Friday, May 13, 2016

Ilocos Norte & Ilocos Sur 2016: Touristy Things on Land & Other Realizations

My college adventure friends and I have already explored quite many of the prized destinations in the South, so we thought we should start moving up North to see what lies ahead. We decided to go for Ilocos Norte and Sur for the total North experience.
                             
ILOCOS NORTE

Day 1

Paoay Church
The first order of business after more or less 13 hours of travel time from Cubao was Paoay Church. This was a fitting starter spot, as it was an instant picker upper the moment we saw it.
Paoay Church’s being a mix of Baroque and Gothic architecture makes it an interesting structure to look at. With details so beautiful and rare to see, the church was truly admirable. This is one of the biggest and most beautiful churches I’ve ever seen. No wonder it’s among UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Marcos Museum and Mausoleum
The two-floor museum houses different memorabilia that trace the story of Former President Ferdinand Marcos from his beginnings until his death. This trip down history lane was rather interesting. There was much learning. Also, nothing is more fascinating than seeing items of clothing, writing, transportation etc. from way, way back, especially those that are already obsolete in this era, to show us how people lived in the olden days.
Inside the mausoleum, it was eerie and chilling which, I think, was only a natural reaction when inside a rather dark room with an unburied dead body in it. He was there. Ferdinand Marcos looked like he was just sleeping. He was such a curious thing to watch. It was his face, but in a way, I could also tell that it wasn’t really it.

Five things I’ve learned from our guide: seven layers of wax were applied to maintain the body, an Egyptian expert was the one who did it, even the guides in the mausoleum are not allowed to open the crypt, only every 10 years does the body get retouched/waxes get replaced, and the 3rd time the body will be retouched is after three years, on the 30th year of his death. It was creepy there, but it was also cool, literally and figuratively. Imagine rounding a preserved body while an air conditioner releases really cold air. Now that was some major goosebump moment.

Paoay Sand Dunes (!!!)
I don’t even know how to describe what happened here, and this is not to just sensationalize the experience. Let’s just say the 4x4 off-road adventure ride is not to be missed by thrill seekers.
The sand dunes look pretty imposing with its vastness. There’s so much promise of adventure just by staring out to as far as anyone can see.
The moment we hopped in the 4x4, there was no more backing out. We had no protective gears or locks to secure us. We were only told to hold on to the tube bar tightly and never let go. And that was it, before I could even prepare myself for what was going to happen, we were already either chugging sideways(!) on rocky portions or flying off cliffs. The whole time it was happening we were calling to all the existing gods, screaming to infinity, cursing the guides, and begging to be off the ride all at the same time. Adrenaline rush multiplied by a hundred. It was nuts! In fairness, there were breaks after some minutes of nonstop tension and craziness. There was even that time we stopped by the beach spot to rest our lungs and take our mind off the nerve-wracking things for a bit.
After overcoming fears, it gave all of us a different sense of accomplishment and courage. It became a bragging right, a source of pride. And why not?! It is the best experience, the absolute highlight, the act I hadn’t written on my bucketlist but should have, and the one thing I would do all over again in Ilocos.

Paoay Lake

We only got to see Paoay Lake in passing on our way back to our lodge. Actually, we were supposed to visit the Malacañang of the North which has a better view of the lake, but it was already closed by 4:30, so we opted to just sightsee for a bit just to get it off the list and say we’ve seen it.

Day 2

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
This lighthouse is considered a cultural heritage structure for good reason. Aside from being a beautiful sight near and afar, it has also been in existence for many decades now. And to my knowledge, it is still a fully-operational lighthouse. It is amusing because it serves both aesthetic and functional purposes.
The longevity of its existence also gave way to horror stories haunting this lighthouse. From the old furniture, yellowed mattresses and broken posts, the look of some of its rooms added up to the creep. This is also why we didn’t stay long in this place.

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation
To be honest, I wasn’t really able to appreciate the beauty of Kapurpurawan because there was so much distraction. The crowd of visitors, the scorching (emphasis on scorching) heat of the sun and the long walk to the main attraction were just too much to bear. It was a good thing there were stores renting out umbrellas and selling thirst quenchers along the way. 
Don’t get me wrong. I get why Kapurpurawan is popular. It may just be some rock formation, but it looks as though it was purposefully sculpted which it was not, and that makes it more amazing. The way to it has been made more appealing by putting other little sights as well. From this area, one can already take a peek of the huge windmills from the other side, and that makes them an extra attraction.

