Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Welcoming Winds Of Ilocos

Published in the Manila Bulletin

July 14, 2012, 5:20pm

To tackle Pagudpud by land from Manila would seem like a pilgrimage with its attendant hardships for the very long ride it entails. Why would it be worth the while of an ordinary mortal like me, who is just as happy engaged in a novel inside the confines of her room, to take on this gruelling 12 hour challenge?
 It has often been said by many a wise traveller that the journey is more important than the destination. Whether you journey by bus or by private car, make sure you plan your itinerary to include stopovers that would make this journey a joy ride, or better yet, an affair to remember.
It was five in the morning when the three black Isuzu Crosswinds convoyed at the NLEX that was still clear of heavy traffic.
I checked my bag for the food, band aid strips, meds, and wet ones. Somebody brought Chico and Delamar’s book, another had pick up line jokes committed to his memory. Now these are the people you should associate with, the ones armed to the teeth.
 I never bring jeans on short trips except the ones I’m wearing because jeans are heavy. For a three-day weekend, I brought one black leotard and my trusty pashmina shawl. I never go without it. I use it to wrap around my waist over the leotard, over my head when I’m under the sun, over my shoulder on cold nights, or spread it on the sand to sit on.
As greeneries whizzed by, there was time to mull things over in a different light. The body eases on the seat, all the cares in the universe dissolve and you see everything as never-ending possibilities.
On the way to Ilocos Norte, we made a stopover in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, a protected World Heritage site that transported us into the time of calesa, camisa de chino and unhurried lifestyle.
Ilocanos are legendary for their industry and thrift. We can see this by how they painstakingly handcrafted burnay (clay) water jars, abel iloco cloth and how they preserved their culture in the midst of all the hullaballoo.
As we walked on the cobbled stones built hundreds of years ago, we can simultaneously hear the clip clops of the karetelas. Arched entrances and wooden windows were like theatres, strangely inviting us to enter.
 I began having memories that were not even mine. The sliding capiz window of an ancient Hispanic house opens and a young adeng peeks at her suitor who serenades her under the moonlight, an aunt painstakingly sewing by hand her precious handkerchief, a manong polishing the wooden floor until it gleams by the flickering gasera.
We had merienda at Leona’s cafe and whiled away an hour or so gossiping about the lives of celebrities, who’s with whom now, who just had botox. As we chattered, I noticed the pink blush on each of the traveller’s face even after hours of driving. There was a glow and animation that could only come from exhilaration.
 I realized this is why we travel. We travel for the wind on our faces, for the sun dancing on the mountains, for the thought of moving, like what E.E. Cummings said, somewhere we have never travelled.
We reached Ilocos Norte after 10 hours of driving. Our hosts prepared a spread fit for kings as we had prawns, lobsters, diningding with bagnet and fresh salads.  After a luscious feast, we slept and woke up to find another feast and a karaoke waiting for us.
We woke up early morning the next day and visited the Marcos Shrine in Batac. This legacy of the Marcos regime showcases hundreds of photos and memorabilia.
Needless to say, the Marcos era was one of the most dramatic times in our history. My mother is a fan of Mrs. Marcos. She always has a tale about the ex-first lady. She told me how Madam Imelda was able to ward off a would-be assassin who attacked her with a bolo and how she sustained several deep wounds on her arms. I was hoping to take a glimpse of the famous 3,000 pairs of shoes but someone whispered they’re in a Marikina shoe museum.

The Paoay Church, the pride of Ilocos Norte and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an architectural marvel with its buttresses that look like they can withstand the test of eternity. It is after all, more than 300 hundred years old. Not like the shout out loud beauty of other churches, it has its own charm and quiet magnificence.
I love comparing places I visit to mythical places in literature. In Emily Bronte’s novel, “Wuthering Heights”, the backdrop is a moorland, a place of uncommon beauty filled with tragic obsessions. Pagudpud is our own “Wuthering Heights”. In life as in love, when we can’t achieve romance, we tend to compensate by allowing ourselves a bit of fantasy.
Upon entering the town of Pagudpud, I realized my own castle in the highlands that inspired a thousand cliches at the word processor. The Bangui windmills of course reminded me of Sancho Panza and his Senor Don Quixote, out for a lonely quest of the impossible dream.
The wild waves in Saud beach created a tempest in my heart that it burst with sudden recollections of things past. The white sand was deep and yielding, one’s feet literally submerged with every step.
 When you run into the water, the waves run toward you in a sure collision. Salt and sand mingle in your mouth and your eyes sting.
Being a wuss, I retreated at the next onslaught of a baby tsunami. Thankfully there was a grassy elevation that served as a picnic ground and an observation post. From there, I watched as swimmers braved the frenzied waters, while the Bangui windmills stood lost in the distance.
As if we have not had enough of beaches, we drove another few minutes to arrive at the popular Maira-ira“Blue Lagoon”.
The “Blue Lagoon” was quite a different story. Boulders and rock formations landscaped the shores like Stonehenges serving as windbreakers. Unlike in Saud beach, the water there was a lot tamer, making it ideal for us to soak in the crystal water without sand flinging into our eyes and hair. I dipped my feet into the water filled with small beige pebbles polished to smoothness by time and ripple. Tiny fish swam around my ankles, while my pashmina kept on sliding from my shoulders.  What if a curly haired boy and a Brooke Shields look alike suddenly materialize from out of nowhere?
 A lighthouse watches over Cape Boreador. Having a penchant for lighthouses, I surveyed the cape and tried to imagine what loves and lores the lighthouse must have inspired. Near the lighthouse was a waterfall where we refreshed ourselves in the cool, clear water. It is such a gift to discover these pockets of nature where one can luxuriate. To hear the soothing cascade of the falls was enough to revive one’s bushed consciousness.
We went to a popular bakery called Pasuquin bakery and bought the famous Pasuquin biscocho (toasted bread), toasted mamon and other pastries. What looked so commonplace was a real treat! The biscocho was so addicting I was able to consume a pack in one sitting. We went to the public market and bought a lot of pasalubong like cornic (roasted corn), piyaya (flattened pastry), tupig (grilled suman) and a lot more! A coconut vendor sold the best coconut water I have ever tasted. We had fun eating dirty ice cream while waiting for our friends. It was time to unwind and we had the chance to look around small old churches and ruins that were obviously forgotten by time.
On our last day we went to Currimao and took a dip in the infinity pool of Playa Tropical Resort, a Balinese inspired haven that spoke of elegance but didn’t burn a hole in our pockets. We had a day tour of the place and a swim for only 200Php per person. We relaxed in the steep roofed huts and quaffed pale pilsen between nibbles of kilawing dilis (vinegared raw anchovies).
The open cabana was cool and comfy, white lace drapes swished in the breeze, and the clouds drifted slowly by.
Although the sun was in my eyes, I couldn’t care less. I was just there for the moment. As I chugged my beer, I held the bitter taste in my mouth and tried to memorize all the details that were sweet, very sweet indeed.