Viva, Ilocandia! Part 1: The Bucket List
- Jen F. Vega () - April 24, 2011 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Ilocos Norte is a window to a rich culture and vibrant history of the old and at the same time a door that opens up to some of the country's unscathed natural wonders. Touring around the province affords one to experience the best of both worlds, of cultural heritage and adventure tourism in the suburbs. I experienced just that during my recent trip to the northern frontier.

Here are a few of its attractions deserving of a spot in your bucket list:   


Discover: Marcos Mausoleum and Museum

Jumpstart your Ilocos Norte trip by getting to know the most popular settler of the region, the Martial Law dictator and the late president Ferdinand Edralin Marcos. The mausoleum, erected in close proximity to the town plaza, is where his glass-entombed preserved waxen body lies. The adjacent building houses important documents and personal belongings (especially his presidential table) during his stint as the country's most powerful. On the left side of the mausoleum is the White House or the Balay Ti Amianan, the vacation house of the Marcoses.

Take note: The Mausoleum is open daily from 9AM to 12NN; 1PM to 4PM

Walk through: World Peace Center (Marcos Photo Gallery)

A few meters away from the mausoleum is a photo archive of the Marcos family, collated and organized by Ilocos Norte 2nd District Congresswoman Imelda Marcos. This was opened for public viewing three years ago with over 200 photo printouts of portraits, candid shots and even striking news clippings. According to our tour guide Michelle Jacinto, the centerpiece however is the collage of news clippings and photos during the Marcos regime and before the family left the country after the excruciating court trials.

Munch: Batac Riverside Empanadaan

Grab a bite of Batac's specialty, empanada – grated green papaya, cooked monggo (bean sprouts), longaniza (pork sausage) bits and one cracked egg encased in an orange crisp tortilla shell (a mixture of flour, water and achuete). Glory's Empanadaan serves piping hot empanadas that are best poured with sukang Iloko or ketchup.    

Take note: Prices – Special Empanada at P35, Ordinary P30, Jumbo P50; other varieties – Double Special, Special Eggless, Ordinary Eggless, Special without Monggo (seedless), Double Egg and Double Double


Appreciate: St. Augustine Church/Paoay Church

Deserving to be part of the UNESCO Heritage Sites list is the St. Augustine Church because of its imposing Baroque architecture with 24 buttresses for an earthquake-proof house of prayer. Built in 1704 by the Augustinian congregation, St. Augustine is just one of the four Baroque churches in the country that is considered a Heritage Site.

Linger: Paoay Lake National Park Landscape

This natural lake extends over 470 hectares, perfect for leisure walks, boating and bird watching of which its common residents are the endemic Philippine duck, white-collared kingfisher, brahminy kite, cattle egret and little egret. Migratory birds also linger for a while like the tufted duck, grey heron, great egret and the osprey. Cottages are tucked at the viewing deck to accommodate groups who wish to take a breather and simply marvel at the charming view of this vast lake. 

Take note: Alcohol drinking is prohibited. Curfew hour is at 10:30PM. Cottage fee is P50.

Learn: Loom-weaving

Ilocos Norte is historically notable for its Abel Iloco hand woven textiles. The Nagbacalan Loomweavers Multipurpose Cooperative is a living proof that these locals have carried on the loom-weaving tradition from old true-blue Ilokanos and strive to pass on the baton to the next generation of weavers. Board chair Charito C. Cariaga, 69, says abel Iloco is distinct because of its vibrant colors and intricate patterns. Take home blankets, bags, throw pillows, towels, shawls, table runners, dress materials, pillow cases, placemats and table napkins as proofs that you've visited Ilocos.

Discover: Malacañang of the North

The Malacañang Ti Amianan is in fact one of the 29 resthouses of the Marcoses. This newly refurbished two-floor non-airconditioned domicile poses a 70s theme with five bedrooms, two living rooms, two dining areas, two kitchens and two verandahs – all equipped with reupholstered/revamped wooden furniture sets and fixtures. It's quite huge yet only occupies 1,900 square meters out of the roughly four hectares lot property. For 24 years, it was under the care of Department of Tourism and yet when Imee Marcos took the provincial gubernatorial post, Ilocos Norte was commissioned to take care of the property. Busloads of school kids and guests frequent this manse that offers a grand vista of Paoay Lake in full dramatic splendor at sunset. Primarily using narra wood as building material, the Malacañang of the North was also turned into a museum with a photo gallery of the late president and displays some of the personal belongings of the Marcoses, as well as photos, life-size Ferdinand Marcos mannequins and Congresswoman Imelda's Cora Jacob arm candy and other clutches. Letty Buduan, who has a long service record of 34 years to the Marcoses enumerated some of the famous personalities who once visited them way back: George Hamilton, Freddie Aguilar, Nora Aunor, Gabby Concepcion, among many others.  

