Seeing Ilocos Norte Up-close


Who says only the rich are allowed to go on tours? I too can. The rich may stay in the best hotel get the best service, holds the latest digital camera or eats the best food but he and I would be seeing the same panorama, be mesmerized by the same beauty that nature can offer. We might also be different in thoughts and impressions but the landscape that inspires it would be the same.

Travelling was a promise I made to myself. It is neither a hobby because my meager wage would definitely scream to high heavens. It is a passion.  The two are definitely different in the dictionary.

And so, after all the ruckus, at last Ilocos.

My interest of Ilocos Norte was sparked by a friend, then an architecture student now an architect, who spoke in awe about Spanish preserved architecture in Vigan, the stone pathway, the calesa’s that abound the city. In my mind I pictured an old Spanish grandeur that was frozen in time. So I told myself, one day I too will see that grandeur he was so besotted to.

Later, that interest led me to research the internet about the place. I was led to chat rooms, discussion sites. I read reviews and articles. I encountered conflicting reviews though.  But let’s scratch the negative reviews because even with all that one thing was clear, people are going to Ilocos Norte.

One blogger said it was a haven.  It was not. I found Ilocos Norte not as a haven but very near the heavens.

It was the never-ending blue sky dotted with thin feathery clouds that struck me in awe. There was even a day during my stay that I was under a spotless sky. Aside from the hot blistering sun, not a single cloud could be seen in the horizon.

Looking at it was like looking at a refreshing picture. It clears the mind and made me think of the past. What had mattered and what had not. Who mattered and who didn’t. The wrong judgments I made that had weighed heavily in my mind became an insignificant memory. The worries I kept buried felt just like the thin feathery clouds moving slowly to someplace. I felt instant relief.

It was amazing how something so common could have a big effect on me. I had been born in the highlands, a place where rain and mist are just a common occurrence and so I grew up with a sky that sported all the cloud forms. Or maybe the city had got into my nerves.

Vigan is what it was in the articles. Calle Crisologo is a very long, winding street lined with preserved Spanish houses. Those houses that lined the streets are very very old by the looks of it.  They once had housed the Spanish officials and the Tobacco Dons, as the writings on the wall said, who were the wealthiest during the Spanish occupation.

To this day, the house unquestionably demonstrates the Spanish architecture in detail, from the crumbling bricks to the shingles.  My architecture friend should be in awe since he was into design, but being into construction myself, I had this fear that if one nail is pulled, the whole structure will collapse.


The houses are badly in need of repair. It just showed the state of the city’s coffers.

I hope there were no restoration funds that ended in some crooked politician’s pocket.

I don’t know if it was good or bad but there were some which had been restored, I suspect it was done by the house owners, but in the process the house lost the beauty of antiquity which was the core purpose of restoration, they were painted with colors that is in great contrast with the atmosphere they want to preserve.

Restoration is costly, that is a given. It is like restoring a vintage Victoria to its old splendor.  But if restoring those old houses, the owner’s cooperation is a big factor to be considered too, meant boosting the tourism industry of Ilocos Norte as a whole definitely spells business, money and eventually food, throw in the help it will contribute to the tourism industry of the country which had been waning these days.

I have heard from a local that Vigan Heritage Village is a UNESCO Heritage Site, the site includes Calle Crisologo and Calle Bonifacio, If that is true then I assume the restoration procedures is not being followed as per UNECO’s standards, it won’t be long before UNESCO reconsiders its position as it did with the Banaue Rice Terraces[1] if that kind of restoration continues.

Dawn is the best time to see Vigan for a more dramatic experience because as soon as the magical moment is gone, the daylights reveal the sorry state of the heritage site.

Baluarte ni Chavit is a contrast to the heritage site, seeing it made me go back to my thoughts, maybe some of the restoration fund might have found its way into some pockets. But that is something to be proven yet. Nevertheless, one thing is clear as the Ilocos sky, Chavit Singson is one wealthy man.

We can take his lions and tigers (I don’t know how many he has) as manifestations. I saw five of them and they looked healthy basing on their fur. They were all well fed.

One thing that really caught so much attention from my group is Chavit’s golden tower in progress. Maybe it his other way of declaring his lordship over his Baluarte that is Ilocos Norte, he must have a good view of it from atop.

The glass panel looks like the square gold-looking paper which our neighboring Asian Buddist sticks on Buddha during Christmas and New Year.

I and my companions had the same thoughts about the tree on top of the structure, we even joked about it and an interesting story unfolded.

