Thursday, July 24, 2008

Roaming Ilocos: Sarrat

Done with the educational visit of the Museo Ilocos Norte, next hop on my itinerary was to visit Sarrat. Wanted to once-again see how this sleepy little town was, after many years from my previous visit where I was amused to hear that all its Barangays are named after saints. Ultimate purpose was to perchance take more recent pictures of that dilapidating little replica of the Malacanang palace from which Irene Marcos departed on a kalesa to wed Greggy Araneta at the town’s enormous church.

Yes, I have known long before that this place was the birthplace of the late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos and I intended to snap a photo or two of their ancestral house. Plus the church, and probably more. I was in for some surprises!

Going to Sarrat
Asked the very helpful counter lady at the Museo Ilocos Norte on how I can get a jeep ride to Sarrat. Her advice was ‘if I really did not want to just hire a tricycle all the way to Sarrat (7km of good roads), then I should ask to be whisked to the jeepney stop (called Sarrat Paradahan or something similar) for the Laoag-Sarrat route. Asked her how much the tricycle fare would be to that jeepney stop and her ‘a bit unsure’ response was “probably within ten pesos”.

Took a tricycle right in front of the museo and was a little alarmed when it stopped to drop me at some “residential” street corner. When I saw that there was a waiting jeep with a sign that said “SARRAT” though, I thought this was it. And that was really it hehe! I expected to see some kind of a bus or jeep station where many vehicles parked, but was surprised to be on just the side of a narrow, almost desolate street. Paid tricycle driver P10 and he said it should be P12 – so I gave two pesos more.

The Sarrat-bound jeep was still empty and I was told that its predecessor has left just less than a minute ago – which I immediately recognized to mean I’d have to wait for centuries before I get delivered to Sarrat on a Saturday and at almost midday! Wow Philippines hehehe! So I stayed in the jeep for about a minute puffing a cigarette and thinking what best to do.

Got off, walked to a nearby building and asked the guard how much would be the acceptable fare if I commissioned a tricycle to Sarrat instead of waiting for the jeep. He said fifty pesos would probably be enough but he was not sure as it depends on the driver. Next I just caught myself hailing a tricycle and asked how much he would charge for bringing me to Sarrat. The initial response was P70. Then I asked how much if I also rode with him coming back. The surprising reply was P180. The Manilan in me (always thinking every stranger is a swindler hehe) thought I was being had but still pressed on to ask why. The plain and laudable answer was: that meant he’d have to wait for me therefore depriving himself of earnings being stagnant at a corner waiting for me instead of shuttling paying passengers. PLUS it might even have meant extra gas for him if he had to tour me around Sarrat. Yun naman pala! I know that now! Alright, there is after all something you can get out of trying to haggle!

Part of (the bad boy in) me was saying I can pay this guy a mere two hundred pesos for that one way fare to Sarrat, just so I can be at where I wanted to be swiftly. But somehow, something that my father kept telling us a long time ago, all of a sudden came to mind – and that is – being responsible tourists. The logic is: if you give more than enough or more than the standard or more than expected, that “kind” act could easily spread like wildfire amongst service providers. That (potentially and unnecessarily) would tip the scales causing all of them to raise price levels, thinking tourists in general can afford higher rates. Thus, I thought I had to be responsible this time and went back to haggling for P50 one-way Laoag-Sarrat since that was what the guard “estimated” as “acceptable fare” hehe! The driver lowered his bid from P70 to P60 but I still kept my P50 tender hehehe! Ah, I thought mom was clapping her hands and cheering me from heavens above at that stingy attitude I was posing. Finally, nakulitan siguro, the manong acceded to bringing me to Sarrat for P50! Yey! And without anymore word, I hopped in!

The 7km tricycle trip was a mixture of feelings. There was the “wheeeee” experience as the trike zoomed through the generally empty highway. There was the “ahhhhhh” feeling with the wind washing through my face at an amazingly high kph! There was the “uh-oh” feeling that this could have been my last road trip as the trike was traveling at an unusually high speed (at least for me). There was also that uncomfortable feeling like I was a giraffe rammed into a dog’s kennel zooming at breakneck speed – since tricycles in Laoag are unusually made too low and small that their floors are just mere inches from the ground.

Hey, I am not exaggerating, but the most comfortable position for me as this thing traveled was to sit in such a way that my knees were almost touching my shoulders! Why? Because my head kept banging on the roof’s steel frames and the square glass window in front of the cab was too low I could not properly see the sights/road ahead. At times I would even pop my head outside of the tricycle’s cab purportedly to excitedly gasp the fresh air but actually I was trying to stretch whatever part of my body can be stretched hehe! To graphically seal this scenario, here’s more: as I sat inside the tricycle, the driver’s knees were in the same level of my forehead as he drove the motorcycle. So now you can imagine how low the passenger cabs of their tricycles are! It was a great experience nonetheless and thankfully I was alone inside that cab, otherwise I won’t have lasted a kilometer on that ride!

Arriving at Sarrat, I asked to be dropped just by the “Marcos Museum”. AND, please don’t scold me folks, I paid the manong three P20 bills which actually means his P60 bid triumphed! Yeah yeah, nag-haggle pa ako, right?! But I just wanted to, hehe!

Marcos Museum
Hah! Now, I saw that it was open. Thus my chance to see whatever was inside! When I was here years ago, it was closed. I immediately went in. Hesitated at first by the door after entering the house since no one seemed to be “home”. Then I proceeded to view whatever I can on ground floor. As I ogled at the big big big guest book, came the caretaker whose first word was “sir this is the donation box” as if I cold not see it hehe!

