Ciudad Fernandina Hotel -Vigan

I didn’t know what to expect from our hotel prior to getting there since it was new (it opened only a few weeks before our trip) and I couldn’t find any reviews online. But I knew we were in good hands the moment I laid eyes on our temporary home in Vigan: The Ciudad Fernandina Hotel.

I love the mix of wrought iron, wood, and capiz accents. This is my kind of hotel.

The hotel is perhaps the biggest one in the heritage village in terms of number of rooms, and certainly the most beautiful – no expense was spared in restoring an converting an old 18th century house into this sprawling four-storey hotel. Of course, being part of the heritage village, the hotel had to abide by restoration guidelines of the UNESCO, and I must say it was a good marriage of new and vintage.

The grand staircase – made of concrete but laden with kamagong and narra. I actually went down on my knees to knock on the wood and check if it was really kamagong and narra.
The hotel at night
Patio during the Seder Meal ceremony (I’ll write about this experience some other time)

My favourite spot in the hotel was the restaurant. Quite creative use, because this space used to be the garage of the old structure, hence, the circular doorway. The cement covering the red bricks were stripped off during the restoration and all that red brick really gave the place an old-world charm.I just can’t help associating red bricks to the Spanish era and I find dining here really romantic and cozy.
Entrance to the hotel restaurant.

Ok,maybe I spoke too soon. Probably my other favourite spot was the bedroom. It might be on the small side of things, but again, the key word here is comfort. Can you imagine how nice sleeping on 600-thread count linen could feel like? Well, I for one, don’t have to imagine anymore as this hotel offered me that. The bed was superb.

The superior room. The basics are all there: closet, study table, hot and cold water in the shower, fresh linens, LCD TV. But what won me over was THE BED.

Another thing I loved about this place was the use of wood – narra planks were used on the floor and as accents on the ceiling (alas, I couldn’t quite figure out what wood was used for the actual ceiling). And by planks, I refer to the long, wide pieces of wood, as opposed to the narra wood parquet so common in modern structures. 

View from the third floor terrace.

One other thing this hotel didn’t scrimp on? The artwork. I have to admit, I was really amazed at how many paintings hang on its walls! I didn’t even get a chance to see all of them as most of our stay were spent outdoors. The little time we spent in the hotel were either in our room or in the restaurant. 
Some of the paintings I was able to see were those that hang right outside our bedroom:

The hotel’s function room also has an impressive collection of old photos of Vigan taken from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

Well, I can’t really think of anything more to say about this hotel since I would just end up gushing even more (isn’t it obvious that I loved this hotel?). I would definitely come back and I am recommending this to anyone thinking of going on a trip up north. For details on room rates and reservation, you can check their website.

Basilica de San Martin de Tours and Taal Lake

I can finally cross out one item in my places to visit in the Philippines list: the Basilica de San Martin de Tours.
View from across the street
I have been wanting to visit this minor basilica, dedicated to St. Martin, the patron saint of Taal, after I learned a few years ago go that it is considered as the biggest Catholic church not just in our country, but in all of Asia. Well, it took me years and lots of nagging to get hubby to drive to Taal (no, Taal is not in Tagaytay, Cavite – it’s actually a town in Batangas, near Lemery). 
The original church was built in San Nicolas sometime in 1575 under the Augustinian missionaries, but after it was destroyed along with the town during Taal volcano’s most destructive eruption (so far) back in the 16th century, the church was moved to its present location on an elevated hill. I didn’t get to see the ruins of the old church in San Nicolas, though. Construction of the present church was started in the mid-19th century and completed around 1878. As with many churches and buildings in the country, this chuch too fell prey to natural and man-made calamities, and an earthquake in 1942 severely damaged its belfry and the “king of the bell,” considered the largest in the country with a circumference of 19 feet.  


