an entrance fee, but for museums and special activities you might want to look them up. Food took precedence on our itinerary, but we managed to squeeze a night horseback riding session so Tristan could try it. ๐Ÿ˜€ That cost us 400php per head for 30 minutes. (It’s useful to actually monitor time-based activities using a stopwatch so that you won’t get cheated. XD)

The Baguio Night Market (opens around 9pm along Harrison Road) offers everyday items and clothing at ridiculously low prices, where you might be able to snag good buys if you’re willing to brave that stampede-prone area. XD Glenn, having been trapped in the market crowd for a few minutes, gave a few tips: as soon as you find something that catches your eye, take it and leave so you won’t be carried away by the people pushing past you (you can’t spend too much time on a certain item or section). It’s also useful to inspect the stores first from the sides of the road, that way you will more easily be able to go in and out. Tristan and I were already an extremely introverted and tired pair by that time, and we were content with just observing all the hubhub from the landing of an overpass.

And of course, if you have people waiting for pasalubong at home or at the office, you should allocate budget for that too. In case you run out of places to buy pasalubong in the middle of the night, there are several stores near the bus stations that offer Baguio products to last minute passengers (like us XD). As of writing, a pack of fresh strawberries costs 120php, lengua biscuits and choco/milk flakes cost 80php (medium jar) or 120php (large jar), a small jar of strawberry jam costs 100? I forgot D: There are souvenir shirts and keychains as well.

Book a place outside the city! (optional)

Log into any hotel booking site and you will find that Baguio is 100% booked this Christmas season (the major hotels at least). It’s also inconvenient that provincial buses are in high demand and we were unsure about the schedules. To address this problem, we recommend booking accessible places just outside the city. For example, as insurance against the worst case scenario (having to extend our stay but with no place to stay), we reserved a resort room by the beach in La Union, just before the corner to the straight road to Baguio. We didn’t have to check in in the end cuz he suddenly had a work emergency to attend to and had to leave Baguio as soon as we’re done. But he did agree to split the “insurance risk”. ๐Ÿ™‚

Have enough cell load and battery!

I did something stupid: left home with my phone only on 68% battery. Also something smart: I brought my phone cable and a 13000mAh powerbank. It turned out to be more than enough to recharge both my phone and Tristan’s several times, but just in case, we also borrowed some from Glenn. ๐Ÿ˜€ I’ve found that using GPS services and accessing the internet is quite taxing to the battery percentage. Also, it’s best to have enough load for mobile data and communication with friends in case you get lost. (I was low on load but wasn’t worried about getting lost since Tristan is freakishly tall and I was wearing such an attention-grabbing color XD) Sometimes the same stores that offer Baguio products also sell cell load. Alternatively, your gang can agree to head to a landmark (e.g. Jollibee in the middle of the Night Market) in case one gets lost, or to hang out in a cafe until the phone batt is charged well enough.

Talk to the locals!

Ugh, the bane of an introvert’s existence! But if we didn’t manage to pull it off (thanks Tristan!), we probably wouldn’t have gotten our food orders much earlier, and we wouldn’t have received guidance on which directions and alternative jeepney routes to take (apparently “Baguio-Plaza-Liteng” also travels to the Mine’s View Park’s direction, haha). It helped that I can understand some Ilocano, the dialect of most locals we encountered.

Bring some medicine and neck pillows!

Tristan once mentioned that he has a bit of motion sickness so I brought whiteflower for him just in case. I felt sick in the evening, like I was about to catch a fever and throw up, but a little yogurt (comfort food!) fortunately helped. It’s going to be useful to bring medicine and a first aid kit anywhere one travels, especially if one plans to go hiking. The neck pillow is obviously for lengthy travels, if you don’t want your head to sway around so much on the winding roads up/down the mountain (also if you’re too embarrassed to lean your head on your travel partner’s shoulder, but too bad I didn’t bring one >///<)

Next time we’ll drag Chris (the third guy in our trio) along for sure, so our colleagues won’t have to ship us incessantly upon return >_> I look forward to our future trips! Time to earn vacation leaves ๐Ÿ˜€


