Monday, October 24, 2011

vigan adventure

it's my first out of town trip this 2011. along with my buddies, joyee and jaz, we set out to Vigan, Ilocos Sur. the trip itself was planned a month and a half before, with some glitches here and there. i did the research part, finding the best value for the tour. i ended up with Shore2Shore Travel Services. they were very flexible and accommodating. Our package included:

Tour 1 - Thorough Vigan Tour
Baluarte, Burgos Museum, 3 Hours Calesa Tour (Bantay Church and Bell Tower, Crisologo , Museum, Jar Making, Hidden Garden, Syquia Mansion, Heritage Village), St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, Arzobispo Palace and Museum, Salcedo Village, Heritage River Cruise

there we were sitting at the Partas Bus station, Pasay waiting for the 11pm bus out of Manila. Fare costs P600. expected travel time was 10 hours but we arrived 2 hours earlier since our driver was determined to make the bus fly. at 8am we got off the bus and walked the early morning streets of Plaza Salcedo. breakfast at Mcdo Cathedral (we call it that because of the fake belfry) was the pretty much the same as in Manila and we checked in our hotel (Hotel Salcedo de Vigan). one thing i noticed is that the entire location is near the plaza. you really can't get lost as long as you've been to the place once. we did a lot of walking there since everything was accessible- the market, souvenir shops, bakery, eatery, church, etc. and on the occasion that we'd need to ride a tricycle, fare was a minimum 10 pesos.


wanting to get the most out of our Vigan trip, we set off preparing our journey to the Marcos Memorial in Batac, Ilocos Sur. it was a 2 hour bus trip from Vigan according to my dad so we took the scenic route (ordinary bus). we didn't expect that the bus would take a lot of stops and so we arrived in Batac very hungry and tired. after lunch at Jolibee, much like all lunches in Manila, we set off to the ex-president's memorial. to confirm--the figure above is indeed WAX. the real body of Marcos is underneath the crypt that the dummy is lying on. next was the World Peace Center -Marcos Photo Gallery. here you can view the past and present of the Marcos family including wedding pictures, state visits, articles on the Marcoses, their family line and it also features a wall mural. all this is for FREE.

Day One was exhausting but quite enjoyable as we ventured back to Vigan in Plaza Burgos during the afternoon. we followed our empty stomachs and headed off to the Vigan Empanadahan to sample their unique fare. Vigan empanada is a tortilla type snack. the dough is rolled and flattened out and then the filling is added. it consists of Vigan longganisa, shredded cabbage and carrots. and then it is folded into half and dropped into a large "kawa" (a very large frying pan) for deep frying. it comes out crispy outside and hot and delicious inside. it's eaten with a vinegar dip. Costs around P35-Regular, P10-Bite sizes (no longganisa in the filling). with satisfied bellies, it was back to the hotel for the night but not without drinking some hot choco at The Perfect Cup cafe to unwind. we looked forward to day two since it will be the start of our Vigan tour.


we woke up to a rainy Friday morning, a gloomy and wet start for a day of adventure. but the cold weather didn't dampen our excitement as evidenced by our gleeful conversations in the hotel lobby. thank goodness no one was there to tell us off.

while waiting for our tour guide to pick us up, we had breakfast at the hotel resto having our share of, what else, but a VIGAN breakfast! it's basically vigan longganisa, garlic rice, fried egg and atchara with black coffee and a balikotcha ( a sugary tablet that doubles as a sweetener). definitely a heavy meal. here's a trivia: biguenos rarely eat bread. they are not fans of pandesal. instead they have native snacks made of rice and coconut or kankanen and eat heavy meals. i think it has to do with their source of livelihood. they are farmers, blacksmiths and potters. and they need all the energy to last the day to finish their work.

carlo, our tour guide, started us with a walk through calle crisologo. this famous street features old spanish style houses and a bricked pathway so that wherever the horse drawn carriages or kalesa goes by there's a distinct "clip-clop" sound that's quite adorable at first but it kind of gets annoying when you realize that in the olden days this is what was known as noisy traffic. another trivia for you: as much as this is one of the tourist spots of vigan, nobody wanted to walk along this street in the good old days. why? since there was not proper sewage system back then, people would empty their arinola (chamber pot) out on the street and it would smell really stinky, especially at noon when the sun is at its hottest. i'm so glad i live in this century!

as we registered for the vigan heritage river cruise (100 pesos-adults), we had fun looking over the mestizo river. unlike the rivers in manila, this one didn't reek of oil, garbage and slime. i actually appreciated the way these people respected nature and how they were taking care of the environment that they are dependent on. we definitely should learn from them. as the river tour progressed, we listened to a recorded audio track of vigan history. it was wonderful learning about another place's origins.

after the tour, we headed off to Syquia Mansion. the Syquia Mansion houses President Qurino’s extensive memorabilia is actually owned by his wife, Dona Alicia Quirino and we had the privilege of being shown around by the house's caretaker, Rusty. Vigan is the proud birthplace of the Philippines’ sixth president, Elpidio Quirino and their family is keeping the history alive in their ancestral home. you should definitely have him to give you the tour. he knows every story, every item and every angle since he took the pictures for our group all over the house. all this for a mere 20 pesos per head.

next we headed back to plaza burgos to visit the St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral, Arzobispo Palace and Museum. to the catholics, vigan was a seat of power when the diocese of Nueva Segovia found a home here. until now, Catholicism rules the heart of a bigueno which makes them God-fearing and obedient to the church's teachings.

