The Long Road to Ilocos

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Ilocos In January

In late January, mom and I, along with a couple of family friends went to Vigan to visit relatives for a few days. It was a good season to visit Ilocos, which was sunny and relatively cool. Mom likes to go to early morning mass to start her day, after which we head to the public market to buy food for the day. The requisite Baluarte and Heritage Village tour were granted our guests, but mostly we stayed in the barrio to have a relaxing time with relatives. Curiously, even in late January, some Christmas decors along the highway are still up. Perhaps this was a way to elicit a prolonged festive mood among the people.

Annual Summer Trip

In the summer the whole family usually makes a late April trek to Ilocos, specifically Vigan and Bantay, where are parents were born and raised. It is in the last Saturday of April that the barrio fiesta is held in honor of its patron saint, San Isidro Labrador. The fiesta is also a family reunion, since in our barrio, almost all our neighbors are also our relatives.

This summer we head to Ilocos early on a Wednesday. This means more time to visit places other than Vigan. The road trip to Ilocos is long and almost unbearably hot, made longer and more unbearable  this time by the numerous road works simultaneously ongoing in many towns that we passed by.

Before reaching our final destination, we make several stops along the way. We stopped by Rosario, La Union for a picnic lunch near a gasoline station where we ate our packed lunch consisting of pork adobo and pinakbet. In Santa Cruz, Ilocos Sur, mom buys freshly caught fish from a few roadside vendors. A quick toilet break in Jollibee Candon followed. Then a walk on rocky Sulvec beach in Narvacan for photo ops before finally heading to Vigan.

Thursday morning we obliged the kids to a trip to Governor Chavit Singson’s place Baluarte where they rode a miniature horse-drawn calesa and  looked at the animals around the vicinity. Late afternoon we headed to nearby resort Jaja Hidden Water Park to go swimming and the small kids were thrilled that there were superhero figures like Spiderman and Incredible Hulk in the place. Friday we went on a road trip to Ilocos Norte to go sightseeing:  Bangui Windmills, Pagudpud beach, Patapat viaduct, Cape Bojeador lighthouse, Ilocos Norte Capitol, Fort Ilocandia Hotel, Fort Ilocandia Golf and Coutry Club, Malacanang of the North and Marcos mausoleum in Batac.

Saturday was the fiesta day and we spent the day mostly at home, to be with family and catch up with relatives whom we seldom see. We ate the pork dishes served, and prayed that we don’t drop dead because of the heart attack-inducing food.  Around 3pm, we decided to go to the town plaza with the thought of going for a calesa ride around Vigan. But that was scrapped as there was a calesa parade that was about to start in front of the Vigan Cathedral. The parade was the opening part of the Viva Vigan Festival of the Arts which was held in the first week of May. Luckily, we were in a good vantage point where we could take good pictures. Later, we moved to Crisologo street (part of the Heritage Village) which was also on the parade route to have another view of the parade and to look at souvenir items.  After the parade, we went to Bantay church for a quick church visit and picture taking at the bell tower.

Before heading back to Manila the next day, the kids just had to take a short calesa ride around the plaza. After that, a quick trip to Marsha’s to buy pasalubong and baon on the road like bibingka and brownies. Then, off we go on the long road again back to Manila.

It was nice to have the kids see the countryside and learn a bit about history. For me, I think it was important that they be in the actual places that they see on TV and read about in books and magazines, for them to get a feel of what’s it’s like to be in these places, and to take pride in the beautiful countryside, to see the other side of the Philippines other than ugly, urban Metro Manila.

A Death in the Family

Two weeks later, some of us unexpectedly return to Vigan due to a death in the family. Wake and burial customs in the Philippines are many and confusing. But it’s always heartwarming to see a stream of people pay their respects to the dead, amid bingo games and some other card games during the night-time vigil.

This was a very short visit but we managed to squeeze in time for a little food trip in a new eating establishment called Ihawan sa Caoayan located near Baluarte. The tables were inside nipa huts. A live band plays at night. We ordered pork barbecue, isaw and goto for our group of 9. Food was very good by Ilocos standards but service was a bit slow.

Sadly, even if we go to Ilocos almost every year, we visit the same old places like Baluarte and Heritage Village. And never try to eat at other food establishments other than the empanadahan in the plaza and the fast food joints like Jollibee, Chowking, Red Ribbon. We just take it for granted that we have the best Ilocano food at home. I think it’s time we give up the usual places and visit some museums and old houses instead, and taste the offerings of restaurants around town.

I think Vigan still has something new and surprising to offer, even for regular visitors. It would be more fun in the Philippines when Pinoys discover what’s new in their cities/towns.

Please share your thoughts / questions in the comment box below.

2 thoughts on “The Long Road to Ilocos

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