World map food buddies! (or at least that was the plan)

Check out Tristan’s food reviews on his instagram profile, he’s so much better than me at making up photo captions and describing things XD

The start of something big

The chemist collaborator messaged me this morning. WE GOT THE RESEARCH GRANT !!! ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜€ The sleepless nights and lunch breaks I fully spent on the proposal paid off! That ends my days of being a computer slave… loljk. It’s good to be compensated for it, but I never really saw it as a chore, more like a secret hobby. It gives me so much fulfillment to work on cutting edge research projects like this and being able to collaborate with awesome scientists. ^_^ (no plans on being a professor though. I plan to dedicate myself to the actuarial industry til the foreseeable future XD).

My first SOA Exam

Let me start with a confession:
I was supposed to write the SOA Exam FM, but when I saw that the registration was closed, I panic-registered (worried that I would waste this semester away if I don’t do anything) for Exam P instead. That left me with only 10 weeks to study.

Another confession:
I only started wholeheartedly studying for Exam P on the month of my exam! While I made it seem on the outside that I had everything under control (I secured a copy of the reviewers right away, I pulled weekend all-nighters in the company office, I subscribed to ADAPT — all true, except for the “buts”), I had actually been struggling hard. I terribly lacked the will to start (motivation problems due to reasons not worthy of being justified here).


I assume that the majority of aspiring actuaries don’t have this negative trait. I can’t study much during weekdays because I have to be in the workplace for at least 9 hrs every day, so I constantly revised my study schedule to make sure that I at least fit the minimum coverage and practice into the time I have left. And knowing my weakness (inspired by The Art of War, which I have recently reread), I formulated a battleplan:


Fun fact: I was really hungry when I came up with this. I tend to work long hours without eating whenever I am in the zone (or just too lazy to get food)

Sure enough, this strategy worked for me. It made sure that I minimized the time I wasted trying to figure out whether a problem should be prioritized.

But it so happens that my other main weakness is being very slow at solving (owing to the fact that I didn’t practice under time pressure a lot). In the end, I didn’t have enough time to review my answers.

To be honest, I found it easy concept-wise but carrying out the perfect solution was tricky. There were numerous instances where the answer I kept getting wasn’t in the choices. Towards the end, I had to make an intelligent guess on at least 5 questions.

In the last few minutes of the exam I was already psyching myself up for the imminent failure. Fortunately, I passed! I personally believe that it was a miracle that I didn’t deserve.


I do have a lot of people to thank:

  • Actuarial friends: Tristan, Aileen, Nicky & other workmates who gave me valuable exam tips (and constantly pressured me by asking about my exam progress going almost everyday). Also Chris, he got a 10 so if he says the problems are pretty easy that is quite reassuring.
  • Dr. David for providing me the perfect place to study (free electricity, unrestricted internet access, and a huge whiteboard), and the CSRC staff (especially Lei for making the effort to talk to me even if she allegedly doesn’t like it whenever I’m there, haha)
  • Moral support from non-actuarial friends Dara, Ian, James, and my family
  • My dad for taking care of the logistics so I could focus on consolidating the formulae I crammed into my head (good thing the security system in APS and prometric has been his team’s project in the past, and that’s why he knew how to get there, lol!)
  • Youtube channel jbstatistics (https://www.youtube.com/user/jbstatistics), for helping me make sense of the different distributions
  • The OP of this very helpful thread (https://www.reddit.com/r/actuary/comments/3lnf4o/some_suggestions_for_studying_exam_p/)
  • Davette Mosley, who made this calculator tip video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eLVT8x6FbY)
  • Yufeng Guo (for pointing out valuable shortcuts and the things that can be skipped, for emphasizing the need for a strategy especially since I’m the calculation-weak type)
  • The guy who made ACTEX, for making the coverage pretty easy to digest
  • The guy behind the ADAPT SOA sample exam video solutions, for backing me up on solutions that L fail to understand the first time (your voice has haunted me in my dreams several times, haha)

Now I can finally break my 10-week sober streak! B-)

… and study for my next exam.