Bangui Windmills
Now the windmills are among my favorites in this trip. From our van, I could already see parts of them peeping from hills while we were still in transit to Kapurpurawan. And then on our way to Bangui, they started to look closer, bigger and taller. I don’t know how many they are, but there are plenty of them for sure. Seeing them properly aligned makes them such a sight to behold. Not only do I like them because they are an eye pleaser but because they are an energy source so helpful as well. They provide electricity to Ilocos Norte at a low price. How’s that for an attraction?

Patapat Viaduct
Honestly, I had no idea what was so special about this spot until I saw it in person. It is a bridge along a coast, and that’s kind of already self-explanatory. It has the kind of view that would make one want to go on long rides. After some research, I learned that this is an important viaduct, as it connects Laoag’s Maharlika Highway to Cagayan Valley. We stopped here shortly for some photos before continuing with our business.

Bantay Abot Cave
This cave came as a bit of a surprise. I was expecting something closed, dark and underground. It was none of those things because it was not the usual kind; it was some kind of an open cave by the sea.
According to our little guide Shadow, the two boulders that make up the cave look like a man and a woman kissing. And after paying close attention, we were able to see them too. How it came to be, I have no idea, but it was amazing to look at.
The place was absolutely Instagram-worthy, but Shadow and her friend made sure that it would be more memorable for us by teaching us poses that would make our pictures unique. At a young age, it is admirable to watch kids work their business. 

Kabigan Falls
A 30-minute trek under the unforgiving sun was nothing compared to what we saw when we got to Kabigan Falls. Beyond the farm and over the stream, we found this mini-heaven. It was standing pretty and inviting. There was actually nothing very unique about it, but it was so nice how just by being around it, I was refreshed. It was all I wanted that moment because we had been touring around for two days then, and some real refreshment was what my body needed. 
Kabigan Falls was all water and shade. I did not even go full on swimming; just half of my body was soaked, but I was already totally cooled down. Feeling like it was a little closed and secluded, the surrounding trees and rocks added to the laid back atmosphere. I wish we could have stayed longer, though.

Blue Lagoon

Because we felt like it would be a violation and misuse of summer if we didn’t at least go beaching on our trip, we made sure to include Hannah’s Resort in Blue Lagoon on our itinerary.
Blue Lagoon (also known as Maira-ira Beach) is made up of powder fine white sand and blue green saltwater. It actually covers a pretty long stretch which makes for great sightseeing. It’s beautiful. Aside from swimming and sunbathing, different water activities can be done here as well like jet skiing, banana boat riding and zip line riding. Because it was a weekend when we came, there were a lot of guests, so we didn’t really get to have the place to ourselves or at least enjoy the beach which was sad since this was one of the things we were really looking forward to.
Okay, so Hannah’s Beach Resort and Convention Center is huge. It is hectares and hectares of beautiful scenery.
In fairness to the pools, there are plenty of them. So plenty that even when there are many guests, the pools are not awkwardly crowded. There are those intended for adults and those for children. The ones situated higher even provide an overlooking view of Pagudpud. Water is not hot or cold, just right. And if I remember it correctly, the water also comes from the sea.
If anything, it’s worth pointing out that this resort has so much of the aesthetics. Some make it seem unorganized and scattered. Some of them are not even necessary anymore. The statues on display follow different themes that cause confusion. I am not sure it it’s trying to be USA or cartoon inspired. The room units face different directions and are located sporadically. Stores are also everywhere. It was crowded with people. It always feels like there’s so much going on. It looks busy, so this is not really the place to be for relaxation.

ILOCOS SUR

Day 3

Bantay Church and Bell Tower
This church happens to be the place where the miraculous Apo Caridad is enshrined. People who seek forgiveness, blessing, guidance, and healing come to her in prayer. I was blessed that we had the chance to see her (but not really because she was covered from head to toe for protection). After praying, we got to talk to an old man who related to us stories about the miracles of Apo Caridad as experienced by visitors. Despite being of service for decades, he was still very much in awe while talking to us like he still couldn’t fathom her miracles.
We also took a side trip to the bell tower. We climbed up to see the huge bell. Groups of visitors took turns because the tower couldn’t accommodate a lot.

