Vigan at Lent and a Road Trip of Memories

St. Paul's Metropolitan Cathedral

I have always had fond memories of Vigan.  My mom first brought me there almost 20 years ago to trace our Ilokano roots.  The family of my Lola Paring whose surname was Franco, originally came from Vigan.  Her life is  sketchy to me but I do know that by the time she had settled with my grandpa (an Army general) ,  her family had already settled in Pamplona in the Cagayan Valley.  My mom who had been born in Jolo in the Sulu Sea (how exotic!) grew up in Cagayan and only moved to Manila to study at UP.  So we have always been Ilokano.

We made it!

I remember  Vigan with its quiet cobbled streets and the charming bahay-na-bato that ringed the town.  We were fortunate that a friend and church-mate, Manang Carmen was close to the Quemas, hence we stayed grandly at the Quema House along Calle Encarnacion.  We slept at four-poster beds, feasted on longganisa, pakbet, and bagnet on a long antique narra table, and explored the treasures of a bygone era.  Looking inside a writing desk, my sisters and I saw letters in Spanish written in fading calligraphy.  Years later, I was back in Vigan as a college student doing  fieldwork on the dung-aw, the Ilokano dirge, for my degree in musicology at UP, I stayed this time at Fortune Tobacco courtesy of another friend and church-mate whose mother was close to the Crisologos.  It was Lent and together with the dung-aw, I also did research on the leccio, the Ilokano pabasa.    Today, my field recordings and notes on those two musical genres are some of my most treasured and proudest in my collection.

When the opportunity to return to Vigan presented itself via Arthur whose uncle in Caoayan had died, I dropped my Cagayan Valley trip with my mountaineering group to join him and Joey on a road trip.  It has been a loooong time since I took a trip up north and I felt it was time to re-visit.  We planned to leave on Thursday early morning and be back home in Manila bu Saturday late evening.  It was going to be a 12-hour drive each way and we planned to stop anywhere we wanted.  Arthur and Joey would take turns driving as I couldn’t drive a manual car.

On the coast of Narvacan

Of Dad’s Hometown and Talaba

By almost 5 in the morning  we were on the North Luzon Expressway together with about a thousand other vehicles.  Traffic wasn’t heavy yet  but it wasn’t very smooth going either.  We only managed two stops along the expressway—one for breakfast somewhere in Pampanga and another at the Hacienda Lusita complex for a bathroom break.  A bit of clouds made the ride comfortable.  Pockets of heavy traffic clustered near the tollways and became more frequent when we left the expressway and turned to the national highway that traversed through the towns.

This was a really beautiful house inside a small compound

A really beautiful house in a small compound

The bridge at Rosales was still unpassable after the damage by Ondoy so a detour on the riverbed made the traffic slow moving.   “Pozzorubio!”  I shouted when I saw the sign.  We were at my dad’s hometown.  I remember how daddy was so proud of his hometown.  He would jubilantly say “Pozzorubio” with a little roll of the “r.”  I still remember the little red house we used to stay in which was just a few short meters from the beach.  There was always sand on the floor and someone was always sweeping them out.  Yna (who was then called Astrid) would show-off to the local kids our command of English by playing a game. One would say a sentence in Tagalog and the other would translate.  I cringe now with the thought of how boastful we must have seemed and how colonial!  I also remember the pozzo negro which I enjoyed pumping and where I was also too shy to wash off all the sand wearing only my undies.  Other memories of Pangasinan—afternoons watching the men gathering talaba, getting grossed-out on pinapaitan,  vacations at Casa Godino in Dagupan, frolicking at the beaches in Sabangan, being paraded around to relatives who spoke a strange language are all a bit distant and hazy now.  I was no more than 10 years old then.  But because I still remember them, they must have been  good and loving memories.

The "bahay na bato" has often been described as a "wooden house with a stone skirt."

