A Captive in Time: A Heritage Pilgrim’s Sojourn in the Ilocos Region

PAST. It is defined as the elapse in time. An event or a circumstance that has existed or taken place in a period before the present. It may also be a memory one struggles to efface or a nostalgia one yearns to return to. On the other hand, it is through the past that we understand certain occurrences, phenomena, behaviors, and even cultures. The past spins stories and experiences that spawn enlightenment and perhaps appreciation of the now. Thus, as a heritage pilgrim who toured around Ilocos Region on April 2-3, I plunged myself into its spellbinding antiquities concretized by its century-old houses, Baroque churches and belfries. The sojourners and wanderlusts may find trails of both history and nature that would amuse them in the magnificent cities of Laoag and Vigan.

Are We There Yet? Unless one travels by plane going to Ilocos, an eleven to twelve hour-bus ride will indeed wear her or him to a frazzle. But joining the group of BS Tourism Management students of the University of San Agustin together with their teacher Gemnoe Ramos in exploring Ilocos for the first time, the trip inundated us with enrichment and insights that brought us closer to discovering the rich culture and history of the region. Straight from Baguio City, we checked out at Hotel Supreme by lunch time and headed to our next destination: Laoag City. Kuya Willie, our tour guide, informed the group about the four-hour trip, much to the chagrin of the students who already endured travelling for six hours from Manila to Baguio the other day. Being on a tour, I realized that you don’t really have much control of the time since the itinerary is being strictly followed including the stopovers here and there. Though my original plan was actually to travel alone, but I thought to myself, spending an exhausting trip with your butt glued to your seat for hours would never be an exhilarating experience. But inside the bus, facts reverberated as Kuya Willie opened the book of history as we pass by places that etched a significant part in the region’s annals. I didn’t know about the rest, but listening to him while the bus was moving pinched a certain hype that got me more excited to reach Laoag City. And while on board the bus and in the midst of the silent gap, I turned to the pages of Dinah Roma Sianturi’s Geographies of Light and Charles Wright’s Littlefoot. Reading is the solution to the journey’s exhaustion, and not the occasional question of “Are we there yet?”. Yes, and sleep, too.

Pamulinawen Personified. When one thinks of Ilocos, the folk song “Pamulinawen” comes into mind. Pamulinawen is a beautiful country maiden celebrated in the most famous Filipino native song of the same title. Just like her, Ilocos Norte effervesces like a wisp of air from the highest dune, so to speak. And as it clears up, the sight would surely captivate one’s eyes. And it never failed us. It was almost eight o’clock at night when we arrived at the North View Hotel. After a well-deserved respite, we amped up ourselves for the tour around Laoag and other nearby towns the next day to scour the gems that the province prides herself on. First off: the Bangui Windmill. Greeted by the clear blue skies and the rushing waves, we caught ourselves mesmerized by the high-imposing wind turbines that line up and spread throughout the 6.5 kilometers stretch of the coast. The still, serene windmills and the mountain ranges on the backdrop provided a contrast to the rip-roaring waves. Each of the 15 windmills were gigantic, they might be as tall as a 15-storey building. It was like Don Quixote standing face to face with the giants. Almost surreal.

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Bangui Windmills

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Cape Bojeador

Not too distant from the Bangui windmills is Cape Bojeador in Burgos, which is considered as one of the tallest lighthouses in the country. This 18th century old lighthouse stands atop the hill. Alighting the bus, we took our ascent by riding in a tricycle. As soon as we stepped on its concrete stairs and bricked walls, we were welcomed by a magnificient parola that has stood the test of time. Still, it serves as a beacon for ships that enter the archipelago. The lighthouse was designed Magin Pers Y Pers in 1887. It was constructed as a primary lighthouse with a tower and pavilions on the hill of Vigia de Nagparitan. Cape Bojeador is considered as a classic example of a 19th century architecture. The television may picture the place as eerie and haunted, but embracing the enchantment of Cape Bojeador and the postcard view that surrounds the place surely would take your breath away. The Southern trail paves the way to an adventure set in the Ilocanos’ colorful history and culture. And our tour would never be complete without visiting Paoay Church or the San Agustin Church, an edifice of the baroque era declared in 1993 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church was indeed stunning. The buttresses with a spiral design at the sides and the back account the ingenuity and the artistry of those who built it centuries ago. The facade and the bell tower itself would lure even the non-believers to be amazed, solely for its beauty.

Captivating Calle Crisologo. Have you ever wondered how it is to live during the 18th century? Where couples clad in their camisa and baro’t saya demurely tread along the cobblestoned street or riding the calesa in the middle of the bricked houses and its intricate stuccoworks? Vigan, with its famous Calle Crisologo, surely transports you back into the Spanish era. The group arrived at six’clock in the evening, and perhaps, the fun had just started as the lampposts were lighted and welcomed us to the “nightlife” in the captivating street of Calle Crisologo. Forgetting to kiss the ground as promised when we reached the heritage village and checked in at The Cordillera Inn, Gem and I immediately hit the street and of course, the shops of the Crisologo strip. The ambiance lingers with such antiquity as we were figuratively swallowed by the old houses that surrounded us. Souvenir shops all offered the best of Vigan: from its antique stuff, basi wine, and hand-woven fabrics; you can even haggle over the price. But of course, most of what’s on sale are actually cheaper. Historically, Calle Crisologo was once a mestizo district during the Spanish era. Kuya Willie told us that the street is called Kasanglayan, or the Chinese quarters. Serialtripper.com informs that the word comes from the word sangley or a pure Chinese person. If a person was of an ancestry mixed between Chinese and indigenous (called indio), he was classified as mestizo de sangley. It was on the Mestizo District where some of these rich Chinese-Filipinos built their houses, which are still intact today and can be observed on Calle Crisologo.

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Vigan is a diorama of history that lets you understand more of heritage and makes you appreciate history and culture more. Everywhere you look, even the establishments and restaurants all designed to adapt with the old houses found in Calle Crisologo. The past surely plays an important influence in the lives of the people of Vigan. And being a heritage pilgrim that has sojourned in this city, and, cliché as this may seem, it makes me proud of the legacy that our ancestors had left us behind.

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