I must say, the church is huge! Capacity wise, I would guess it can seat twice as much as Manila Cathedral but it’s really the high ceiling that makes it even more grand than the churches in Intramuros. A trompe l’oleil ceiling also adorns this structure, similar to the San Agustin, although less intricate (and less 3D effect, I might add). Surprisingly for a provincial church, this one is well-maintained. The paintings on the ceiling all look new, the entire place is clean, and doesn’t smell moldy or look abandoned (like the old churches in Bohol).  Then again, it is quite new, at only a few hundred years old so time will tell if it will age as gracefully as the others.

Love how there are painted walls and ceilings everywhere! And they all look quite new and vibrant.

The concave ceiling before the altar

The choir loft

Practically every wall has a painting of a saint or prophet
The baptistry
The small museum near the entrance to the church
One of the rooms in the second level of the massive church

The town of Taal is also being promoted as a historical village, similar to Vigan. It doesn’t have the old-world charm of Vigan though, as several brightly painted and obviously modern houses stand side by side with old Spanish-style houses. And it doesn’t have cobblestone paths. We didn’t get to roam around since it was high noon when we reached the town and our kiddo was burning with fever, so I guess we’ll reserve the museum hopping for a second visit.

The old-style municipal hall

Oh, and I must say, we were treated to a fantastic view of Taal Lake from where we stayed at the night before:
View from the pool – Mount Makulot to the side

Mt. Makulot
I wouldn’t exactly call Endaya Cove a breathtaking resort or would gladly recommend it (alas, they only have one pool and the rooms and entire place kinda needs a little upkeep; plus, it’s about half a mile of rough, one-way road to get there) but for this view, I would say the trip was quite worth the effort.
Plus, the kid loved it there!
Playing with his cousin

Calle Crisologo

Probably the highlight of any trip to Vigan is Calle Crisologo (named after Mena Pecson Crisologo, an Ilocano writer), a carefully preserved cobblestone street lined with old houses from the Spanish era – with their red-tiled roofs, thick, white walls, and capiz shell windows intact and proudly showing their heritage to any tourist wandering about. 
Calle Crisologo during the day; I love sepia prints. It makes this photo look even more romantic.

Look at those fancy stenciled ceilings and capiz windows – hubby and I want those for our dream house
The street is closed off to traffic, save for the occasional calesa, so it was a breeze walking around without worrying about getting hit (though I did worry that some horse will kick me or lick me, like what happened last time I was here).
There are many souvenir shops in the city but you can buy what you want here as well, albeit at slightly higher prices. But, oh well, nothing beats shopping at Calle Crisologo – all those abel iloko weave blankets, chichacorn, antiques, and even capiz shells windows from old houses who have no use for them anymore. Make sure to hoard those blankets and bedsheets!
The ground floor of the old houses have been converted into shops

The only mode of transportation allowed to ply the street – the calesa!
I am so gonna buy those capiz windows.
Even new shops and fast food chains have to abide by the rules, design wise.

Walking during daylight is pretty enough but wait til you see Crisologo at night – it is so romantic and picture perfect. It’s probably the most beautiful street in the country, even more beautiful than Intramuros (the lighting helps a lot, I must say).

There’s actually a nightclub along Calle Crisologo – the Legacy Superclub, which I heard, is owned by one of Chavit’s sons. I’ve never been to it though, since I am not really into the night life.

Our good friend Feli brought some period costumes with him exactly for this purpose:

Calle Crisologo is actually just one part of the heritage village named as a UNESCO world heritage site. The village itself extends to about four blocks of ancestral houses and cobblestone paths. Some of these houses are still owned by the same families who built them hundreds of years ago, and most have been turned into souvenir shops or boutique hotels. 