At around 1pm, we stopped for lunch at a roadside eatery at Sison, Pangasinan’s border town with La Union.  I had (what else?) talaba and some cripsy fried shrimps with a plateful of rice.  The talaba was fresh and soft and bursting with taste of the river.  I crossed the highway to the Victory Liner pit stop which had cleaner comfort rooms and returned with some pork bbq for Joey and me.  Arthur said the Sison bus stop was well-known to his family as the place to stop for some delicious bbq.   For Php 30  bucks each, the bbq had to be good. And it was.  The meat was soft and tasty.

This used to be someone's stairs

La Union. We crossed the border to La Union which was a narrow strip of land whose shores were lapped by the South China Sea.  Perhaps of all the Ilokano provinces, La Union has had the most impact on me and my family’s life.  As we grew up, summers at Pangasinan grew less and less until they stopped altogether.   Cagayan Valley where my mom’s family were was just too far and was heavily infested by insurgents then.  Our Ilokano link was La Union where most of our trusted housekeepers and my mom’s church followers came from, particularly from Bgy. Macabato in Aringay.  There was our ever faithful and reliable Claring who would bring me stacks of buho and kawayan which I turned into Kalinga musical instruments.  She also knew Divisoria, Binondo, and Quiapo like the back of her hand so she was our shopper for anything that we wanted from tikoy at Salazar to baskets at the Quiapo underpass to textiles.  Then there were our team of kasam-bahay who were all related in one way or another with each other and all recruited by Claring.  Ate Mely, our cook who inherited the mantles from Ate Cion and who cooked the most delicious pakbet with tomato sauce and liempo.  Our clothes were taken cared of by Ate Fina who later also learned to sew and now runs a modest dress shop in Macabato.  Scandal was courtesy of Ate Virgie who was impregnated by Emilio, our driver from Cagayan.  Some moved back home and some married and a whole set of their relatives took over the tasks of feeding our stomachs and keeping our house safe and clean.    My youngest sister, Balulay and I learned to speak Ilokano from them and I acquired the taste for dinengdeng, ararosep, and bulanglang.    When Irene, Claring’s niece, finally moved back home to get married in Aringay months back, I felt that an important link in our life had been broken.  Claring is living her days with Parkinson’s at her hometown.  At least her brother and sister-in-law, Kuya Rudy and Ate Tonette still keep tabs with my eldest sister.   I only made a single trip to Bgy. Macabato, Aringay.  It was during an altar blessing and I was in a big jeep that ran on dusty dirt roads and crossed a river bed.

We stopped at the Agoo Cathedral which was re-constructed after the devastating 1990 earthquake that shook much of Northern Luzon.  I am not sure if the wall painting of the coronation of the Virgin Mary was the same painting I saw decades back that featured Imelda and Marcos and the rest of the cronies.  I remember it filling the entire wall.  What I saw was a just a few meters tall and wide and there weren’t any recognizable figures, unless I was mistaken.  Unfortunately, as we would also discover when we got to Vigan, the museums are closed during Lent! It was tragic as long holidays like this is peak season for tourists and it would have been an oppotune time to promote the museum.  So we skipped Museo Iloko which was just opposite the cathedral and bought some donuts at Dunkin Donuts.  I asked the attendant what “thank you” was in Ilokano. She seemed rattled and smiled as she thought.  “Thank you din!” I answered.  Then she blurted out, “Anyanak Man.”  Maybe they really do say “thank you” or maybe because I was a visitor and it was just automatic for her brain to shift to Filipino.  I hope it was the letter.  I still say “salamat” rather than “thank you” when talking to a Filipino.  I like the word, “salamat.”  I like how it sounds. It reminds me  of my Malay heritage.

Provincial Capitol

Are We There Yet

One of the nicest things along the national highway when traveling up north are the arches that announce the towns and provinces.  It was with sheer joy when we finally came upon the Ilocos Sur arch. We jumped out of the car and took pictures.  The ride up along the coast starting from Narvacan was beautiful. We took photos along the coast and went down to the shore.  When we got to Santa, the famous bridge where FPJ shot his movies came to sight.  One of my best memories of Ilocos was stopping at the shore along Santa.  I’ve forgotten what month it was but the swells were really huge.  We would hug the boulders near the shore and wait for the swells. When they came barreling down, some as high as 7 meters, we would start screaming and hug on for dear life.  Water would come crashing all around us.  As the water withdrew we would laugh and glee and wait for the next one.  Exhausted we would change at the nearby lodge then clamber back to our van and ride merrily on.

