The brief stop-over at Sta. Maria was but a taste of the visual feast that was awaiting us. We pressed on further up north to Vigan
in a non-airconditioned bus. The ride in a rickety coach was pleasant since there weren't as many passengers as expected, and the cool breeze coming in through the open windows was refreshing. On the way, we discussed which hostels we would check out from the number of available accommodations. None of us made any previous bookings for the trip so we would have to play things by ear. We decided on either Grandpa's - a converted heritage building made popular by its in-house restaurant, or Villa Angela - an ancestral home and museum where Tom Cruise and local celebrity Piolo Pascual stayed while working on location.
The trip took about 2 hours. Arriving in Vigan
, it was immediately evident why the city was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Not far from her boundaries are already relics of 16th century colonial architecture which is in plain sight anywhere you go. I was in awe. In all my travels, it's only the second time that I felt I've been transported into a completely different era (the first was Edinburgh). I thought that it was just Calle Crisologo
, Vigan's most popular strip in the Mestizo District
, plus a few buildings here and there that exhibited this kind of display, but I was totally wrong. As the inscription on the UNESCO plaque aptly reads, it's the "best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia...representing a unique fusion of Asian building design and construction with European colonial architecture and planning...an exceptionally intact and well-preserved example of a European trading town in East and Southeast Asia.
Nuestra Señora de la Caridad Church
" Here, even kalesas
(native rickshaws dating back to the old days) are a common mode of transportation, as opposed to those in Manila
which have regressed into touristy must-try's which locals no longer bother with.
Hopping on a tricycle, the Philippines' version of a tuktuk,
we made our way to Villa Angela's, which, according to the tricycle driver, was on the way to Grandpa's in case we decided on the latter. In minutes, we were hobbling along cobbled streets (though I doubt these stones are original...?) through the historic coastal city. Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Vigan was a major trading post where Chinese junks would dock and exchange exotic goods for mountain products, including gold.
It was during this time that the Chinese had settled and intermarried with the Bigueños
(Vigan locals). Upon learning of the commerical activity here, one Capitan Juan de Salcedo was instructed by his superiors to look into any opportunities up north. He then took his troops set sail from Manila and arrived in Vigan in May 1572. It was indeed much like Manila, where locals would engage in business with the rich Chinese traders - China being on Spain's radar in the interest of religious and world domination. After pacifying the city, he then made his rounds of the rest of the neighboring region. Pleased with his successful expedition, King Philip II rewarded Salcedo with the province of Ilocos (then called Ylocos) where the new Justicio Mayor would bring in Agustinian missionaries to convert the locals.
Before we even pulled up, I had already noticed the pretty gates and wished that what lay inside it was something open to the public. I guess it was my birthday stars, but the place turned up to be Villa Angela! Right then and there, Jen, Apo and I collectively decided we were definitely staying here. There was no need to check out Granpa's after seeing even just the exterior of the place. That was, of course, if they still had any rooms to let out. We got off and talked to the caretaker. Happy birthday to me, they had just what we needed - an air-conditioned room for four (though we were only three), our own bathroom with hot water to boot, free breakfast, and all for the right price. We paid the driver, let him go and proceeded to peruse our home for the day.Villa Angela
was built in the mid 19th century by the local governadorcillo
where his family lived for four generations.
Padre Burgos House & Museum - the only shot I could manage from a kalesa
Because of this, the house has been well-maintained throughout its existence. Political duties have recently called the family to move to Manila and the house has since been converted into a musem and a B&B. From the gates is a sizable garden - though in need of some pruning - that leads up to the double stone stairs to the second and main floor of the house. At the top of the stairs is a small terrace which opens up to a kitchen on the right and a grand foyer in front. To the left of the foyer is a grand dining room with not one but two ten-seater dining tables. Antique china cabinets that showcase their collection and photos and various decor adorn the walls. At the end of the hall are two bedrooms opposite each other. We only got to see one of these. The other one, where Tom Cruise spent his nights while filming Born on the Fourth of July
, was occupied at the time.
I wanted to try this
Beyond the foyer is the grand salon, bright and spacious with a high ceiling and huge capiz windows that look out into the streets below. Antique wicker sofas, rocking & planters chairs, wooden tables, family portraits, religious icons, a piano and a harp make up the charm of this room. One right side is the door the opens up to our room. Inside are one double and two single intricately carved canopy beds, an armoir, desk and a table that are just as aged as the rest of the house. The only things in here that zap you back to to the 21st century are the TV and the air conditioning unit. Oh, and on the other side of the room is a huge door that leads to a huge balcony where our bathroom was situated on the other side. How cool is that?! The entire house is floored with wide and dark planks of age-old wood. The place was absolutely gorgeous, it made me wish I brought a baro't saya
(native dress) to wear in the house and out on the streets! Downstairs was sort of off-limits to us at the time as they were prepping up for the huge group of 20+ that was arriving.
What used to be a storage area has been converted into dormitories and rooms for larger groups.