Burnayan Pottery
Burnayan is where one can find burnays or earthen jars of different sizes and designs. Some may be bought individually while some are sold in sets. The moment I saw them, I was instantly reminded of childhood. Girls from before used to enjoy playing kitchen cooking.
This place not only sells earthen jars to guests but also offers quick demos of pottery making. It looked very easy when I watched the native maker do it, but when three of my friends tried it, they had a hard time. I’ve noticed that the form of the jars would differ depending on how tight one molds the mud. The maker told us that after the clay was molded, it would then be dried for a few days and fired/glazed after.

Hidden Garden
Lunching at Hidden Garden is highly recommended. It is an open-space restaurant and a garden in one. It houses huge servings of some of Vigan’s unique dishes and delicacies like warek-warek and poqui-poqui. These two may sound funny to a local’s ears, but they taste really nice. Warek-warek is mainly composed of grilled pork while poqui-poqui is of grilled eggplants. We ordered both plus the bagnet which lived up to my expectations. It was so good, so crunchy. Aside from these dishes, plants and organic drinks may be found in the garden also.

Baluarte
A visit to Baluarte is so field trip-like. It has everything that one will expect from a zoo – animals (of course), galleries, souvenir shops, and photo stations. We weren’t able to roam around the whole place, but we saw some really amazing animals from which my most favorite ones are the tigers. I’ve always been a fan because they look like handsome puppets when calm and scary beasts when mad.
After checking out the live animals, we then visited the safari gallery that has in it the animals the owner Chavit Singson hunted and killed in the past. 
Some of them are really huge and wild beasts. Truth be told, I had mixed emotions, as I stared at every preserved animal on display.
We ended our trip inside Baluarte with a panicky photo with Tom the Tiger. This was another first for me. I had so much fun. I had the nerves too, but I’d rather deal with a tiger than a snake, no thanks.
Calle Crisologo

Calle Crisologo is one of the streets that form the so-called Vigan Heritage Village.
I love the discipline in this place, discipline in a way that this little street manages to preserve its being authentically vintage. It follows the Spanish colonial architecture from cobblestoned pavements to ancestral homes. They weren’t just constructed recently to look that way but were really built during the colonial era. They have been there ever since. It’s amusing because it feels like I’m time-travelling to a different dimension. It has always been a dream of mine to walk this street and see what it’s like to be here.
Vigan in general is like some sort of a detached city because everything else in it is different. Establishments like food chains, bookstores and malls were built following traditional designs to not look out of place in this rather strictly thematic city, and that is where its magic is at.

A few things I’ve learned on this trip:

Every corner of every Ilocos tourist spot is picture-worthy, but what people don’t know is that behind every pretty photo is the enduring heat. It’s abnormally hot in the North, especially these days. Precaution must be taken seriously. We could’ve had an even more awesome time had it not been that hot out there. Hopping in and getting off the van with the heat and the air conditioner battling it out got us all feeling sticky and drained at the end of every day. 
Travel takes up most time out of the tour. The towns covering our itinerary are not really located close to each other. Laoag to Vigan was more or less two hours, so was Laoag to Pagudpud. Time can be the enemy here. In the end, we had a few places on our list that we weren’t able to go to because we ran out of time.

The bottom line is, while it was great that we got to try something different this time by focusing more on land, nothing would ever beat our love for the beach. We gave it a shot, and we realized it will always be beach over land adventure for us. I guess the very inconsiderate heat added to our longing for water in our system.

With all that I’ve mentioned above, it is not to say Ilocos wasn’t worth it. It was! We got to taste both land (in the form of museum hopping, church hopping and sand dunes activity) and water (in the form of the falls and the beach).

It had been a really jam-packed adventure time in the North. I know there’s still so much out there, so we will keep exploring. :)

*Photos by Rendell Barrera, Justine Dador, Monica Mangalino, Jerome Satera, and yours truly!

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