The final stop was at Candon for some halo-halo at Chowking.  At nearly 5pm, we were navigating the narrow streets of Vigan.

El Juliana

All the nice places to stay such as Grandpa’s Inn and Aniceto Mansions were fully booked. Which meant we had no

Tired from all that walking

other choice but to get what was available.  Arthur managed to get a Php 2,500/night room for 3 people at El Juliana Hotel along Calle Liberation just a 5-min walk to Calle Crisologo.  He got the number from an internet link and had to pay deposit in advance to assure us a room.  It was huge place that would have had a really good potential as a top drawer if only the people who owned it or running it, actually gave it a thought.  There was a big swimming pool (Php 100 guests/non-guests) and a large dining area with  2 round tables where breakfast was served.

Our room was tucked in a corner on the ground floor.  Joey and Arthur shared the small double bed while I took the extra bed which was nothing more than a thick cushion placed on the floor.  There was a small tv with cable, a closet, and a dresser.   The bathroom was grimy and we opted to use the dipper and the faucet rather than the shower whose water was trickling.  The hostels I stay at in other countries in SE Asia are so much better both in value and amenities.  The place was also noisy as the hotel was mostly peopled by large families with kids which meant you were awakened in the morning with the sounds of running feet, loud conversations, and screaming kids.

After settling in, I went in search of the famous empanada at Plaza Burgos.  It was all what I expected it to be— fried to a golden yellow, a yoke of  egg  bursts in my mouth as morsels of garlicky Vigan longganiza and mung bean sprouts spew forth from the crispy crust.  For only 30 bucks each, I had the whole of Vigan escapulated in my mouth and tummy.  While Arthur and Joey hied off to nearby Caoayan for the wake, I explored  Calle Crisologo in the waning light of day.

The Mestizo District

An Indio in the Mestizo District

Vigan was enshrined in the UNESCO as a Heritage City in 1999 mostly because of Calle Crisologo, referred to as the “Mestizo District.” Here is where the largest concentration of best-preserved bahay-na-bato are found.  Walking along the cobbled street, Crisologo is beautiful at night when the street lamps bathe it in nostalgic yellow.  Most of the structures are still-active houses where people live.  The ground floors have been converted into shops selling antique reproductions, abel made into towels, blankets, and bed covers, furnitute, the ubiquitous t-shirts, delicacies, and other souvenirs.

TIP:  unless you really know your antiques, don’t believe anyone when they say that beautiful baul is antique.  Well, if you really believe that you can buy a piece of colonial heritage for only Php 3,500 then you really must be a tourist.

The stores make good browsing.  One shop I entered had some old silverware presumably sold off from the ancestral houses.  Looking at the back of the spoons and forks, some had initials on them. I saw some expensive Rogers brand silverware. Perusing them, I couldn’t help but wonder about the fortunes of the families that owned them.  Hwat was their life before and how was it now?  Why did they sell their silverware?  Was it because of fortunes lost or simply because they had no need for them?  A lot of the items are really nice especially the furniture.  I would have bought some if I had the budget.

Looking-up at the houses, it is sad to see the kind of neglect and apathy we have for our architectural heritage.  Except for a few really preserved and restored structures, some seem to be being left to decay to the elements.  Eaves and beams are falling off, the wood is rotting, and paint is peeling.  The people taking charge of Vigan and other hertiage architecture should head off to nearby Macau and Melacca and Penang in Malaysia to see and learn how things should be done.  No wonder, Vigan rarely has oversees visitors.