It was as hot as hell and after traveling all night, we took turns in the shower before heading off to Grandpa's
for lunch. It was the perfect compromise - we get to sample their food which has been raved about and at the same time enjoy our stay in Vigan at an ancestral home! We still hadn't gotten our bearings of the place so we decided to take a trike. Besides, we didn't want to sweat it out so soon after a refreshing bath. Grandpa's didn't disappoint. We had a typical Vigan meal of bagnet
(deep-fried pork similar to crispy pata) dipped in the best bagoong
(shrimp paste) I had ever had, ever;
an eggplant salad called poqui-poqui
(or poki-poki, puke-puke, puki-puki - depending on how green your mind is ;-p), pinakbet
, another vegetable salad of an assortment of beans, ocra, tomato, ginger cooked until shrivelled in bagoong
, and the most exotic of all, itlog ti amuos
, or roe of mountain ants, that was chewy (with a few giant ants thrown into the mix) and a wee sweet to the taste.
Grandpa's also has a small souvenir shop right across the street, but there are lots to choose from in Vigan, especially along Calle Crisologo.
With our bellies full, it was time to do the touristy stuff, and on a kalesa at that! We asked to be taken to the Bantay
(belfry) which was just a little out of the way, but the scenic route made up for the sweltering heat. The belfry is situated on a small hill near the Nuestra Señora de la Caridad Church
and is where Panday,
the classic local film with Pinoy
veteral actor, Fernando Poe, Jr., was shot. Wow, this is trip is turning out to be so showbizzz! I'm not sure if the church was open at the time, but we decided against finding out in lieu of climbing up the belfry right away.
So up we went, and as usual when ascending to heights over just a few meters above the ground, my knees started to shake. It was nice and windy up there and the small windows offered a good view of the church below, if only the other tourists allowed some consideration for the others. There was a bunch of obnoxious guys who got there ahead of us who just refused to leave. They hogged every possible space, making it impossible to get a good and clear shot of the bell that hung in the middle.
From the Bantay we set out a jar factory, or Pagburnayan
(derived from the root word burnay
or jar). Apo was suggesting a tour of the baluarte
, or the zoo kept by he former Gov. Chavit Singson. Inasmuch as I love animals though, I felt compelled to pass up on this one for a number of reasons.
One, it was just too hot; two, I was afraid to find out what state the animals were in, and instead of being disappointed preferred not to know (ignorance can
be bliss); and three, I refused to put any more money in the pockets of such a corrupt politician. I don't think Jen was too keen on it anyway. So off to the pagburnayan
we went which I was kind of excited about. I had taken a pottery class before but it turned out to be a let down since we didn't use a wheel (they didn't have any - I know, wtf, right?), and were just limited to what we could make with our hands, or the uninteresting molds they provided, which had to fit in the tiny kilns they had. Anyway, I finally got to see pottery in action! Visitors were actually allowed to give it a try, but I was afraid it would take too long - the whole process of getting your hands dirty and cleaning up after.
The heat was getting really unbearable too and it wasn't a good time to stay out for photos. So after a brief look-see, we headed back to Villa Angela to veg out until it was time to come out and play again.
Apo and Jen watched TV while I dozed off on the bed. They woke me up by 5 and we all headed back out to for a stroll Calle Crisologo. I love, love, love old houses. Their architecture, no matter how decrepit, is something I can never stop admiring. And the entire way to Crisologo was lined with period homes, most of which are well-preserved whether they remained as houses or otherwise. Many of these had shops on the ground floor that sold souvenirs that exemplified local craftsmanship.
At the end of the street was Cafe Leona, leading up to Plaza Burgos, the town plaza. We went up to the St.
Paul's Metropolitan Cathedral
, or Vigan Church
, on the opposite end, but since a mass was going on, we were only able to take photos of the church's facade. By the time we were done, the sky had darkened and it started to drizzle. Right beside the plaza was a line of
stalls that sold nothing but empanada
(stuffed pastry), where we took refuge and have our merienda
(snack). We had barely settled in when the skies just rained down in torrents for at least an good hour. None of us were able to check the weather forecast before we left, but experiencing this kind of downpour makes one automatically assume that there was a typhoon.
St. Paul's Metropolitan Cathedral, or the Vigan Cathedral
Then, before you could even say "climate change," the tarpauline sheets overhead gave way, drenching a number of poor diners. In a matter of minutes, the street started to flood and we had to raise our feet. Nobody really had a choice, but at least we had something to do and enjoy! Vigan's version of the empanada is not of the sweet and baked variety. It has a savory filling of local longganisa
or sausage, egg and vegetables, deep-fried into a crispy sandwich that goes well with vinegar. The rain hadn't stopped pouring so Jen and Apo had a second serving. As for me, I was saving some room for dinner.
When the skies finally cleared up, there was nowhere else to go. Jen had to go replenish her funds so we set out to look for an ATM. Some shopping took place along the way before we finally headed back to Villa Angela's where we would while away the time until our tummies calmored for dinner.
In a couple of hours we were back on Crisologo again, this time to Cafe Leona. Their menu wasn't as exciting as Grandpa's and we debated on whether or not to move, but we were too tired and we were willing ot give the place a try. The food may prove to be just as delicious. It was my birthday so it was my treat. But because of the limited menu (and because we still hadn't had fill) we again ordered bagnet among other things I don't remember. After dinner was a lazy stroll back to the Villa, but this time to finally call it a day.