7,000 TIMES MORE ROMANTIC
Time-locked Ilocos is a broad
hardy country blessed with impressive wide highways and
stretches of narrow cobblestoned roads, antiquated towns
dominated by heavily-buttressed grand churches and Antillan
ancestral homes, and a brave people who, by sheer industry,
harnessed a formidable terrain into a source of sustenance.
seemingly tempestuous sea rimmed with uneven rock formations and
ascetic mountains are the two scenic images that first impress
the visitor to Ilocos. Wedged between the wild China Sea and the
rugged Cordillera mountain range, the region presents a visual
feast that is at once dazzling in its boldness. Divided into
Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, their capitals - Vigan and Laoag
City - are anchor tourist destinations and part of the 7,000
times more islands that make up the Philippine archipelago.
OLD WORLD CITY
Vigan, with its centuries-old edifices, is a breathing reminder
of what was once a royal city. One of the earliest Spanish
settlements in the country, Vigan was founded in 1572 by Juan de
Salcedo who patterned its design to that of Intramuros (Old
Manila). It became the seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia
and was called Ciudad Fernandina in honor of King Ferdinand.
Today, Vigan retains much of the patina of 18th century
Castillan architecture as seen in some 150 stone houses which
stand in the town’s Mestizo District, notably Mena Crisologo
Street. Many of these ancestral homes are still in good
condition and some have been turned into cozy inns, museums, and
Along with the homes are other vestiges of the town’s
colonial past :
The majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral was built by the
Augustinian friars along the distinct "Earthquake Baroque" style
of the Ilocos region and features Neo-Gothic and pseudo
Romanesque motifs. Standing on an elevation west of the
cathedral is Plaza Salcedo, the oldest monument in Northern
Luzon. The Archbishop’s Palace is a rich repository of religious
artifacts from the Ilocos region. Plaza Burgos was built in
honor of Fr. Jose Burgos, one of three Filipino priests who were
garroted by the Spaniards for espousing church reforms.
But it is not only edifices which are preserved in this town
inscribed in the World Heritage List. Viganos also remain
steadfast in their traditional crafts, notably pottery (burnay)
and handloom weaving (inabel). The horse-drawn calesa (rig) is
as much a presence in the streets as motor vehicles.
Vigan, Juan de Salcedo pressed further north to Laoag which even
before the Spanish colonial times was already a center of trade
with the Japanese and Chinese. Laoag City, today, is the major
crossroads for international trade and commerce in the Ilocos
region. Though bustling with business, the city has retained
pretty much an unhurried, laid-back lifestyle.
Dominating the city landscape is the provincial capitol which
sits atop Ermita Hill, also popularly known as Raquiza Garden.
Another point of interest is the St. William’s Cathedral, built
by the Augustinians in 1612 along the Italian Renaissance
design. Its unique 2-story facade is held by four pairs of
coupled columns. A deeply recessed niche carries the image of
St. William. A hundred meters away from the church is the
Sinking Bell Tower which leans slightly to the north. It sinks
an inch a year to the ground. Like in Vigan, the calesa is an
integral part of the street landscape.
A HARDY BUT BEAUTIFUL LAND
Because of its difficult terrain and arid temperature, the
Ilocos was once described as a "God-forsaken land" and one was
well-advised to have the "patience of a spider" in order to
survive it. But Ilocanos, the hardy people that they are, not
only survived in this formidable land but were able to turn this
highland country into "God’s own paradise."
Ilocos has many churches of distinction which include two that
are inscribed in the World Heritage List. In Ilocos Sur is the
salmon-bricked Santa Maria Church. Built in 1769, it sits atop a
hill towering over the town proper. In Ilocos Norte is Paoay
Church. Built by the Augustinians in 1596, the church looks like
a cross between a Javanese temple and a European church. The
town of Bantay was the scene of fierce uprising led by Diego
Silang against the tobacco monopoly in 1762. The town’s savage
seascape has been immortalized in the films of Philippine Action
King Fernando Poe, Jr. The town church is an architectural gem
combining Baroque with Gothic motifs.
Currimao has a burgeoning beach resort industry. Visitors to
this coastal town never fail to appreciate the sight of
fishermen pulling in their nets shortly before dusk while
performing a song-and-dance ritual for a bountiful harvest.
Everybody is welcome to join in and each participant is given a
rightful share of the catch. The town of Pagudpud offers a
breathtaking landscape which includes the enchanting Bantay
Abot-abot, a natural sculpture carved by the wind and sea, the
white sand Saud beach and the majestic Mabogabog Falls.
Impressive living canvasses unravel as one traverses the winding
Patapat and Calvario roads.
Aside from its church, Paoay has a national park that envelops a
placid lake. Built along its edge is the Malaca๑ang of the
North, official residence of the late President Marcos in
northern Luzon. The town also has stretches of undulating sand
dunes, the setting of Mel Gibson’s "Mad Max" series and Tom
Cruise’s "Born on the Fourth of July." The Paoay Sports Complex
is the biggest in northern Luzon.
The pastoral town of Pasuquin has many fine beaches and is known
for its salt-making industry. Its hills and mountains abound
with wild game. Pasuquin Cave can be reached after some 45
minutes of traveling via a dirt road. A Mayor’s Permit is
The simplicity of Ilocano cookery is its own virtue.
Bitter-flavored dishes are part of the Ilocano cuisine.
Purposely laced into meat stews, fish grills and salads, the
bitter taste is as enjoyable as the other aspects of taste, such
as sweet, sour and salty. A popular dish is pinakbet, a
vegetable stew of bitter melon, squash, eggplant and okra with
crisp pork belly.
The town plaza and the marketplace are the best places to savor
local flavors. The hotels and resorts have their own dining
outlets and serve both native and international dishes. They can
prepare picnic meals upon request.
Filipinos do not simply provide the guest with a place to rest
or park their luggage, they also share the best of what they
have. This warm, effusive brand of hospitality is what
distinguishes Philippine hotels from the others. In Ilocos, one
can easily find comfortable lodgings to suit one’s budget and