Check out the study notes I made in case you might find them useful: https://mindgametheorist.com/exam-p-notes/

2nd Sarihay Media Awards

The Sarihay Media Awards, organized by the Foundation for the Philippine Environment, “recognizes and showcases the countryโ€™s best reportage of environmental issues across traditional and digital media platforms in the past year.” Dr. Custer was chosen as a finalist for his Pinoy Scientist episode entry National Greening Program & the Magic of Mycorrhizae. (arguably one of the best episodes produced since it was also included in our KBP Golden Dove Awards entry) And I’m not surprised that he has been hailed the winner in the Best Radio Commentary category, for the second time now. XD

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In stark contrast with the Golden Dove Awards last April, this time Dr. Custer has a speech prepared. And it was both heartwearming and hilarious when he called on us one by one to highlight our uniqueness as a group and individual strengths: Dr. Guido as one of the Philippine representatives to the International Mathematical Olympiad (aptly called “olympics for math wizards”, haha), Dr. JD for being the “nag-iisang makatang siyentista”, and me for being a “big data analytics expert(???)”. Lol! Thanks for sharing the glory with us (but I’d rather not have the spotlight on myself next time, thanks!)

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The people behind Pinoy Scientist: Dexter (Custer’s supportive BFF), Dr. JD Agapito (Makatang Siyentista), Dr. Custer Deocaris (the main driving force and genius), Dr. Guido David (the cool math whiz in glasses), and (future Dr.) Pamela Sabado (youth representative/host-in-training)

The first media event where all four of us are present, yay! I have long dreamed of this moment. In an extremely introverted and antisocial way, I say this: I am so glad to be part of this group.

Secret Agent Miss Fortune


The Bounty Hunter, my marksman of choice back when I was active in the League of Legends scene. ๐Ÿ˜€ I don’t even play anymore due to my increasingly busy schedule, but this cosplay is to bring the dreams of my past self to life. I have always been a fan of the femme fatale look so I really enjoyed working on this one.



I initially planned to do Arcade Sona but I’ve been constantly putting off any cosplay progress since I started working until I ran out of time, so I figured SAMF is the best choice since I don’t have to put as much of effort into acquiring the materials.

My only regret was that I put off buying the tickets until the deadline of the online selling went by, and I had no choice but to buy the 600php tickets. I gave the skin freebies to my newly discovered LoL player co-workers, and I plan to sell the free shirt to my brother haha!


Good thing my friend Tristan agreed to go be my photographer and manager in spite of being antisocial. ๐Ÿ˜€ I like how I was the only SAMF in the convention, and that things turned out okay in spite of my difficulty in smiling.

Graduation – External


I wasn’t very excited for my own graduation. Or at least I expected myself to be far more excited than this.

Though that was the case, I had a lot to be thankful for about this special weekend:

  • My whole family (except one selfish brother) came to celebrate with me.
  • I got to spend quality time with Chris (and even met his parents XD)
  • I looked acceptable by my standards (though a bit unsatisfied with the makeup)
  • Several people from the actuarial division were present and we had opportunity for a group photo
  • My photographer friend Tristan was available and willing to work on a photoshoot checklist that I made
  • I am not close with this batch of graduates (neither with my own), so got to skip the group photos and was off to a head start with the checklist before the venue got very crowded
  • Almost every item on that checklist was checked (Jenny where were you? D:) and a few surprise items happened as well (my mom and Dr. JD’s first meeting, my first pic w/ the oblation statue, etc.)
  • The logistics involving my family went smoothly. Contrary to what I expected, I didn’t get stressed!
  • It didn’t rain! Except for when my close friends and I were already safely celebrating in a restaurant
  • First picture with my video gamer/anime lover friend Lance! And David gave me a creative grad gift ๐Ÿ˜€
  • I had graduation photos with the PSG team and Dr. JD invited us to her residence for a graduation dinner
  • Update: I didn’t need to pay anything for my grad photos because they only took 7/10

All in all it was a good experience. Hopefully my next graduation ceremonies (hello grad school!) will be at least as nice ๐Ÿ˜€