It's probably one of my greatest frustrations as a travel story teller to have missed so many opportunities to share how worthy one of my hometowns is of being spread to the rest of the world.
I did not grow up in the province of Ilocos but I always had fond memories of this town growing up. My father was born and raised in Ilocos Sur so having to spend school breaks was something I always look forward to growing up because it only meant one thing, Ilocation (Ilocos Vacation)!
I was surrounded by the blue and rich ocean every time we spend our vacations in Ilocos but aside from the magnificent kingdom down the sea, Ilocos to me houses the country's best architectures.
Spanning over centuries, both the northern and southern regions of Ilocos have preserved the ancient man-made wonders the Philippines has to offer. Being the only predominantly Catholic country in Asia, our scenes are usually different from the rest of our neighboring countries. There are no buddhist or hindu temples wrapped in gold, instead we have towering cathedrals and churches made from stone and bricks that serve as pillars of our faith through ages.
Ilocos houses a number of the finest Baroque Churches in the Philippines. Both time and the forces of nature have tested them, yet they remain strong and standing, a reflection of the Filipino resilience. These are only few of the reasons why the Philippines have been mapped in UNESCO's pages.
The Church of Our Lady of Assumption, or better known as Sta. Maria Church in Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur is built out of bricks and mortar. It was purposely built on top of a hill to act not just as church but as a citadel of the Spaniards, so attending a mass requires a little action climbing up eighty five steps.
Saint John of Sahagun Church in Candon, Ilocos Sur probably's unique identity is painted on its ceiling. The earthquake baroque-designed church is the house of the longest religious painting in the Philippines with 150-feet visuals of the 20 Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle situated at the capital of Ilocos Sur, Vigan, is the religious heart of Ilocos Sur. It is designed with Neo-Gothic, Romanesque and Chinese inspired adornments. The rooster that sits on top of the bell tower symbolizes St. Peter.
While at the capital, it is inevitable to to drop by the most famous street in the northern region. Calle Crisilogo, a UNESCO world heritage site. The street is a remnant of how civilization looks like in the Spanish colonial era in the Philppines. The cobble-stoned streets still make way for the traditional vehicles called the Kalesa, a cart pulled by a single horse. It used to be the mode of transportation of the elite in the past, but today widely carries mostly tourist to circle the heritage site.
But traveling should not only tame the eyes but the stomach as well. Vigan is known for Empanada and Okoy, the local delicacies which is definitely the ultimate stop over after walking on the picturesque Calle Crisologo.
I couldn't really count how many times I have walked the aisle of Calle Crisologo but it still gives me a great pleasure everytime I come back.
Driving up the northern part of Ilocos and we are greeted by more awe inspiring architectures and some lecture in history.
Ilocos Norte has a great part in the political past of the country. It is the hometown of the late president Ferdinand Marcos whose regime remains a hot topic even up to this day.
The St. Agustine Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte is considered one of the National Cultural Treasures of the Philippines. The church has buttresses at the sides and the back of the stone-made church. The three story bell tower which appears like a pagoda is hoisted at the right hand of the church's facade which altogether looks like a rising pediment.
The Malacanang of the North has a peculiar story not only because the history books tell us a lot about it but because the location is also very distinct.
The mansion faces the Paoay Lake which is believed to be enchanted. According to the tale, the lake is believed to be a town where a rich but selfish community lived. The Gods were displeased and so the community was submerged into water where the people later on turned into fishes. Men who came to catch some fishes said they caught fishes with earings still on, they believe these fishes were the rich people who were submerged into water.
Other than the tale of the fishes wearing fancy earrings, the mansion was also very fancy and glamorous. A lot of banquettes and meetings of the past president were made in this building which also served as their residence. It felt like I was brought back in that time and I could just imagine how remarkable it would have been to be present in those moments, wearing fancy traditional wears.
The mansion went through a long journey of legal discussion as the government believe that the mansion was built out of government funds so this was sequestered from the Marcos'. Eventually, the mansion was returned to the family and is now one of the most popular sites in the region.
It is the tallest bell tower in the Philippines, but because of its sandy material, it has started to sink that a person needs to bend to enter.
A stop at the Marcos Museum not only displays a lot of the family's belongings and historical items, but the waxed body of the late president is preserved in a cold dark room which I am not allowed to take photos of. Although I am have reservations in believing, but it is said that this is the real body of the president which is covered with wax and is retouched every ten years.
An ongoing debate whether he should be buried in the Libingan ng mga Bayani (Cemetery for the Heroes) like the rest of the presidents and is the reason why his family has opted to preserve it until they can have him rested in that final resting place.
I truly am grateful that I have roots running up to the historical melting pot of the country. It gives me so much understanding and appreciation of the heritage we live with and the stories I wish I come back to see for myself.