Among my favourite houses in the heritage village is the Syquia Mansion, the ancestral home of President Elpidio Quirino’s wife (he was born in Vigan, in the provincial jail where his father worked as a warden). It’s kind of sad though that while this mansion is well-maintained and houses some of Quirino’s personal effects, Quirino himself doesn’t have his own monument or museum, unlike the other presidents in their hometowns. And as bad luck would have it, the caretaker was on sick leave during our trip so we weren’t able to look inside the mansion (actual poster outside the house gave this very precise reason as to why the house was closed for public viewing).
Another house i really loved, even better preserved than the Syquia Mansion, is the Villa Angela. Hubby and I wanted to show it to our friends but since we weren’t checked into their rooms (they have converted it into a lovely bed and breakfast affair), we weren’t allowed to go inside the house.

You can read about both houses in my  previous posts about Vigan here and here.

When In Ilocos…

Ilocos is definitely one of my top local destinations – it has just about everything you could want, from beaches to a little cultural immersion. And the food ain’t that bad. In fact, Ilocanos take great pride in their local delicacies. 
Sand Dunes
There are many sand dunes to suit your fancy in Ilocos, wherever you may be in the province. Usually, tourists would head out to Laoag but since we didn’t want to drive out that far (again – since we’ve already driven to Pagupud and Laoag a few days before), we just settled for the sand dunes in the town of Sto. Domingo, about forty-five minutes away from Vigan.
We had to climb a steep, rocky/sandy passage before we got a glimpse of the rolling hills of sand, but it was worth it. I mean, I have never seen sand dunes before so a five meter high climb was not about to stop me.
Oh, and not to mention the mounds of human trash (be imaginative, you know what I mean). But I really wish the people living in the area would not throw used diapers or use the sand dunes as their public toilet.
My first glimpse.

It was so hot, you cannot walk barefoot. Good for those of us wearing closed shoes but not so for those who were wearing only their trusty Havaianas.
Soooo hot! One of our friends even got blisters on his feet.

This was not the first time hubby and I visited the pagburnayan in Vigan. But I only got to sit behind the potter’s wheel and try my hand at pottery, ala Demi Moore in Ghost on our second visit (I must say, I did it after much prodding from hubby and friends).

Trying to make a burnay – an earthenware jar made from fine sand, which is later fired at high temperature to make it more durable.

Dunno what this is called – a sand pit, perhaps? 😀

Finished product.

I wasn’t able to produce even a single jar, but I gained a new-found admiration to the manongs who work tirelessly behind the wheel. It’s hard work to push that wheel with your foot and mold a jar!

How can he do it so effortlessly?

Monasteries and Seminaries
One of the earliest Catholic territories in the country, Ilocos is bound to be full of old churches (see my earlier post), architecture (isn’t it uncanny that where the Catholic faith is strong, you can bet that old structures and history are well preserved in that place too? Proves true then that the Catholics are the guardians of history), and monasteries and seminaries. You don’t even have to go very far from Vigan as there is a minor and major seminary in the city itself, and a Benedictine monastery.
Love the bright colors of the Benedictine monastery against the azure sky.

We also paid a visit to the major seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Vigan, a sprawling compound with lush trees,and, would you believe – sheep lying peacefully in the garden?
A quaint wishing well.

I would love to take long walks here, lost in the towering and intertwining trees.


This is perhaps one of the most well-known tourist spots in Vigan (aside from Calle Crisologo, which I’ll blog about later), and probably the largest as well, covering about 80 hectares. What’s more, even with admission free (yes, FREE), the zoo is very well-kept, even more so than the public zoos in Manila.

Colorful  birds greet guests at the entrance
I didn’t get to see my old tiger and orang-utan friends from my previous visit as I spent most of my time chasing butterflies in the butterfly garden. There aren’t that many kinds of butterflies but the ones there are all so big that I just had to get photos of them.

My favorite butterfly shot.

Bear cat

Proud peacock!

Albino snake

Errm, just trying out the macro lenses I got for my iphone.

The required group shot

Yellow submarine. Yes, Gov. Chavit has one (heard he actually has a working submarine somewhere in the open seas).

