Visiting Vigan, Ilocos Sur has always been a dream.
I often wondered what’s it like to walk down the famous cobblestone kalye (calle in Spanish) with the occasional kalesa (horse-drawn carriage) passing you by. How does it feel to be in a place which pretty much resisted change, thereby transporting you back into an era that once was?
Three weeks before I went back to New York, I asked my family whether we could spend a weekend in Vigan. The suggestion was met with a resounding yes from my parents. I knew then that that meant a go, because convincing my siblings to miss a class or a day at work was a walk in the park. This was especially true when we had to extend the trip for another night at Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, whose white sand beaches are not to be missed.
After an arduous 6-7 hour drive from Manila on a Friday night, the beautiful city of Vigan, Ilocos Sur greeted us as the day broke. The city is located on the western coast of the island of Luzon, facing the South China Sea (which Filipinos renamed to the Western Philippine Sea because of the territorial dispute between the two).
Aside from Intramuros (Manila’s oldest district), Central Park, and Times Square (those poor horses!), I’ve only seen horse-drawn carriages in Vigan. The calesa, cobblestone calle, and Spanish colonial architecture are what makes this city unique. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Vigan heritage village showcases well-preserved 18th century buildings and mansions, as these were spared from the WWII bombings.
After checking in into a hotel in the heart of historic Vigan, my mom insisted that we go to the Vigan Public Market. Souvenirs, woven clothing that’s a trademark of Vigan, and fresh vegetables are very affordable at this place. My sister and I bought identical wide-brimmed hats for PhP100 each (approx. $2.50). With its top-notch quality, we knew that we got more than we paid for.
I ❤ VIGAN shirts, anyone?
Most of the mansions have been converted into shops or museums. Look closely at this facade!
My parents both came from Ilocano-speaking provinces in the north. However, this dialect wasn’t spoken much in our household so I grew up speaking Filipino and English. So when my family and I heard Mass at the Vigan Cathedral, which is a stone’s throw away from the hotel, my limited Ilocano vocabulary wasn’t enough for me to understand the readings and passages from the Bible. Good thing my sister had a Bible app in her iPod, so we were able to catch up with the readings for that day.
The eight-sided bell tower is just south of the cathedral. Its position was actually the safety measure of the earthquake baroque style: it was built separately from the church so that it would not topple into the church in the event of an earthquake. Its eight-sided design reflects its Chinese Feng-shui influences. (From WikiTravel)
The homes of rich people during the Spanish time were located around the plaza surrounding the church and the administrative buildings. The farther your home is from the plaza means that your family has lesser prominence during that time. The Aniceto Mansion used to be the residence of political and literary figure Don Mena Crisologo. Its connection to Vigan’s rich and historic families does not end there. The mansion which was built in 1840 was owned by Leona Florentino’s father. Leona Florentino was a poetess whose works were recognized by the world even before they were recognized by her countrymen. (Source: Vigan.ph)
Hearing Mass is a family affair in the Philippines. What I love most about Filipino Masses, apart from the family dinners that followed while I was growing up, are the lively and heartfelt liturgical music. There’s absolutely nothing like it.
Walking is my preferred method of exploring. So if you didn’t ride a calesa during your Vigan trip, make sure to take your souvenir photo from this calesa at the shopping area near Plaza Salcedo!
Unlike Manila which slowly tears down the traces of its Spanish roots in order to modernize itself, the city of Vigan has preserved, even embraced, its colonial past. I’ve always felt strongly about saving and preserving Philippines’ slowly “vanishing heritage” – if other countries can do it, why can’t we? I cringe at the idea of demolishing ancestral houses in order to pave the way for high rise condominiums.
Insufficient resources and development pressures are cited as the top reasons for the country’s apparent neglect of conserving the past. I would add apathy and lack of appreciation for the country’s history.
Philippines is now back on track with catching up with its rich neighbors. I understand that at its current rate of development, the country just can’t afford to divert valuable resources away from where it’s needed most – education and infrastructure, most especially. However, modernization at the expense of cultural preservation would prove costly in the end.
I hope you feel the same way I do. Let’s not rob the future generations of the beauty of Philippine history and culture. It’s one thing to learn about history from books and another thing to see it for yourself, to hold a piece of history in your hands.
If there’s one valuable thing I’ve gained from my travels, it would be a newly-found appreciation for my country’s heritage. I look forward to visiting the National Museum in Manila, the Sto. Niño Basilica in Cebu which houses the iconic Magellan’s cross, participating in Iloilo’s colorful Dinagyang Festival, and, of course, basking in the glorious sunset over a white-sand beach.
No matter where I am or where I’ll be, I’ll always be proud of my morena skin, my “fresh-off-the-boat” accent, and my insatiable appetite for rice.
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