Northern Exposure: Our weekend in Ilocos

In line with my goal of exploring more of my own country, I keep my eyes open for good deals and promotions that give me the opportunity to do so without stressing my wallet nor my boss :) So when my good friend and travel buddy, Nena, called to say a local airline was having a seat sale for Laoag (a city in the extreme North of the Philippines), and that I wasn’t even going to miss work (always a plus), I jumped at the chance.

Laoag is the capital city of Ilocos Norte (a province in the northern-most tip of the Luzon mainland). We stayed in Currimao, a short drive south of Laoag, along the shoreline of the China Sea. I feel we couldn’t have picked a better place. I was a great jumping off point for the rest of the region, but more than that, the resort where we stayed was just beautiful – a dreamy sort of place that you would (or at least I would) imagine came from the pages of an old Filipino storybook.

With our endearing guide and driver, we wandered around Laoag, Vigan, Pagudpud, Badoc, Burgos, Bangui, Paoay, Batac, San Nicolas, and many towns in between!

I was so excited for this trip because I had never been this far North. I wondered what to expect. Would it be different from other provinces I had visited? Would it have something, some special quality, which I had never seen before?

Ilocos is a region bursting at the seams with beautiful churches, each town smugly sporting one, from charming red brick to commanding “earthquake baroque”. The sun here is bright and intense, making everything look like crazy Technicolor and lulling you into a blissful sense of well-being. It has endless roads flanked by tobacco and corn, the foothills of the rugged Cordillera mountain range on the east and the deep blue China Sea crashing on the west. It was the birthplace of our infamous dictator who slammed martial law down our heads, as well as of one of our national artists around whom swirled a cloak of intrigue, scandal, genius, and immense talent. It is a region whose cuisine has made its mark on the rest of the country…as fans of pinakbet and Vigan longanisa would agree. It is also the home of bagnet – halfway between a crispy pata/lechon kawali and chicharon – our own pork belly confit and a big part of this journey for me. It is there that the first modern windmills in South East Asia were built – standing sentinel on a bare, windswept beach. For those who believe the ghost stories that have shrouded certain places there, you can always buy a garland of garlic from the many roadside vendors, the garlic small and intense in flavor. It boasts gorgeous beaches, quite literally at the top of the country, where only a few faraway islands separate you from Taiwan. In Ilocos, busy city centers make way for enchanting old towns with historic buildings and cobblestone streets, where you can buy any manner of antique, whether it be a frame for your doorway, a religious icon, or an old initialed spoon for your “props” (if you happen to be a foodblogger).

Did Ilocos have some special quality that I had not seen before? How could the answer not be yes?

I’ll be sharing my highlights from this region, both gastronomic and otherwise, with you soon! Meanwhile, don’t forget to vote for your favorite pizza from the Hay Hay it’s Donna Day round up! :)