A pony? Donkey? Whatever, this little guy was roaming around freely and I didn’t want to get too close (hey, what if he chases me, right?

Deer, with a tag on its ear. I wonder, maybe it was this deer’s turn to be roasted that Easter?

Next post: Calle Crisologo and Museum Hopping

Pagudpud, Cabugao and the Island of Puro

Ilocos is located along the coastline, and as you can expect, practically all the towns have decent beach resorts you can go to.
I wasn’t really expecting we’d get to see Pagudpud during this trip. I mean, I know we allotted one whole week for our Ilocos trip but Pagupud was almost as far from Vigan as Vigan was from Manila and I didn’t think we were up for the long drive. But thank God there was practically NO traffic and the roads were good (in fact, better than some parts here in Metro Manila) – we made it in probably just three hours. 
Given that swimming wasn’t part of our itinerary, none of us packed swimsuits, and definitely, none of us brought shorts when we went out for a “drive” that morning. So we were all a bit frustrated that the beach was so near and yet we couldn’t really jump in just like that (especially since us girls were wearing jeans that day – so not me). To our credit, we did try to look for board shorts at the Saud Beach Resort where we had our lunch, but sadly, they don’t have any swimming gear for sale. 
Oh well. I just ate and drank my frustration away while looking out into the ocean. Note to self: allot at least one overnight stay in Pagudpud next time. 
The beaches of Pagudpud are not as white nor as powdery as Boracay’s or Bohol’s but definitely picturesque; the waves are rather big but then, that’s what you can expect from the waters up north. That’s why it’s sometimes dubbed the surfer’s beach. 
Pagudpud has a mile-long stretch of white beach

Shrimp sinigang! I love shrimps – to hell with allergies (my face was actually getting itchy and warm as I was eating my lunch but who cares???)!

Pork Liempo, which I didn’t really taste. 😛

Grilled squid – yummy! Amother favorite of mine.

Paoay Lake
Admittedly, our goal when we made the detour to Paoay Lake was to see the Malacanang of the North – the mansion the Marcoses had built in their home province during the Marcos regime. It has since been converted into a museum/events venue. But, as luck would have it, we got there at closing time. Guess it’s another reason for us to have a third trip to Ilocos.
The palace overlooks the Paoay lake and I can just imagine how Marcos, in his dying moments, probably wished he was brought here instead of being exiled in Hawaii. I don’t know if it’s just me, but the ocean, or in this case, lake, has a calming effect that the city cannot produce (oh well, he was probably near the ocean anyway).
According to legend, a once prosperous village was located there but they soon turned greedy and forgot to worship God. As punishment, God destroyed their village and only one couple managed to get out alive – however, the wife turned to look at their village and turned into stone, along with her husband who had turned to help her. Sounds so much like Sodom and Gomorrah, eh? Anyway, another story goes that during the Spanish regime, a storm and an earthquake struck the area and submerged the town.
Now, of course I don’t know the real origin of the lake but suffice to say that it was worth travelling to this part of Ilocos to see its beauty.
I wonder, have divers explored this lake to verify if there really is a village down there?

As I said, there are plenty of nice resorts in Ilocos and we almost always found ourselves in one during our week-long trip. The second resort we went to was the Cabugao Beach Resort.
Silly old me forgot to take photos of how beautiful the beach was – I was probably too hungry and too hot (literally) to remember. But if you’re ever in the area, I would suggest you check out this resort. The resort’s new and they have a pretty nice pool. Plus, you get a perfect view of the ocean while eating at their resto. The food was nothing spectacular but 

Some food pics (and yet again, I forgot to take a photo of our main dish, hahaha):
Ilocos version of Miki – it was a bit too salty but other than that, I loved it!

