Ilocos Norte did not differ much from its southern counterpart. With paved roads, abundant vegetation and, judging by the roadside dwellings, a comfortably-paced life, Ilocos Norte seemed favoured.
The province’s topography was both strange and familiar. The latter, because of how its open fields bathe before the sun, like my mother’s native Iloilo; and the former, because it was that part of the Philippines farthest from my hometown in Lanao del Norte.
Briefly, we drove past Currimao, a town whose stories I’ve only learnt from one boy some thirteen years back. It felt bittersweet to have finally seen the place. Briefly too, I wondered how the boy’s been.
Our first stop was the UNESCO World Heritage Site and Philippines’ National Cultural Treasure, Paoay Church. Also known as Iglesia de San Agustin de Paoay, this 18th century Baroque wonder stood proud and regal, wearing a hundred and one stories of Spanish Philippines on its skin.
But impressive as the old church’s facade was, the inside showed obvious wear from the passing of years. Renovations were undergoing when we were there, in a bid to preserve the structure that have put this sleepy little northern town on the map.
Our companions suggested a side trip to Batac, to the renowned Marcos Museum and Mausoleum. I said no at once. For what advantage a Martial Law ruler’s frozen dead body have to enrich my spirit and contribute to my growth as a human being? None.
I respect the memory of the man’s brilliance, and is in fact open to learn of truths alternative to what is written in history books. But to ogle before his carcass? No.
PAOAY SAND DUNES ADVENTURES
Next to our itinerary was touristy but a much-needed adrenaline shot to combat the lethargic lullaby of the Ilocos Norte countryside. Relatively new in the market, the Paoay Sand Dunes Adventures, is a 4WD adventure set in the sea of dune made famous by the Panday franchise.
For 5 people, the adventure cost 2500/hr inclusive of 4WD (Really a modified Wrangler-type truck) and sand boarding. It was dare-devilishly fun but was relatively safe. The driver-guide looked after us very well and was notably familiar of the terrain. I accidentally ate a mouthful of sand though, but that was just how I roll — ever so clumsily.
CAPE BOJEADOR LIGHTHOUSE
After a night in Laoag city proper, we left early for Cape Bojeador Lighthouse. Also a cultural landmark, this 19th century lighthouse stood as a welcome beacon to Spanish-era galleons.
But tourists peppered the tiny hill where the lighthouse was when we arrived, so I stayed at our vehicle while everyone else battled their way inside the structure. Instead, I marvelled before the majesty of Cape Bojeador before me, which in my books, was the bigger attraction.
Very early in the morning, I feasted on mangga at bagoong (unripe mango and sautéed shrimp paste), which was peddled by locals on the foot of the lighthouse. I also bought windmill and lighthouse magnets from them, my give-back-to-locals act of gratitude for the day.
As we drove away up north, I mouthed a prayer of gratitude to a land that took care of its heritage very well. It was through Ilocos Norte that I was was privileged to have a peep through a kind of history that, albeit different from what where I came from held, was equally as interesting.
ILOCOS NORTE: PAOAY AND LAOAG. This post is part of a travel series featuring a six-week journey around my home country.