A lot of people were on the street but not too many to make it feel crowded.  Then I heard someone calling me.  It was Dan Gil!  He was there with his family but they were heading back to Batac where they’re staying the night. Small world! Walking to the end of the street, right behind the monument to Leona Florentino, was Max’s Restaurant.  What could have been a pretty statue of  Ilocos’ literary giant located on the center of the street was obscured by the logo of the strutting rooster.  Whoever approved that building of Max’s Restaurant should be sent to the gallows or deep-fried like an empanada in a vat of boiling oil.

Plaza Burgos in the evening was filled to the rafters with people eating at the stalls hawking empanada and pre-cooked viands.  I had more empanada and sat down to one stall for a plate of  igado and pork bbq.  There was also a lively night market selling all sorts of stuff, mostly cheap clothing.  On the left side of the square was McDonald’s, National Bookstore, and Jollibee. At least, they were in toe with the architecture.  I half expected a Starbucks somewhere.  Thank goodness there as none though I did see a Guess and Levi’s shops.  I like walking at town squares in the evening as it’s a great time to mingle with the locals and experience the town.  There was a crowd just enjoying the cool breeze in the evening while children played.

Going back to the hotel, I took a detour and walked at the street behind Cafe Leona and stumbled on Grandpa’s Inn.  Hungry for more food, I had some pakbet and bagnet for take out from the inn’s Cafe Uno.  I had read in blogs how good the food was at Grandpa’s and how it was so much better than Leona’s.  The pakbet was good but the bagnet was quite tough and not crunchy at all.  I guess because the food was just taken from the buffet counter and re-heated. According to the server, the buffet was set-up for easy food service which also means that food is re-heated rather than cooked and served fresh off the flame.  However, it took a good thirty-minutes before my take-out arrived.

Vigan On Calesa

After a quick breakfast chow of bland Vigan longganiza at the hotel which came part of our room rate, the three of us

headed to Calle Crisologo.  It was a Good Friday so we didn’t expect much of a crowd. We took a calesa to bring us around the city.  Vigan is one of the very few places where the calesa is still used as transport.  Albeit, slower, it is quieter and more eco-friendly than the noisy tricycle.  I remember back in grade school, on of our local English reading books, I think it was titled, “We the Filipinos” had a story about the calesa and how it used to be referred to as the “King of the Road.”

For Php 150/hour, our female driver offered to bring us to the sights.  A few overcast clouds kept the weather cool.  Naturally, our route first took us to  St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral and just across it, the house of Padre Burgos, he of the GomBurZa fame, which had been converted to the National Museum.  It was closed.  The first stop was at Bantay Church and its bell tower just outside the Vigan arch and its almost iconic bell tower.    Most of the churches in Ilocos are of the baroque type and this one was painted a nice maroonish red with white columns.  Inside, I followed a line of worshipers to a  small cove where the Santo Entierro was.  Fronting the church, on the left was a the brick bell tower.  If Ankor Thom at Siem Reap in Cambodia is synonymous to Angelina Jolie and “Tombraider, ” the Bantay bell tower is synonymous to FPJ and the cult (well at least in the 80s) “Ang Panday”.  Register and “donate” Php 20 at the wooden drop box manned by little old ladies.

TIP:  You definitely DO NOT need a guide for this one.  Just say “thank you” to the guys offering to bring you to the church tower.

We climbed the bell tower all the way to the top and were rewarded with a view of the city and the Cordillera mountain range.  The sight that greeted me at the top were the bells were totally disgusted me.  Vandals (read: bad tourists) had scrawled their “was here” graffiti on the surface of the bells.  Some had even carved their names on the wooden floor planks.  I wanted to scream!  Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!  What kind of Filipinos are these?!!!  If this is how all the bells would look like at historic churches, then perhaps the Balangiga Bells are better off displayed at a museum in the US rather than here.  There wasn’t enough space on top so we had to climbed down when a guide told us a big group was waiting.

