Saturday, April 7, 2012

More than Longganisa: Vigan, Ilocos Sur


Okay, maybe that sounds like a lame title, but honestly I couldn't think of anything else. And really, isn't that one of the most common associations with Vigan, the native sausages? Well, there's a lot more to Vigan than meets the eye, or the palate, rather.

So after coming back from Pagudpud the day before, we were all really tired, and unlike the first night, I slept soundly. I set my alarm for 5:00 am though so I could have a morning workout before showering for breakfast. It was still dark out and really cool so it was perfect to get my blood going. I had my iPod on because really it's hard to get pumped when all you hear are animal and insect sounds in the background. It was nice though, seeing the sky gradually lighten while I was busting some moves in my animal print pajamas. Yes, pajamas. There weren't any other guests, and besides no one but the pool guy was up yet, so I didn't care. Sweat poured for about an hour. After that I took a shower and spent the next hour getting ready. It always takes me at least an hour, so I make sure to prepare my things the night before, and besides it's extra challenging to beat the rest of my family to the one bathroom. 

A little bit past 7 we all lumbered over to the clubhouse for breakfast, and at last something I could eat! Hot dog and egg! Thank the Lord! I am a picky eater, but it's almost been 6 months now since I started my lifestyle change and I've been eating more fruits and vegetable and in general I've switched to more healthy fare than I used to eat, but there are still things, such as dried fish and vinegar that I don't think I will ever learn (or want) to eat. So Mama talked to the hotel staff and for the second breakfast I got a more Manila-type of breakfast. Don't be mistaken though, I haven't eaten hot dogs in months, I think, since at home I eat oatmeal and fruit for breakfast, and it was so good to eat hot dog again after such a long time. It's like when I eat fast-food and instant noodles nowadays, which I used to eat almost every week before, but now sometimes just once a month, or not even, so when I get to taste that preservative-laden food, it tastes so delectable.

Anyway, after breakfast and brushing our teeth, we went on up to the function hall, expecting our guide and our driver, since I already had a talk with the manager about punctuality. Our guide, Manang Michelle, the president of the Ilocos Norte Tour Guides Association was already there, but our driver wasn't. It wasn't until around 8:30 (I guess 8 am is too early for most people) that this Montero rolled up the driveway, our ride had arrived. Apparently, the Revo we had used the past two days was going to be used for something else, so our driver for the day was the manager's cousin (if I'm not mistaken) and it was his personal car. I can't remember his name, I'm sorry. The Montero is an SUV and it's a bit of a tight squeeze for a family of five, plus a tour guide. The third row has zero leg room and it's really hard to find a comfortable position.

Moving on, our driver was a road warrior. In short he drove like a maniac. The national highway from Laoag to Vigan is just two lanes of two-way traffic and if there are slower vehicles that you want to overtake, you have to cut into the other lane and directly oppose the oncoming traffic from the other direction. There were times that our driver was almost in a collision course, and Mama was holding her breath the entire time. At home when Papa drives even a little bit fast she screeches like a harpy, but she couldn't even voice her fear because she didn't know the driver. She just sat in silence and leaned on Papa, feeling faint at every near miss. I for one found it exciting. I've always dreamed of driving well over a 100 kilometers per hour, and the Montero had such superb handling, even at almost 120 kilometers an hour, zipping in and out of the lanes and between cars like it's nobody's business. You can't really do that in city driving, but in the provinces it's the lay of the land. And just to give you an idea of how reckless (fun) riding the car was, on average it takes 3 hours to go to Vigan from Laoag, but we made it just a little bit past an hour and a half. That's how fast he was going, he halved our travel time. Oh, how I wish I could drive like that on an open road. Just saying. Of course in Manila that's out of the question. I've already been pulled over for speeding once, and that's not happening again.

Again, I have no fear of speed, so I slept really nicely in the Montero, but when we were nearing Vigan already I was awake and we passed by a lot of corn fields and tobacco fields, one of their major crops. It was my first time seeing what a tobacco plant looks like and not the cigar already, and it looks a lot like corn except it has a flower. Random thoughts.

