I really love traveling! It’s that time when I get to discover things bigger than myself and experience a new way of living through the people I meet – both strangers and friends. Just recently, I went to Vigan in Ilocos Sur and Laoag in Ilocos Norte. It was good I was able to plan it out with a friend. Our vacation rules were simple – see as much tourist destinations as we can, eat only in local restaurants and stay on budget. And yes we did!
Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
Travel to Vigan is a seven to eight-hour bus ride from Manila. There is no direct flight to the place so we really had to take the bus. Besides, it’s cheaper that way. We left Manila at 7pm and arrived at Vigan around 3 in the morning. We had no reservations so we went scouting for a hotel along Crisologo Street. That’s where the main attraction is. We were denied accommodation three times. The fourth one accepted us. It’s Vigan My Home Hotel. We slept until mid morning.
At lunch time, we started strolling Crisologo Street. This major attraction of Vigan is its mestizo district which is filled with Spanish-style houses that evoke a bygone era when its people lived prosperously because of the Manila-Acapulco maritime trade. For tourists who want to experience being transported back to this period in Philippine Spanish colonial time, a walk or a calesa ride through Vigan’s Calle Crisologo or Mena Crisologo Street is a must. The houses are simple but lovely subjects ready for picture-perfect shots with their roofs of red tiles, thick walls, huge doors and stair cases leading to rooms of high ceilings and sliding capiz shell windows. Having survived the many natural and man-made calamities throughout the centuries, the families who own these treasures have endeavored to maintain them.
Though a trip to Calle Crisologo is enjoyable during the day especially because of the opportunity to shop for Vigan’s best products (antiques, abel woven products, bags, basi wine, burnay and dimili products, chicharon, jewelry, sweets, Vigan vinegar and woodcrafts) in the inobtrusive shops located in the ground floor of some of the grand houses, a walk through it is magical at night.
Since it is closed to vehicular traffic at any time of the day, the stillness and shadows that come with the night adds more to the 18th century ambience of the lamp-lit street that local and foreign visitors love. For those who want to know something about the person the street is named after, Mena Pecson Crisologo is among the most-respected sons of the Ilokos region. He wrote Mining wenno Ayat ti Kararwa, which many compare to Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere; an Ilocano translation of Don Quixote entitled Don Calixtofaro de la Kota Caballero de la Luna; and a zarzuela entitled Codigo Municipal. This part of the blog I googled. (You don’t expect me to remember all of them, hehe)
Calle Crisologo is also a World Heritage Site as pronounced by UNESCO.
Aside from Calle Crisologo, we went to the Crisologo Museum. This is an old house of the Crisologo family, an influential clan in Ilocos. It has their belongings and other items properly preserved. No entrance fee is collected but donation of any amount is required by the curator. This was also where we knew that Vigan got its name from Bigaa, a species of gabi that grows along the Mestizo River.
Mestizo River also plays an important role in the history of Vigan. A five-minute ride from the Heritage Adminstration Office at Calle Crisologo will take you to a River Cruise along Mestizo River. The boat ride takes about 45 minutes and costs 30 pesos. Once on board, a recorded narration plays as you go along the length of the river, explaining the tableau statues erected at the river banks. There are five tableau’s depicting important historical events in Vigan.
We also tried some of the local food like bagnet mixed with pinakbet and their famous longganisa. We dined at Cafe Uno. Although a bit expensive, it was satisfying so we didn’t mind.
Laoag City, Ilocos Norte
The next day, we decided to travel up north to Laoag City. From Vigan, it takes about 1 and a half hours by bus. We waited for a bus along the main road. Fare increase was implemented that day so instead of paying 121, we paid 141 pesos each. At least the bus was air-conditioned so we didn’t experience the dust meeting our faces along the way.
As we traveled, we passed by plantations of tobaco. My friend told me that those with flowers are ready for harvest. The leaves are dried in some sort of container. We actually saw one in a museum in Laoag.
The first stop was at Laoag because google maps told us there was SM Laoag. We planned to leave our bags at the package counter so we could roam the city much easily. But there was no SM Laoag! There was only Robinson Mall. So we took the tricycle and the driver charged us 70.00! That’s the disadvantage of not being a local and not knowing the dialect. Lesson learned.
Anyway, unlike Vigan, Laoag has little attractions to offer. It is much more urbanized than Vigan. We were able to tour the city, went to the Ilocos Museum and bought a souvenir, to the Tobaco Monopoly Monument and the Sinking Bell Tower.
The Sinking Bell Tower is one of the first things you may spot upon entering the city proper. It’s a massive 45-meter bell tower said to be one of the tallest bell towers in the Philippines and was built by the Augustinians in 1612.
The tower has earned its “sinking” reputation because it is so heavy and it was build on sandy foundations that it has consistently sunk into the ground. Stories mention that a person on horseback could enter the tower with ease back when it was built. Now, a person of normal height has to bend down just to enter the vaulted entrance. The bell tower is part of the property of the St. William’s Cathedral 85 meters to the south. Despite its sinking state (supposedly at a rate of an inch a year), the bell tower still continues its centuries-old purpose of ringing the bell to call Catholic brethren to mass. (part of this was googled again =))
Most of the good places in Ilocos Norte are hours from Laoag, and sadly, we didn’t have the luxury of time. We left Laoag for Manila at 8pm. We arrived at Manila at around 5am the next day.
What I really like about Ilocos was its richness in terms of history and culture. I think nowhere in the Philippines can you find a whole city preserved like Vigan and the fact that many of Ilocos’ people have greatly contributed to Philippine independence and politics. People like Father Burgos (of Gomburza), Ferdinand Marcos, Cong. Crisologo and a lot more are epitomes of greatness in their own right.
Traveling across the Philippines is one of my dreams, finally being fulfilled. The first was last December in Iloilo, and now in Ilocos. There are many still to come, and the atom is excited for the next stories to be written!