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!

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