Outside the Crisologo House was the bigaa plant from which the name “Vigan” came from.  It looked just like a common green leafy plant  the type you see in a lot of gardens like my mom’s before.  I was expecting something more exotic.  This was not my first-time to visit the house where one of Ilocos Sur’s oldest political dynasties lived.  Congressman Floro Crisologo and his wife, Governor Carmeling were familiar names to me as we had family friends who worked for them before.  An elderly woman greeted us at the door and asked us to sign the registry and make donations. I put in Php 20.00.  She proudly informed us that we could go anywhere we please, ride the carriage on display, and take pictures.  When a large group came in, she suddenly whipped out a portable sound system and started her welcome spiel.  Hahahahahaha.  It looked funny.

Law Office of Cong. Floro Crisologo

We left the group behind and hurriedly started our tour of the house before the place swarmed with people.  Up a few steps, we turned left, past the wall with  mounted  head wear from different Philippine  and stepped inside the law office of the late Congressman Floro.  More than his writing desk and a few pieces of furniture, the center piece were the bloody black and white pictures of his  assassination.   Framed yellowed news clippings hanged on the wall above the display case.  “There will be no recriminations…” read one headline.  I have always been fascinated by the widows left behind by powerful men felled by an assassin.  Ever since Gabriela Silang took up the cudgels for her slain Diego in the Ilocos uprising, I had looked-up to these women as powerful icons of strength and grace.  The picture of then Ilocos Governor, Carmeling Crisologo, her slim figure covered in black, her face framed by a  veil of black lace, saying “There will be no recriminations”  was simply powerful and classy.  On a glass case was the pair of blood-stained  blue pants Cong. Floro was wearing when gunned down while praying at the Vigan Cathedral.

On the second floor were the living quarters.  A small quaint kitchen had an old-style box refrigerator and some cooking implements.  A door opened to a pig-style toilet with three toilet “seats.”  To do your #2, you sat on a hole one of the wooden seats and dropped your poop directly below to the pigs.

Next stop was at Ruby’s Jar at the other end of Calle Liberation.   This was one of the oldest factories still molding the traditional Iloko clay jar called burnay.  At the entrance were stalls selling souvenirs and everyone seemed to be more intent buying shirts and blankets rather than the burnay. I could see why.  The jars being sold were more of cutesy living-room displays rather than real jars that you could really use or display as craft.  I headed inside the dimly-lit workshop where a middle-aged man sat at a molding wheel and offered to demonstrate.  Rows and rows of jars were inside. Deeper into the shop was the original old old kiln, 50 meters long, that was still in use.  Bundles of firewood were stacked on one side.  I read somewhere that a carabao was used to stamp on the clay so it could be mixed and used.  Perhaps the carabao, just like the rest of the burnay makers were on holiday.

For "basi," "bagoong," "sukang Iloko," or water, there's a "burnay" for everyone!

The only downer was  Baluarte.  Structures that didn’t blend with the natural surroundings and caged animals made for one ugly piece of tourist kitsch.

Quirino for President

Our final stop was at the Syquia Mansion where former President Elpidio Quirino lived.  It was the ancestral home of his wife, Vicky Syquia and had been converted into a house museum.  We paid the Php 20 entrance fee and proceeded past a small elegant black carriage.  Judging from its size, they must have been very small people.  From the photographs on display, I learned that the Generalissimo, Chang Kai Shek, had visited the Philippines and even went as far up as Baguio!  There was also a faded photograph of  a rare moment when four men stoody side by side with each other and who would all someday be Presidents of the Republic — Quezon, Osmena, Roxas, and Quirino.

A small courtyard bathed the second floor in sunlight.  The Syquia House was larger than the Crisologo’s and seemed to be in use. There was a modern tiled kitchen with some appliances including a refrigerator and some rooms were closed.  I liked the large and airy dining room with its long table.  Hanging from above were framed drapes that were the ceiling “fans” of before.  Roper were attached to those drapes and pulled by servants to swing them back and forth, thereby creating a breeze.  The ropes were gone and the drapes were merely hanging for display.