“The tree was a dead Balete and Chavit has a large Kapre friend and at night they’ll both be smoking Spanish cigars while watching the gold bars being transformed into panels” It may sound ridiculous but we had fun joking about it.

But of course it might not be a Balete and was only a part of the landscaping Chavit has in mind. But whatever it was, the whole package was ridiculous. Maybe the designer and architect had been held at gun point when they designed it.

Looking at the large land area that composes the Baluarte, the maintenance, in my estimate, would be quite costly. But then there were the stall renters and the tourist but it won’t be enough. One good thing I saw was the job the Baluarte is providing the locals.


Roaming around are ostriches, ponies, some ducks (I don’t know if they were of rare breeds) and there was a butterfly den that seems to contain 2-5 species of butterflies by the looks of them, the butterflies looked like each other. There was nothing rare or I was just an ignorant spectator who can’t differentiate.

Chavit also has these colorful birds, one was a parrot, and there were catechus or whatever their names are.

A must see is Chavit’s collection of some imported animals, there were snakes (one is a Python), a big bat and several others.  At the left side is a cage made that houses a variety of birds, they must have belonged to one genus of birds. My favorite was a rooster-looking that looked just like an assembled toy.

Ilocos Norte is teeming with old churches, like any other places where the Spanish had dwelt.

The first we visited was the Sta. Maria Church with its beautiful Bantay Bell Tower, the breathtaking Paoay Church with its Thailand-looking architecture with a side dish of the famous Pinakbet Pizza just across it, and the St. Micheal’s Cathedral in the heart of the city with its miraculous Sinking Bell Tower.

Every church we had visited has grandeur of its own. The roof in each had long been replaced but the whole structure was preserved and would still last for many years. Thanks to the solid foundation and the sturdy bricks.

I was really amazed by the bell tower of Paoay church. The bricks were of coral stones cut in perfect cubes, laid perfectly one after the other in a harmonious way.

The Spanish for sure had used forced labor to have made it possible.  And I wondered, while looking at it, how much Ilocano blood had spilled during its construction.

Ilocano blood. It might have flowed at the hands of the Spanish conquistadores but it had continued after they were long gone. Ilocos Norte is divided into Balaurte’s as our driver cum tour guide had shared when we visited Crisolologo Museum.

Baluarte’s are places owned literally, by politicians in terms of supporters or votes.

The Crisologo museum illustrated Ilocos Norte’s bloody political atmosphere. I, who grew up in a young province, had never experienced bloody political wars.  So I was taken aback coming face to face with the pictures of a congressman who was mercilessly murdered in a church while kneeling, by the looks of his position on the floor. His pocket watch, sunglasses, the clothes he wore was on display maybe to make an outsider like me understand how Ilocos Norte’s political atmosphere was. Ilocos Norte is just one of the provinces with long standing political dynasties and bloody elections to the present.

From all that gore, one special sight stayed with me, the collection of books the Crisologo’s have in their small library. They were as old as the house, some law books dates back to the 1915’s.

I even found a 1951 Reader’s Digest. It was a far cry from the Reader’s Digest today in terms of thickness, design and layout. But one thing did remain, they feature true stories. I and Eric paused to admire a drawing on one page done in water colors, it was amazing. It has its own beauty that is far different from the digital ones we see now in the pages of the Reader’s Digest.

I also found an old book of Longfellow, a collection of poems, I wonder if it was a first edition. I had the urge to ask for it but shame came first.

The Crisologo’s are surely allies of the Marcoses as the pictures all over the place suggested it and maybe the surviving Missus might know if the Marcos corpse lying in the Marcos Mausoleum is really the late Pres. Ferdinand Marcos body or maybe the historians theory that Marcos is alive somewhere has some truth to it. Only time could tell. But for now the wax that was used to coat the late presidents’ body doesn’t look real to me. Is it really him? Doubt is persistent.

One funny thing I found at the mausoleum was the life-like war armaments of knights. I could not begin to fathom how those can be associated to Marcos.

Two rooms house some of his memorabilia, the arranger focused on his achievements as a General. One medal, which is the highest honor in the AFP was given to Marcos when he had developed a way of communication during the death march – some historians dispute that it was given to Marcos as an award, rumors has it that it was not true and that no records shows that any award was bestowed. If those rumors are not true then those awards and medals that adorned the four walls of the room exemplify the greatness of one Ferdinand Marcos.

