Ilocos Tour : Vigan and Sta Maria

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I have done the Ilocos region countless times. And this northern tour remains on my Top 5 list of Philippine destinations.

Will share the beautiful Ilocos via photos, and you pick the destinations you want to focus on. Otherwise, prepare to spend 2 weeks moving from town to town.

VIGAN

Vigan is, to some, the essence of Ilocandia.

Vigan is, to some, the essence of Ilocandia.

The moon was full on the night of my last visit

The moon was full on the night of my last visit

Vigan Day 2 + Laoag Day 1 027

Visit a BURNAYAN and be amazed at the potter's skills. And buy a jar or two

Visit a BURNAYAN and be amazed at the potter’s skills. And buy a jar or two

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a calesa ride completes a Vigan visit

the lobby of my favorite hotel. Cordillera Inn

the lobby of my favorite hotel. Cordillera Inn

the coffee shop at the nearby Gordion Mansion

the coffee shop at the nearby Gordion Mansion

Hidden Garden is more of a restaurant than a garden destination.

Hidden Garden is more of a restaurant than a garden destination.

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Bantay belltower, outside of Vigan

Bantay belltower, outside of Vigan

at the Baluarte, the home of Governor Chavit Singson, the grounds are open to the public.

at the Baluarte, the home of Governor Chavit Singson, the grounds are open to the public.

STA MARIA

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Bakas River

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Our friends from Norzagaray tell me that Bakas is a most famous resort destination this side of town. And so we went after our Pinagrealan Cave spelunking.

Our host says that Bakas got its name from legends that there are actually footprints  – – one on the huge stone and another several miles away. Apparently from a giant.

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There are enterprising locals who have built huts and other facilities on the river bank. Families can stay in Bakas for the day and have a picnic in any of the sheds with bamboo tables and chairs. Really idyllic. Restful.

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There is also Bakas Overlooking, a more developed resort. More developed in the sense that they actually have a bamboo house where guests can stay. And a kitchen where they can cook. Plus a toilet where they put a drum of water from a nearby well so that customers can use the water from the drum to flush the toilet. And they also have a videoke on the shed right next to the river.

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Bakas is not for travelers who are looking for city comfort. But this place will appeal to those who are tired of the hustle and bustle of city life. It almost feels like going home to the province and staying with your cousins, aunts and uncles in a small barrio beside a river.

The younger ones in our group went for a swim and later on climbed huge boulders 20 feet high from where they jumped into the water. This, I believe, is the main attraction of the place. As for me, I would be just as happy wading into the shallow part of the river.

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Best to come here with all your provisions, like everyone else who come to the place. No restaurants, not even sari-sari stores. I surmise that the owners of the sheds can arrange for food to be cooked, or for drinks to be served – – – if a group decides to come without provisions.

We have plans to return. And maybe we will pitch tents next time. Maybe right beside where this cow is grazing. By the river.

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HOW TO GET THERE:

Get to Norzagaray and arrange for tricycles to take you to Bakas. I noticed that locals traveled in tricycles. Sorry but I did not inquire about rates – –  we traveled to Bakas in private transportation.

Pinagrealan Cave

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First went to Pinagrealan over a year ago but the big group I was with did not enter the cave as it was merely a part of a full-day itinerary. Last Sunday, a small group from FUNtastic Philippines Fun Group went spelunking, organized by a family from Norzagaray. An adventurous family – – they are all members of our travel-photography group and they were in the same cave just two weeks earlier.

Our group, ready for spelunking

Our group, ready for spelunking

According to the Tourism website:

This cave is a subterranean network of caverns extending more than a kilometer deep. The Katipunero Revolutionaries during the war against Spain used it as a camp in 1896 and again during the Filipino-American War in 1898 as hideout of General Emilio Aguinaldo (the First President of the Philippines). It was also used as a sanctuary by the Japanese Imperial Army when the Philippines was liberated by American Forces.

I will share with you the experience via the photos taken from my mobile phone and from the mobile phone of FPFG member Arvin who handed his phone to our tour guide RJ so we can get good coverage of our cave exploration.

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Helmets will be provided by the guides. Bring your flashlights. Headlamps are excellent. Cameras should be in dry bags. Guide RJ is our “official photographer”

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You will have to wade into pools of water, some chest-high

You will have to wade into pools of water, some chest-high

Getting soaked in water

Getting soaked in water

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we had to line ourselves up at some point to give way to another group on their way out

we had to line ourselves up at some point to give way to another group on their way out

the exciting part is squeezing yourselves into narrow crevices to get to the next chamber

the exciting part is squeezing yourselves into narrow crevices to get to the next chamber

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Relaxing in natural formations, perfect for profile photos

Relaxing in natural formations, perfect for profile photos

HOW TO GET THERE:

We went by private transportation. But Pinagrealan is accessible by public transportation. Get to Norzagaray from SM Fairview. Stop at barangay Bigte. You can hire tricycles from there.