I love going inside ancestral houses as glimpses on how people lived before are always interesting and fun.  For example, looking at the clothes on display, the furniture such as the size of the beds, give you an indication on the body shape, frame, and size of the people.    I just wish that more  houses would open up as house museums.  However, rather than allowing visitors to freely roam around, organized tours led by a really knowledgeable guide that follow pre-determined paths should be done.  Casa Manila in Intramuros does that.  I particularly liked how the tours are done at Bangkok’s Vimanmek Mansion and at the Jim Thompson House Museum.  As I see it, people just scatter anywhere and one tour guide I saw at the Syquia Mansion didn’t at all sound or look interesting.  I wouldn’t mind paying more than the 20 bucks or the voluntary donation.

Dining room at the Syquia Mansion. I wonder what they ate?

The next morning, Black Saturday, we walked to the Burgos Museum to find it still closed.  That meant missing seeing Esteban Villanueva’s “Basi Revolt” series of paintings.  We headed to St. Paul’s which we didn’t really have a chance of exploring the previous day due to the crowds.  Being the seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia, St. Paul’s was expectantly the center of worship.  An interesting feature of its facade are the small sculptures of the fu dogs, a contribution of the Chinese craftsmen who probably made the sculptures adorning the  cathedral.

Is that a ballerina among the buttresses? (San Vicente Church)

We took another calesa this time to San Vicente to see the church which Arthur insisted was really nice.  His mom was from there and he remember childhood summers spent going to the church.  After the crowd in Vigan, it was refreshing to have the church all to ourselves. It was painted yellow with white columns and had a facade similar to St. Paul’s.  A carnival was being set-up at the vacant lot fronting the church but the courtyard was empty. A choir was practicing inside, probably for the Easter Mass.  We went up the rickety choir loft.   On one side was the entrance to the bell steeple.  I manged to climb up to the first ladder but didn’t dare go up the second one that led to the bell as it was a little longer and I was quite sure they didn’t have a bell ringer that weighed as heavy as me.  We visited Arthur’s lola at Bgy. Lumong before heading back to Vigan.

This was supposed to be a jump shot at the San Vicente Church

Good Friday Procession

One of the best processions in the Catholic calendar is the Good Friday procession.  More so at a town or city that has

One of my favorite images -- the Mater Dolorsa

ancestral santos. My recollection of my Vigan procession decades ago was one of a very long one with hundreds of followers, beautifully decorated and lit carozzas and if I remember right, at least 5 brass bands accompanying the procession.  I remember holding a tape-recorder in one hand as I followed the long line while recording the band music.   The procession I saw still had the same multitude of followers but instead of 5, there was only one band and it was a mostly group of less than 10 musicians who played behind the Santo Entierro.

We were the courtyard by 5pm and it was filled with people, most of whom had white candles, indicating they were joining the procession. Inside, people lined-up to kiss the cross.  It was almost dusk when the procession started.  Some of the carozzas exited the cathedral through the side so we didn’t get to see them.  Fortunately, my favorite images—St. Veronica, the Mater Dolorosa, and the Santo Entierro all exited from the front door.

Plaza Empanada

Anyone who travels to Vigan has got  to try this at least once.  Vigan Empanada at the Mall of Asia (MOA)  in Manila is authentic but I find the wrapper a little too thick.  And of course, nothing beats having your empanada fix while seated on one of the plastic tables and chairs at Plaza Burgos with the smell of hot oil assaulting your nostrils.  One of the best empanada I had was at a corner of Calle Crisologo.  A woman had set up two tables and a cooking station and made the most delicious empanada. The wrapper was thinner than usual which made it very crisp and her longaniza filling was generous. That didn’t stop me from asking to make me one with extra longaniza. It cost 5 bucks more than the ones in the plaza but it’s definitely better. Dwarfed by its more famous cousin, the okoy is also very good.

Interestingly, except for the empanada we had at Balaurte, the stalls substituted tofu for longganiza on Good Friday.   “Sir, Viernes Santo ngayon.  Hindi pwede mag-karne.  Bukas na lang,” the vendor told us.

