Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Northern Exposure: Our weekend in Ilocos


In line with my goal of exploring more of my own country, I keep my eyes open for good deals and promotions that give me the opportunity to do so without stressing my wallet nor my boss :) So when my good friend and travel buddy, Nena, called to say a local airline was having a seat sale for Laoag (a city in the extreme North of the Philippines), and that I wasn’t even going to miss work (always a plus), I jumped at the chance.


Laoag is the capital city of Ilocos Norte (a province in the northern-most tip of the Luzon mainland). We stayed in Currimao, a short drive south of Laoag, along the shoreline of the China Sea. I feel we couldn’t have picked a better place. I was a great jumping off point for the rest of the region, but more than that, the resort where we stayed was just beautiful – a dreamy sort of place that you would (or at least I would) imagine came from the pages of an old Filipino storybook.


With our endearing guide and driver, we wandered around Laoag, Vigan, Pagudpud, Badoc, Burgos, Bangui, Paoay, Batac, San Nicolas, and many towns in between!

I was so excited for this trip because I had never been this far North. I wondered what to expect. Would it be different from other provinces I had visited? Would it have something, some special quality, which I had never seen before?


Ilocos is a region bursting at the seams with beautiful churches, each town smugly sporting one, from charming red brick to commanding “earthquake baroque”. The sun here is bright and intense, making everything look like crazy Technicolor and lulling you into a blissful sense of well-being. It has endless roads flanked by tobacco and corn, the foothills of the rugged Cordillera mountain range on the east and the deep blue China Sea crashing on the west. It was the birthplace of our infamous dictator who slammed martial law down our heads, as well as of one of our national artists around whom swirled a cloak of intrigue, scandal, genius, and immense talent. It is a region whose cuisine has made its mark on the rest of the country…as fans of pinakbet and Vigan longanisa would agree. It is also the home of bagnet – halfway between a crispy pata/lechon kawali and chicharon – our own pork belly confit and a big part of this journey for me. It is there that the first modern windmills in South East Asia were built – standing sentinel on a bare, windswept beach. For those who believe the ghost stories that have shrouded certain places there, you can always buy a garland of garlic from the many roadside vendors, the garlic small and intense in flavor. It boasts gorgeous beaches, quite literally at the top of the country, where only a few faraway islands separate you from Taiwan. In Ilocos, busy city centers make way for enchanting old towns with historic buildings and cobblestone streets, where you can buy any manner of antique, whether it be a frame for your doorway, a religious icon, or an old initialed spoon for your “props” (if you happen to be a foodblogger).



Did Ilocos have some special quality that I had not seen before? How could the answer not be yes?


I’ll be sharing my highlights from this region, both gastronomic and otherwise, with you soon! Meanwhile, don’t forget to vote for your favorite pizza from the Hay Hay it’s Donna Day round up! :)

32 comments:

Ipshi said...

Wow the pictures look beautiful! It's always great to go on a trip, even if it's through the eyes of others. That being said, you're a great travel writer and bring the new place so beautifully alive for your viewers (notice that im not using the word readers)... im definitely waiting on this one!

Veron said...

Wow Joey, those pictures are awesome! I especially like the garland of garlic, don't see those over here anymore. I remember my dad used to buy them like that at 50 centavos each. I really like that last picture too, shows the passing of time of that structure - simply beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Nice pictures.. What kind of camera are you using? =)

glamah16 said...

Great glimpses into a region I have never been to, This added a whole new dimension to what I imagined the Phillipines to be.One day perhaps...(sigh).

MikeMina said...

hi, Joey! it was really a nice surprise to see you and Nena in Ilocos Norte during the weekend :-)

oggi said...

Beautiful place and excellent photos Joey!
I've never been to the northernmost part of the country except Baguio and hope to visit before I become too old to travel.:)
I agree, those tiny garlic from the Philippines are more potent and flavorful than the bigger varieties, I bet they work better against vampires too!D

Katrina said...

Stunning photos! I'm eager to read the rest of your posts about Ilocos.

Socky said...

I love Ilocos! My first trip there, many years ago, was a joy ride by 4 brave adventurous girls - with me driving hours on end, all the way to Pagudpud (when it had just a couple of resorts), with just a short stop at Vigan. I've done that trip 4 times hence. The reason Ilocos is beautiful is its people's sense of pride for their place and history. It's so palpable!

Barbara said...

What a fabulous trip Joey. You must look out for some special to Australia. The routes are really opening up between Australia nd Asia with lot sof good fares.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Ipshi! Thank you for your nice comment! I do hope that some of my posts pique other’s curiosity about the Philippines :)

Hi Veron! Thanks :) My garlic, albeit no longer 50 centavos (wow!), is now hanging at my kitchen door…I love it! There are so many “scenes” like that, that show the passage of time, in this region…

Hi Anonymous! I used a Nikon D40X :) A new acquisition, this is the first out of town trip it has been on!

Hi Glamah16! Glad I was able to add a little something to your picture of the Philippines :) There is really much to do a see here!

