Many times, I was given the chance to settle in another place, but I always found myself on the road leading back to my hometown, Ilocos Norte. Its laid-back charm and everything about it keep me spellbound.
A Adams, a town way up in the mountains at the northern end of Ilocos Norte, is a perfect getaway for anyone yearning for tranquility and a communion with nature. The name alone suggests extraordinariness. Rainforests, exotic flora and fauna, crystal clear waters cascading from mountains into rivers and creeks, a crisp and cool climate, quaint communities uniquely intertwined with mixed indigenous cultures, divine meals prepared from the freshest upland produce and catch — make Adams absolutely amazing.
B The imposing belfry near the foot of the Marcos Bridge is like a sentinel guarding Laoag, the very heart of Ilocos Norte. The historical 45-meter tall Sinking Bell Tower of Laoag with an Earthquake Baroque architectural style, built in 1612, is believed to sink an inch per year because of its massiveness. Legend has it that its half-buried door once allowed a man on horseback to enter. To the Catholics, the ringing of bells is a practice during mass to create a joyful noise for the Lord. To the non-Catholics, the ringing of bells, heard in nearby towns as well, signals the coming of either dawn or dusk, day in, day out.
C Ilocos Norte’s rich cultural heritage is apparent through the several structures that date back to the Spanish colonization period like the centuries old churches and the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse in Burgos. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the San Augustine Church in Paoay, built in 1704, is a sight to behold with its unique Earthquake Baroque architecture with Gothic and Asian influences. The Neo-classic Sta. Monica Church in Sarrat, built in 1779, is a favorite for weddings and baptisms among the locals in the province. The tallest lighthouse in the country, majestic Cape Bojeador, built in 1892, remains to guide ships that pass by the northern portion of the South China Sea.
D Dap-ayan ti Ilocos Norte in Laoag, a brainchild of Atty. Liza Araneta-Marcos, wife of Cong. Bongbong R. Marcos, is a new structure housing a food court and souvenir stalls that sell Ilocos Norte products like chicharon, basi, longganisa, cornik, empanada, suka, abel cloth, biscocho, tupig, wickerwork, broom, pottery, among others. The atrium is a venue for special events like mini-concerts. It is a one-stop shop that saves tourists a lot of time and effort, a laudable project, indeed.
E Aside from visiting me, the scrumptious empanada is the other reason some friends of mine keep coming back to Ilocos Norte. To be able to appreciate the empanada, you have to eat it straight from the frying pan. In case you didn’t know, the empanada has many variations. The Batac empanada has young papaya as one of its fillings and a crust made of rice flour, while the Laoag empanada has cabbage instead of papaya and a flour crust. A few Laoag empanada makers use papaya, though. Both have egg, monggo and longganisa. In Laoag, there’s also the sweet longganisa variation. Sukang Iloko with sili is the perfect companion; others prefer ketchup with their empanadas.
F Fit for royalty, Fort Ilocandia Resort Hotel, the premiere hotel in the north that opened in 1983, is a first class sprawling property that boasts of luxurious facilities, a world-class 18-hole golf course overlooking the legendary Paoay Lake, an Olympic-size pool, a casino, a mini zoo, a spa that offers Chinese foot massage, several restaurants including an authentic Chinese dimsum place, plus great service. It makes the province confident to host the rich and the famous.
G Gastronomic treats, ranging from the slightly bitter pinakbet to the sinful sweet kalti, excite the locals and visitors alike. Restaurants in Ilocos Norte like Herencia Café, Saramsam, Eagle’s Nest Bar and Restaurant, La Preciosa, Dawang’s Place, among many others, offer Ilocano cuisine perfect for the adventurous palate. Worth a long trip is the authentic Italian pizza at Mino’s in Badoc. The buttery spinach ravioli which melts in the mouth is equally good. I also wouldn’t hesitate to go to Kapuluan Vista Resort in Pagudpud just to have a fill of their exquisite kilawin tanguigui or blue marlin with sesame oil dressing. The seafood medley cooked in coconut milk in Panzzian Beach and Mountain Resort is superb as well. Native delicacies like tupig, linapet, patupat, busi, okoy, binuelos, diladila, bibingka, balicocha and palinang are mainstays at the Laoag Supermarket; the seasonal gamet, buos, alingo and ugsa meat are pre-ordered. Slices of Hawaiian mangoes dipped in bugguong and a little suka shouldn’t be missed during summer. Same goes to Ilocos’ version of the halo-halo from a makeshift stand alongside a road. Miki, a homemade noodle soup and hi-bol (a combination of pancit and paksiw) are hearty snacks if you’re on a tight budget. Jumping salad (live tiny shrimps), kilawen nga kalding, kaldereta, imbaliktad, dinakdakan, callente and insarabasab are favorite pulutans. For the caffeine junkies, Tribeca at the 365 Mall in San Nicolas offers original coffee concoctions like the chocolate nut frappucino. Their sugar-free strawberry cheesecake and flourless chocolate torte are healthy indulgence.
H The Ilocano hospitality — warm, friendly and generous (sometimes, to a fault) — is truly remarkable. It contradicts the notion that Ilocanos are penny-pinchers.
