(Getaway soundtrack: “Wag Kang Matakot” by Eraserheads)
Don’t worry, I’m using the literary reference in the title very loosely here, so no bleak Dickensian account of the parallels between London and Paris during the French Revolution. Mine’s going to be a positive account of my trip to Ilocos early this year in two of the province’s most famous cities.
When I was thinking about it a few days ago, I realized with amusement that the two highlights of our northern getaway were actually polar opposites of each other. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a “best of times, worst of times” thing; they were equally memorable to me in a good way.
We left Manila at 8 AM for a 10-hour trip up north. I won’t delve too much into the journey itself. Suffice to say, it was lengthy and tiring, but kind of fun too (I like long trips, so I’m kind of a freak that way. Can’t say the same for my friends, though). After getting off the bus, we took a pedicab to Grandpa’s Inn, a small hotel along Bonifacio Street.
Vigan: a historical gem in the south
Grandpa’s Inn is only one of the vintage structures looming over residents and guests of Ilocos Sur’s Vigan. As a World Heritage city, Vigan’s popularity lies in its well-preserved antique structures of Filipino, Oriental, and European influence, making it a genuine testament to the Philippines’ Spanish colonial days. The city has a laid-back atmosphere, perfect for taking a stroll especially before sunrise when everything is quiet and you can really take in the genuine old-world feel.
One noteworthy attraction is Calle Crisologo, a cobblestone street flanked by aging buildings, juxtaposed by stores selling everything from longganisa to prepaid load. And with calesas clopping along every couple of minutes, you get postcard-worthy scenes that’ll give your camera a lot of exercise.
Laoag: modern extreme adventure in the north
On our second day, we took a bus to Ilocos Norte, where we rented a van to take us to the most popular tourist destinations in the city of Laoag. Of course we had to see the wind mills in Bangui and the lighthouse in Cape Bojeador, but my personal favorite would have to be our adventure at the Paoay Sand Dunes.
For Php 2,500, you get a 30-minute ride on a 4×4 across the sand dunes, culminating into a few minutes of sandboarding. A friendly tip: go to the sand dunes really early in the morning or late in the afternoon to make sure the sand’s cool enough. We arrived there at about noon and the sand was pretty much melting the skin off our feet.
Anyway, we climbed onto the back of the 4×4, found our grip on the bars and away we went. The ride was fast and exhilarating: think dusty, unhinged roller coaster. The driver speedily took on the dunes, occasionally telling us to hold on as he maneuvered the shallow and steep paths. At one point, we stopped and got off the 4×4 for a few photos. We then headed to the sandboarding area where my friends had a few gos down the slope as two of us wussed out in the shade because we weren’t digging the whole hot-sand-on-the-feet thing. Despite that, I still had an amazing time taking in the view of the cool, blue Suba Beach while gleefully holding on for dear life.
We didn’t get to do absolutely everything we had planned for the trip (one glaring omission from our itinerary was a swim at a beach), but I can’t deny that I still had a blast. Maybe we’ll get to come back to these two cities to explore what else they have to offer, contrasting or otherwise.
(In case you were wondering, “Wag Kang Matakot” became our theme song for the trip because one of our companions, who a couple of us met for the first time then, is the spitting image of Eraserheads lead singer Ely Buendia. We kept singing Eheads songs in his honor and for some reason, this one stuck with us the most.)
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