Hi Mike! Super!!! I was so happy to bump into you and finally meet you :) Such a nice twist of fate :)

Hi Oggi! Thanks :) I have been to Baguio too…another place with its own distinct personality…although SM mars the landscape a bit now :( I hope you do make it to Ilocos one day! :) Yup, the garlic is a lot stronger…and I’m banking on it to keep the vampires away, hehe! ;)

Thanks Katrina! More soon (well, as soon as I can manage…heehee) :)

Hi Socky! I agree with you 100%...the history that surrounds the place and the pride of its people is almost like a tangible presence. Oh! I can imagine what a wild and wacky (and super fun!) road trip that must have been :)

Hi Barbara! I hope so! I actually have some family in Australia (Melbourne) and yet I have never been…then I can also say hi to you and Donna :)

Midge said...

Hi, Joey! Ilocano architecture is just plain magnificent. Your garlic pic was stunning - and I hope you were able to have some of those tasty Vigan empanadas!

christine said...

I'm going to post about the trip soon as well, while it's still fresh in my mind. :) As usual, travelling with you was a blast, I'm so so happy you could come! Here's to making more memories together. :)

psychosomaticaddictinsane said...

i should go back to norte. the last time i was there, i was still in my mommy's tummy. :p

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

You lucky girl! Can't wait to see the spoon and what you serve with it.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A wonderful weekend! Those pictures are really breathtakingly beautiful!

cheers,

Rosa

ChichaJo said...

Hi Midge! I agree, it was magnificent and I so enjoyed seeing it all :) Yes! We did have the most delicious empanada...in Batac instead of Vigan as advised by a local...will be posting about this soon!

Hi Nens!!! I'll cheers to that! I had such a wonderful time :) As usual! Here's to more adventures :)

Hello Psychosomaticaddictinsane! Oh you should! Especially now that you are able to actually see it :) So your mother was from the region? :)

Hi Amanda! I got a fork too :) Both really old and battered looking but with initials...which is what I like :)

Thanks Rosa! It was such a fantastic weekend away :)

Marvin said...

Awesome Joey! My mother's side of the family live in Ilocos Norte. I visited them in 2000 and still remember how beautiful it was. I'm looking forward to the rest of your posts and wondering if I've been to the same places.

mtan said...

Joey, whatcha worrying about? Your photos are gorgeous!!! I love the windmills on the beach shot.

Em Dy said...

Ang ganda. I've never been to Ilocos too. I'll check out that airline sale now? Would just the weekend be enough?

Marketman said...

The photos are stunning, and I gather the trip was wonderful... I loved our visit to the North... can't wait to see your other posts on the trip!

Susan from Food Blogga said...

What a glorious place this is, Joey. Enjoy!

Bordeaux said...

Stunning! Now I wish I rather went north when I visited some years ago. Ilocos looks so lovely. Jealous of your trip!

ChichaJo said...

Hi Marvin! Wow! How nice to know your mother's side is from there :) It really is a beautiful place!

Hi M! Thanks! :) I'm just still getting used to this camera and shooting outdoors, without a tripod, using different settings, whatever...but it was great that Nena was there to help me! :)

Hi Em Dy! Go check! They have regular promos so you just have to keep checking, or sign up for their alerts. We took the weekend and were able to cover a lot thanks to our trusty guide/driver who was fantastic and really endearing to boot! Shoot me an email if you want our itinerary and his contact details :) That being said, of course, at the end of the day, we wished we had more time to linger in all the places we visited! So if you can throw in a couple of extra days...better :)

Hi MM! It really was amazing...I loved every moment...food and otherwise :)

Thanks Susan! It was! :)

Bordeaux! You've been here? I didn't know! Where? When? Nice to know that :) The south is also wonderful in it's own way...pretty beaches, relaxed vibe, and in the extreme south you've got a whole other set of goodies! Isn't Asia fantastic? :)

Rasa Malaysia said...

Joey, I love the second and last picture, this looks like a small town with lotsa characteristics. I love it...will make sure I go to this town if and when I go to PH. I think PH is a great country for tourism, just the islands alone are hard to beat...:)

Sherry said...

What gorgeous pictures. I'd never think of the Phillipines being so lovely.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Bee! Thanks so much for such nice words about my country :) There is really a lot to see...from the island beaches to small towns such as these! Let us know if you plan a trip here! :)

Hi Sherry! Thanks :) Although we still have a ways to go in terms of tourism infrastructure, it is quite lovely and this is only one part of it :)

so simple said...

Joey

Hey your country looks fabulous. Wonderful blue skies. Quite an European feel. We all spend so much time travelling around the world and forget about our own countries. We did a road trip around NZ last year and it was stunning. You will have to do more yourself.
Cheers

ChichaJo said...

Hi So Simple! Thanks! :) Up North, in towns like Vigan, there is an old European feel to it...as we are an archipelago though, different island groups can have totally different cultures and scenery...it's a great place to explore :) I agree, we need to travel in our own backyard and not take it for granted :) I hear NZ is an amazing place!

Snehal said...

Gorgeous Pictures! So richly steeped in culture and tradition:)

ChichaJo said...

Thank you Snehal! :)

Erika said...

you take absoltuly breathtaking pictures.

ChichaJo said...

Hi Erika! Thank you! :)