Ensaladang talong – I just have to order this whenever I see it on the menu
Nothing beats being on the beach and sipping fresh coconut juice

Puro Island
Few people probably know the existence of this little island off the coast of Caoayan town in Ilocos Sur and you need the help of locals getting to it – the island is uninhabited, there is no electricity and the only mode of transportation is the motorized banca.
It actually reminded me of Virgin Island in Bohol (or Potipot in Zambales), minus the long stretch of white, powdery beach and calm waters. Here, the waters suddenly go deep a few feet from the shore and the waves are quite strong – powerful enough to roll me over several times on the sand. But still, for non-swimmers like me, you still get a few meters to wade in. Just make sure you have strong swimmers in your group who can rescue you in case you get tossed about into the deeper parts. Oh, and I might suggest a life ring.  
That’s Puro Island straight ahead – just a five minute boat ride
Colorful bancas! Arrgh, hubby’s shoulder (bottom left) is ruining the shot! I must make sure to cut out that portion.
And that’s our boat. 🙂 I just loved the colorful bancas so much I took lots of photos of them.

Again, forgetful me forgot to put sunblock on my arms and back – I only put sunblock on my face and legs and I now have a bad case of tan lines and sunburnt skin. I also didn’t have any decent swimsuit and as it was the Holy Week, we couldn’t buy any. So I ended up wearing the shortest pair of shorts in my luggage and my trusty tank top. But it was worth it.  🙂
See the deep blue part so close to the shore? That’s already over ten feet (or even twenty, as one of our guides said). The sand was so hot that we couldn’t walk without our flipflops.

Yes, the island is very small – you can circle it in less than an hour

Since the place was uninhabited, we had to cook our own food and bring our own utensils – and this is where the enterprising locals helped A LOT. Our friend had already pre-arranged our boat, our guides, and our food so all we had to do was swim while our food was being cooked.
If I ever wondered what food in paradise must taste like, this would be close – nothing beats fresh fish caught straight from the ocean grilled just a few minutes before you eat. It was my first time eating fresh sea weed too, and while I won’t be craving for it anytime soon, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I liked it actually, enough to get two or three servings of it.


Up next: Sand Dunes only in Ilocos!

Ilocos Norte

I never really thought of Ilocos as a summer destination and a lot of people probably assume that the only place to visit there is the Vigan Heritage Village (and Pagudpud). But actually, there are so many places to see and things to do in Ilocos that it will probably take you weeks to see all of them.
On our first day, we decided to head out of Vigan and drive as far as we could and just work our way back to our hotel in Vigan. 
Patapat Viaduct
First item ticked off my list of places to see in Ilocos – the Patapat Viaduct, about 4 hours away from VIgan (or 300+ kilometers!). The fourth longest bridge in the country, it connects Ilocos to the Cagayan Valley. There isn’t really much to see except for the viaduct which snakes its way around the mountainside, overlooking the ocean.
Only my fear of heights prevented me from sitting on those white ledges and just closing my eyes to listen to the waves
Bangui Windmills
The wind mills, a project of the Northwind Development Corporation, is considered the biggest in Southeast Asia. It is located along the shores of Bangui, Ilocos Norte, facing the South China Sea. Each turbine has three blades with a six-meter diameter on top of a 50-meter body. 
We weren’t able to see the wind mills up close since we were already pressed for time so we had to make do with the look-out point. Guess we’ll save that for another trip (yes, hubby and I loved Ilocos so much we are already planning our third visit!).
Another blurred shot. I really need to get a better grip. Haha.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse
Built during the Spanish period, the octagonal lighthouse was first lit in 1892, and is made of bricks covered by white paint. It is still being used 100 years after it was built, although the place is in dire need of repair – the roof is falling down, the balustrade from the pavilion to the tower itself is rickety and rust has eaten away most of the steel casings. Simply put, the lighthouse is a disaster waiting to happen. 
There is a small museum in the pavilion although it is poorly kept, and smells damp and moldy. It contains clippings and documents pertaining to the history of the lighthouse, but most are too yellowed to be of much interest. 
The view from the top is so beautiful and serene.