Anyway, we were all thankful when we got to Vigan in one piece. Mama, most of all. Along the way, our guide was chatting us up and telling us all about Vigan. Pagudpud is more of nature sights, while Vigan is more of history and old houses. The first place we went to was the Crisologo Museum, the ancestral home of the Ilocos Sur political family turned into a museum. Manang Michelle told us about how the Crisologo family is a rival of the Singson family, how they've competed for political seats and have committed assassinations and such as well as intermarried with each other. It's so funny, they do say keep your friends close, and your enemies closer, so it's only fitting to marry them. It reminded me of one of my readings from PolSc 14 last semester, about political families and clan rivalries. In any case, we learned that the family patriarch was the Congressman who authored the SSS Bill before he was assassinated in a Church. The 2nd generation of sons and daughters didn't follow the political footsteps anymore and right now the ruling family is the Singson family.

But yeah, their ancestral home was really cool. There wasn't an entrance fee, just a compulsory donation, and there was an old lady giving trivia about the place. It reeked of urine though from the nearby restroom. Poor ventilation maybe.










I really enjoy going to ancestral houses. It's like a blast from the past, or straight out of a history book, except it's real, you can almost feel the house breathing, as if it's alive. I'm not talking about ghosts or anything, but you get a sense of how these historical figures lived and moved about in their day.

Downstairs there were basically paintings, lots of plaques, and portraits and a few rooms. Antique books and other collections.














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There were even antique coaches and vintage cars.









One of my favorite rooms was the Law Office.








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Upstairs are the old family bedrooms, dining room, and living room. It's strange how it's all upstairs and what's downstairs are offices. I wonder if that's really how houses were arranged back then. Gotta love the stairs though, really solid hardwood, no creaks.

























The antique kitchen appliances were so cool! Those appliances were really built to last. I mean they probably don't work anymore, but you can clearly see the sturdiness and the workmanship.









The bedrooms were really charming too.










I really adore the vanity tables with all of the perfume bottles and the cosmetics. I want one of those. Narcissism strikes again.










There was even a separate walk-in closet with designer bags, clothes and shoes. I want an Imelda-style Terno. Someday.








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The next place we went to was the Syquia Mansion which was less than a five minute walk. Since Vigan is a UNESCO heritage site, as our guide told us, all the streets are pretty narrow, some still with cobble-stone paths, cars can can only go up to a certain point and only horse-drawn carriages or kalesas can pass. Anyway, The Syquia Mansion is the mansion of former President Elpidio Quirino's wife's family. And Mansion is not an understatement. It was really a mansion. It doesn't look big from the outside, but it's actually an entire block to itself. Going in, what greets you is a really well-preserved carriage. Papa got a nice picture of me and my youngest sister next to it. My outfit of the day is a pink floral print dress that crisscrosses at the back and my green sandals again. It was really hot that day, so I'm looking a little flushed.










There was this really stately portrait of former President Quirino. It's a lot different when you see it from a history book, and then see it in real life. A man who happens to be a descendant greeted us and directed us to join another group of tourists. There was an entrance fee if I recall. We visited the old houses first because they have a lunch break and are closed to visitors at that time, unlike the rest of our destinations. Anyway, I noticed that the downstairs was also just a reception area, and in the back there was a stable for horses, but all the socializing or living areas were upstairs, just like the Crisologo place. You could really see how opulent it was because there were all these very well-maintained antiques and the tiles and the woodwork were all really superb.









There was even a grandfather clock. Everything was very European, IMG_0385very Spanish, from the carvings to all the furniture and the paintings. There were even life-size replicas of Juan Luna paintings. I've never seen the original Spoliarium, but the one at the Syquia Mansion was very, awe-inspiring. The picture I took doesn't quite do it justice, I'm sorry.  

All the furnishings were either in marble, hardwoods, porcelains, fine China, even 18 karat gold plated vases and mirrors. Silk draperies and upholstery. If that's not the epitome of lavishness, I don't know what is.

























The Master's bed, we were told by the on site guide, had special meaning and significance to the carvings. Papa took this of me next to it. Again, I have a poor memory, but the family crest is the pineapple at the top center of the headboard. And the round pointy things are supposed to be pumpkins. They said the bed was straight from Europe and that the pumpkin halves were the husband and wife, and because this was a matrimonial bed, the husband's was on top of the four-poster, and wife's on the baseboard. At the bottom was a whole pumpkin for their union and prosperity. Something to that effect.

