The Great Ilocos Adventure


More than three years ago my mom and eldest sister told me and my other sister Chen, the third eldest, that we’ll be going to the north to celebrate our graduation. Yes, due to certain circumstances we entered college at the same time. I was pretty indifferent then. I loved to see the north side of the country ’cause everybody was saying it was beautiful there but I was too busy with school to care about such trips. Eventually, graduation came and we could finally actually pay attention to plans for celebration. But sadly we realized we could no longer go to the north due to our huge expenses during the hell months of college. And so we settled for just a simple celebration at home. I knew it was coming but of course everybody wants a treat after their graduation so it was pretty saddening.

So when an invitation to a group trip to Ilocos came in October, I gave the quickest yes I’ve ever given to a travel invitation in my entire life. I knew it could be my only chance to make a dream come true so I had to grab it; else I’d just be forever visiting those places through my television screen while feeling miserable. And so I marked the dates in my planner, evening  of November 29 to afternoon of December 2, The Ilocos Experience.

The Awful Start of the Journey

The trip did not really start well. Yes everybody was so excited, but we encountered some problems with the arrangements with the vans that were supposed to take us to our destination. But both sides contributed to the trouble so I guess that made everything square.

Firstly, some of us had to walk the distance from our office at Paseo de Roxas to SM Makati shopping center carrying our large bags because the driver didn’t know how to get to our office. Before that, I and my girlfriend was already walking back and forth because the travel agent couldn’t seem to decide whether to convince the driver to fetch us or convince us to just walk. Both of us finally decided to ride a jeepney to the shopping center just to get things over with.

Secondly, some of us did not show up in their designated pick up points despite the constant emails regarding van assignments, which made one van overloaded and drivers naturally displeased. Yes people, they are humans. It may be part of their job to be polite and understanding but surely, throwing their idea of right and wrong out the window is not a part of their job description much like everybody else’s. Everybody has a right to be annoyed.

Thirdly, there was a miscommunication whether to meet at SM North Edsa or at the first stopover at NLEX to even out the number of people; a thing that could have been avoided if one of us sitting beside the driver did not “sound” an affirmative which made the rest of the group think that the driver heard our instructions. Yes, every group they say has an a*hole and sometimes that could be your friend. It resulted to a tension inside our van which dampened everybody’s enthusiasm and made me clench my fist at the back of my head in frustration so hard I thought my nails were going to cut the palm of my hands. I don’t really talk a lot when I’m mad and that absence of a form of release consequently requires me extra minutes to settle down when I feel bad so it still took me quite some time to settle down even after all the drama was over.

Roughly two- hours after our scheduled departure time we finally drove for Ilocos.

The Looooooong Night Ride

After all the drama, everybody was back to their usual happy self, telling jokes and funny recollections and playing a modified version of twenty clues where everybody is supposed to try to guess the word in one person’s head by asking questions. We Filipinos call it Pinoy Henyo after the game at the noontime show Eat Bulaga.

But soon everybody’s energy waned and each one decided to doze off one after another. We all came from work. We were naturally tired and deserved some rest. Unfortunately, having seats with no head rests except the one for the driver and the passenger seat (I haven’t a single idea why it had to be so) made it very difficult for everybody to sleep unless they were willing to let their heads dangle over the top of the back rests of their seats. Those occupying the seats close to the windows were a little fortunate because they can lean on the glass but there was of course no guarantee of a good sleep with the constant ruts on the road.

And so we took a nap, woke up, tell jokes and check on each other, eat some snack, maybe go down and stretch if there was a stopover, took a nap again, woke up, and repeat the whole routine for around eight to nine hours before we saw the first beautiful thing in our journey, the sunrise.

Sunrise
good morning weary travelers.

I guess nobody thought it was going to be that long a ride to our destination else somebody would have brought that pillow you can attach to your neck for comfort or a nice pillow to rest your butt on. Because seriously, it was a pain in the ass. Nevertheless we got to Ilocos safe and that should already satisfy everybody.

Day One

The first day started with a breakfast in Vigan. Cafe Uno was supposed to be our stop but the place was already crowded when we get there so we moved to the adjacent restaurant called Kusina Felicitas. It didn’t really matter for me where we had to get our breakfast because everything felt new and the place where we transferred was very homely anyway.

for an unforgettable breakfast.
for an unforgettable breakfast.

I ordered a plate of kinirog,which I found out later to be their version of fried rice, with daing na pusit (dried squid) and a serving of their hot chocolate and I had the best breakfast of my life. I didn’t really expect anything special about the food. I’ve been to a number of provinces before and the dishes I’ve tried didn’t really taste as special as how they described it, but the kinirog and hot chocolate (must be cocoa tableya) I was served with at the place was heavenly. I normally prefer food that is pretty bland as I could be some sort of super taster at times but the fried rice although tasty was perfect as well as the sweetness of the hot chocolate. Plus, they got a wi-fi you can use in case you want to share your experience. And on top of it all, the food was very affordable compared to other tourist destinations near Manila. I give the place an easy five stars.

