Ilocos Heritage Tour - Part 1 (Ilocos Sur)

We left Metro Manila on a holy Tuesday of 2008. Woke-up around 5am and after our morning showers we were on our way to Ilocos by 5:30am. We were anticipating the holy week traffic so we left early. By the time we reach Balintawak, to our surprise we encounter what we were anticipating but was really avoiding…TRAFFIC! Good thing, it was just some vehicular accident that poured cooking oil all over EDSA, so traffic was confined on the accident site.
Reached Mabalacat exit and was confused with which roads to take. i underestimated my preparations by not clearing the driving directions enough with the experts. Anyway the confusion led us to this beautiful and newly-opened expressway, and as we approached the tollgate and asked where the direction going to baguio was, the officer told us we’re on the right road. But after navigating the expressway, my driver instincts told me we’re not headed for the right direction so we returned and the same officer told us to better take the old highway. Yeah right! So barely over an hour into our trip, vehicular accident and confused tollway officer, these made me a little jumpy that it seems we’re starting on the wrong foot and thought what other missteps lie ahead. Good thing there came none after!
Passed by Luisita, Tarlac and some reminiscing went on my mind. You see when I was still working, I was assigned here for a couple of weeks and the sites were all too familiar. Gosh I miss my work!
Pangasinan and La Union passed by and I treated them just as formalities, some provinces to pass by going to Ilocos.
Finally reached the Ilocos Sur provincial arch, wow was there a sigh of relief I felt. This to date is the longest drive I’ve made my whole life. By now, I’m upbeat again knowing Vigan is only a few towns away. Now the fun begins!

This trip I am the driver, the tour guide and the photographer so problem with me driving and taking care of the sites is that it makes it dangerous for us inside the car and for those outside the car since my senses are focused on so many things. You see upon entering the town of Sta. Maria I came upon a Y-road and a small sign caught the edge of my sight that read UNESCO. I was going 80kph by then, so I stepped on the brakes, good thing no car was behind and made a U-turn and saw this sign:

Now this is the first official site included in our itinerary. We had to find it in the middle of town and had to make our what i call “BEEN THERE” poses.

As I was driving again, half-looking on the road and half-looking on my left of the beautiful South China Sea, I came upon this beautiful basketball court. I stepped on the brakes, good thing no car was behind and no car was ahead so I parked and alighted and brought out my basketball. Took some shots at the hoop while wifey took some shots of me. I loved the pics, though the hoop was made from the simplest of materials, the background however was breathtaking.

Then we came upon this beautiful bridge. I guess the sierra madre mountain range made this bridge more beautiful as it serves as the perfect background.

Finally at 3:30pm we reach Vigan City, it’s been 9.5 hours since leaving Metro Manila. Whew! I hope Vigan doesn’t disappoint. My first impression of the city upon entering the downtown area was that the roads were really narrow for a city. But then again, Vigan city is a world heritage site so I guess they preserved even the narrow roads that’s been there since the Spanish era.

We stayed at Vigan Heritage Hotel which I booked over the internet. The good thing about the hotel was it sat right at the end of the heritage village at Calle Crisologo (Crisologo St.) which obviously made it very accessible to the historic street. Our stay was inclusive of breakfast for 2 and cost P2,000/night during the peak seasons (summer and holy week), I was told it is 20% less during the off-peak season which is after summer I guess.

As I was driving around the area of the hotel, I can’t help but think that Vigan is like a themed-city, I mean it seems like the whole city followed on a single theme being that of the Spanish bahay-na-bato house. Even McDonald’s was made to look like it.

So after unpacking our things at the hotel, we went straight to Calle Crisologo, which I told my wife is also called the Time Machine Street (I was making it up). J Stepping on the cobbled street makes you travel back in time, suddenly scenes from Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo come to life right before your eyes. To add to this nostalgia is the sound of horse-drawn calesas as they traverse the historic street since they’re the only mode of transportation allowed along that stretch.

By the way don’t forget to pass through Calle Crisologo in the evening as it transforms into a total different personality. Yellow subdued lights make it even more magical.

Upon reaching the end of Calle Crisologo, Vigan Cathedral beckons. Now don’t be mistaken, there’s a UNESCO marker beside the cathedral, but it is not for the cathedral. The marker is for the declaration of Vigan City as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In front of the cathedral is a plaza they call Plaza Salcedo. It separates the cathedral and the provincial capitol building in the middle. There’s a fountain and man-made lagoon in the middle of the park which create some beautiful pictures through its reflection of the cathedral.