Moving on to the rest of the house, here we have the dining room.










There were a lot more pictures, paintings, and portraits, but they were much the same as the Crisologo's. The Syquia Mansion was just more on the classier side as far as furniture, with more ornate and heavy European styles.








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They do have a nice patio with a fountain.











Just another bit of trivia, part of the house has been renovated, because on occasion descendants like Cory Quirino come by to visit and instead of staying at a hotel (I mean, why pay for a hotel, when you have a mansion) they stay in rooms inside the Mansion. One of the guides says sometimes he sees things at night. Ooh. Anyway, here's a money shot.



The next place we went to was the well-known street in Vigan where as far as your eyes can see are Spanish houses and cobble-stone. One of the reasons why Vigan is a UNESCO heritage site is because it's the best preserved Spanish colonial town in the whole country. Our guide told us that Vigan was the third city founded by the Spanish, after Cebu and Manila, but it's the only one that remained intact after WWII. Apparently there's a local story (how accurate or true this is, I can't say), but during the time of the Japanese one of the generals staying in Vigan had an affair with a Filipina, but he had to keep it a secret, so he enlisted the help of friars, in return the friars asked that Vigan be spared from bombings. So they say. But we found ourselves almost transported back to Spanish colonial days, with beautiful facades and carriages.

Here is the cobble-stone street up close. Please ignore my youngest sister's foot. As you can see, the local government has really taken pains to preserve it, as only carriages and people on foot are allowed to pass. Cars have to be left behind some distance because that would ruin the streets. Also, it's turned into a commercial district, full of restaurants and souvenir shops. The facades are the original ones, but over time (centuries), the owners have rented them out or converted them from residential to commercial, so no more antiques here, just a lot of cafes and souvenirs. Mama bought some longganisa and chicha-corn.

























It was really very hot, sweltering even, so we bought dirty ice cream and there they had a flavor I've never tried before, much less knew existed: Pineapple! And I thought I'd eaten all kinds of dirty ice cream flavors: chocolate, avocado, cheese, cookies and cream, mango, strawberry, ube, but this was my first time to encounter a pineapple flavored one. Well all dirty ice cream pretty much tastes the same, except there was the faintest hint of pineapple flavor. First time for everything.

Since there wasn't much else to see other than souvenir shops, we left. Now, I can't remember whether we had lunch first or headed to Baluarte. Anyhow, we went to Vigan's plaza, and here the Spanish city-planning is even more obvious, because it's a rotunda surrounded by a Church, some municipal, and some commercial establishments. Even the fast-food restaurants were built into the old buildings, so they had a Spanish style. Ilocos has all your standard fast-food restaurants and some of the bigger chains that you can find in Manila, but on that day, everything was packed, so we went to McDonald's to eat. At their McDonald's they have a ketchup dispenser like Jollibee, but no Manila McDonald's I've been to has that. More on this in my succeeding entry.

Going back, the next place we visited was Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson's place, the Baluarte. It's his bulwark or his territory, so to speak. I remember, in my Kas 100 class, my professor mentioned that there's a place in the Philippines where you can see alpacas, ostriches and other animals that aren't found in the Philippines apart from a zoo, and that's in Ilocos Sur because Governor Chavit Singson is known for keeping exotic pets, as well as being a notorious gambler. On another note, on our way there we passed by this big cock fighting stadium, and our tour guide told us that while there's a saying that Ilocanos are kuripot or thrifty, this is contradicted by their love of cock-fighting and illegal gambling, like jueteng, which the governor is said to be behind. They openly admitted to this, but they said, that even if that's the case, at least, they as constituents of the province benefit, their roads and schools, and it doesn't just go to dirty politicians' pockets.

So yeah, the Baluarte has the governor's residence, his offices, and a hotel and casino, but the main attraction is the mini-zoo that is open to the public. They even have horse rides, and a butterfly zoo, and a tiger show. Something unique about it too is most of the animals are free-range. There only a partial enclosure, but animals, like the deer and the sheep can wander out and you can approach them. It's just such a funny sight, seeing animals from different parts of the world and different climates and habitats interacting.





































It was hot and it stank of manure, so we left right after strolling around the grounds the place. I wanted to go on a horse ride, even on the kalesas at the heritage village, but the sisters felt sorry for the horses in that heat, and I didn't want to go it alone.

