“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” -Marcel Proust
(Part 1 of 3) DAY 1. Laoag City. The City of Sunshine.
The first thing we feasted on in Ilocos was their famed empanada – a stuffed bread commonly sold on the sidewalks. What makes the Ilocano empanada special is the use of unripe grated papaya instead of the usual potatoes; they also fill the flour bun with bean sprouts, a whole egg, and of course, the Ilocano longganisa. Best of all, it can be cooked while you wait which means you’ll enjoy it crisp and warm.
And that was the warm welcome we received before officially starting our three-day tour of Ilocandia. Our first destination was Paoay Church (or the St. Augustine Church) in Ilocos Norte famous for its expansive courtyard and delicate baroque architecture, which earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site accolade. Interestingly, the bell tower is separate from the main church.
According to our second tour guide (who we’ll meet on the third day), there are a number of reasons why the bell towers are separate from the main church. First, the towers were built way before the church. Second, detaching the bell tower is also a form of protection against earthquake damage. Thirdly, the bell towers were originally used not as bell towers per se, but as observational posts of the revolutionaries against the Spaniards. History baby!
St. William’s Cathedral is located right at the heart of Laoag City. Similar to Paoay Church, its bell tower, famously known as the Sinking Bell Tower, is quite far from the main church, this time by around 100 meters. According to folks, the tower sinks because its main foundation is soft sand.
Upon entrance to the Ferdinand Marcos Presidential Center also in Laoag City, you are greeted by a video presentation on Marcos’ reign and a display of some of his portraits, among other important memorabilia. The two-storey center also features some of Imelda Marcos’ custom ternos on display. Trivia: Marcos courted Imelda for only 11 days, according to one of the exhibits!
The Malacañang of the North boasts a scenic view of the Paoay Lake. According to belief, the lake was once a thriving village whose inhabitants were extremely materialistic. A curse came to drown the area in water after the people denied a mystic stranger something to drink or feed on. The lake is supposedly shaped like a palm with five fingers.
Back to the Malacañang building, it is home to old furniture used by the Presidential family during Marcos’ reign. The two-story house has been preserved to showcase the best local architecture and cutlery Ilocos has to offer. It’s an understatement to say antique lovers and collectors would surely have a time of their life going around Ilocos.
Sta. Monica Church in Sarrat is known to be the largest church in Ilocos Norte. Its long aisle makes it ideal for weddings, reason why it has also been a choice location for movies and TV shows. Another attraction is the ruins (Casa del Palacio Real) to the right of the church. The red brick façade and interior make the spot perfect for prenup shoots and even themed wedding receptions.
La Paz Sand Dunes, now called Laoag Sand Dunes was our last destination for the first day of tour. Under the dessert-like heat, there are activities one could try such as the 4×4 ride or sand surfing. But the heat is unbearable even when just taking photos or strolling. The struggle is real.
NIGHT STROLL AT LAOAG CITY. This was not part of the tour but since we headed to our accommodation early, we decided to explore the city by ourselves during the night. And it was still scorching even when the sun was down. There is no scarcity in lights and fountains – that was my first impression. And as someone who loves me some art, the umbrella street art installation which copied the one in Portugal was a sight to behold. Truly Instagram-worthy! We also got to go nearer to the Sinking Bell Tower before grabbing some fries at McDonalds because why not?