Northern Luzon Project: Vigan City, Ilocos Sur

The Northern Luzon series is a photo essay of scenes I experienced while doing a 3-month project for an NGO. The project requires me to travel to several towns in Northern Luzon to document various disaster-preparedness projects.

Okay, so I’ll start this off with a highly debatable opinion: Vigan has lost its authenticity.

For those who don’t know, Vigan City in Ilocos Sur is most known for its well-preserved Spanish colonial architecture. Its most famous street, Calle Crisologo, is lined with mansions dating back to the Spanish era. The street itself is also still lined with cobblestones from that time.

The first time I was there more than a decade ago, I was entranced by its romantic appeal. Although the Spanish colonization was marked with abuse and oppression, there’s no denying that Spanish culture has become an integral part of Filipino culture. For a history nut like me, being in Calle Crisologo evokes a sense of pride for our resilience to hardship and that sense of nationalistic pride for having fought against invaders.

However, my recent trip to Vigan two weeks ago has left me disappointed and frustrated. Somehow, despite having mostly preserved the architecture, the city no longer feels like you took a trip back in time to the Spanish era.

At first I shook it off as mere romanticism on my part. I may have put Vigan on a pedestal in my memories, blown out of proportion from the real situation. After all, it’s been more than ten years and memories tend to become exaggerated. However, the more I walked the streets the more certain I became that this is a new reality so far removed from the last decade.

Eventually I realized what the problem was. Calle Crisologo is now dominated by souvenir shops, trendy cafes, a modern bar, and even a club (though it’s closed now). Sure those souvenir shops have always been there, but now it seems to be the main attraction rather than the structures they’re housed in. I also remember before that food shops offering authentic local delicacies can be found in every block. Now there are so few and they look more like an afterthought rather than a main feature.

The street itself seems to have gotten an overhaul too. The cobblestones, which were what added to the city’s authenticity, now looks more like a badly done replica.

The Kalesas, or horse-drawn carriages, still ply the main Calle offering rides to tourists. I’ve never been a big fan of it though, especially after learning how some horses are not being cared for properly. Still, I guess for a heritage city having Kalesas still operate makes sense. I just wish they’d do more for the proper treatment of horses in a city the gets really hot on most days. I saw some of them with heads hanging, unwilling to move at first until they get smacked on the back repeatedly with the reins.

The museums are still a must-do if you really want to learn the history of Vigan and the surrounding areas. I wish I could have spent hours on each and listen to stories about every item on display. Maybe next time.

I realize that this post is more like a rant based on personal preferences rather than educating would-be visitors. If you found this post hoping to learn more about things to do and places to visit there, then I apologize for disappointing you. You can check out their official website if you need better information.

All in all I wasn’t too disappointed with the city, after all the push of progress isn’t always how we like it to be. But if the things that bothered me doesn’t bother you, go right ahead and enjoy the city! Just remember to be a responsible traveler and have fun!

Northern Luzon Project: Vintar, Ilocos Norte

The Northern Luzon series is a photo essay of scenes I experienced while doing a 3-month project for an NGO. The project requires me to travel to several towns in Northern Luzon to document various disaster-preparedness projects.

The laid-back municipality of Vintar, a first class and the largest municipality in the province of Ilocos Norte, is the first leg of my tour in Northern Luzon. I passed by here a couple of times more than a decade ago, but this is the first time I got to explore it more.

My first impression of it was one of richness, not just in scenery but of the people’s financial status as well. The small towns we passed by, even those on very remote areas, had large and well-built houses typical of rich farmers. The vast farmlands I saw may account for most of the wealth, and in some areas I was told that most families have at least one member working abroad.

There wasn’t much opportunity to take photos on the way to the project location because I can’t just tell the driver to stop so I could take photos. Some of the scenes were truly amazing, especially when we traveled parallel to Bislak River. I did get parts of it on the way back because I sat on the jeepney’s roof, but being on a moving vehicle doesn’t give you much options for composition.

We might be going back another time though, hopefully I could take more photos then. For now, here are some I took. Enjoy!

CSG Sunday Walk July 2017

After more than two years I finally got to shoot in the streets of Cebu City again. Organized by the Cebu Shooter’s Guild, the walk started early on a Sunday morning hoping to catch some activity at the church that was the walk’s last stop. Below are some of the photos I took during the event.

