Thursday, July 24, 2008

Roaming Ilocos: Around Laoag

From a bit of research on the web, my Lonely Planet book, Mack, the drivers and conductors over at Maria De Leon’s Manila Station, I learned that my hotel was just nearby and an easy hop via a tricycle. Although some of these “references” indicated I could actually walk to it, they were unanimous that it would have been a bit of walking. Then I said to myself… I walked 7kms going up to the Dambana Ng Kagitingan in Bataan, so why can’t I walk the maze of this quaint little city? And walk I did as the first order of the day! I had to walk around and start roaming the city until noon since I knew from a previous call that I won’t be allowed to check-in at my hotel until that time anyway.

With my weekend pack comfortably on my back, camera strapped to my right hand and a lighted cigarette on the left, I started walking towards the city hall. I know that the center of town is always a nice place to start and in this case, it was just one corner bend away anyway hehe! At 0749H I passed by the side of the city hall and it was already starting to pick with loud music of sorts. I realized from the many signage and streamers that there was a job fair sponsored by one of the big telcos. Walked past it and at 0751H, I was already at the Tobacco Monopoly historical marker and obelisk taking a picture of the city hall! Hmm, I suddenly recalled from my high school history about atrocities of Spanish government officials during those times – circa 1780’s. I mused… “so why am I wondering that some government officials in this country are abusive? It has been so three centuries ago! It has been in our blood all along anyway hehehe"!

Roaming the plaza brought in some historical facts I either have come across and forgot or have not yet known to this date. There is a historical marker (the kind made by the National Historical Commission) that pronounced for all of us to remember “Santiago A. Fonacier y Suguitan” who was both a statesman and a religious leader. And I silently laughed asking myself “so why do I wonder that priests and bishops run for mayor, governor or congressman in this country… it has been in our blood all along since the 1800s… and this mighty great Suguitan, a fellow maroon, has even became a hero”! Not uncommon after all!

Oh the morning view of the Marcos Hall of Justice is cool and calm though not camera friendly due to the tall trees that line its frontage. And I told myself "sorry camera, earth has to prevail, so I would rather not get a good view of that building – if only for them trees to green mother earth"! Another historical marker in the said park told me that Laoag became a city on 19th June 1965 c/o Republic Act No. 4584 sponsored by Congressman Simeon M. Valdez during the 4th session of the 5th congress of this country. Whoa! Wala lang, I just know now that Laoag City is 40++ years old, yun lang hehe! Across from the other end of the plaza/park is the provincial capitol of Ilocos Norte – a fine building reminiscent of all other capitol buildings in this country – and I got curious why its frontage is dotted with a lot of flagpoles that all bear the Philippine flag. Hmm, forgot the count but it should be near 50! The markers on its walls declare that the capitol building was enlarged and remodeled in 1957 under the auspices of Governor Antonio V. Raquiza and Congressman Ferdinand E. Marcos – Minority Floor Leader of the House of Representatives – elected “Most Valuable and Constructive Solon in 1957”. And the remodeled building was inaugurated in December 28, 1958. See?! I learned a lot!

First curiosity… like many other cities and towns I have seen, Laoag also has street corners bearing two street-markers. But I have known from long ago somewhere that this is a political phenomenon (a.k.a. corruption) than anything. How and why? The incumbents would decree to contract someone for the creation of street signs (so they can earn hefty “gifts” for awarding a contract) even if there still are existing, clear and sturdy street names. Then they can add to their list of accomplishments something like “installation of street signs in all corners of the city”! O di ba sosyal?!

At 0805H, I found and was in front of the Museo Ilocos Norte. But it was still an hour ‘till the doors open so I took quick shots of its outside. This fine aged-looking building is actually just behind the capitol.

First interesting sight… an old Spanish-style wooden house with capiz-windows still intact, still looking good, still habited, maroon roof AND painted PINK all over! This one ceremoniously sits at the corner of General Antonio Luna and Don M Farinas streets. Quite a catchy sight! The pader is low at about below waist so it does not spoil the total view of the house even from afar. The window frames are painted white to complete the "dainty" look of this olden house. Oh yes, while this is in the very middle of the city, it is surrounded by trees and other greenery making it more interesting. And finally, as anywhere, your view of the house from any angle is unfortunately muddled by a lot of crisscrossing electrical wires that look like strands of hair from hell! Hehehe, oh well...

Still wandering around the vicinity of the capitol, I chanced upon what is called a “Dap-ayan Ti Ilocos Norte”. I did not really recognize what that sign truly meant but I had inkling that it probably meant some kind of a market or trade area or gathering place or something. The signage attracted me to it so I peeked in. Hmm, it’s a square lined on all sides by stalls that sell from anything to everything – at least by the looks of it since most were still closed while in some, the crews were preparing to open their “establishments”. Just told myself “I will probably come back and visit this place later in the day”.

