MANILA, Philippines - Mention of Ilocos Sur calls to mind Spanish-era churches and ancestral homes, tobacco as well as regional delicacies like pinakbet and bagnet. The town of Narvacan’s claim to fame is, in fact, this deep-fried pork belly, with a crunch which only they can achieve. The local government even organized the Bagnet Festival anchored around this signature dish.
Today, there are more reasons to visit the town and stay a little bit longer. Tucked in the seaside village of Bantay Abot is the Narvacan Outdoor Adventure Hub (NOAH), touted to be the consummate adventure playground in the Ilocos Region.
According to Narvacan mayor Zuriel Zaragoza, NOAH is propelled by its back-to-nature principle with its wide variety of recreational activities.
Peculiarly positioned between the mountains and the West Philippine Sea, it has breath-taking cliffs with a steady side shore wind nearly all day long, making it ideal for wind-powered sports.
Outdoor lovers can choose from the following menu of activities:
Paragliding. This must-try activity gives you an exhilarating feeling as you glide smoothly into the sky, with the West Philippine Sea and the mountain ranges of the Ilocandia below. Flown by seasoned paragliding pilots, you take off from Mt. Bantay Abot, after a technically-challenging 4x4 ride, and land on the powdery sand beach.
Buck Raymond, an ASEAN Games precision paragliding medalist, was hired as a consultant to set up the Narvacan flysite.
Vertical Via Ferrata. Literally meaning “iron road,” it is the first of its kind in the Philippines, designed with the typical tourist in mind. It is a short 250-meter cable-safety protected trek that has you scrambling up rocks, a cable bridge and short vertical sections. The actual Via Ferrata is the 100-foot vertical section with iron rungs stapled into the expanse of adobe rock. The trail ends with a zipline back to the NOAH tower.
Zipline. If you don’t do the Via Ferrata, you can use the 500-meter zipline and glide from the shoulder of a mountain to the NOAH tower above the shallow Bulanos River.
Windsurfing. The coast is directly in front of a hill, causing a wrap-around side shore wind in the mid-day. Learning to wind surf here does not pose the danger of getting blown into the open sea.
Hobie Sailing. Ride the wind and cut through the water with the sleek twin-hulled 16-foot Hobie cat. A mainstay of international inter-island sailing tournaments, the Hobie cat is a stable and easy-to-maneuver boat ideal for cruising close to the shore.
Kitesurfing. A water surface sport, a variant style of kiteboarding specific to wave riding uses surfboards or boards shaped specifically for the purpose. You should train first on the beach on maneuvering the kite before going into the water.
4x4 ride. Drive around the 3-km beach punctuated by mini sand dunes formed by the strong and steady wind, which pushes sand up the shore. Entering the dunes and negotiating the hilly track is fun even for a newbie. Part of the dunes was remodeled as a race track for ATVs.
Biking. Pedal along the barangay road hugging the coastline, with the undulating hills on the east and the West Philippine Sea to the west and scenic pit stops in between. The picturesque century-old Sulvec Watchtower is a good spot to stop and admire the scenery.
The bicycles have special tires suited for off-road, slalom and dunes so bikers can take on more challenging terrains. A downhill course for mountain bikes has become part of the Philippine downhill bike circuit, with riders from all over the country participating in the annual event last December.
Camping. If you want to rough it out with the elements, you can pitch a tent on the beach dune camping area called Garden or near the Arko Restaurant and do a Cordillera tribal type of bonfire.
After all that activity, you’ve earned the right to feast on Ilocano delights – Vigan longganisa, pinakbet, dinengdeng, sinanglao and bagnet, as well as all-time favorites, short orders and merienda at Arko Restaurant. It has an open deck for al fresco social events and offers an unobstructed view of the spectacular sunset.
Indeed, with NOAH in place, Narvacan is shaping up as the core destination for a consummate culture, adventure and nature experience in Ilocos Sur. – With Andy Zapata