Another great thing about Vigan, is that aside from Plaza Salcedo in front of the cathedral, there’s another plaza on the side of it called Plaza Burgos. To differentiate the two, Plaza Salcedo is more laid-back, its somewhere you can read a book in or just contemplate on things. Plaza Burgos on the other hand is more active, having a basketball court while others are playing traditional pinoy games and some others engage in skateboarding. But I guess what makes Plaza Burgos brimming with people is its food stalls where ilocos empanada is served. Now I’m not talking about the typical empanada we big city dwellers have gone accustomed with. There would be no comparison. I love these empanadas way better, period. End of discussion.

I woke up very early morning the following day and checked-out Calle Crisologo while wifey was in the shower. Different time of the day and different personality again for this street. As I pass by the street, I imagined to see some Spaniard by the window sipping on hot chocolate.

We hopped on a calesa for the city-wide standard rate of P150/hr. I suggest if you have to hire a calesa, make sure you don’t hop-on and hop-off coz the clock will be ticking continuously and so will the rate be.

We stopped by Pagburnayan first, which is the jar-making area of Vigan and met a national folk artist named Fidel Go. His son, graciously showed us how to make one. And it took him I think less than 5 minutes to make one. If the molding takes only a few minutes, the drying up and oven-baking can take up to 3 weeks in all.

Here we learned that mud is gathered from the mountain and delivered to them in a heap and covered by sack to keep moisture intact. The mud is then placed on top of the molding table and the jar-marker then starts kicking on the round base to create velocity. After around 20 kicks, he quickly positions on his spot then starts molding it into jar with bare hands. Then voila! A jar in under 5 minutes. It is then dried for 2 weeks, after which it will have to be oven-baked for couple of days.

Then the artist sat down with us and boy what a character. I guess most of the real hardcore artists are animated storytellers coz he had a lot to tell, from his being awarded as national folk artist to the times when he entered into contract with a Japanese that went array. But as I’ve mentioned earlier the clock is ticking with our calesa and so we politely had to cut the kwentuhan short, which I really had a hard time doing coz I can barely butt in the conversation.

I asked mamang kutsero to proceed to Bantay Church & Belltower, adding that we should forego the other tourist spots he was willing to bring us to.

Bantay Church & Belltower was only right outside the Vigan City arch, and when you come to see it you would wonder how is it possible that something so close to the city could be so entirely different. When you’re inside the compound, believe me, you can’t notice the busyness of the city you just left. It’s like the place plays an optical illusion on your eye, making you only see the beauty of the church and the belltower.

The church & the belltower, though contrast in style, I think they complement each other in a way that saying goes “opposites attract”. They are like opposite styles but they attract tourists, you know ... opposites? ... attract? ... whatever! Never mind.

The belltower in all its glory. The view from the top of the belltower is quite nice.

Here is our “been there” shot.

This site is a photographer’s haven, as you can see a group of photographers being lectured and even had our calesa as foreground subjects.

After Bantay church we went back to Plaza Burgos for our daily dose of empanada. Had some “been there” poses again, but more importantly we had to fuel up before our trip further north into Ilocos Norte.

After Ilocos Norte and on our way back to Manila, we stopped by Vigan to eat at EJ restaurant near PNB. We tried their renowned Vigan longganisa, bagnet and tapa and though I can’t say that I loved them, I think it’s worth dropping by here. We even bought longganisa and bagnet for future consumption in Manila.

After eating we went to Ninong Chavit’s Baluarte, nope he’s not really my ninong but who wouldn’t want him as ninong, right? I think his persona is what a typical ninong should be like, at least in most guys’ book I guess. The nice thing about Baluarte first and foremost is it’s free to the public. The folks this side of Ilocos still has this sense of loyalty to Chavit and Chavit in return still has this fatherly concern over the folks that made him what he is now. So he gave them this zoo where they can enjoy and have pride in, the Baluarte.

Summing it up, Ilocos Sur known as tobacco country, lives up to its hype as a tourist destination. You would also see the tobacco plantation on the roadside and marvel at the architecture of the different city halls along the way. The only downside of this would be the 9 hour long drive you have to take. When you do decide to take the tour to Ilocos Sur, make sure you also do take the Ilocos Norte tour coz it would not be worth the 9-hour drive if you only discover the southern part of Ilocos.
I’m half done with my Ilocos Heritage Tour and on my way further north. I’m as excited as I was when I left Manila going into Ilocos Norte aka Marcos Country.


Gerry said...

Thanks for this post. I'm planning to go to Ilocos this weekend and find this post helpful.

alain said...

thanks gerry, it's a pleasure to be of help. btw, check out also my website for your Boracay travel needs and other places for booking assistance.

Louie said...

thank you for this wonderful blog! nice story and travel.. keep up the good adventure of our native Philippines! i love our local places.. (louie sumagang, cebu)