Take note: Malacañang of the North is open for corporate events and private functions. Viewing hours is from 9AM – 11:30PM from Tuesdays to Sundays; entrance fee – P30 for adults and P10 for children.

Scream: Sand Dunes (4x4 Ride and Sandboarding)

Looks like Dubai Desert Safari! This I bet is a first thought. Brgy. Nagbacalan's sand dunes stretch up to eight kilometers west of Paoay, so vast that it affords dune bashing: 4x4 off-road rides and sandboarding. It's one hell of an exhilarating ride that each moment the 4x4 climbs up a hill, you can't help but shriek while you hang on for dear life, holding the vehicle bars that if you lose grip any moment you'll be thrown to the beach sand. Aside from the 4x4 ride, a tripper also gets to sandboard in the baby slopes (six meters deep) or in the "pro" slopes (10-12 meters). One thing totally interesting is the sand dunes change formation because of the wind. So there's always a different experience that awaits every year. The Nagbangcalan sand dunes became the setting of the late Fernando Poe's Panday movies.

Take note: The Paoay Off-Roaders Adventure Group accepts bookings and reservations for sand boarding and 4X4 tours at their office, at the southern part of the Paoay Lake viewdeck. Rates: P1,500 per car good for four to five pax for one hour including sandboarding; P2,500 per car for two hours with sandboarding; P650 per hour for one person, including sandboarding.


Munch: Pasuquin Bakery’s Biscocho  

Soft or hard? I'm not talking about a massage option but I'm referring to the freshly baked biscocho varieties in Pasuquin Bakery, maker of the sought-after bread roll owned by Mrs. Esperanza Salmon-Alvarez. The biscocho is surprisingly different from Bacolod's because of how it's prepared and its distinct, not-so-sweet, taste because foremost it's flavored with anise. There's no other bakery, however, that sells biscocho than that of Mrs. Alvarez since they're not open for franchise and don't have authorized outlets or branches selling biscocho. So, beware of fake biscocho! So what makes this special? The owners still use the traditional wood oven in making their biscochos.

Take note: Prices – Soft Biscocho meant to be toasted (good with melted cheese/coffee/hot choco) P65 and P135; Hard Biscocho (toasted) P70

Learn: Salt-making

This is a traditional family lucrative business in Pasuquin. The locals of Pasuquin imports Australian rock salt and process it by melting in briskly boiling sea water then removing it from heat to dry and finally spray iodized salt. Pasuquin isn't only famous for its biscocho but also for its rock salt that is finer than the ordinary. Bags of salt are being sold along the highway.

Walk through: Dragon Fruit Plantation

While entering Pasuquin, one will notice passing by rows upon rows of dragon fruit plantations. Ilocos Norte is in fact the country's top producer of this cactus variation. So it is best to swing by the first dragon fruit plantation in Region I, REFMAD-V Farms of the Dacuycuy family in Brgy. Paayas. Mrs. Edita A. Dacuycuy was hailed as one of the Most Outstanding Rural Women of 2010 by the Inter-Agency Committee on Rural Women (IAC-RW) because of industriously developing dragon fruit products: the anti-aging/whitening soap, ice cream, spring rolls, dragon balls (akin to meatballs), siomai, empanadita, cup cake, cookies, macaroons, jam, tea. But most importantly, she was given such recognition because of influencing her neighbors to grow dragon fruit in their backyard so they may also economically benefit from it, as well as experience its healing gains. The REFMAD plantation also has cottages at the rear portion of the property, and overnight room accommodations for P250 at the second floor of the receiving area. More dragon fruit stories in my next article.


Quick stop: Cape Bojeador Lighthouse

Built in 1902, this heritage lighthouse that stands 65 feet is still functioning. The view from the lighthouse is simply breathtaking.

Linger: Kapurpurawan (White) Rock Formation

Because Burgos lies near the coastline facing the South China Sea, there are many things forming along the shoreline especially rock formations due to the wind, wave, as well as rain. This holds true to the Kapurpurawan (puraw means white) limestone rock formation. There are mangroves sprouting within the area alongside bonsai plants and nori seaweeds used in Japanese cuisine. Soon, 88 wind turbines are to be installed, connecting to the Bangui windmills, which will surely be an added attraction to these immaculate white formations. Enjoy the cool breeze!

