Their countrymen call their land the extreme north. I find it rough and rugged geographically, and the people there have an identity of their own, distinct from the rest of the country. High seas and rough winds are a frequent visitor to their land, and their skin, as much as their spirit, have been toughened by exposure to the forces of nature. I could be talking about the Scottish, or I could also be talking about the Ilocanos. Inhabitants of the rugged, mountainous northern end of the Philippines, I can see similarities between the rugged highlander, and the tough, sun-blessed Ilocano. To me, Ilocos is to the Philippines, what Scotland is to Britain.
The “Ilocandia” has been one of my favorite places in the country, ever since I first went there around 12 years ago. And it’s not because I have Ilocano blood and have family in the region, but because I find the whole place interesting, and ruggedly beautiful. The cultural identity of the Ilocano is so strong, some people consider the Ilocos, half-jokingly, a republic within a republic. And the rugged coastlines of their land are a thing of absolute beauty. I consider the coastal highways stretching from Northern Pangasinan to Ilocos Norte to be among the most visually engaging drives in the country.
We drove to Ilocos again during this year’s summer break, and went up as far as Vigan in Ilocos Sur, one of the Philippine’s most beautiful cities, if I may say so my self. Its cobblestoned streets give an experience of colonial-era Philippines better than what even the famous Intramuros could. I have been to other old cities like Cebu, Jaro in Iloilo, and Silay in Negros, but nowhere else has the feel of the old Spanish-era been as well preserved as in Vigan. Whole streets are preserved, and though shops now dominate the lower floors of the old houses, I find their presence mutually beneficial, rather than intrusive, or worse, parasitic. The shops have been regulated not to alter the appearance of the houses, and they give life to the streets, making Vigan an active, living piece of the past, and not just a dust gathering museum piece.
For this trip, we stayed at the Vitalis White Sands resort, in Sabangan Beach, around an hour’s drive south of Vigan. Sister (and neighbour) to the more popular and posh Vitalis Villas, the Vitalis White Sands’ advantage is its direct access to the beachfront along Sabangan Cove. Having white sand, a shallow gradient, and clean and calm waters, the beach along Sabangan Cove is one of the few really good beaches within a day’s driving distance from Manila.
*We were in Ilocos last April 2017.