Enchanted by Vigan
Nov - Dec 2014
One of the most fortunate regions in terms of heritage resources in our country is Ilocos, with three sites recognized by the UNESCO as part of our World Heritage namely the City of Vigan, and the churches of Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur and Paoay in Ilocos Norte which are among the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. Vigan City is an immense source of pride for Filipinos for being “best preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia”, according to UNESCO. The streetscapes of Vigan are simply beyond compare.
In the past decade, I have had the chance to visit the charming city of Vigan several times, whether for business or pleasure. It also helps that I have very good friends since my college days who are locals in Vigan with whom I have kept in touch with through the years.
I had a chance to visit Vigan recently on a backpack trip and it has been about four years since the last time. As always, I was enchanted by the city. One of the things that I really appreciate about Vigan is the mobility and ease of access in going around the city. While tricycles abound the area, traffic within the city is very orderly and their tricycle registration scheme enables easier identification of colorum vehicles. It’s difficult to evade local registration laws when the specialized plate and number has to be displayed right on top of the side car. Tricycle drivers in general also serve as helpful guides for tourists who come to Vigan and they do not take advantage of visitors. This is a perfect example of how a culture of tourism is deeply ingrained among the residents of a destination.
Another trait which I particularly love about Vigan as a tourist destination is the fact that everything is reasonably priced there, from accommodations to souvenirs, which makes it popular among the ordinary Filipino traveller like me.
In a comparative study of the price of empanadas, the most expensive empanada that I tried during my visit was at Irene’s Empanada along cobble-paved Calle Crisologo cost only 60 pesos, it was an all meat jumbo special which means it had two vigan longganisas and two eggs. The usual empanada which has vegetables, egg and longganisa usually costs around 30 pesos while a similar empanada at Hidden Garden in Barangay Bulala is still reasonably priced at 40 pesos. The difference is that the latter empanada has ground monggo beans in addition to thinly sliced papaya or cabbage.
Hidden Garden in Vigan City has a special place in my heart. I had the chance to stay there for several days about eight years ago because one of my college friends Ema belongs to the Flores family who cultivated it. I was simply amazed and very impressed with the transformation of the Hidden Garden from a simple backyard hobby of Mr. Francis Flores into a full fledged botanical garden with attractions that now include the Lilong and Lilang Restaurant that serves authentic Ilocano dishes, picturesque fountains and well-maintained pathways. Even the bathrooms are attractions themselves! Hidden Garden might be a bit far from the City proper but it is well worth visiting and only about a ten-minute ride away by tricycle or thirty minutes away by kalesa from the city plaza.
My friend, Ema, happens to work as a legislative researcher at the Vigan City Hall and she keeps me constantly updated on the cultural heritage practices that the City Government is doing. I was happy to note that Vigan is now building its Conservation Complex which includes archives, workshops, and exhibition halls which makes it among the first of its kind among cities in our country and rightly so. I was also impressed with the TVigan channel on the local television which is being produced by the City Government and offers timely information both for city residents and visiting tourists as well. I tried some of the restaurants featured on Tvigan and they did not fail to meet my expectations.
If only I were not so immersed and deeply rooted in my Kapampa-ngan heritage and if only I had a drop of Ilocano blood in my body, I would have made Vigan my home. Perhaps when I could afford it there will be a chance for me to retire there. In the meantime, for a weary wanderer like me, the endless charm of Vigan beckons.