It’s our day three in Ilocos Country. Dawn is over and we’re back on the national highway from farthest Pagudpud returning to Laoag. The road down to Laoag skirts the sea. Occasional views of tempting foamy surf and mocha sand would come up then would just abruptly disappear from our view.
Laoag is Ilocano word for light, which perhaps explains why it earned the sobriquet as the Sunshine City. Fittingly, the radiance from the scorching summer sun also describes our approach to the bustling capital of Ilocos Norte.
A common sight along roadside stalls in Laoag are the sacks of salt, fermented bagoong isda, bottles of that brown northern vinegar called the sukang Iloko and fat garlic lies, which actually an important ingredient of the flavor-rich Ilocos longganisa.
Ilocos is a region known for growing rich crops that thrives on poor soil like tabacco. In 1780, a Royal Decree of King Carlos III established the Spanish government absolute control in the tobacco industry.
This created abuses on the part of the Spanish officials to the native tabacco farmers. Injustices resulted to its abolotion. The Abolition of the Tabacco Monopoly Monument across the brick-covered Ilocos Norte Capitol commemorates this movement.
But even before the Spaniards introduced tabacco in the 1700s, Ilocos Norte’s main products has been rice, corn, onion and garlic. Evidence of it’s former wealth in agriculture can be imagined in its old church. Built in 1612, the Church of San Guillermo Ermitaño was looted by a chieftain from a neighboring town named Gaspar Cristobal and with the crown he took from the statue of the Queen of Angels, they crown his father-in-law, Pedro Almazan as king of Laoag. The church was damaged by natural calamities and fire and was rebuilt several times through donations from wealthy parishioners. The newly-plastered pyramidal structure we see today was renovated in 2005.
While the church seems to be a caricature version of an old colonial structure, it’s bellfry looks figuratively and physically disconnected from its centuries-old partner. Similar with Ilocos Earthquake Baroque churches we visited, the massive brick and stone bellfry was built several meters away from the church building. And like the Tower of Pisa, it is reported to be sinking an inch to the ground every year.
From Laoag we went to the town of Paoay to see Ilocos’ most celebrated colonial church. From the road, we can see the Oriental spires that resembles those seen in Javanese temples in Angor Wat and Borobodur. The San Agustin Church is supported by massive buttresses found nowhere else in the country. Thus, it rightfully deserves to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site –another architectural feat that every Filipinos should see and can be proud of.
Just across the Paoay Church is Herencia Café. The café looks like French Café with murals depicting local scenes in the town of Paoay. So what’s in here? Herencia Cafe is well-known for its Pinakbet Pizza – such an unusual treat we enjoyed up to the last slice.
Ilocos Norte has also earned the nickname as Marcos Country. Batac is known as the familyseat of President Ferdinand Marcos. The waxed remains of the former dictator has become an attraction in the Marcos Museum and Mausoleum. And there it is! Surrounded by Gregorian music, in a dark chamber is the corpse of Ferdinand Marcos incased in glass.
Our dark and morbid imaginings quickly faded away while we watched intently how the famous Ilocos Empanada is made in stalls near the church of Batac. Using her bare hands, a woman took out small balls of bright orange dough. She then rolled them out and placed the filling of mashed monggo beans, grated papaya, the Ilocos longganiza and a whole egg before folding the laden dough circles in half. Trimming the edges with a plate, the empanada is slipped into scalding wok filled with oil.
Excited and starving, we dipped the crunchy and piping-hot Ilocos Empanada into the tangy sukang Iloko before grabbing a bite.
Leaving Batac, we stopped by to Vigan to shop for pasalubong and pick-up some souvenirs before finally hitting the road on the way back to Manila. By the time we passed through the iron-braced Quirino Bridge in the town of Santa, raindrops began to sprinkle our windshield as a sign of blessing for a safe passage home from the Ilocos Country.
This concludes our Ilocos tour. Click part 1 –Vigan on Foot, part 2 –Vigan Calesa Tour, part 3 –Ilocos Earthquake Baroque, part 4 –Cape Bojeador Ligthhouse, part 5 –Windmills of Bangui, part 6 –Pagodpud