Just to give a perspective of how tall the tower is.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse is one of the oldest, still active lighthouses in the country so I really wish the government will exert some effort in its upkeep. Even if wasn’t used anymore, it’s still a piece of history that should not be left to rot.

Up next: Ilocos Beaches: Pagudpud, Cabugao and the Island of Puro

Rainbow Connection

Saw two rainbows during our out of town vacation last week – such a rare occurrence. I rarely see rainbows nowadays and to see two rainbows in two consecutive days?!? Amazing.
Day 1:
The other end of the rainbow


Day 2:

The second rainbow I saw was even a first for me – it was my first time (as far as I can remember) to see a full arc! Too bad our car was moving too fast for me to get a decent shot, plus, there were too many cars on the road for me to simply get off our car and take photos like I did on the first day.
Don’t you just love rainbows? To me, they symbolize hope. And what better way to be reminded that good things are to come? 🙂

Visita Iglesia 2012 – Ilocos Edition

By some stroke of luck, hubby and I found ourselves in a week-long out of town trip in Ilocos coinciding with Holy Week, so we figured it would be nice to visit the old churches in the province for our annual Visita Iglesia. Our group (we were travelling with college friends) was based in Vigan so we started our Visita a few towns away and just worked our way back to Vigan. 
First stop was the Shrine of the Santo Cristo Milagroso (Sinait Church), home of the miraculous Black Nazarene, locally known as Apo Lakay (Lord). This life-sized statue was found back in the 17thcentury, along with a statue of the Virgin Mary, floating along the shores of Sinait and Badoc towns. According to stories, people from Badoc were unable to move the Black Nazarene while the people of Sinait were unable to move the Virgin Mary but could move the Black Nazarene. Given this, the locals split the two statues between their towns and to this day, they are venerated as the towns’ respective patrons.

Shrine of the Santo Cristo Milagroso, Sinait, Ilocos Sur

Our second stop was the St. Mark the Evangelist Church in the town of Cabugao. This church was built around 1695 although it has gone through some major reinforcements and facelifts over the centuries. It’s a relief that the church’s bell tower is intact, unlike most of the old churches in the country.

St. Mark the Evangelist Church, Cabugao, Ilocos Sur

Up next on our itinerary was the church of St. William the Hermit (San Guillermo de Aquitania) in Magsingal. It is baroque in design, with buttresses to fortify the structure although from the facade, it looked quite modern due to its yellow paint.The first church was built in the 17th century although the present structure was built in the 19th century. It’s included in the National Commission for Culture and the Arts as a national heritage site.
St. William the Hermit Church, Magsingal, Ilocos Sur (pardon the low quality of the photo; made a mistake while clicking my trusty iphone)
The interior of this church is probably my favourite among the churches we visited during our Visita, for the simple reason that it still uses an old retablo (wooden altar).
The retablo has three layers and eight niches which are occupied by statues of saints. 
The church also has an old choir loft and a pulpit but are both no longer used. 

If I favoured Magsingal’s interior for its wood works, I would have to give my vote to the Sto. Domingo Church, our fourth stop, for most impressive exterior. More on the gothic side of the spectrum, I love the tiny turrets dotting the facade of the church.

Sto. Domingo Church, Santo Domingo, Ilocos Sur. Built in the early parts of the 18th century.

Our next church, San Ildefonso, looked deceptively modern, what with its bright beige and maroon paint but it is actually around 200 years old, having been built around the 19thcentury. But if you look closely at the side walls, you will notice the old brick tiles, prevalent of structures built during the Spanish era, peeking out.

San Ildefonso, San Ildefonso, Ilocos Sur
The next church on our list was the Sta. Catalina Church in Vigan, in honor of St. Catherine of Alexandria. According to the town’s official website, Spanish soldiers were venturing out of Ciudad Fernandina (the old name of Vigan) and came upon a spring to rest. They took turns drinking from the spring when an apparition appeared, and one of the soldiers recognized it as that of St. Catherine. From then on, the town had been known as Sta. Catalina.
I am not sure if the present structure is the same one built in the 18th century but I must say that the church grounds is one of the most well-maintained I have come across. 

