Ilocos Norte: Northern Philippine’s Pride
“Your sense of timing is different from those around you and that is good. Because you are moving at a different rate, you can weave in and out of the action as needed.” – Horoscope (Cancer) / Philippine Star, June 13.
It was the long Independence holiday weekend and was again itching for another escape into adventure. Just to dot a starting point, I was only Manila bound to catch a ballet. While waiting for my flight to board, I stumbled upon a beautiful picture of the Paoay Church on the Internet. That image lingered on my mind and made me restless even when I was on the plane. I decided to read the paper and came across my horoscope that changed my entire itinerary. It was a spontaneous decision and on that very same day, I landed in Laoag International Airport in Ilocos Norte!
Given only 2 days to explore the numerous sights in Ilocandia, pulling through my itinerary was the greatest challenge. I sought the help of my work colleague Vina Lao in Laoag who agreed to meet me at the 420-year old St. William’s Cathedral. The Augustinian friars built this church in Italian Renaissance design. Over the centuries, it has survived severe earthquakes and fires but has remained to be the spiritual refuge of the Ilocanos in Laoag. Not far from the Cathedral is the belfry that sadly, sinks each year on its sandy foundation. I am lucky to have seen this massive structure before the earth completely devours it under.
Over dinner set at the rustic-feel Stone House Café, we carefully laid out my ambitious itinerary for the next day. This bed and dine haven offers more than just local food but also caters to those who crave for the classic European favorites. Hiring a van all to myself was the best solution for me to cover the sights from North to South. It being said, P4,000 was already a huge bargain.
Just before calling it the night, I decided to get a caffeine fix and a slice of sweet temptation at the famous La Preciosa Cafe. With a remorseful calorific evening, I was determined to walk back to the hotel. Along the way, I passed by an interesting place called Dap-ayan. Under the smoke-filled tents spread around this small complex, I discovered that it was the best place to grab a bite of Laoag street food. Despite being so full, it was never a power huddle for the cheerful vendors to convince me to sample their Empanada stuffed with Longganisang Iloko. Tired and over-fed, day one ended certainly with a loud snore.
I was already on the road at 5AM the next day snaking through the coastline on the Western side of Ilocos Norte. From here, the seemingly unending adventure began.
It was at the break of light when I arrived in Cape Bojeador Lighthouse in the town of Burgos. It was designed in 1887 and first lit in 1892. Since then, even after hundreds of years, its beacons still guide the ships passing through the Philippine archipelago. Its octagonal tower made of bricks stands at 65 feet and is topped with bronze cupola and a viewing deck. It is set atop the hill of Vigia de Nagparitan, about 35 kilometers away from Laoag City.
Not far from Burgos, are the windmills of Bangui. The first and only in the Philippines, this wind farm is built to re-use renewable energy sources from South China Sea. Lining up evenly at 326 meters apart from each other, these 15 windmills help light up the province. With each windmill standing proud at 70 meters high and its blade at 41 meters long, it has become one of Ilocos’ prides. Breakfast was served at Kangkang Windmill Café, the best spot to catch the beauty of these huge fans.
Still early on the road, we sped through Patapat Viaduct at the northern most part of Ilocos Norte. Elevated on the rocky shore of Pasaleng Bay, its long winding highway constructed on the mountainside is what makes this road picturesque. Road safety has it that stopping on a bridge is a big no-no, but not in Patapat Viaduct where motorists get down for a quick photo-op.
For the beach-hungry, Pagudpud is the just the perfect place for you. The white sand on its sun-kissed beaches is velvet-soft. Being a coastal resort town, accommodations in this part of Ilocos Norte is not a problem. The resorts in Saud and Maira-ira (or Blue Lagoon) offer a lot of options whatever suits your beach fancy. But there’s more to than just the pristine blue sea of Pagudpud. It is also a surfing destination between the months of July to October. Occasionally, dolphins can also be sighted along Pasaleng Bay. Caving and trekking in Kalbario-Patapat Natural Reserve are also added attractions. Pagudpud’s seductive coves whisper a romantic mood perfect for a night of bonfire and stargazing.
Being at the northwestern tip of the Philippines doesn’t mean its shy of world-class amenities. The grandeur of Fort Ilocandia Resort and Casino is not to be missed. It is the only 5-Star hotel in this part of the country sprawling in about 77 hectares of sand dunes, manicured lawns, pine forests and white sand beach. Its design is reflective of the splendor of its Spanish heritage. It is a complete service resort complex that offers everything from a casino to golf course and from swimming to high-end style shopping. Fort Ilocandia is nothing but exquisite magnificence.