Igado bought at a food stall at Plaza Burgos

Longing for Longaniza and the Best Bagnet

The longaniza we had been having with our free breakfast at the El Juliana was a little dry and had none of the garlick-vinegar taste that so makes Vigan longaniza one of the best longanizasE & J’s (Emmy & Jimmy’s) is supposed to be good and is sold at a couple of stores along Calle Crisologo.  But where to go for some cooked ones?  The best we find out was not at any of the restaurants we tried nor at the stalls at Plaza Burgos  but at a corner stall in Calle  Crisologo which had a turbo broiler out front and broiling 2 pieces of longaniza on a stick for Php 20.  Freshly broiled, just wtach out for the oil that pops from the unbroken skin of the longaniza as your bite on to it.  All you need is a plate of rice.  Really really good!

As for the best bagnet, nope, it’s not at Cafe Leona nor at Grandpa’s Inn which had absolutely disappointing bagnet.  It was dry, tough, bland, and the skin was leathery not crunchy.  Better to just simply buy the bagnet from any of the shops, have it chopped (if they can) and just eat it at the plaza at one of the food stalls where you can sit down and order a place of rice and pakbet.  An order of bagnet at Grandpa’s Inn costs Php 175 and Php 225 at Cafe Leona for 200 grams.  A kilo bought at the store costs Php 400.  So do the math.

Leona or Grandpa?

What if you really are hell-bent on eating at an air-conditioned place or are just adverse to eating a street stalls?  Or maybe you want to be able to say to your friends that you’ve dined at those places mentioned in the blogs?  Which is better?  Cafe Leona or Grandpa’s Inn?  Well, for sheer ambiance, Villa Angela, a converted ancestral house surely beats them all competition.  I can’t say anything about the food though as I didn’t eat there.  As for Leona and Grandpa’s, they both failed the bagnet taste test.

Cafe Leona is on the ground floor of the house of Leona Florentino, 19th-century poetess.  It is supposed to be

My own ice-cream mix: take a large cone of cheese and pineapple ice-cream from a street seller then stuff it with yema balls bought from one of the shops. Yummy!

legendary for its cuisine that even Lonely Planet mentions it.    So is it?  The location is, but the cuisine wasn’t.  We had a meal of bagnet and pakbet taken from the buffet table.    It was good but  nothing  really to recommend about.   It as something that we could easily have had at any of the stalls outside.  Arthur complained about the lack of crispiness of the bagnet.  We had a better meal at Grandpa’s Inn though we had the worst ever bagnet there.  It was simply bad as bad can be!  The fried once fried twice fried thrice lechon kawali at SM Food Courts is way more palatable. Or maybe we were just being punished because it was Good Friday and we were having meat for dinner right after watching the procession. The meal was saved by the boogie which was fish eggs and poque-poque, mashed grilled eggplant mixed with a little egg.  Again, these were taken from the buffet table.  Grandpa’s Inn also serves continental dishes such as pasta which a lot of people seemed to be having.  We actually set out to look for E & M’s Fastfood behind PNB which I read in a blog but it must have closed down already as we didn’t see it and none of the police officers we asked knew it so we ended up at Grandpa’s.

Buying Bibingka

Thanks to my procrastination to buy Tongson’s Royal Bibingka and to the subsequent no more stocks, we discovered t a better Royal Bibingka.  Now, Royal Bibingka, more than longaniza and bagnet is taken very seriously in my family.  It is almost a sin to go to Vigan and not come back with at least a box of this delicious delicacy.  So it was sheer frustration not to be able to get one.  I kicked myself for not buying the previous night when Joey got a box of 8 pcs to eat  while walking to Grandpa’s Inn for Friday dinner.  It was still  oven-fresh and it tasted just the way I remembered it.  But the next day at around 10 in the morning,  at the store to buy a couple of boxes, I was told to come back at 1pm as they had run out.  Back at the appointed time, I was told to come back at 4pm as they were all sold out!  I pointed to a stack cooling at the counter.  They were sold already.  There was no pudding too  as they focus all their energies in making Royal Bibingka when demand is high.  On the counter, were 2 boxes of Sylvia’s Empanaditas which were 100 bucks per box of 12.  Out of frustration, I grabbed a box, which was still warm.