The seventh and last stop for our Visita was the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity (Nuestra Senora de Caridad) or St. Augustine Parish Church in Bantay, perhaps the most picturesque of the seven and one of the oldest in Ilocos, having been built in 1590. 
Perched atop a small hill with its bell tower situated in a more elevated hill about thirty meters away, the church enjoys expansive grounds and allows for scenic photos to be taken.

Me and Hubby

Shot taken from the bottom steps of the hill leading to the bell tower

We were able to complete the seven churches even before we reached the Vigan Heritage Village but aside from the churches I listed above, there are many old churches to visit in the Ilocos province, starting with the Vigan Cathedral itself, which is part of the Unesco World Heritage site. 
Sadly though, the buttresses of the church had been cemented and you can no longer see the original bricks.but here’s a photo I took two years ago:

There are many old churches in Ilocos, since it was one of the earliest provinces reached by Spanish missionaries so we were able to visit two more churches. 
One is the St. John the Baptist Church in San Juan (Lapog). Built in 1799 through voluntary services rendered by the locals, several townspeople were held hostage during World War II in this church by the Japanese. The Japanese threatened to kill everyone inside the church if no one will confess to a crime committed against one of their comrades. What this crime is, I am not too sure – one site says the Japanese were merely looking for the burial site of their comrade while others say the Japanese wanted to know who killed their comrade. In any case, one of the men, Constante Varilla Castro, admitted to the crime to spare the townspeople.
A historical marker now stands in the church grounds to commemorate Castro’s sacrifice.

About two hours away from Vigan is the town of Paoay, which is home to the second UNESCO Baroque church in the province, the San Agustin Church (Church of Paoay), built in 1704. It is arguably one of the best and most intricate churches I have ever seen, and certainly has the most imposing set of buttresses of all the churches I’ve visited in the country.

Buttresses at the back of the church; there are 24 buttresses supporting the church, made up of coral rocks

About two years ago, hubby and I were also able to visit two other churches, one of them also listed in the UNESCO Baroque Churches of the Philippines: the Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur, about thirty minutes from Vigan.

A much older church lies in Laoag City, capital of Ilocos Norte – the St. William’s Cathedral. Surprisingly, this structure is actually older than the UNESCO churches I mentioned above, having been built in 1590 by the Augustinians.
The church is famous for its sinking bellfry, which you are likely to miss if you are not aware of it or don’t know where to look, because it is located about 80 meters away and partially hidden from view by taller structures. So-called sinking because the tower sinks an inch or so a year due to a natural phenomenon called desertification, whereby the soil on which it stands is changed to sand due to the hot weather (yes, it is very hot in Laoag).

The Long Drive North

Hubby and I took a week-long vacation up north – this trip marks a lot of firsts for us: first time to drive this far (think 300+ kilometres from Manila to Vigan and another 300+ to Pagudpud for one of our day trips), the longest vacation together, the longest time away from our kid, and the longest trip with our friends from college. 

And this being hubby’s first real test as a driver, our convoy decided to make its way slowly with several stopovers and sigh-seeing. We entered the NLEX around 9:30am and reached Manaoag, our first stopover, around 1pm. Not bad, eh? 

We weren’t really familiar with restos around the area and had it been just hubby and me, we would have gone with any of the more familiar fast food chains in the town proper. Luckily, we had our friends who grew up in the region and they introduced us to Ruperto’s, which was a little further from the town center but also along the main highway.

