Our North Luzon Camino was about to end. Like Tuguegarao, Laoag City is nearly 500 kilometres from Manila so it would be another long day spent on the road. Thank goodness we were riding in a very comfortable and huge Coaster that afforded enough room to stand up and even walk around.
We fortified ourselves with one last breakfast in Saramsam, Balay da Blas' acclaimed restaurant. True to the appeal of this special B&B, dining at Saramsam made me feel like I lived in a traditional Ilokano house, enjoying a home cooked breakfast of the local longganisa and dried dilis -- doused in plenty of sukang Iloko -- naimas!
Because it was our last day in Ilocos, it was time to unleash all our pent up shopping desires!
The day would be devoted to buying all the pasalubong that we could cram into our very spacious Toyota Coaster. Our first shopping stop was the Laoag Public Market where we made a beeline for the longganisa and bagnet stalls on the second floor.
Bagnet is deep fried, enormous hunks of pork -- usually liempo but kasim or pigue are also used. Bagnet is not just deep fried, it is twice fried to give it that irresistible crunch. The pork is first boiled then fried lightly then fried again, to give the skin the crackling that makes it so good and yes, so bad for your health.
The Ilocanos usually call bagnet as chicharon -- I like to call it a "heart attack waiting to happen".
I brought the Amigos to my suki of over 15 years. This is Maan who owns C. Acorda Cooked Meat.
I've blogged about Maan and her bagnet before (http://porkintheroad.blogspot.com/2011/07/bagnet-redux.html). Her longganisa and bagnet are the best I have ever tried. She also supplies many local restaurants and resorts. Maan is probably to blame for the bagnet induced cholesterol and calories I have ingested through the years.
Abel cloth, made of 100% cotton and still woven using traditional looms, is available all over Ilocos. It is transformed into blankets, bath towels, kitchen towels, bedspreads, scarves, blouses, bags, etc. There are good buys at the Laoag Market where the abel products are cheaper than those sold in souvenir stores in the tourist areas. Plus, you can haggle with the friendly tinderas.
Luming's is another suki that I have been going back to each year. Don't be put off by the blouses on display, she has quite a wide range of abel products in the back room.
After the frenzied panic buying in Laoag (where we stocked up on a year's supply of bagnet, longganisa and blankets) we had barely warmed our seats in the coaster before I yelled "Para"
(stop!) so that our long suffering driver Derek could park by the roadside. We were passing
through Pinili, Ilocos Norte, where garlic and lasona (shallot) sellers line the highway.
Ilocano garlic is smaller but more pungent and flavourful. The larger imported varieties may
look impressive but are bland and tasteless. Yes indeed, size does matter. In this case, the smaller the garlic, the better the taste.
Aside from the garlic and shallots, we also bought sukang iloko, spiced with lots of sili and bawang. I also bought fish bagoong, an essential ingredient for making authentic Ilokano pakbet. Three small "bilog" bottles cost me only P50. What a great buy!
After the roadside stop in Pinili, we made our way to the Church of San Nicolas Tolentinto in Sinait, a mere 23 kilometres down the Manila North Road. If you are coming from Laoag, Sinait is the first town of Ilocos Sur.
The facade of the church may look new but wander around the back and you'll find the old thick stone walls that have been part of the church since the 1600s.
Our main reason for stopping by Sinait Church was to pray before the Sto. Cristo Milagroso
who is on the main altar. The Sto. Cristo along with another statue, that of the Virgen
Milagrosa (now in Badoc Church) came all the way from Nagasaki, Japan in the late 1500s.
It is said that during this time, Christians were being persecuted in Japan so the faithful put
the two statues in a box and set them adrift, perhaps praying that more hospitable people would
find them. The statues were found by fishermen on the shores of Sinait and Badoc and since then, have been venerated on the altars of both churches.
The distance from Sinait to Vigan is just 40 kilometres and we made it to this UNESCO World Heritage Centre just in time for lunch. It was blazingly hot and the trees along Plaza Burgos provided much needed shade. Drivers patiently wait by their calesas for tourists who would like
to see Vigan by horse drawn carriage.
Calle Crisologo is a pedestrian only avenue lined with centuries old bahay na bato that now house stores selling crafts, antiques, replicas and all sorts of souvenirs. While there is much more to Vigan than this busy tourist spot, we did not have time to explore more of the city.
I was not able to shop for anything but bagnet in Laoag. I made up for it by heading straight to my abel suki in Vigan. Manong Dante at Rowilda's sells abel in all forms -- handwoven from their own looms. I am only too happy to do my share in helping sustain this traditional Ilokano cottage industry. I was also happy that some of the Amigos decided that they too needed more abel in their lives and thus contributed to Rowilda's increase in daily sales.
Before piling into the Coaster for the still 400 kilometre drive home, we made sure to pass by the Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Paul. The Cathedral was ordered built by Juan de Salcedo, founder of Vigan. It is situated right across the Plaza that bears his name.
The cathedral is dedicated to St. Paul and if you look closely enough, you can see his statue in the alcove above the door, portraying him at his moment of conversion, on the road to Damascus.
Built in the traditional earthquake baroque style with a pleasing creamy beige facade, you will miss seeing the side reinforcements which are not visible if you are looking at the Cathedral dead front and centre.
The interiors are beautiful with off white walls and arches painted gold lining the main nave.
There are beaten silver retablos on the main altar that blend with the gold paint. The wood and
brass communion rail has been left intact and it enhances and shows off the altar in the best possible way.
I caught the sun setting on the Ilocos horizon from my window as we sped home from Vigan.
It seemed like the perfect image that would mark the end of our North Luzon Camino.
Naimbag nga rabii, Ilocos! Agkitatan to. Good night, Ilocos! See you again!
NB Many thanks to Jay for the use of some of his photos and to Mayk Mariano for photos # 4 and 7.