Padre Burgos museum was the next stop in our adventure. the museum had more artifacts on the natives and their way of life as well as life after the Spaniards settled in the area. Padre Jose Burgos was one of the three filipino priests fighting for equal rights among the spanish friars. he was suspected of treason and of being an insurgent. He, Gomez, and Zamora were executed in Manila’s Bagumbayan (now known as Luneta) as an example to all subversives. their death sparked the revolution that andres bonifacio, another filipino hero, waged against the abusive spaniards.

by this time, we were very hungry. so carlo took us to Grandpa's Inn for our lunch. the ambiance was very homey and the prices were very reasonable. we enjoyed the food and welcomed the respite. we went back to the hotel to freshen up for the second half of our tour.


when we stepped out of the airconditioned comfort of the hotel, we found carlo already waiting for us with a tricycle. our next destination was the Sta Maria church and bell tower. this centuries-old church nestled atop a hill at the townproper of Sta. Maria was used as a fortress during the 1986 Revolution. the guard and caretaker, manong oscar, led us inside the bell tower and showed us the vigan skyscape. i think he moonlights as a tour photographer too since he knew where the best spots were for taking a picture. he even took perspective shots for my friends and i, with the bell tower as the subject. and in fairness to his skill, the pictures turned out great.

boarding the tricycle, carlo instructed the driver to take us to the Baluarte, the mini zoo owned by Governor Chavit Singson. he's quite infamous for being the whistler blower of ex-president Joseph Estrada's jueteng operations. now although he may be a state witness, it's insinuated that he also benefitted from the ex-president as evidenced by the gold building standing behind the Baluarte. all politics aside, the mini zoo was great. we took a kalesa ride around the property where ostriches, deer, horses and sheep roam freely. then we walked into the butterfly enclosure leading to the stage where they do animal shows for environmental awareness. we were looking forward to having our pictures taken with one of the zoo's famous creatures, the tiger. unfortunately. he hasn't been fed and we wouldn't want to be part of his breakfast either so we left.

our last stop on the tricycle ride was the Crisologo Musuem. the museum houses the memorabilia of  Vigan’s beloved late Governor Floro Crisologo, father of Bingbong Crisologo, and probably the most famous in the Crisologo clan. his killer was never caught. the museum is open from Monday to Sunday and managed by the Crisologo family for a mere contribution to their donation box.

after a trip down the region's celebrity home, ancestral it may be, carlo then hired a kalesa to bring us to the Pagburnayan Jar Factory. clay jars and flower pots are still in demand in this area although i've noticed a lot of the pottery are for landscape use.i also saw a lot of thick, wide clay rings. carlo explained that those were used to line the walls in the process of building a deep well. everything here is done the same way as the old times, hand made pots and jars cooked in an underground kiln.

and where do those pots end up? here in the Hidden Gardens, nestled in barangay Bulala, rows and rows of flora and fauna greet your tired eyes. the burst of vibrant color and the smell of fresh grass revitalizes your spirit especially after the kind of day we've had. there were bonsais for sale, potted herbs and spices, ornamental plants and even for grass landscaping jobs. the place also boasts of a bar and restaurant inside the garden, perfect for those who wish to relax and take in the scenery while sampling some Ilocano delicacies and sipping an ice cold beverage. but since we were pressed for time, we skipped that leisurely part of the tour and hopped on to our kalesa and headed back to Plaza Burgos.

in this time of quiet reflection, say about 10 minutes or so, i am grateful for my job. it's not easy working in a stressful environment where you are nothing but a number and yet it is because of this job that i have been blessed with the means to travel, meet new people, experience my country in a new light and enjoy the finer albeit expensive things in life, if only for a brief moment.

upon arriving, we decided to end the tour with our favorite Vigan Empanada. by now you would have come into conclusion that our trio is addicted to the stuff. with raised glasses filled with sweet soda, we said our thanks to carlo for a delightful tour of Vigan and a promise of return.

wanting to make the most of our Vigan stay, we decided to walk around the area of our hotel. after gossip and life stories swapped over some hot chocolate and cake at The Perfect Cup, we strolled along the cobbled stone path of Calle Crisologo. i took several photographs and was stunned by the eerie beauty Vigan had at night. the yellow gas lights overlapping the electrical bulbs illuminated the streets and gave it that romanticized look. it's no wonder this place is a favorite spot for pre nuptial and wedding pictorials.

we woke up around 6 am and started to get our things ready. we had one final stop on our Vigan tour  which is the pasalubong shopping. we took a tricycle and headed off to the wet market, which is quite near the bus terminal. our bags were loaded with key chains, native purses, chichacorn, bagnet, Vigan longganisa, shirts and other souvenir items bought for our loved ones back in manila. you definitely must have some haggling skills to get the best value for your money.

the bus trip home was relatively unexciting and had an air of sadness to it. when we went to vigan, we stepped back in time to experience a different era where life was relaxing and beautiful and now we were returning to another one where life is fast paced and nobody stops to appreciate the simple things in life anymore. if there's anything this trip has taught me then it's to value the simple things in life, be proud of what you do as a living and keep those you love close to you.

until next my travel time!
(for a great resource on Vigan tourist spots, check out: About Vigan )