We decided to take a short walk after breakfast while we wait for the group from the other van to finish theirs. After a long wait, I finally set foot on the streets of Vigan.

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The place was amazing for you could say that the people was able to preserve their culture without really trying too hard. I must say that above all, the genuine classic appeal of the town is the one that makes it a place every tourist must not miss. The classic design of every structure appears natural. You would get a feeling that everything appears like what it is because that’s really how life is for the people, and tourists were absolutely out of any considerations. There is even no effort to cover or even desperately make presentable a number of dilapidated houses and rather shabby streets; something that is normally done by politicians who capitalize on the number of tourists visiting their place. Or maybe they’ve just realized that perfect is boring and a little mess makes beauty a lot more natural.

CAM00131 CAM00141Our next stop was Baluarte which is a zoo occupying a vast stretch of land where animals are allowed to roam and live together in one area whenever applicable, as opposed to confining them in individual cages. There you could actually get close to the animals particularly the normally harmless ones and even ride them. Unfortunately, I and my girlfriend spent a little too much time in the butterfly garden that we didn’t get to explore much of the place. We took a lot of pictures though that are enough to create a short informative film about butterflies.

When we got back to our van, we realized we were taking too much time exploring one stop that we would probably not have enough time for the other places we were supposed to visit. As a result, we agreed to set time limits for the remaining places we would be visiting. It was a funny idea. I even joked about having our watches synced and running around the place like contestants in Amazing Race.

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the man’s office.

Anyway, we then visited Crisologo Museum which is basically an old house of the late Floro Crisologo. I could recall a good part of the history lessons I took back when I was still studying but no, I don’t know the man. And may my good teachers forgive me if I just happened to forget about it. I just saw his name on the table in his office. But apparently he was someone significant and influential; the house could do the talking for its owner.

The ground floor is comprised of the garage, a room decorated with frames stating various achievements, a room decorated with pictures, the library, the dirty kitchen, and the man’s office. Much of the house owner’s belongings are still very much intact  so exploring the rooms was like a walk inside some sort of antique shop.

CAM00155 CAM00153On the other hand, the second floor is comprised of the spacious sala (living room), the terrace that also used to function as a cool dining area, the kitchen, bedrooms, and the dressing room; a common setup for houses constructed during the Spanish occupation. Although I doubt if the house has been there since the 1800s it definitely has the Hispanic touch I love about old Filipino houses. It is mostly wood, spacious, and has those large windows that could probably save everybody a lot of money nowadays by reducing the cost of lighting and cooling the entire house. It is a stylishly clever design had communities remained safe from wrong doers.

CAM00166Fourth stop was Bantay Bell Tower which is a magnificent stone tower situated in a wide empty space some several yards away from the church where it belongs. I absolutely have no idea why it was erected there which probably brought trouble to church members tasked to ring the bells for the masses but whatever the reason is, it sure made the bell tower a majestic scenery.

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ike any tourist I suppose, we took a lot of pictures in the place. We were even lucky to be allowed to ascend the stairs and actually take pictures from beside the bells; a privilege I noticed to be not given to everybody as I saw the bell tower’s gates closed and visitors turning their backs right after approaching them when we were about to leave.

After that, we took a late lunch break at Sikat Tuna to try their tuna specialty. Honestly, I was never fond of having fish for lunch but I must say that the tuna tasted good and devoid of that fishy smell I hate about what seafood dishes my mom could prepare. The taste was not extraordinary but I give it three stars for the backyard setting, the affordable price of the food, and the soft but well cooked tuna. I would have given it a four hadn’t the bathroom sink overflowed when we went there creating a mini fountain in the men’s room.

CAM00185 CAM00189The next destination was absolutely breath taking. It was the Paoay Church which I have long dreamed of going to. I know it is just some old church and we got a lot of such churches in the Philippines but I just find it stunningly beautiful. Hadn’t there been another place to go to or had it been close to the hotel where we were supposed to spend the night, I would have spent the rest of the day stretched on its rather vast lawn and looking at it from a distance.

The inside of the church was not equally impressive though and I understand it is because it sure is just difficult to maintain the look of the structure without introducing things that would look foreign in its motif. But knowing how long the church has been in the place, one cannot actually say that the people are not doing a great job in maintaining it. The inside of the church may not be as beautiful as its outside but one can tell that great measures are taken to keep everything intact.

Our next stop was the Malacanan of the north; the house of the late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos at Batac, Ilocos. It was where the first family lived back when Marcos was president of the Philippines and the house in its simple grandiosity is undeniably one that is fit for a president. Yes people got a lot to say about the Marcoses but that’s something we left behind for the trip. We simply visited the place as normal tourists and admired the place.

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The house was majestic. The structure is very much Filipino but has an elegance that is totally of its own. I even mentioned that it was like jumping into the pages of a lifestyle magazine. Every room is spacious and cool because of the huge windows that let the cool breeze come in. Also, the view of the lake at the azotea facing the west is very relaxing especially at sunset. The setting sun introduces beautiful colors to the calm waters, a scene that will surely delight anyone who has had a long day.

