I have an officemate whose hometown is in Vigan, and he was expecting us in town at 10am on the day we drove off from Tuguegarao, and he had offered for us to have merienda in their home when we got there. Unfortunately we miscalculated the time (it was 7 hours to Vigan), so when I told him about it, he changed the invite to lunch.
Manny met us at the plaza and he led us to their house, which was walking distance away. He showed us around his house, which was actually an ancestral home.
Lunch was served, and we ate it with his entire family. His mom had cooked an entirely Ilokano meal of kalderetang kambing, Vigan longganisa, katuray salad, etc. There was even some green suman and a concoction of coffee, jelly and ice cream.
The parents were very engaging in conversation, as parents are wont to be, and when we were all done eating, Manny’s mom announced that she had asked for a calesa to bring us around town and that Minggoy (Manny’s nickname at home) was to be our tour guide. Wow.
The calesa could only seat until maybe four people, so Kes said she’d stay with Les in the car instead, and they would just tail us. So Ems and I climbed at the back while Minggoy sat beside the driver (or whatever it is you call the person who directs the horse that draws the calesa). We lost Les and Kes (cute combination huh) before we even reached the first stop. Oh well. Let them have their moment.
The first stop was the Vigan bell tower. We had to register our names in a record book and when the caretaker handed a money envelope to Ems, Minggoy joked that we were required to make a donation, whereupon Manong suddenly rose to defend, saying, in perfect English,
“We are not asking for an exorbitant amount, just friendly. Just a little money to cover the expenses for maintaining this place for tourists like you.”
We were stunned, and I wanted to wipe my nose to check if blood was leaking out. Was Manong a relative of the text-popular Inday?
He then handed us a key on a chain and told us that we could open the gate to the tower, climb to the top, and have a magnificent view of the surroundings.
Minggoy took the key, and we walked towards the clearing. When we saw the view, we forgot about Manong’s outburst. The place was so picturesque! The brown-red brick of the old tower stood in stark contrast against the endless blue sky and green field grass.
Ems and I were quick to preserve this view with pictures. Thank goodness we had our own personal photographer-slash-tour guide.
We opened the gate and climbed a winding staircase up into the tower. Then there was one more set of wooden steps to climb before reaching the belfry. There were several bells at the top, all of them covered in graffiti.
Our “tour guide” was quick to explain that there was a plan to restore this place to its former grandeur. The purpose of these bells, he said, was to warn the villagers of approaching enemies. Of course, this was back in the days of yore.
We dropped by the heritage village, where there was a pottery. When we walked into the place, we started singing “Oh my love, my darling…” which was the soundtrack from that ever-popular scene from the movie Ghost, when Patrick Swayze wrapped himself behind Demi Moore while she made a clay jar on the wheel.
We did not do a Patrick Swayze, though, but were content to just watch Manong shape a small mound of clay into a jar on the turning wheel.
We checked out the clay ovens before walking back outside to buy some trinkets as souvenirs.
We walked into the Crisologo museum where the old stuff of former Governor Crisologo were showcased for the world to see. It was pretty dusty in there, though, and pretty soon we were sneezing.
Minggoy showed us one of their ancestral homes which had been converted into a tourist inn called Villa Angela. This was owned by his grandma Puring, he explained, and he pointed out a picture of her with Tom Cruise on the wall. Wow. Turns out the actor had filmed some movie in Vigan and had stayed at that place. There was even a framed note from him on the wall.
Our last tourist spot stop on the calesa was the Baluarte of Chavit Singson, which was a bit of a distance from the Vigan City proper. There were tigers and ostriches and peacocks and other wildlife.
There was also a butterfly sanctuary, and while Ems was able to coax more than one butterfly to rest on her fingers, I was a failure at that, and I voiced out my resentment. Hmph.
The calesa dropped us off at Minggoy’s place, and when Ems and I asked Minggoy how much to pay the calesa, he said his family would take care of it. We did not want them to, but that was the end of that. Whoever said Ilokanos were kuripot?
Les and Kes met us there, and we all walked towards Calle Crisologo, which was covered in cobblestones, giving it an authentic old-world feel.
Minggoy then led us to Plaza Burgos, where we tried some special empanada. Yum! Again, Minggoy said he would take care of the bill, so there was a funny moment when we asked for our bill and everyone had money drawn out, in a contest as to who would be able to give the money first. In the end, Les was the fastest one to pay.
While walking towards the place where they sold Tongson’s royal bibingka (the yummiest bibingka cake ever) and Ilocos chichacorn (the cheese variant is the best), Minggoy wowed Les and Kes with magic tricks using a pack of cards he had just bought.
Finally, we went back to their house where our car was parked, and after extending our thanks to our very hospitable tour guide-slash-photographer-slash-entertainer, we were back on the road and headed towards Laoag.