My wife and I, for a long time have been wanting to visit Ilocos. Somehow, for one reason or another, we always managed to put it off. Finally, we were able to make a 5-day trip last March 29, 2015. The decision to make the trip on this date was to avoid the onrush of tourists who we expect would be travelling to the north by Holy Thursday, April 2.
Let me take you with us on that trip….
We left Mandaluyong City at around 5:00 am on April 29, Sunday. Traffic was relatively light and after 7.5 hours of driving we finally reached our first waypoint – the old Banaoang Bridge and Quirino Bridge.
There are two bridges, the old Banaoang Bridge and the Qurino Bridge that crosses the Abra River at this location connecting the towns of Santa and Bantay. The two bridges are 350 meters apart. When the old old truss type Banaoang Bridge was partially damaged by a storm in 2011, the new bridge was built to replace it and was named the Quirino Bridge after former President Elpidio Quirino who hails from Vigan. While the old bridge was reconstructed and is presently passable, it remained more as a tourist attraction, an iconic symbol of Ilocos Sur.
We actually missed the parking lot of the observation deck that supposedly provides a very good view of the bridges but managed to park by the side of the road before crossing the old bridge to get some photos. As you approach, you get a picturesque view of the bridge with the Abra mountain backdrop.
(1)The old Banaoang Bridge. from a distance, (2) a closer photo of the bridge, and (3) the new Banaoang Bridge west of the old bridge.
Another photo of the old Banaoang Bridge taken from the Bantay town side after crossing the river.
The 30-minute stop that we made at this location was enough to appreciate the beauty of the scenery and to take some photos. For some, this is of course will be dependent on how much posing and photography need to be done.
From the Banaoang Bridge we continued our journey to our next waypoint to visit the St. Augustine Church and the Bantay Bell Tower.
The St. Augustine Church was built in 1590 by the Augustinian friars and is one of the oldest surviving churches in Ilocos Sur. At the altar of the church is the statue of Our Lady of Charity, who is said to have watched over the city over many generations. During the 2nd World War the church was heavily damaged but was rebuilt in 1950. The church grounds are quite historic as this is the the same ground where Diego Silang and his troops were said to have fought with the Spaniards in 1763.
(1) the facade of the St. Augustine Church, (2) photo inside the church.
On a hill, a few meters away from the church , the Bantay Bell Tower stands magnificently. This old historic belfry served as a watchtower to alert the town against invading enemies.
(1) Photo of the Bantay Bell Tower atop the hill a few meters away from the church, (2) one of the bells inside the tower on the 3rd level and (3) view of from the third level of the tower.
We spent about an hour at this location. Enough to roam around the church grounds, climb the bell tower, take pictures and appreciate the beauty of the place.
From the Bantay Bell Tower and church we went to Hotel Luna to check-in and rest for a while before we resumed our tour. The hotel is located at the heart of the Vigan Heritage Village and prides itself as the first and only hotel museum in the Philippines.
Our hotel room is not that big but is very clean and has all the basic amenities that we needed (aircon, lcd tv, mini ref and electric water boiler for coffee/tea) and on top of these an automated toilet bidet. The front desk staff were very pleasant, considerate and courteous as well as the bell hops and room attendants. The museum is located at the second floor of the hotel and showcases both rare, vintage artworks and modern art pieces by master painters, contemporary artists and National Artists including Juan Luna. Their buffet breakfast is also very good.
The good thing about Hotel Luna’s location is that the interesting places within the Vigan Heritage Village are just walking distance from the hotel. But if you get tired of walking, there are the kalesas that can be rented for Php 150.00 per hour to take you to the places that you wish to visit.
After a short rest and merienda, we then headed by foot to the Syquia Mansion that houses an extensive memorabilia of former President Elpidio Quirino. The house is actually owned by the former First Lady Dona Alicia Syquia Quirino. The grand ancestral home provides its visitors with a view of various antique collections and huge oil portraits of the family of which three was done by national artist Fernando Amorsolo. A huge replica of Juan Luna’s Spolarium, painted by the national hero/artist’s assistant is on display at the sala/receiving area. Because some of the former President’s functions during his administration were held in this house, the tour of the mansion also provides a feel of the grand and historical gatherings that took place during President Quirino’s time.
It took us about 30-45 minutes to complete the tour of the museum.
We then proceeded, again by foot, to our next destination.
