Friday, May 30, 2008

Visit Vigan!

It’s a scene straight from the old world: ancestral houses made of brick & plaster, a leisurely ride on a calesa with the wind breezing by your face, and the sound of the clip-clop of the hooves of your calesa’s horse down a cobble-stone street. The kutsero rings his bell, to warn the playing children that his calesa is about to pass by. Hawkers are there, selling there wares.

Such is the magic of Calle Crisologo in Vigan, one of the best preserved examples of a Spanish colonial town. The architecture actually is a mix of European and Mexican with Chinese influences. It’s distinctly Filipino, so to speak, and has no equal in this part of the world.

UNESCO has declared Vigan City as a World Heritage site in 1999. Its city administrators led by Mayor Eva Marie Singson-Medina has been very proud of this fact. War and time have spared this 450 year-old Ilocano town and is fast becoming a must-see for both local and foreign tourists.

According to Vice mayor Franz Ranches, the city leaders are trying to raise the consciousness in terms of history and the need to preserve it. They’re starting with their LGU officers and staff, down to the barangay level.

Every September 8th, Vigan City proudly heralds its being the only Heritage site in the Philippines with various activities highlighted by the Repazzo de Vigan (a street parade), Historical Oral (a contest of Vigan’s History telling), Comidas de Ayer (a food fair) and Fotografias de Recuerdos (a photo exhibit/contest).

Tourism in Vigan has been on the upswing. There are many other spots for tourists in Vigan apart from the famous Calle Crisologo. The Father Jose Burgos Museum (one of the Gomburza martyrs) is one of the better museums outside of Metro Manila run by the National Museum after it was turned over by the Ayala Museum. It contains artifacts and well preserved antique collections to bring back the visitor to an illustrado home of the 1800s.

The Vigan Church and Plaza Salcedo are must visit sites as well. Plaza Salcedo was where Gabriela Silang was executed by public hanging in 1763. There are other note-worthy museums like the Crisologo Museum, which houses the memorabilia of the late Congressman Floro Crisologo, and the Syquia Mansion, which houses the memorabilia of the late President Elpidio Quirino.

There is the pagburnayan where traditional burnay (earthen jars) are made right before your eyes – bringing back the scene in “Ghost” with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. Even the provincial jail is a tourist site. Built in 1657, one of the oldest structures in Vigan, it is where former President Quirino was born.

For tourists to enjoy the sites, the best way to get around town is via Calesa. It will take you to any site in Vigan, even to Hidden garden and Governor Chavit Singson’s Baluarte which features a mini-zoo. The kutseros are well-trained and courteous. They only charge Php 150 an hour and you can get to see most of the spots in about 3 hours. What I enjoyed most about the calesa ride as that it was so relaxing, almost soothing to my city-bred soul. It was a great way to de-stress one’s self.

Great Ilocano food can also be found here. We enjoyed tremendously the food at Grandpa’s Inn and Restaurant, a must-try for foodies who are in the area. One must try there a dish called “Pipian” - a chicken dish unique to Vigan that’s supposedly Mexican-influenced from the days of the Galleon Trade. There is also Café Leona along Calle Crisologo. For the tourist, the empanadahan must be sampled for Vigan’s own version of the empanada, right at Plaza Salcedo.

For your pasalubong, the usual fare is the “Cornick” or “Chichacorn” which now comes in a variety of flavors: plain, adobo, garlic and cheese. For the so-called pampabata, there’s the bagnet (Ilocano version of Lechon Kawali) which is great with KBL (Kamatis, Bagoong and Lasona (Onion)) and the Vigan Longganisa. Then there’s the Vigan bibingka, made of cassava, the more popular brands are Tongson and Marsha’s. There’s also the Abel – a hand-woven textile made in the Ilocos, great for blankets and towels.

When planning a vacation in Vigan, one should plan for at least 2-3 full days to really enjoy and relish the sites. The City Government calls Vigan as “a place like no other.” And it really is.

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