Back at the city hall, I went in via the main entrance (the job fair is happening way at the back). Owing to the dark brick-like style of its walls, the passageways in this city hall is dark and kinda eerie before it starts to bustle with people. And contrary to other city halls elsewhere, the passageways are rather narrow than usual. I was sure this place would be cramped and packed with people milling around during weekdays. There is a G.I. Shop inside and I just had to peek in since the name caught my curiosity. I instantly thought it was a military store. Inside the city hall? While still closed, I settled my forehead on a glass wall and there I saw what the G.I. shop was – a Genuine Ilocano Shop! Coolness! Then again, it was still closed – and I thought probably will never open as this was a weekend. Oh well!

Couldn’t take a better pic of the city hall’s facade. Its cramped too with a not so wide parking area and the highway just a few steps away from the building. But I liked those government vehicles painted white and tastefully liveried (I know those are the sticker types) with the scenery and tourist spots of the place. They’re beautiful!

Skirting the city hall towards its southern side (I was like walking back to the Maria De Leon
bus station), an aged building caught my curiosity and walked towards it for a clearer view. It’s called the Alejandro Building erected in 1932 and the second floor now houses the Bureau of Immigration offices while at ground level are some sari-sari store, a photo copying business and Gordion Travel & Tours. Visited this travel agency that has just opened their doors for the day and asked for tour rates, picked some leaflets/info sheets then decided they were too expensive for me (alone) to avail of. But the two ladies in there were helpful enough in giving me pointers and useful information on how I can roam alone taking public transport.

Walked back and past the city hall, under the bridge and emerged upon the entrance to a nice looking church that is overshadowed by the colors of a McDonalds store sitting right at its entrance.
In fact, McDo covers a big portion of the church’s very wide frontage. Oh so this is the St. Williams Cathedral built by the Agustinians in 1612. Nice structure, nice renaissance-looking architecture – or perhaps it is! Historical piece here! It has seen a lot of good and bad times since the original structure was built in 1580. It has seen wars and even fire but is now still fine. I got those quick infos from a little old lady about to enter the church for prayers whom I “ambushed” and engaged in a little hushed chat about the church! She spoke English, even if I tried to converse in Tagalog. She sounded just like my high school teachers and I discovered she should, since she is a retired school teacher in the first place. Very engaging old lady though I don't expect her to come across this story in her lifetime hehe! She even blessed me with her right hand in my forehead saying "may the Lord guide and bless you while you travel around Ilocos". And I thanked her profusely, almost instantly even hugged her to say goodbye (as I would my Lola when she was still around), but I immediately caught myself and avoided the act as I thought the elderly people here might still be too conservative to hug strangers. Hehe, just my thought - no proof there whatsoever!

Far and across the street from the cathedral’s side is its famous sinking bell tower. I mustered that in the past there probably was no street here but just a wide grassy space as can be seen of many churches. This time however, aside from the big street, the tower is kissed by a house right on its side where there is a sari-sari store that sells everything including the famous cellphone loads (top-up). At least the front (the area that kisses the street had been plastered with a historical marker and a little cordoned-off area if only to announce the significance of this bell tower. I asked people around if anyone can enter and climb up the tower (for I could not see where the entrance might be. They answered that yes anyone can enter but the person in charge was nowhere to be found. So I moved on and found a Jollibee!

Breakfast at 0840H – and as if I do breakfast when in Manila, asuuus! But the long “sleepless” trip probably got my innards rumbling so I did my usual meal (C1 + K1 both regular coke) when inside any Jollibee store! The eating area is expansive and looks more like the canteen of a hospital than a street corner fast food restaurant! While eating, I got a little alarmed at some men outside the store regularly darting their glances at me. This is the bustling palengke area in the first place so I first thought of them as muggers. I later found out they were tricycle drivers hoping to get me “for a ride” – whatever I mean with that! And mind you, Laoag is a very friendly place.

Then, curiosity shifted my attention to a table in front of mine where a dad (foreigner) and little lass of about 3 (mix-breed) were conversing while the mom (Ilocana obviously) was getting their breakfast at the counters. One time I heard them blabber in a European language (probably Dutch or German), then the father said “awan pai” and slowly repeated to the child “a-waaaaan pai”. Then they laughed and kissed and embraced. I smiled having learned the banter was all about language. When the mom came with their food, the little dear muttered something in that foreign language then pointed to something saying “i-na-poi”. And the three of them laughed. I know she was saying “rice” in Ilocano. What a jolly Eurasian family! Or should I call them a “Eurocano” family hehe! A heartwarming sight for me indeed!