We were supposed to check out the sinking bell tower next but everybody was just terribly tired. We just decided to pass by it to have a glimpse and take a photo from the van then we headed to Balay da Blas, our mini-hotel.

CAM00236CAM00232The hotel was not in any way as chic as high class hotels in Manila. But what I loved about it was the homely atmosphere which I believed was just what everybody needed after a tiresome day. Or maybe, it’s just me who has problems with sleeping in places that are too grand for my simple taste. Either way, we had a good stay and a good breakfast in the company of good and very welcoming people. I guess I should give it five stars.

Day Two

CAM00244DCAM00245ay two started with a trip to Cape Bojeador to visit an old lighthouse. It was situated at a high place typical for a lighthouse and offering a magnificent view of Ilocos. We were not able to climb to the top of the lighthouse though. The keeper must have closed it for the day.

We then visited the rock formations at Kapurpurawan which was like getting transported to some place not part of the Philippines. The place looked foreign and at the same time beautiful.

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CAM00259 CAM00254The road we traveled to get there was quite rough, and for a moment I was jokingly asking if somebody asked the driver to take us to the Ilocos sand dunes as dusts were flying outside the van. I would not trade the experience to driving there in the wet season though; the road will most probably be mud. There was also no network coverage which ’caused a little problem when we already have to return to the van as mobile phones were temporarily useless for communication. But I half jokingly told my girlfriend that the place could be a good location for a vacation house. The scenery was incomparable to places I’ve seen even in occasional family out of town trips. A house over the cliff will definitely be cool and the view of the ocean will most certainly be relaxing. Aside from that, absence of network coverage will keep you isolated from the busy world for a while. But in the end I told her that the house can also be a good setting for some slasher film reenactment. I could be a real creep sometimes.

CAM00269 CAM00270Our next stop was the location of the famous windmills at Bangui. I remember that my mom could not believe at first that we actually have windmills that work in the Philippines. What started as some breakthrough eventually succeeded in supplying electricity to the region. They were not turning when we get there though. But the view was great just the same. Tall white windmills like sentinels, warm brown sand, and the blue inviting waters, what more can anybody ask for? Had it been convenient to change clothes, I would have dipped myself in the water for a while.

We had our pictures taken at the arch at the entrance of Pagudpud then we took our lunch at Mayan’s Foodhaws and Bakery where I tried igado, another famous delicacy. It was delicious but not really extraordinary. However, they had something that swept me off my feet, their banana muffins that left me saying “Forget all the other foods they offered, they all tasted nice anyway. Forget the absence of air conditioning, there was no power supply for the whole region that noon. Forget everything, just give the place an easy five stars for the heavenly muffins.”

CAM00281We then headed to the waterfalls inside a lush forest. The forty-minute walk was delighting although it felt humid under the trees. It was good thing that I’ve already decided to change into my slippers for the trip.

I only managed to dip my feet into the water as I knew I would have a hard time changing if I decided to take a swim. But the experience was enough to appreciate the whole trip. The waterfalls look peaceful despite the number of tourists swimming below and the surrounding trees complement its beauty and are very relaxing to look at.

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CAM00305 CAM00308After my friends have changed into dry clothes, we went to the long viaduct overlooking the ocean at Patapat also known as the Patapat Bridge. Before we got there, I was actually asking myself what’s so special about some road skirting the region. But when I saw it, I was pretty dumbfounded. The viaduct stretches to some great distance offering drivers the ocean as company while they drive. The place could sure be one of the most peaceful roads to pass in the whole country. And to add to that, very few vehicles pass to ’cause traffic that one could actually sit or lie awhile in the middle of the road which we just did.

We skipped another stop and went directly to Polaris Beach Resort where we spent the night. But before heading to our quarters, we spent the afternoon at the seaside. None of us were expert swimmers particularly me so we just sat there at the shallow waters waiting like fools for the strong waves to wash us further inland then going back to the water. It was a surprisingly delighting experience though. We waited till the sun completely disappeared in the horizon and darkness envelope the place for there was not a single light post. For the first time in my entire life, I was able to experience night at the sea like I was all alone and not in some resort.

Going Home

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Day three started with a breakfast at some diner with a view of the sea. Funny as it may seem but no, the view was not in any way part of the package. The diner was not offering some sort of dine while watching the waves promo. The sea just happened to be there in front of the owner’s house and it’s up to the customers if they want to check it out. Nevertheless, it was great to have a relaxing view while taking your late breakfast.
CAM00316We went back to Vigan to buy some souvenirs. The items were incredibly cheap but sadly, we didn’t have much space in the van to carry a lot and didn’t have much time to think about what to give our loved ones too so we just went around over the place quickly to buy stuffs then got back to Bistro Amarillo where we took our lunch.

It was another long ride home. We got back to Manila at one in the morning and still had to take few more rides to our respective houses. The whole tour was physically tiring but definitely relaxing to the mind. It was a great experience. Forgetting the city and all your troubles awhile is absolutely refreshing and for that I would love to do it again. Maybe not in Ilocos anymore but some place equally new. After all, we all deserve a holiday. -aB

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