Ilocos Norte is synonymous to Marcos, the former President of the Republic of the Philippines. Who doesn’t know the Marcoses? The Malacanang of the North or the “Malacanang ti Amianan” is one of the rest houses of the former strong man, Ferdinand E. Marcos and his family during his 20-year reign as President. Its grandness speaks of its former owners and how they lived and laughed during parties exclusive to the rich and famous. Now, this place has been converted into a museum that showcases the memorabilia and pageantry of the former First Family.
One of the most historical places in Ilocos Norte is the Paoay Church, listed in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. It was built in 1694 by the Augustinians and has remained as one of the country’s imposing baroque churches. It was constructed in baked bricks, coral rocks, tree sap and lumber. It has 24 huge buttresses on the side that supports its massive structure designed in baroque style. The bell tower served as the Katipuneros’ observation post in 1896 Philippine Revolution against the Spaniards and the Guerilleros’ during the World War II against the Japanese. I was all in awe when I finally saw right before my eyes the picture that changed the course of my trip.
Batac is regarded as the Home of Great Leaders because it is the hometown of Philippine’s strong leaders such as Ferdinand E. Marcos (Former President), Gen. Artemio Ricarte (the Father of Philippine Army) and Gregorio Aglipay (the founder of Phil. Independent Church). Batac is also home to the mausoleum of former President Marcos where he is kept in a special casket that preserves his corpse awaiting that long been undecided state funeral. His body has been on public viewing since he was returned home after his death in 1989 during his exile in Hawaii. The museum also showcases the numerous medals and badges that he earned during his 20-year of governance until that historic People Power.
All throughout the trip, I was praying for a wonderful weather. Yes, Ilocos Norte is scorching hot but its wild weather can sometimes be unforgiving. I believe this trip was really for me because just when I arrived in my hotel, the heavy rain fell and just perfect for a cup of coffee after a long and tiring day.
Although found anywhere in Ilocos Norte, hotel accommodation is never a problem. But what has this Balay da Blas got to be so happy about? It is studio designed w/ a spacious sala, full kitchen facility, clean restroom, cozy bedroom with crisp and fresh linens. Balay da Blas used to be the residence of the Blas family until it opened its doors to travelers who get the warmth of a home but the convenience of a hotel. BDB also showcases age-old Ilocano heirloom pieces that can be bought at a good bargain. Moderately priced for its comfort and style, Balay da Blas is the perfect place to stay in Ilocos Norte.
One of Philippine’s prides is our cuisine and the Ilocanos are never short of what they can bring to your table. Famous for their pinakbet, this ordinary vegetable viand has also taken into a great variation such as the Pinakbet Pizza. The best place to sample this is at Herencia’s Café just across Paoay Church. Bagnet, Empanada and Longganisang Iloko are also some of those must-tries and must-bring whenever you travel to Ilocos.
What one thing I learned from this trip is that occasional spontaneous decisions can be so rewarding. It made me realize that if you anchor on the basic principles of fun travel such as fearless immersions, worry-free decisions and indulgence will surely make your travel experience not just Facebook perfect but something that lasts in your rather fleeting memory.
- Via plane from Manila, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific flies to Laoag International Airport daily. Check the websites www.philippineairlines.com; www.cebupacificair.com for schedule and fare.
- Via plane from parts of Asia, some international airlines fly direct to Laoag International Airport. Check your local travel agent for your preferred carrier.
- Via bus from Manila, convenient coaches travel from Pasay and Cubao stations overnight to Ilocos Province. It is a cheaper alternative to airplanes and you can also get a glimpse of other wonderful places going up to the northwestern part of the country.
- Tricycles can be so dependable whenever traveling around Laoag City or nearby municipalities.
- No Taxis in Laoag City. The best way to get around the Province is to hire a van or a jeepney depending on your budget. One thing nice in Ilocos is that drivers are friendly so negotiating for price is not a sweat on the brow.
- Balay da Blas, #10 Giron St., Brgy. 7-B. Laoag City, Ilocos Norte. Direct Lines +63 77 7704389; +63 917 570 2110. Web www.balaydablas.com. Email email@example.com.
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