The Crisologo Museum is the ancestral home of former congressman Floro Crisologo that was converted into a family shrine. The Crisologos are one of Vigan’s most prominent political families. Aside from family photos and personal effects, the bloodstained pair of trousers of Floro Crisologo when he was assasinated in a church in in 1972 and the old, bullet ridden Chevy that Governor Carmeling Crisologo was using when she was (unsuccessfully) ambushed by gunmen in 1961 are also in display. But more than providing an insight on the lives of the Crisologos, the house/museum with its period furniture offers an insight into how people lived during the colonial era.
We spent about 30 minutes to complete the tour of the museum.
From the Crisologo Mansion, we took a 5 minute tricycle ride to visit the Burgos Museum. Unfortunately, the place is closed for renovation but we were directed by the guard to the Provincial Jail, a few meters away that was recently converted into a museum.
The jail has a rich history. From the memorial marker of the Philippine Historical Committee it is stated that the original building was constructed in 1657 to house the municipal jail. It then became a provincial jail in 1818 when Ilocos Sur became a province. Former President Elpidio Quirino was born at the second floor of the building in November 16, 1890 when his father, Mariano Quirino, was the jail warden. In 1898, the building was seized by revolutionary forces under Colonel Juan Villamor but in 1899, it was taken over by American Forces,and used it as detention cells for political leaders from the province including Mena Crisologo, Estanislao Reyes and Enrique Quema.
At the first floor, the row of old prison cells were converted as an exhibition hall that highlights the “basi”, the quintessential Ilocano liquor from fermented sugarcane juice. An adjacent hall showcases the 14 paintings of Esteban Pichay Villanueva depicting the “1807 Basi Revolt”. The revolt was a result of the locals’ disenchantment with the Spaniards when the latter decided to monopolize the production and sale of the basi.
From the provincial jail, we walked along Plaza Salcedo to get a good photo of the plaza with the St. Paul Cathedral as a backdrop. The plaza was named after Juan de Salcedo, a spanish conquistador who subdued the early native settlement and established Villa Fernandina de Vigan said to be the third hispanic settlement in the Phillippines. The Salcedo Obelisk is a prominent centerpiece of the plaza. In the 17th century, this obelisk was literally the focal point of the city’s Spanish urban design. The plaza’s history is even made richer with the fact that this was the site where Gabriela Silang was publicly executed by hanging in 1763.
The St. Paul Cathedral has been a center of Catholic devotion for centuries. The original structure, built in 1574 was only a mere chapel made of wood and thatch. It was in 1641 when the chapel was replaced by a church. In 1758, the church was elevated to the status of a cathedral and became the center of Catholic faith in the north. The present baroque-style church was completed in the 1800.
A separate belltower (or belfry) was built 15 meters away from the main building (it actually stands in another plaza, Plaza Burgos). The belltower is about 25 meters high and it is surmounted by a large bronze weathercock.
Heading to Calle Crisologo, we passed by Plaza Burgos built to commemorate the martyrdom of Fr. Jose Burgos who with two other priest were executed in Bagumbayan in Manila. The three priest are collectively referred to in Philippine history as GomBurZa (which stands for Gomez, Burgos and Zamora). Fr. Burgos fought for ecclesiastical reforms to address the inequality experience by Filipino priests during his time.
After passing through the Plaza Burgos we reach Calle Crisologo on its north end where Café Leona and a commemorative statue of Leona Florentino fronting the the Max’s Restaurant are located. From there we walked the entire stretch of the street up to its south end.
Calle Crisologo is the major attraction of Vigan. Old Spanish style houses line both sides of this cobblestone street and the nearby streets. If not for the huge crowd of fellow tourists, you probably would feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. Available references mention this street as part of the mestizo district where the affluent residents of Vigan lived during the prosperous bygone era. The properity, it was said was brought about by the Manila-Acapulco maritime trade.
When we reached the southern end of Calle Crisologo we were both tired and famished. We went back to our hotel to freshen up and then went out for dinner at Kusina de Senyong where we sampled the famous Ilocano dish, bagnet. We were lucky enough to have met Kenley Filarca, the owner of this establishment. Ken told us that their establishment is actually famous for serving the biggest and the smallest burger in the Philippines.
After dinner, I had to go back to Calle Crisologo to get some night shots with less people around to obstruct my shooting.
Our first day was very tiring but it was all worth it and we were lucky to have booked ourselves in a comfortable hotel that provided us with a good and comfortable night’s rest.