Our next destination was the Paoay Church. And it was the most magnificent we've seen in Ilocos so far. Again, our tour guide provided pertinent names and dates regarding the Chuch, they just didn't stick in my memory. But,we learned that the facade is made out of coral, and if you come closer you'll really see the texture of the corals, and also the Church is known for its buttresses. I'm not exactly sure if it's gothic or baroque-influenced architecture, whatever it is, it's almost Medieval in its imposing character.















We stopped at the cafe across the Church because Mama needed to use the bathroom and while waiting, I took these pictures.










The sampaguita bushes were in full bloom and walking to the Church, you could really smell them.











The buttresses are really huge, and upon entering the threshold, it's actually very bright inside, not what you would expect from a solid rock building, IMG_0440IMG_0441IMG_0444







Papa took a picture of us three sisters on the right and Manang Michelle took this picture of us in front of the Church on the left.  P1030543 P1030532








That was the last stop in Vigan, and since we were ahead of schedule we headed back to Ilocos Norte to finish the last of the heritage tour that was supposed to be for the last day. We went to the Marcos Museum, in Batac. No trip to Ilocos Norte would be complete without it.

IMG_0445On the first day we visited the ancestral home of Marcos' mother's side, now we went to the one on his father's side. We were told that Imelda Marcos from time to time goes home there and that if she sees visitors from the balcony she waves to them and sometimes comes down to greet them. I can really imagine that they lived there. The doors alone have this vibe, like the greats passed there.

Anyway, the family home isn't open to the public, but the Mausoleum and the Museum are just next door. We stopped by the Mausoleum first, but we weren't allowed to take pictures inside. It's just this air-conditioned, black room lined with fake flowers with serene music playing in the background. Growing up, every time there was a commemoration of the EDSA People Power Revolution or Martial Law, they would always show footage of Marcos in his refrigerated crypt on the news, and I remember how curious it always got me. Not to be irreverent or disrespectful of the departed, but as a kid, I always wondered how they did it, I had all these sci-fi thoughts of how they preserved him. Sorry for digressing, but yeah, we noticed that Marcos looked a little bit waxy and my sister commented on how excellent the embalming must have been for him to look so pristine, even if he is refrigerated.

But our tour guide enlightened us and told us that was no longer the real body, and that under the glass was where the actual remains were kept. Before, it was the real deal, but after so many years, it was hard to maintain, or so she said, that they replaced the real one with a wax replica. There is a lot of speculation and I suppose only the family would know the truth. In any case, I should think it's about time for him to get his due, and that is to receive a decent and honorable burial. Last year there was a divisive public, political, and legal debate on whether he was worthy of a hero's burial, or at the very least a military one, having served the army, but PNoy, bearing a grudge, won't let that happen. Whatever anyone says, and this is regardless of his political success or failure, I don't think anyone deserves to be vilified even in death, that they would be denied burial rites. Let's give the man some peace. That's just me.

So, where were we? Oh, right the Museum. Yes. It's quite a comprehensive museum, following the entire course of Marcos' life and beginnings, from birth, education, rise in political ranks, marriage, his two terms, and so on, all his achievements, the revolution, until his death. I enjoyed it very much, the select array and all the memorabilia. I liked reading the newspaper clippings about his courtship of Imelda and how he was a bar top-notcher. All his medals from the army were on display too.
















































Let's not forget the small section of the museum devoted to Former First Lady Imelda Marcos' impressive wardrobe. You can never forget a woman with style and impeccable taste.









We left Batac after we were done looking around the museum and headed back to Laoag. On our way back to the car, we saw a small stall selling refreshments and snacks and its name was "Store-bucks" and we had a bit of a laugh at that. Filipino inventiveness at its finest.

So, back in Laoag at around 4, we stopped to have merienda, and our guide brought us to a cafeteria type of establishment because my parents and sisters wanted to try Ilocos empanada (I passed). I had halo-halo instead because it was just that hot. After that we went back to the resort where we went for a swim in the pool to cool off after a long hot day. We also had our dinner there too.

It was lights out after that because we were so tired.

There you have it, folks. That wraps up Day 3.

One more day ahead!

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