UGU BIGYAN’s Pottery Garden & Restaurant

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This shop is the pride of Tiaong.

First heard of Ugu Bigyan many years ago. Finally went there many years ag=fter, before I even started my travel blog. I thought this should go into my blog, too, so I went there once with my mom and my wife and my camera.

People go to this part of town for two things: well-crafted, one-of-a-kind pottery and excellent lunch. Lunch is via prior reservation. Well, other than those who want to learn the art of pottery from Ugu himself.

The property is interesting and clearly reflects the artist in the owner.

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LUNCH GAZEBO

Lunch is served in the gazebo. No one complains about the cost per pax because everyone truly enjoys the dishes prepared by Ugu himself. Fish, other sea foods, meat dishes, vegetables. We paid then P6,000 for a group of ten, but we all ate like we were going to skip dinner and breakfast. Delicious and sumptuous. (I am not a food blogger and I refrained myself from taking food shots that may not do justice to the dishes, hahaha)

Lunch served here

Lunch served here

POTTERY STORE

If lunch is not your reason to travel to Tiaong, then it must be his pottery. I bought myself a dozen exquisite coffee mugs that up to today are appreciated by my visitors. Here’s more things to buy:

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Ugu Bigyan is located at Quezon Alvarez Village, Tiaong, Quezon. Phone number (042) 545 91.

HOW TO GET TO UGU BIGYAN’S POTTERY SHOP

  1. Take SLEX/ACTex  and exit at Sto Tomas, Batangas. Do not take the Lucena/Sto Tomas exit from Calamba – – go all the way to the SLEX extension called ACTex and exit to Sto Tomas from there.
  2. From Sto Tomas, drive on to Quezon province via the Laguna towns of Alaminos and San Pablo. You will be in Tiaong after San Pablo. There are roads via the town, and there are diversion roads. Take the shorter diversion roads keeping in mind the general direction of Tiaong, Quezon province.
  3. When you hit Tiaong, watch out for the Iglesia ni Cristo after  the Petron station on your right. After these two landmarks, turn left at the next street to your left. It is a small street with the sign Lusacan National High School at the corner.
  4. This will take you to the Alvarez Village. Turn left and you will see Ugu Bigyan’s brick house house ( the first photo above).

Legacy Suites Masbate

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Masbate is the venue for the  Grand National Rodeo Finals, with cowboys and cowgirls from all over the Philippines competing. Participants are students taking up Animal Science, or Veterinary Medicine, or Animal Husbandry etc. Professional cowboys from the different cattle ranches around the country compete in the professional category. Events  include bull riding, carambola, lassoing, etc. I have been attending the event since 2013. This year was my third.

Rodeo Event: Carambola

Rodeo Event: Carambola

 

 

Last year, I stayed in a hotel reputed to be the best — – even President Aquino was supposed to have stayed there when the search and rescue operation for Secretary Robredo was being done. I found that hotel inadequate, and actually lacked proper sanitation. The lavatory was leaking, and from indications it has been forever leaking and not being fixed. A very dirty rug was placed underneath to keep the water from spreading throughout the toilet floor.  Wet and dirty turned out to be smelly. Thus, the search for my Year 3 hotel.

I saw Legacy Suites last year when my FUNtastic Philippines Fun Group friends and I were having a bulalo dinner at the Boulevard by the Circumferential Road. It looked good, and I thought getting a room facing the ocean would be a good idea.

The hotel faces the ocean.

The hotel faces the ocean.

the view from the hotel

the view from the hotel

Early this year, I googled the hotel, looked at the photos of the rooms, and saw their contact details. They have single rooms and family rooms with 2 big beds. I thought that if they only took away one bed from the family room and added a sofa instead, plus a breakfast table where I could also work on my computer, that would be good. I sent a message through their website asking if my idea of reconfiguring the room would be acceptable. To my pleasant surprise, the lady owner (they are a hands-on husband and wife team) said she will. So I promptly booked the room for the Rodeo week which was 3 months away.

I arrived in Masbate April 14 early in the morning. And another pleasant surprise came in: the owner, Basil, was at the airport to pick me up. Had coffee as my luggage was being brought up to my second-floor room.

the coffee shop

the coffee shop

When I went up the room, I was happy to see the room with the sofa and the coffee table. And the room had two verandas, albeit small. One opened to the farm view at the back, the bigger one opened to a view of the ocean.

Room 8: my room, reconfigured following my request by email.

Room 8: my room, reconfigured following my request by email.

 

the sliding glass dorr opens to a small veranda facing the ocean

the sliding glass dorr opens to a small veranda facing the ocean

The rodeo took up most of my days. But I had the occasion to have lunch and dinner at the hotel. Basil, as it turns out, also cooks, and did my fish sinigang lunch and my steamed fish dinner the following day. How hands-on can an owner get?

Legacy Suites has a small function room that I figure is booked for meetings and private dinners.