Linger: Bangui Bay Windmills

Care for a picnic by the beach with a grand view of the 20 white on-shore wind turbines? The windfarm in Brgy. Baruyen is Ilocos Norte's contribution to Mother Earth for being a renewable energy source, providing 40 percent of electricity to the residents of the province. Completed in 2004, there's an annual energy production of 78.77 gigawatts per hour. Bangui Bay is the ideal place to install windmills since the wind here changes from amihan to habagat according to a feasibility study conducted. Each massive turbine is 70 meters high with three blades measuring 41 meters long each. Perhaps, this is the most post-card perfect landmark in the entire province, no wonder a throng of visitors have their photos taken before these wind turbines.


Linger: Pagudpud

The Boracay of the North is screaming tropical paradise. The blue lagoon beach, facing the South China Sea, is a cove where surfers master their balancing acts and beachcombers bask till dusk. And unlike Boracay, Pagudpud beaches normally have typical native cottages in the beachfront that gets packed during weekends sans the bustling nightlife. Although the beach sand doesn't equal Boracay's powdery white, the coastal town's is nevertheless good enough. Pagudpud beckons and unpretentiously pose a more private vacay.


Discover: Museo Ilocos Norte    

The traditional Ilocos Norte's diverse and rich culture is well-translated in the extensive display of artifacts and relics in the 2001 Gawad Alab ng Haraya Awardee for Outstanding Cultural Conservation Program (Adaptive Reuse) of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Museo Ilocos Norte which is formerly the Tabacalera Building, the Tobacco Monopoly Administrative Center.

Take note: Entrance fees – elementary pupils P5; high school students P10; college students and teachers P15; general admission P30; pre-arranged group tours with 10 percent discount. Museum hours – Monday to Saturday, 9AM to 12NN and 1PM to 5PM; Sunday, 10AM to 12NN and 1PM to 5PM.


Quick stop: Sta. Monica Church Complex

The largest church in Ilocos is the baroque-neoclassical Sta. Monica Church built in 17th century. The complex comprises a bell tower, a church, a museum and a convent all built in red bricks using egg whites to hold them all together. This is where the late president's daughter Irene was wed to Gregorio Araneta in 1983. 


Discover: Juan Luna Shrine

The municipality of Badoc is extra special because this is where the most celebrated Filipino painter Juan N. Luna was born. Built with ladrillo (bricks) walls and terracotta floor quarry tiles, the actual birth place was turned into a shrine where work reproductions of highly acclaimed and award-winning masterpieces are hung for public viewing: Spoliarium (centerpiece for the first floor), Death of Cleopatra, Blood Compact, Parisian Life, Una Bulaqueña, among others. The garden serves as a viewing area for 14 select murals which are personal choices of Congresswoman Imelda.  

Take note: Open from 8AM to 4PM Tuesdays to Sundays.


Linger: Sitio Remedios Heritage Village

Walking through the pathway lined by lotus pond on each side is utterly surreal. This private village beachfront resort in Bgry. Victoria is a showcase of typical Ilocano community in the 50s with seven reconstructed/re-created houses or balay all made from vintage construction materials such as bricks and wood – some are scrap and salvaged. Each balay is furnished with classic furniture and vintage fixtures that transport you back in time. Balay Bacarra, for one, is an age-old house, currently the biggest, has opened its doors to personalities such as famous novelist John Irving, Zsa Zsa Padilla and family, Manny Villar, among many others. Other facilities include a church, infinity pool and Jacuzzi, restaurant and bar, and a spa. The four-year-old Sitio Remedios is the brainchild of medical doctor and neurologist Dr. Joven R. Cuanang. 

Take note: Age-old rooms good for 7 is pegged at P14,000 while the good for five pax is at P9,500.

Ilocos Sur

Side trip: Vigan

This city has an unmistakably Asian-European colonial architecture design. The only World Heritage City in the country in the UNESCO World Heritage List, Vigan's well-preserved past is intact particularly in Calle Crisologo where Spanish-inspired ancestral houses, antique shops and souvenir stops take their spot along the sidewalks. An afternoon stroll is a good idea, exploring every nook and cranny of Vigan. If you wish to munch on something uniquely Vigan, swing by Vigan Empanadaan near the town plaza.

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