What went wrong to the young man who must have dreamt of democracy and liberation?  Or maybe the old trick did not overlook him. Gaining more power got the better of him. But no one can argue that he was one great person before he became a tyrant.

Malacanang ti Amianan is another extravagance of the Marcos Regime.  But the house open-air ambiance is a relief from the stiff drive. Its all wood, air and sun; it makes you want to own it, even a miniature would do.

Foraying deeper into Ilocos Norte led my group to Cape Bojeador, a lighthouse that had served its time and now just looking out at the empty sea. He is like an old soldier who can only reminisce his golden years in the war.

The scene beyond the lighthouse is no match to anything I have seen. The sea is curtained with thick mist that morning, as if beyond the mist is Neverland and Peter Pan. It might be a wishful thinking but the scene could really make you think those kinds of thoughts.

Down the beach would be the ship-like rock formation that is Currimao. The trek to it was a challenge in itself, I was glad I was born in the highlands or I would have looked like the patsy boylets who struggled hard against the rocks for a foothold.

From afar the rock formation was like a ship stranded on a beach with white sands or sand dunes.  The mighty sea might have taken him years but he won and the stone lost. But in its defeat came something more beautiful. But of course scientifically, the seawater did not do the entire job, it was the grit that came with every wave that did it.

Another wonder is the Bangui windmills along the beach. High above my head the wind must be blowing at 4 knots and it slowly turned the turbines of the windmills that span to four meters the most. The man-made wonder made me stop in my tracks in awe at the intelligence of man and admire Bongbong Marcos for the thought.

For a while I forgot he is a dictator’s only son who could be harboring a vendetta and maybe the same thoughts as his father. He might be aiming at the presidency in the near future looking at how he is noiselessly going up the ladder. It is obviously guilt by association but one could not easily forget how his father deceived the entire Filipino people, doubt surely is persistent.

With the sun threatening to go down early, we were down to one last destination for the day and that is going deeper into Ilocos Norte’s woodland. The mountain trail to Kaibigan waterfalls was a good exercise and it was a good time to chat, so Bless and I talked about anything and everything during the hike.

The zen-like atmosphere greeted us at the falls. And the urge to just plunge on the cool spring water is irresistible but there was still a long drive ahead and wearing wet clothes is surely uncomfortable, the beach is still waiting.

Pagudpud is known to be the Boracay of the North, home to the Blue lagoon. From afar true to its name, the water looked blue and whitish-looking sand surrounds the beach. I found out later that if not careful, the strong waves can pull you into the deep just a meter away from the shallower part. So we had no choice but to stuck ourselves in the safeness of the shallow and waited for the waves to come to us. It was still fun. I saw the patsy boylets doing a friendly marathon along the beach. Sure they didn’t looked patsy now that they are on stable, flat ground. I wondered about their line of work but they sure look like Makati or Ortigas office employees, maybe IT’s.  They must have checked in at Hannah’s since we haven’t seen them around Saud beach.

Saud beach is fronting the lodging house where we spent the night, it was not a friendly beach, and the waves are not friendly too, coming in very strong.

The thought of a morning swim was thrown away with the waves. We spent our morning dip staying again at the safe shallow.  The creature we found on the beach which had frightened us the night before is nowhere to be found.

Amazingly the Bangui windmills can be seen from the beach, but they are too far away that they looked like poles with in the middle of the ocean.

One thing I also noticed was the lack of fishermen. Though there were a few boats out in the ocean, I wondered if there was a catch or if there was even a fish to catch. But isn’t it customary that those fishermen shouldn’t be out there since the sun is already up in the sky? Maybe fishing is not a source of income in these parts.

I saw two elderly, early seaweed pickers; interestingly they expertly tumbled the seaweed on one palm and the edible ones found their way into a basket while the inedible ones tumbled back into the pile. I tried to find the ones I am familiar with tried to nibble at it, the taste of the ocean was salty fresh.

Then it was time to leave. The memory of the rays of the sun sparkling on the ocean’s surface would be the last peaceful scene in my mind.

All the fun moments are now becoming a memory, one that would be cherished forever. The pictures would become a reminder of the time and the place, the beauty of nature freeze in the time. The perfect moment captured in the lenses. While new relationships were made, the beautiful landscapes being the foundation of it. It might not last or it might; only time could tell. If it won’t, I am thankful they were my companions in exploring the North. #



1The Banaue Rice Terraces was indeed in a precarious position with UNESCO but the exact state now is not verified.


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