Ruperto’s isn’t just a restaurant; it’s actually a hotel-resort-restaurant, built on what used to be farmland. I am not sure if there are many guests checked in but the place itself looked nice and clean and pool was inviting. 

pardon the cut on the panorama shot – my hands were a bit shaky that day

the restaurant
Food was great too! I enjoyed the fresh fish very much, even though it was a bit “fishy” for me. 

We stayed in Manaoag for a few more hours to pray at the shrine. People attribute lots of miracles to the lady of Manaoag, and while I personally haven’t experienced any obvious miracles, I was in awe of the stories I’ve heard. 

Our next stopover was already in La Union for dinner. Our Manaoag stopover had set us back three hours so McDonald’s would have to do for dinner if we were to reach Vigan before 9PM.

Which we unfortunately didn’t. Traffic was very light but the road leading up to Ilocos was poorly lit. In fact, I don’t recall seeing brightly lit lampposts and the road was bumpy with lots of unfinished construction so it was a little before 10PM when we reached our hotel. 

Return Trip
There were a lot of tourists up North and I think it’s just a matter of time before it rivals the Boracay crowd. Unfortunately, this also meant driving back to Manila on the last day of the holidays would be a nightmare so we left one day earlier to avoid the mad dash to the capital.

Our return trip took around the same time but this time, our stop over was in Agoo – at the Ice Tea Rue restaurant for dinner. I don’t know what the name meant nor the specialty of the place but given the Japanese accents inside the resto, I would assume it’s supposed to be Japanese.

In any case, food was great. We had chili garlic prawns which were to die for (and quite a steal as I think we got five pieces of prawns for only Php225!), roasted chicken, and bagnet, plus fruit shake for all five of us. Can you imagine our tab was only Php1100+? I would definitely visit this place if we do get to travel this side of Luzon in the future.

On a side note, it seems the town (or city?) of Agoo benefited a lot from Judiel Nieva. For those of you too young to remember, he was the “visionary” from maybe, 18 years ago, who supposedly saw the Virgin Mary in Agoo, Pangasinan. Pilgrims would trek to Pangasinan to see him and the previously sleepy town progressed into a bustling center with establishments popping up everywhere.

He was later proven a fraud after a Church investigation, with the supposed messages all copied from Fatima and Lourdes (and had wrong grammars that added to evidence against him), and the “crying” statue of the Virgin Mary rigged with a contraption to make it look like it was shedding tears. Judiel has since come out of the closet but we’re not sure if he has undergone a sex change operation. Last I heard of, he’s now living in a condo in Paranaque.

Abucay, Bataan

Went on a little field trip en route to my college bff’s firstborn’s baptism. Since it was in Bataan, hubby and I left early so as not to be late but ended up arriving a little too early. Which was good as we had time to have a hearty breakfast and go around some of the nearby towns.

The baptism was to be held in a small church nearby so we decided to check out the Santo Domingo Church, which was built in 1587 and is one of the oldest in country. This church is also the site of the Abucay Massacre, where more than 200 pampangueno defenders were massacred by the Dutch invaders in 1647, a tragedy that was a direct result of inept planning by the town’s alcalde mayor.

Sto. Domingo Church, built by the Dominicans

Here’s the historical marker of the church:

I was quite impressed with how clean and fresh-looking the interior was –the tiled floors were practically gleaming.
The church reminded me very much of another Dominican Church in San Juan, which I usually get to visit when we do our annual Visita Iglesia.Well, it figures, they were both built by the same order. 🙂

Their Belen. I love the bright yellow.

Look at those old tiles on the church’s courtyard.

Been reading through a Bataan coffee table book that Ipe and I got for Christmas a few years back and now I want to go back there and visit all those historical places. Imagine, I’ve never been to Corregidor! I seriously need to visit this place soon.
Anyway, you all probably know by now how much hubby and I love old buildings, especially churches and it has been awhile since we’ve added another old church to our growing list. So color me happy that I am able to include the Sto. Domingo Church in Abucay in that list. Hopefully, I get to add one every month this year. Wish us luck.