There was a time I stood up to get water from the counter but was hesitating if I should bring my backpack and camera with me. The guard saw me and readily said (in straight and perfect English): “it’s okay sir, I will watch over your things”! And so I left the backpack on my table but still brought my camera to go fetch
water half smiling and I know tumaas ang kilay ko! What that guard just said busied my happy curiosity. His use of the word “over” in that sentence is uncommon amongst Filipinos speaking English – even in the corporate world. It was just too 'learned' an expression for a guard to say. The “English” curiosity was suddenly wiped off my mind though, as I got my drinking water since some three or four crews were in one corner busy with a lot of giggles propping up the Jollibee mascot. It was obviously new from the looks and color of the material and how they coached whoever was wearing it. I thought hmm, this must have been the first time this store got their mascot hehe! They were having fun at it and so was I watching them. Shortly the mascot walked out of the other door, unto the street where children followed him. Whoa! It/He walked a few steps and rode behind a truck which I thought was going to be a motorcade. Nice day!

Oh on exit, I told the Jollibee guard he spoke very good English and he said thank you sir with a GI smile. GI? "Genuine Ilocano"! remember? 'the GI Shop'?Then he asked me if I was from Japan or Korea (grrr)! And I probably showed a little irritation by saying “hindi ha, taga Quezon City lang ako”. And he said, oh I’m sorry sir. BTW, 'Genuine Ilocanos' have this cute way of pronouncing “sir”, “garlic”, “proper” and the likes hehe! I asked if I can walk to Hotel Tiffany. The reply was “yes sir, pero medyo malayo, mas maganda sumakay ka na lang ng tricycle (pointing to the men outside the store)”. I asked how many blocks away. Then a Jollibee crew butted in with “aah sir, count three streets from here, then turn left, on the fourth corner will be your hotel and it’s just diagonally across our other Jollibee store, easy to find”. So I walked!

Went up to the front desk (2nd floor) and as expected was told that check-in time was still 12NN. I asked if I can leave my bag at their desk so I can roam around without lugging it along and they agreed. So, took out my body bag with the camera and batteries (and lonely planet book) already inside, went to their lobby comfort room to change my shirt and off I went walking to the museum. They open at 9AM remember?

The Museo Ilocos Norte is one fine place to start learning about Ilocos. The edifice itself is historic being the 'Old Tabacalera Building' built in 1878 as the administrative center of Spain’s tobacco monopoly in the country. There is a little excavation on the left corner from the entrance to reveal the archeological past of this place. Am not sure but what is now the floor of this museum seem to have been the ceiling or loft portion of the old building. Not sure but it looks like that to me. Watch out for the wall installations, you should see an aged bronze marker that tells about this place becoming the Ilocandia Museum of Traditional Costumes in September 11 1977 as birthday gift of then First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos to her late husband and president Ferndinand Edralin Marcos. But this place apparently went to near oblivion in the years that followed. Examining the marker just outside of the building, you should see the marble “re-dedication” of this museum by Governor Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos, Jr. on November 12, 1999 to what now is… this museum. That for me is even history enough hehe!

But what can be seen inside the Museo Ilocos Norte? Well, lest you lose the urge to see it for yourselves let me summarize it this way: you can see a whole lot of old farm implements, tools and materials, fishing equipment, traditional Ilocano wear, the typical Ilocano farm house, containers, animal remains, the industries, food, ancestral Spanish era house, furniture, utensils instruments, cooking equipment, weaving implements and materials, musical script, musical instruments, a museum store, etc etc., I particularly liked the re-creation of the “pogon”. Its real and life-size. Wow! Do you know what "pogon" means to them? Uh-huh... am not telling here! Plus, those big jars lined outside one wall of the building... many of them! Y'know what for? Aaa, go there to know!

Now the exit area invites your imagination and tickle your itchy feet all the more with good quality enlarged pictures of the beautiful sights to see in Ilocos Norte! Am glad I visited. Learned a lot! And hey, while visiting this museum, picture-taking is not only allowed - it is encouraged!

Outside of the museum, checked the time… it was just 1014H – midmorning! Happily told myself that I can even already go home right that very minute and I’d still be happy having seen and experienced a lot!

But the best was yet to come!

1 comment :

  1. Nice post, how I wanted to go there but failed due to lack of time. I had the chance to visit Sta. Cruz and Vigan in Ilocos Sur last October, 2010. The ambiance of Heritage Street in Vigan is very much the same as that of Madrid but not the same as that of Toledo, Albacete and Valencia-4 cities in Spain that I had visited last April, 2009.