DISCOVERY #1:  Sylvia’s Empanaditas which Tongson’s also sells is very very good.  The crust is delicious and the filling is just right.  Even when cold, it still tastes good.

I had seen The Sisters stall somewhere on the road and we decided to just head there.  Filling-up at the Petron station just outside th Vigan arch, we were pointed straight down the road to another bibingka store.  We knew we were at the right place when we saw cars parked in front.

DISCOVERY #2:  Marcia’s Delicacies has mouth-watering bibingka.  It is absolutely melt-in-your-mouth and it tasted  just like creme brulee!   My sisters and I have been weaned on Tongson’s and Marcia’s  was a pleasant discovery.

On the drive back to Manila, I ate 4 pieces before we even got out of  Ilocos Sur.  I also bought a box of pudding and it was just as good. Back home, our driver also said that Marcia’s was better than Tongson’s.  Marcia’s!  Marcia’s!  Marcia’s!


So that was my excursion to a rediscovery of  colonial history and of my personal history as well.  “Viaje Con Dios” the Vigan arch bade us.  We headed back to Manila almost 2pm with a stop at Marcia’s for the bibingka.  Soon we passed the lovely coastal road again and  an hour later detoured to  the Sta. Maria Church, another  UNESCO listed site.  Imposingly sitting on a low hill, the church is reached via stone steps.  In the old days, Sta. Maria used to be raided by pirates.  The church served as a fortress and watch out point. At the plaza, young girls were rehearsing for what seemed to be a beauty contest while a drum and bugle corps practiced their routine.  The sleepy town seemed to be getting ready for either Easter, a town fiesta, or both.

Flying between the buttresses and the bell tower of Sta. Maria Church

Back on the road, we passed the arches one by one.  But this time, instead of reading the town’s names, we were bade good wishes and good byes in Ilokano.  Beside me on the backseat were 4 kilos of bagnet,a box of Sylvia’s Empanaditas which I promptly polished-off, boxed of Marcia’s Royal Bibingka, a box of Marcia’s pudding, a bottle of sukang Iloko, some wooden rosaries that looked like the kind your grandma would have and which I had long been looking for, 2 Ilocos blankets, and  loads of memories both old and new.

We had late dinner at Isdaan at Gerona, Tarlac where we ate our baon of  pre-chopped bagnet with some pakbet and rice we ordered.  Run by the group that owns the Barrio Fiesta and Singing Cooks and Waiters restaurants, it was a quirky place where you dine in small kubo that were scattered around a man-made 6-9 ft deep lagoon and linked to each other by bamboo walk ways.  There was even a narrow pond where you can go boating. On one corner was a wall where you could throw plates, bowls, mugs, and even a television set which you buy there.  For Php 1,500 you could throw that tv set while shouting your stress away!   It was a fun place to stop-over  just chill-out a bit or refuel an grumbling tummy.

The steps to Sta. Maria

Travel Tips

DO eat the turbo-broiled longaniza sold at Calle Crisologo.

DO buy the bagnet at the stores and eat it at the plaza rather than ordering it from the restos.

DO ride a calesa instead of the air-polluting tricycles.

DO stroll along Calle Crisologo at night.  It is heart-breakingly beautiful.

DO patronize the local food stalls, eateries, shops and other business so your money goes directly to the local entrepreneurs and thus benefits the local economy directly.

DO buy blankets made from Iloko abel.  They are my favorite blankets because they’re so light and breathable.  It keeps you warm without suffocating you.

DO call young people ading and older people manong or manang.

DO NOT stay at El Juliana.  Next time, I’m gonna go to either Cordillera Inn, Aniceto Mansion, Villa Angela, Vigan Heritage Hotel, Grandpa’s Inn.

Categories: TRIPPIN THE PHILIPPINES, Vigan | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Vigan at Lent and a Road Trip of Memories

  1. henry

    ummm, pozzo negro is septic tank. you probably meant poso.

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