I engaged him in some small talk as he was quite jovial for a museum caretaker. He says he’d been a hand of the Marcoses especially Mme Imelda Romualdez Marcos since the 60’s. He told me that this house was of the Edralin’s and not the Marcoses and that the little Ferdinand grew up in this house until he was 8 years old. Hmm, he did not know that I have just read it in that fairly deteriorating brass plate on the wall that said “The President’s Birthplace”!

As this old man’s stories would usually start with real history and wind up towards how this place was uncared for and that he needs financial support, I instead veered towards that topic since he seemed rather interested in that. I asked how much he was receiving from the government or the Marcos family as caretaker of this “museum”, his quick reply was “nothing”! I asked how much would people usually put into the donation box. His stammering answer was “sometimes one hundred pesos, sometimes more”. When I said that museum entrances are usually at ten pesos, his reply was that it was also fine to drop P20. I shook the box and coins jingled! As if I was one who could rescue him, he said that the First Lady nor the Marcoses are not anymore supporting him for the maintenance of the place – reason why there is no electric power in this old house. When I asked where the “donations” go, he told me for buying cleaning materials and floor wax!

Then I posed the question why he won’t abandon the house since he was not being supported anyway. And his reply (which I did not quite buy) was: for the love of the late Dona Josefa and the late president he has to maintain the house. Ehem! Asuuu!

Yes the house is still intact with some signs of decay but there is nothing fantastic to see anymore. I even doubt the veracity of some things on display. Foremost, the “family trees” of the Marcoses and the Edralins – they look like a project of some 3rd grader where names were typed into white paper, cut to strips and pasted on the branches. Ugly! Then, there are blow-ups of old pictures plus a big “Marcos calendar” framed – all distastefully hung on one wall, frames kissing each other. I doubt this is a museum that the Marcoses or the Edralins actually support. There are busts, okay, but those are things that one would probably throw away when transferring houses. There is a bed that purportedly the birthplace of the late president. Even if it really is authentic – one cannot appreciate it anymore as the “displays” look devoid of even a museum assistant’s hand! Now another room has tables with heaps of randomly piled magazines, newspapers from yesteryears all of which contain either works of, mention of, or pictures of the late Dona Josefa – a respected educator.

Irene’s Guest House
Wow! On my last visit, I felt pity on this building for it was left to slowly decay with the elements and vandalized to the nth degree. But voila! It is now the Sarrat Presidencia (Municipal Hall) and it looks good! The picture at the top of this article is its front. At least my wishes of some years ago metrialized – that they make use of it in some way or another, otherwise strike it down once and for all or sell to some business folks!

I roamed the entirety of the building and while most of the refurbishments are obviously output of some local carpenters, it does look rather grand than when I last saw it! What once was the spacious “lobby” is still a lobby plus some offices. The big kitchen and dining areas are various air-conditioned municipal offices. Upstairs it’s the same… offices offices offices and the spacious Sangguniang Bayan Session Hall! Oh yes, I still caught workers busy fitting tiles to the verandah that overlooks the river. Kudos to all who made this convertion a successful reality! See the names in the pictures… its all of them hehe!

The river
It is not actually a big river nor does it look fantastic as most of its banks are sandy barrenness! But I think that is what actually attracts me to it. Both sides being sandy areas without trees, the river looks like a mighty grace of nature to hold on to, giving life to an otherwise barren space. I like watching the womenfolk flock to one of its banks to wash their clothes. Some dudes too use the river to wash their jeeps, motorcycles or carabaos!

Then again, up near the street are trees where birds frolic! Breezy too, especially in that area fronting the church. Kids and young adults frequent that place at noon to catch the fresh unpolluted breezes!

The Church
The Sarrat Church, Belltower and Convent, one of the (if not the) tourism landmarks of this town is still its good old and new grandeur sitting stoically amidst big trees. The marker tells of this church having razed a number of times. Yes folks, this is where the kalesa ride of Irene Marcos ended when she then walked down the aisle to wed Greggy Araneta. Inside the church, the “ceiling” is composed of trusses and a lot of beams exposing the roof. I’m not sure if they ran out of funds to finish it or made it so by design. In any case, I think that adds to the rustic feel inside this church with very thick walls.
The old chipped bricks of the big convent building makes it look rather interesting to the visitor to overshadow interest in the church hehe!

Hey as usual, the reconstructed bell tower still looks rather ridiculously cute. The original base of the structure – which is what actually remained in ruins – was retained, and Sarrat folks tried reconstructing it upwards but with a smaller tower that sits on the base. Thus, it looks like what it is now, a funny looking red and brown structure. It looks like a grandfather heavy on the belly hehe! At least we know, that the memory and history of what was once a huge bell tower is retained.

Well, I visited on a noontime so it was hard to witness any bustling human activity – if ever that even happens in this town. The market was quiet, the parks behind and beside the church had nothing but an inviting escape of green grass, plants and trees under a clear blue sky while the mighty sun relentlessly tried to cook everything under its noontime heat! And yes, I envied those folks either just sitting under those big trees or even totally snoozing lying on the benches!

The old municipal building of the town is still there and looks rather well kept but I don’t know who uses it now. There was no one to ask as the townsfolk were probably all trying to catch their well deserved siesta on such a hot day!

Ah the Ver house is not a museum as it is still quite a residence and well maintained. So I did not dare trespass. It is still (and always) a nice sight from out in the street though!

Then I hailed a trike to return to Laoag. This time, the rate was P60.

I enjoyed this roam… really!


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