I flew to Vigan four times during the Easter Holidays. Enough for honorary citizenship in Diego Silang’s Yloko Libre.
We found a charming boutique hotel. Ate the best dishes Ilocos has to offer. Sat quietly in the 18th century Cathedral. Prowled the flea market on Maundy Thursday, fasting on balut and twin popsies. A real Holy Week hardship.
Explored a bookstore full of quaint old editions — Isak Dinesen essays, Star Wars in Spanish. Dodged kalesas on Calle Crisologo, bought kilos of bagnet and bottles of basi, to be packed into the airplane for the Insulares in Manila.
You can take the low and slow road to Vigan, from Manila. Ten or twelve hours, by car or bus. Or you can take the high road. Less than three hours in a Cessna.
You take off on the last leg from San Fernando, La Union, skim the surfing beaches of San Juan, hop the cliffs and ridges at Luna, and suddenly you are there — Ilocos Sur.
At once, the scenery changes. The folded, rumpled coastline of La Union gives way to the sand dunes and tobacco fields of Tagudin, Dili, Candon.
Emerald, azure and slate seas. Blistering summer heat and glare. Frothy surf. Big bikes on the beach.
These are some of the most beautiful coastlines in the Philippines. Fishing bancas decorate the tidal flats, like multi-colored confectionary sugar beads sprinkled on a brownie.
Just 30 minutes after departing La Union, you approach Santa Maria and Narvacan. Kaleidoscopes of languid river deltas and fantastic coral fans, clearly visible underwater.
North of Narvacan, you get to the mountain that juts out like a thumb into the sea. The highway sways precipitously towards the water.
Some days, the mountain at Narvacan bares herself in soft misty air. Most days, she cloaks her head in cumulo tresses.
And off the last point of land, at the tip of the thumb nail, is a grotto with a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Another 2 minutes of slow, lazy flight. A town comes into view, uniquely geometric, laid out like a prism. Santa, Ilocos Sur. Founded 1576.
The Spaniards, in naming towns, had run out of names of saints, so they stopped at “Santa” when they named this one.
Two hundred years later the dude Diego, from Aringay, Pangasinan, led a revolt against excessive taxes and forced labor (I have that same problem every day). The Spaniards couldn’t defeat him in battle, so they hired an assassin to take him out.
Diego’s wife, twice widowed Gabriela, took over. She’s the one from Santa.
Later, Theodore Roosevelt visited Santa and declared it to be a place of “poetic beauty”.
Bet you didn’t think I knew all that.
The real poetic beauty is yet to come. You turn left after Santa, heading northwest along the coast. And you get to photography paradise.
That’s the Abra river delta, not Photoshop. The colors really look like that.
The Abra river slithers down from the Cordilleras, through the Banaoang Pass, under the Quirino bridge, through the municipalities of Santa and Caoayan, and out into the South China Sea.
Gabriela used to slip back and forth between Abra and Ilocos Sur through the Banaoang Pass.
You ogle the otherworldly scenery, then fly northwest a couple of minutes more, and your voyage is almost over. Vigan — sleepy, rural, laid back Vigan — is just ahead.
As a final treat, when landing to the south, you skim past the Bantay Bell Tower.
This is where Carlo discovered that I was scared of heights.
The view from the swaying, creaking wooden staircases and platforms inside must be grand, but I had my eyes closed the whole time.
After 2007, the Bantay Bell Tower was closed to the public.
Finally, the voyage ends at Vigan airport.
As you see on the video, you want to roll out with your nose wheel held up in the air, stall horn blaring, to announce your arrival.
The ramp can accommodate four Cessnas or one ex-provincial governor’s Let 410. When the Guv’s sexy turboprop is here, you park your Cessna on the farthest corner, like the school dunce.
I love Vigan airport. They should never modernize it. Completely useless but welcoming gate, the mango tree loaded with fruit, the dirt lane leading to the airport ramp.
No control tower, just a Flight Service Station — a guy on a radio offering optional advice. A few other friendly people tend the airport grounds and secure the airplanes.
Just how friendly they were, I would learn soon.
Posted from Bangkok, April 22, 2009
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