I Inabel, also known as abel Iluco, bespeaks the Ilocano creative ingenuity. The different traditional weaves are excellent for accent pieces like throw pillows and table runners. The newer designs with shimmery threads incorporated into it are getting more and more popular, even globally, because they could be made into unique and elegant evening wear. Personally, I like the burbur kind from Paoay which takes the place of a comforter. I grew up not being able to sleep without it. It also reminds me of my one and only nanny who hailed from Suba, Paoay and passed away 2 years ago. She left me with inabel blankets and beautiful memories that I will treasure forever.
J Juan Luna, the world-renowned son of Badoc, is the embodiment of dynamism, courage and patriotism that truly inspire the people of the province, and the whole nation as well. He used his craft to expose the inequity during the Spanish colonization. His award-winning “Spoliarium“, a stirring work of art on canvas, currently on display at the National Museum, is a national treasure. This must-see depicts a dark era in our history. Reproductions of his paintings hang at the Juan Luna Shrine in his hometown.
K Kapurpurawan is a rock monolith hidden behind the hills near the beach in Burgos. By accident, I came to discover the place with sublime scenery just when I thought I’ve seen all the bests in Ilocos Norte. Describing it as breathtakingly beautiful is an understatement. It is a whole new experience out there. I urge you to discover it too.
L Laoag, an Ilocano word for light, is a befitting name for the capital city of Ilocos Norte. It extends brightness to all the different towns in Ilocos Norte. It brings a tide of joy because it offers more than the simple pleasures in life. All get to enjoy what Laoag has today — an international airport, several government and private hospitals, reputable public and private learning institutions (from pre-schools to universities), an air-conditioned arena, a stadium with a sports training center, various hotels that suit anyone’s taste and budget, fine dining restaurants, well-stocked grocery stores, hip cafes and bistros, fastfood restaurants, boutiques and beauty salons catering to the fashion-forward set, wellness centers, novelty shops, a tattoo place and many other happening places. And beyond all the city pleasures is a relatively low standard of living. In addition, unlike the bigger cities, there are no mean streets in Laoag. In fact, in February, the city received another accolade from Malacanang for being a National Peace and Order Winner.
M Manang, manong, the customary terms of respect for someone older-exemplify good values and right conduct. When speaking the vernacular, it is imperative not to forget this; the least one wants is being accused of rudeness.
N New idealism is palpable in Ilocos Norte. The emerging new generation of leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs with promising fresh new ideas inspires and invigorates.
O Onward direction. Vision plus diligence continue to put Ilocos Norte ahead.
P When passing through the Patapat Viaduct in Pagudpud, one cannot resist a stop for a snapshot. From that vantage point, one can view the picturesque Pasaleng Bay; sunrises and sunsets are always spectacular even on a balmy day when it is difficult to tell where the sea ends and the sky begins. The surreal experience evokes a sense of romance and adventure. I don’t know, but it reminds me of old foreign movies. Perhaps, yours is a different feeling.
Q Who doesn’t have quirks? Some find it hilarious, or pointless, but the Ilocano culture has numerable quirks and kinks that only the Ilocanos truly understand. A case in point is the famed Ilocano frugality which has found its way to in-jokes.
R Resiliency has always made the people of Ilocos Norte rise above any adversity. History proves that we can easily recover from even the harshest condition. Post-Marcos era, we were able to prove to the rest of the nation that we can stand on our own.
S Ilocos Norte with its stunning seascapes is a perfect destination for the lovers of sand, surf, sea and sky. The secluded beach in Masintoc, Paoay, a picture of peace and quiet, is ideal for soul-searching. Pangil in Currimao is safe for little kids who enjoy snorkeling. Maira-ira Cove in the world-famous Pagudpud is wonderful during the summer months. Way up north, it gets rather chilly before and after the summer break. Badoc Island likewise deserves a revisit. The distinctive sky-high sand dunes in Suba and La Paz were locations for scenes in movies such as Tom Cruise’s Born on the Fourth of July and Mel Gibson’s Mad Max. In the country, it is only in Ilocos Norte where a wild 4×4 adventure ride on a desert terrain is possible.
T Tried and tested, that’s the edge of a person coming from Ilocos Norte; and anywhere you put him, he is most likely to succeed in his job or career. The same goes to all Ilocanos. Since time immemorial, productive work is what the Ilocanos are known for.
U Up-to-date is a word to describe the average person in Ilocos Norte when it comes to information, ideas and style even if in terms of geographical location, the province is distant from the country’s megalopolis. Every clan in Ilocos Norte has a relative abroad, so it explains why you could spot someone in Hilfiger or Nike in a far-flung barangay. Naka-iPod pay, di ngamin?
V Verdant and clean, a compliment the province usually gets from visitors. It is evident when one cruises the highway where green fields, trees and flowering plants dominate the surroundings. In other parts of the country, it is rare to find something similar.
W The windmills in Banqui, built by the Northwind Power Development Corporation, are a sign of the province’s onward direction. Very eco-friendly, the windmills supply electricity to 40 percent of Ilocos Norte. How we wish the electricity rate is pocket-friendly too.
X X-hilaration! It is what one gets when in Ilocos Norte — where unspoiled natural beauty abounds.
Y The yardstick against which all new leaders in the province are measured since the late President Marcos remains to be him — the Apo. He was brilliant and left the nation with many accomplishments including the thousands of laws he has written that are still in force and in effect. During his time, the province was solid with no political bickering at all.
Z Zeal, or passionate ardor in the pursuit of anything, the quintessential mark of an Ilocano, has put Ilocos Norte where it is today.
[top photo by Rudy Liwanag]