From our house to Nueva Ecija through Nueva Vizcaya, Isabela and Cagayan and then up to the northern tip of Luzon, then down via Ilocos, Norte and Sur -- this is a road trip that we have been doing for almost 20 years. We had been able to do it annually except that a busy work schedule (mine) got in the way in 2013 and 2014.
I finally retired a few weeks ago so for 2015 -- our road trip was finally going to push through.
We set out very early Sunday morning, incidentally the same day that Typhoon Dodong was scheduled to directly hit Isabela. In short, we would be right in the path of the storm, which weathermen were calling a very strong tropical typhoon.
Either the forecasts were off or everyone had just gotten slightly hysterical about Dodong because when we got to Isabela, we experienced only intermittent rain and dark clouds.
Dodong shifted his attention to Sta. Ana in Cagayan, just 80 kilometres away from Tuguegarao, our pit stop for the night. It was signal number 4 as we drove into the city but there were no strong winds nor was there heavy rain -- thank you to Our Lady of Piat for seeing us safely through this (non) storm.
We woke up to a sunny and dry day -- Dodong had certainly beaten a hasty retreat.
I took an early morning stroll to St. Peter's Cathedral, just a few minutes from our hotel.
The cathedral, built more than 200 years ago is undergoing restoration. It was heartening to see that the parish seemed committed to not making any massive changes to this Spanish-era church -- the biggest in the Cagayan Valley.
After our visit to Piat, we headed towards the tip of Northern Luzon towards Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte. Another favourite and must stop place along the way is the spectacular St. James Church in Yguig, just a few minutes away from Tuguegarao.
This magnificent church built in the 1700s straddles a hilltop overlooking the majestic Cagayan river. The place is also known as Calvary Hills as there are bigger-than-life statues depicting the stations of the cross, spread out across the rolling green hills behind the church.
A jubilant jump for joy -- I am just so happy to be here again.
It took us just 4 hours of easy driving from Tuguegarao to reach Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, which was our base for the next 4 days.
Kapuluan Vista Resort looked the same as it did when we first discovered it years ago.
I wish I could say the same for its surroundings though. Unfortunately the wrong kind of progress has come to this part of Pagudpud.
Jay impressed me with his new found drinking skills. It must be due to Kapuluan's irresistibly refreshing margarita -- the best this side of the world!
While the road leading to Kapuluan is all messed up with horrific development and concrete resorts and buildings, there are beautiful trails leading away from the resort and into the still undeveloped areas. There is hope for this piece of paradise yet.
We laced up our trekking shoes and explored the roads less taken...
Which led to wide open vistas of sand, sea and sky...
And surprising views greeted us at each and every bend of the dirt trail.
We spent our mornings at the beach. This used to be called Blue Lagoon and it was a pristine, amazing stretch of a white sand beach, a worthy rival to Boracay.
But now it is overpopulated with monstrous resorts. The small native huts have all been pushed back to one corner. Still, if I closed my eyes and turned my back on the unwanted development, I could still gaze out at the sea -- no longer as clear or as blue -- and try to remember in my mind's eye, what I loved about this place before.
The best tasting grilled fish came out of a small hut with a sign that said "Palutuan" (Cooking done here). The inihaw na tangigue was so good, we had it for lunch every day we were at the beach.
Friday came and it was time to drive home. After many years of just passing through, we finally made the detour trip to the Bangui windmills.
Maan in the Laoag Public Market sells the best bagnet and longganisa in Ilocos -- bar none. She has been my suki for as long as I have been doing this road trip and it is always a delight to be able to say hello -- not to mention, load up on her temptingly tasty pork products.
Lunch time found us still in Laoag so I brought Jay to La Preciosa along Rizal St., one of the best places to enjoy authentic, old style Ilocano cooking.
We ordered insarabasab -- grilled pork and pork liver with native onions and limes, our favourite poque poque -- a creamy eggplant and egg salad and for something new, we tried the gamet soup -- made of mineral and iodine rich local seaweed cooked with tucmem or baby clams. Naimas! (delicious)
One cannot eat at La Preciosa without a slice of their scrumptious, melt-in-your mouth carrot cake. It finally satisfied the craving that I had from the first time I tried it more than a year ago.
Veneto de Vigan is set in a reconstructed old house just a few steps away from Calle Crisologo, the cobblestoned main street.
The hotel was just charming, with wooden floors and traditional furnishings but all the necessary modern facilities -- flat screen t.v., hot and cold running water, wi-fi.
I cannot say enough about how gracious and helpful their staff was -- they even kept my precious La Preciosa carrot cake in their refrigerator for safekeeping!
We enjoyed strolling through Calle Crisologo -- Vigan City has handled itself well.
Despite the number of stores and antique shops and bars set within the centuries old Spanish era houses, development has been integrated well into the environment. You don't feel as if modernity has intruded into the past.
We were lucky to walk into the Cordillera Inn, a hotel set in an old mansion along Calle Crisologo. We were looking for a quiet place to have dinner and they led us up to the third floor where we had the dining room all to ourselves. The balcony looked out onto the cobblestoned streets and with the soft light on the old houses, it was the perfect backdrop for this twilight photo.
Next morning, I took a tricycle to the Vigan Public Market. With all the bagnet we had bought, I knew I wanted to make genuine Ilocano pakbet when I got home and where best to get all the ingredients than from the local palengke?
The vegetable section had everything that I was looking for! Native ampalaya, eggplants, patani, squash blossoms, okra, shallots and onions and tomatoes. Everything looked as if it had all been freshly picked just a few hours ago.
Best of all, I found these non spicy, no-heat-bearing chilies also known as "siling duwag" that seem to be found only in Ilocos.
While they look exactly like the spicy sili used for sinigang and paksiw, these are completely unspicy and best used in pinakbet and even cooked on its own, as adobo.
I cannot leave Ilocos without my haul of "abel iloko". Blankets, bedspreads, pillowcases, even towels -- these locally woven cotton cloth is soft yet durable and becomes even more comfortable with constant usage. Best of all, abel iloko is part of the heritage and tradition of Ilocos and I am only too happy to contribute to its sustainability by buying as much as I can.
Mang Joe and his wife were very happy I was their buena mano for the day.
I wish someone would plant more along the whole length of our roadways -- what a brilliant, fiery summertime sight that would be!