Concluding the Northern Exposure

After more or less three hours, Agnes and I arrived at Vigan, Ilocos Sur from Laoag, Ilocos Norte. The trip in an ordinary bus has been filled with random stops to pick up passengers as well as drop off some. The driver was a great conversationalist in Ilocano. Apparently, we made him believe that we speak the language after we answered his query if we wanted to stow away our backpacks in the cargo compartment. Despite having an Ilocano grandfather who gave me my family name, I actually know only several phrases in the language. Agnes on the other hand, despite being from the Southern Tagalog area, can speak it quite well. She picked up the language after spending a year in Pangasinan with a coastal community.

After alighting the bus, we quickly hired a tricycle for our ride to the hotel. It was nighttime but the streets of Vigan were buzzing with activity. There were locals as well as tourists milling about the queen city of Ilocandia. Already we passed by some old houses which could have very well dated back to the 19th century as well as the early years of the American colonial period. After some turns and encounters with calesas and strolling excursionists, we were at the hotel.

We chose a hotel which was a couple of blocks from the cobblestoned Calle Crisologo. And it was a hotel which seemed to feel like an old ancestral house with several rooms, family heirlooms and furniture. Agnes had mixed feelings with us being there after having read a comment made by a disgruntled patron in the hotel’s website regarding some supposed supernatural experiences. I told her that we ever experienced one of those then it would make the trip more memorable.

We later went down to Café Uno for dinner. Being that we have had several Ilocano dishes in Pagudpud in the previous days, we selected food which could be found in Manila, we both noticed though that they were cheaper there. But they tasted really good. After dinner, we went back up to the room and before we knew it, we were catching Z’s already. I guess carrying packs loaded with five days worth of clothing, footwear, electronic equipment, and supplies took its toll on us.

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Morning would come early the next day. After downing the hotel’s delicious complimentary Ilocano breakfast meals, we started walking to Calle Crisologo. Already there were a lot of people strolling on Vigan’s famed street and several among them were buying souvenir items from the shops which had lined the Calle. Most of the tourists we saw looked like students who form part of a group. And they seem to enjoy having their pictures taken with the old houses in the background. There were some families, as well as lovebirds and young professionals taking a much needed break from work.

Along with the tourists were calesas which offered a ride around the city’s famous landmarks. One driver said that part of the package would a visit to one of the city’s bell towers where a scene from one of Fernando Poe Jr.’s movie was shot. We declined the offer since we only wanted to stroll around the city center and experience what we could with the limited time we had (we were leaving in the afternoon).

Aside from the tourists, the souvenir shops, the calesas and the cobblestone street, Agnes and I also noticed that several of the houses in the Calle were actually abandoned and the restoration process still underway. In fact, we noticed one house with beautiful doors on its ground floor as well as its second floor which was still being sequestered by the local government. This house had a commanding presence and though it seemed old, it was something which did not seem to look like the usual bahay na bato type. Bahay na bato houses usually have a concrete ground floor with a wooden second floor which had capiz windows. The house we saw was all-concrete with some wrought-iron furnishings on its balconies. It seemed to have some neo-classical elements with some Spanish as well Filipino influences. It was beautiful and I really hope the local officials would be able to restore it soon.

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After Crisologo, we passed by Vigan’s St. Paul’s Cathedral. Similar to its more famous kin in Paoay, it also had a very beautiful façade with big side buttresses. And like St. Augustine’s its bell tower was separate from the main building of the cathedral. The ceiling, as well as the interiors of the cathedral had been maintained. One can still see the names of the local principalia during the Spanish and American period in the walls and pillars of the cathedral. The adjacent Museum of the Archdioceses of Nueva Segovia hosts some articles, documents, artifacts and pictures of the growth of Roman Catholicism in Ilocandia as well the churches which shared the same characteristics as the cathedral.

On the way out of the cathedral, one cannot fail to notice the local Mcdonald’s which was designed in the same fashion as the traditional houses of Vigan with some characteristics of St. Paul’s, in fact even had its own mini bell tower. We however did not go in since this was a trip to discover Ilocandia and that meant eating and drinking the local food, drinks and delicacies. That meant going to Plaza Burgos for empanadas, the sinuglao, and some cassava bibingka from Tongson’s.

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After downing the sinuglao and some of the bibingka, we proceeded to strolling around the city. We wanted to visit the Burgos Museum and the Crisologo Museum, but they were both closed despite the hours posted on their doors and the fact that it was a Monday. We dropped by the local tourist information for details, but they also couldn’t say why. I guess that gives us reasons to visit the place again in the future.

Checking out from the hotel on noontime, we passed by Café Leona before going to the bus terminal for the trip back to Manila. We ordered their highly recommended pizza (which friends of mine said I should try) and some ripe mango shakes. The pizza was great with its thin slice, ground beef, salami slices, cheese and other ingredients. It was filling without you noticing. Before we knew it, all the slices were gone.

We then hired a tricycle for the ride to the bus terminal which was at the edge of the cute and charming city. We had mixed emotions on the trip. Part of us wanted to stay while the other wanted us to go else we lose our jobs. Our attachment to the Ilocandia got to the point that we started thinking of looking for jobs in the area (yep, we did). Then again those would be thoughts for the future. What was definite was that we enjoyed every part of the backpacking trip from Pagudpud, Bangui, and Burgos, down to Batac, Paoay, Laoag, and lastly Vigan.

In just a few days, we have covered several places and met several people from whom we learned a lot. It may seem this was a trip purely for leisure, but I must say we also picked up some local issues on governance, politics, the environment and need for community empowerment. But my thoughts on those would have to be in another post. For now, let this be the conclusion to our Northern Exposure.

(Photos courtesy of Agnes Arban)

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