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!

Lakbayan: All the places in the Philippines that I’ve been to

Life will always be a mess. The goal is not to correct it but to organize that mess.

Ever since I decided to drop out of college my goal has always been to make my life an organized mess. On a certain level, I knew that my whimsical nature is the cause for my determined pursuit of it. But that did not stop me from doggedly pursuing it anyway.

Travelling became the main tool for me to put some semblance of organization into my life, and the group that I was in before not only made it easy but also necessary. Thus, at a relatively young age, I was able to roam more than 80% of the country, from the laid-back vistas of Mindanao in the south and the culture-rich cities of Luzon in the north.

Below is a map of all the places that I’ve been to in the Philippines. This was generated by an awesome app by Eugene Villar over at Codegraphic. The areas with a darker hue are the places where I stayed longest, while the lighter ones are those that I’ve either passed by or been to only once.

I have kept putting off my trip to Ilocos norte before (that’s the northernmost part of the country) due to this silly goal of mine to reserve it for when I’m finally ready to do my own version of a “walkabout”. For those who don’t know, the Ilocos region has plenty of folklore and mystery that would draw anyone in search of the mystical aspects of life. Soon, perhaps, when I can finally find the courage to live like a hermit.

Down south, the only places I haven’t been to are Basilan and Sulu. While I do have hopes of becoming a war photographer, I’m also not that suicidal, and in those areas poke your nose where you shouldn’t and you’ll most likely end up as fish food. Don’t get me wrong though, those areas are generally a good place to visit on a vacation. But for a photographer like me, the air of suspicion and paranoia there might get me into trouble.

Still, more than 80% of the country ain’t bad, and I still have many years left in me to complete it. Byahe na!

My Lakbayan grade is B!

How much of the Philippines have you visited? Find out at Lakbayan!

Created by Eugene Villar.