Function Room

Function Room

 

My favorite spot is the row of al fresco seats outside the coffee shop, at the front of the hotel. A perfect spot to enjoy coffee. The area is also where the Souvenir Shop stands (at the far end). Realizing I forgot my shades, I was happy to buy one for P500.

my favorite spot for coffee or a refreshing bottle of beer

my favorite spot for coffee or a refreshing bottle of beer

I checked out after 6 days happy that I had a clean hotel room in a hotel with welcoming and attentive owners and staff.  Back in Manila, the lady owner emailed to thank me, and said they are open to suggestions, in case I have some. I suggested that they could build a clothes cabinet  – – – my clothes were piled up on top of my luggage on a luggage rack. I also suggested that a solid spring mattress would be more comfortable than the foam mattress I slept in. And some other small details. I figure the owners would heed my request, if my requests prior to my first stay is an indication. And Legacy Suites will then be the undisputed best hotel in Masbate when that happens.

Masbate, Once Again

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My third Rodeo trip to Masbate. This is addicting. Masbate, I mean – – – not just the rodeo.

Event: Carambola

Event: Carambola

For starters, I have become a member of VROoM, the Volunteer Rodeo Officers of Masbate, the implementing arm of Rodeo Masbateno, Inc. VROoM men and women are on the ground, at the arena, running the events as jusges, timers, stockyard managers, tabulators, etc. I have been designated as timer for Rodeo 2015, a duty I failed to perform due to a doctor’s order for me to stay out of the sun for hours.

A cowboy must stay on top of the bull for 8 seconds to qualify. Very vew do. And all of them eventually fall off the bull.

A cowboy must stay on top of the bull for 8 seconds to qualify. Very vew do. And all of them eventually fall off the bull.

 

And sometimes the bull gets to ride the cowboy

And sometimes the bull gets to ride the cowboy

 

action can start right on the streets, when  a cow decides to be "pasawy" on the cattle drive

action can start right on the streets, when a cow decides to be “pasawy” on the cattle drive

Secondly, every trip to Masbate is a discovery of some new place. And a return to familiar places that one would not want to miss when in town. Like the Buntod Marine Sanctuary and SUTUKIL, that restaurant I blogged about for having delicious food at unbelievably low prices.

the reef staff

the reef staff house

 

the reef is also a mangrove preserve

the reef is also a mangrove preserve

 

We also visited majaba, an island southwest of Masbate City, and never been visited by probably 99% of Masbatenos

We also visited majaba, an island southwest of Masbate City, and never been visited by probably 99% of Masbatenos

the Majaba island is sizeable, and boys use the paragos to transport stuff

the Majaba island is sizeable, and boys use the paragos to transport stuff

close to Majaba is Nabuktut, an island that is essentially a sandbar

close to Majaba is Nabuktut, an island that is essentially a sandbar

Bugui Point lighthouse revisited. In Aroroy, Masbate

Bugui Point lighthouse revisited. In Aroroy, Masbate

Bugui

Mandaon

The Masbatenos have become friends. I am invited to the brainstorm for Rodeo 2015. And as I write this, cowboys from Masbate are on the road, coming to my Tagaytay home to wish me happy birthday. And participate in a canao I planned for tomorrow.

Nabuktut

Masbate will make you want to visit, again and again.

Ifugao Native House in Tagaytay Paradiso

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I have always been a wanderer and one of the best spots I have visited is the province of Ifugao, peopled by Ifugaos. They make sure visitors know that Ifugaos and Igorots are not the same. Ifugao is home of the Banaue.

A native house is a coveted accommodations option when visiting Banaue. What could be more authentic than waking up to cool mountain air, opening your native hut window to the view of the majestic rice terraces?

Banaue is quite a drive. And now it doesn’t feel so, with my own authentic Ifugao native house. Built by Ifugaos who chew on betel nut “nganga” made up of ikmo, bunga, apog and maskada. I was tempted to try the nganga when one of them left his nganga box.

My Ifugao native house is not a local recreation of the real thing. It is real as real gets – – native Ifugaos actually crafting and building it the way they build in Ifugao. The pieces are made like one big LEGO structure where the pieces fit, without nails.

See how it was done.

Delfin, the maestro. He is a jolly Ifugao who spins jokes and spits the nganga around the area where the native house was being built.

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Starting to build

BUILDING THE NATIVE HOUSE

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No nails. Just tongue going into the groove.

The horizontal thing that keeps rates away

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MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

The house is done, and a canao is planned for blessings. Everyone must come in full Ifugao (or nearby tribes) costume. That only means bahag (g-string) for men, and tapis and blouse for women.

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For the housewarming, a native ritual called canao is scheduled on May 2, with authentic Ifugao people invited. All guests will also be coming in native attire. Non-costumed or partly-costumed friends will not be allowed, just for this party – – because the authenticity of the planned canao ritual must be followed.

Scorecard: House: done. Cool mountain air : done (Tagaytay has cool mountain air). Rice Terraces: major problem. But maybe a can build three short tiers of rice terraces beside it. Hahahaha.