Local strolls: Leafy surroundings and street food on a walk through Quezon City, Metro Manila

Delve into Local Strolls, a series where writers reveal their favorite walks in their hometowns. Each route offers a snapshot of urban life, guiding you to lesser-known attractions and cherished local spots. Here, Kara Santos takes us on a stroll rich in nature and street food through Quezon City, part of Metro Manila in the the Philippines.

There are places I don’t mind seeing just once. Others, I never tire of visiting. With its leafy green surroundings, the University of the Philippines Diliman campus is my favorite cycling and walking route, one that I return to again and again.

It’s one of the few sanctuaries in the rapidly developing Metro Manila to enjoy nature freely. The sight of the road framed by gigantic acacia trees instantly clears my head. The mood here constantly shifts depending on weather or season. Trees blaze fiery orange or with pink blooms during hot summer months. Sometimes, the ground gets carpeted with snowy white fluff falling from cotton trees. When it rains, the fresh scent of grass lingers in the air.

By bike, I often zone out beneath the tree-lined Academic Oval, an excellent place to also jog or stroll away from traffic-choked streets. The 2.2km (1.4-mile) loop is flat and incredibly scenic. Plus, there’s easy access to street food.

From University Ave by foot, I detour through a nature trail where water birds graze on a pond, enjoying the sound of leaves crunching with each step. With buildings shrouded by trees, I’m instantly teleported to the middle of a forest. Shoes dusted, I head to the Oblation, the school’s iconic statue of a man with arms outstretched to the sky before a reflecting pool. The stone steps behind offer a rendezvous point.

Collage of Manila street food incl. coconut water, ice-cream and taho
L-R: Kara enjoys fresh coconut water; ice-cream and taho on her favorite stroll © Kara Santos

It’s a breezy walk passing Vargas Museum guarded by a gigantic chicken feet sculpture on the side and stately school buildings towards the Sunken Garden. Here, cyclists shoot the breeze while families lay out picnic blankets, unleashing pets and kids on the grassy slopes. Campus cats lounging on benches always bring a smile to my face.

Vendors with colorful carts hawk all sorts of street food including my childhood favorite sorbetes (ice cream), which leaves a sticky trail. I’ll stop for taho (silken tofu) and sip the creamy curds swirling in warm sugar syrup. Or I’ll quench my thirst with fresh coconut juice, asking the vendor to chop the fruit in half to scoop out the tendrils.

Egret on the lawn of the University of Philippines
An egret relaxes on the lawn of the University of Philippines lagoon © Kara Santos

Refreshed, I’ll pop by Art Circle Cafe, to buy highland coffee beans at the vibrant art gallery cafe. I cut across a garden of native trees behind the Carillon, a white tower with delightfully pealing bells. Reaching Quezon Hall completes the satisfying loop. But I’ll often swing by the UP Lagoon for a rewarding view. It’s breathtaking when pink water lilies bloom.

At this point, it’s too late to cook, so I’ll head to one of many neighborhood cafes dotting Maginhawa St. On weekends, we seek out Gubat (which locally means forest) off the campus. This bohemian surf-inspired resto run by mountaineers serves exceptionally tasty fare laid out on banana leaves. I dig my bare hands into the meat and rice topped with fern and salted egg, leaving nothing but the leaf plate. Fingers licked clean, I contentedly head home for a nap with my three cats. It’s a simple taste of country living that I’ll take any time I can get it.

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