Gear used: Nikon D90 with a Tamron 17-50mm 2.8 lens.

Another yearly tradition done: Christmas night photowalk 2014

It’s that time of the year again when, no matter how hard I resist, the streets become alive and sing that song only walkers can hear.

For the past 4 years I made it a point to do a night photowalk in Colon street where the annual night bazaar is held. I almost didn’t make it this year as I was caught in horrible traffic plus it was raining, but the song of the streets was irresistible. Here are some of the photos I took, click on the arrows at the bottom right corner to see the other photos.

Gear: Nikon D90, Nikkor 10-24mm, Tamron 17-50, Fancier monopod, Benro tripod.

Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk 2014 – Liloan, Cebu

Last October 11 my photography club, the Cebu Shooters Guild, once again led one of the walks for this year’s Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk.

The initial plan was to hold the walk at Bantayan island, with the aim of  documenting and sharing to the world the situation of island almost a year after it was hit hard by typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Unfortunately, we had to change the venue due to bad weather conditions that made crossing to the island very risky. We held the walk at Liloan instead, just an hour away form Cebu City, as it is one of the fast-growing municipalities in Cebu that is still caught between the old provincial lifestyle and pull of modern living.

Here are some of the images I took during the walk.

Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk 2014

For the 4th time in a row my photography club will be leading another worldwide photowalk.

This year’s Scott Kelby Worldwide Photowalk led by Cebu Shooters Guild aims to document and share to the world the current situation of Bantayan Island almost a year after it was hit hard by typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The walkers will focus on 2 things, the recovery and development done so far as well as what more needs to be done.

This will be an overnight trip as the island is quite far from the city where most walkers will be coming from, we will be providing a place for you to stay. In this way, we will have more time to enjoy the walk without worrying about catching the last ferry trip back to the mainland.

If you want to join this walk, you may register here.

Bon Odori Japanese Summer Festival 2014

The Bon Odori festival, a first for Cebu, aims to promote cultural exchange between children of Japan and the Philippines. Held on August 8 and 9 at the Aboitiz Sports Field in Mandaue, the festival showcased different events such as a Cosplay contest, portable shrine, Shinurogudansu, Yukata, and a fireworks display. There were also several stalls selling everything from food, both Filipino and Japanese, to handicrafts that tell of the Japanese culture. All revenue of the event will be donated to victims of typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) as well as the earthquake in Bohol.

I went to the event mainly to shoot the fireworks display, but as I roamed around I began to appreciate the essence of the event. The Bon Odori, in particular, was exciting not just for those who participated in the dance but for people in the sidelines, like me, as well. I was tempted to join in on the dance, which promised an entire year full of blessing, but it was hard to dance along while carrying all my photography gear. Oh well, maybe next time. 🙂

Here are some photos I took of the event. I did not shoot any cosplayer because it was already night and a single flash setup won’t do any justice to their intricate costumes.

My obsession with the blue hour

The blue hour is the period of twilight each morning and evening when the sun is a significant distance below the horizon and the residual, indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue hue. This effect is caused by the relative diffusability of short blue wavelengths of light versus the longer red wavelengths. During the blue “hour” (typically the period is about 40 minutes in length), red light passes straight into space while blue light is scattered in the atmosphere and therefore reaches the earth’s surface. Because of the quality of the light, this period is treasured by artists. Photographers call it sweet light. (Wikipedia)

My obsession with the blue hour started when I saw the works of Yen Baet, a Filipina photographer based in the UK who won the annual National Geographic worldwide photo contest. Since then, I have been trying to chase the blue light every time I go on trips. Below are some of my photos of the blue hour taken in the last 3 (2017 EDIT: 6) years.

Visit my Flickr page to view more of my photos. 🙂

Summer Madness 2014, Argao Cebu

Last May, I was invited to tag along as the official photographer of one of the DJs during the Summer Madness 2014, an electronic music festival held at the southern Cebu town of Argao. The aim of the festival is to promote the tourism industry of Argao, a town often overlooked by tourists who are mostly going to Oslob to swim with whale sharks.

Here are some of my photos of the event, as well as the morning after where we were treated to a feast of seafood as well as awesome landscapes in Argao. Visit their Facebook page for more information.