So in the afternoon, the first place we visited in Ilocos Norte was the Marcos Mausoleum and Museum in the town of Batac, which is the hometown of former President Ferdinand Marcos. Nothing much to say here as I’m not a fan of the late dictator and there’s nothing particularly nice about the place. The museum is not well-maintained but the aircon in the Marcos mausoleum is a welcome relief in the Ilocos heat (that is, if you don’t mind staring at a well made-up cadaver the whole day.)
After that, we stopped by to take pictures at the famous St. Augustine Church in Paoay (see the first photo in the previous entry.) Like the Vigan Cathedral, this church is a designated UNESCO world heritage site and is perhaps the best-preserved example of “Earthquake Baroque” architecture in the country.
It’s great that this Church has wide open spaces surrounding it. As such, it could be observed and studied from different angles. The unpainted exterior also exudes old-world grandeur and inspires awe from the observer. A lot of similarly old churches’ appearance have been ruined because of an ill-advised paint job. (Take, for example, the St. William Cathedral in Laoag City.) Rich details on the surface like the one showed below would have certainly been hidden.
One could only imagine the number of manhours spent building this colossal structure using pre-20th century technology. Churches in the Spanish period were designed this way for a number of reasons: First, to project an image of strength of the Spanish empire, thereby dissuading any feelings of resistance from developing among the native population; second, the particular architecture was designed with the country’s frequent earthquakes in mind; and lastly, these churches were essentially fortresses that sheltered and protected townspeople from seaborne attacks, whether by Chinese pirates or Moro slave raiders from the south.
From the church-fortress, we then proceeded to a mansion a short drive away, also in Paoay. This is the Malacañang of the North, built by – you guessed it – former President Marcos at the height of his power, when his family were living like royalty. While it would be quite a stretch to say that this mansion is fit for a king, it’s still nevertheless a residence deserving of the wealthiest of the elite.
It’s a charming mansion built on the shore overlooking the Paoay Lake. Raffy told us they had folk legends about a time when a village stood in the middle of where the lake is now, and somehow the village people displeased the gods and were punished by being submerged in a lake. (I don’t remember the exact story.) He additionally mentioned that archaeologists somehow proved the legend to have some basis by recovering artifacts of sorts.
The mansion has been converted to a sort of museum since the Marcoses’ fall from power. I actually have visited this place around 15 years ago with my family. It looks a lot better now than I remember it. It’s well-maintained, everything’s squeaky-clean, and house rules are strictly observed. We found out later that they installed CCTV too when Maricel got approached by the guard to ask her if the ones caught sitting in the beds were with her. Prior to learning of this, I had a bit of fun making 4 rocking chairs rock simultaneously in one part of the mansion. I must have looked like a doofus in those CCTV screens doing it over and over again.
After we inspected and took pictures of every room and exhibit, we then exited the house one by one, just as a new batch of tourists were coming in. We momentarily had snacks and refreshments at a nearby store before finally going to our last stop, which is the Fort Ilocandia Hotel, already within the Laoag city limits.
BACK TO LAOAG
Fort Ilocandia is a sprawling hotel and resort complex that was supposedly built to house the wedding guests of one of the Marcos daughters and her husband. Judging by the ubiquitous Chinese characters translating every bit of English in this place, it’s a safe bet that it’s already owned in some way by the Chinese (or Taiwanese). We initially thought touring the grounds on foot would no longer be possible. Apparently it still was, although certain areas were designated as for hotel guests only.
Soon after, it was time to go and finally check in at our hotel in Laoag city proper (La Eliana). We were all very tired by then and in need of a shower because the last one we had was a full 24 hours prior. There was still a lot of daylight when we checked in at the hotel. The agreement was for us to rest for about an hour and then assemble at the hotel entrance at around 6pm so that we would all walk together towards Saramsam Restaurant, which was along the same street (J.P. Rizal) as our hotel.
I decided to just have my shower after dinner and use the 1 hour free time to try to find the ancestral home of my grandfather. All I remembered about the place were 2 things: (1) It was along one of the minor streets that intersected with J.P. Rizal St.; and (2) it was just across an Ablan-owned residence. (The Ablans are an influential family in Ilocos Norte politics.) It turned out that it wasn’t too hard to find. I still recognized the street corner near the house and I did recognize the house itself once I got to it.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take a picture of it because I left both my camera and my BlackBerry at the hotel room to charge. Anyway, it looked a lot older (and sadly more lifeless) than I remember, and it now had some unsightly metal sheets covering the wooden exterior. I wonder if this was designed to protect the old wood. According to family history, the house was used by the Japanese Imperial Army as a headquarters and people actually got murdered by the enemy within its premises. I’m not sure who among my distant relatives still lives in the house. And I didn’t bother to knock. In many ways, I’m a stranger here as I haven’t kept in touch with my Laoag-based relatives.
I still had about half an hour to spare so I spent it walking further, reaching the provincial capitol (again) and then walking all the way to the Sinking Bell Tower and St. William Cathedral. There was some construction going on at the vicinity of the bell tower and so the entire city block was covered up. If I had my way, I would have tried to explore the diggings as they might yield valuable archaeological finds. From the church, I decided to go back to the hotel, and along the way I passed by the Tobacco Monopoly Monument just to see it up close.
Almost everyone was already assembled at the hotel entrance when I got back, so after a few minutes, I was walking again and we were on our way to Saramsam Restaurant. We were famished by the afternoon’s activities and so we ordered a feast for ourselves, which included Ilokano Miki, Pinakbet Pizza, Dinuguan Pizza, the famous Poque-Poque Piza, and Dinakdakan (which serves as great pulutan with a few bottles of beer. The 10 of us had to pay around P300 each for this feast but I think it was well worth it.
(I really wish we had taken more pictures of the food. But honestly we couldn’t hold ourselves back from gobbling everything up as soon as they were placed on the table.)
Most of the group opted to stay longer, but I was already feeling tired and icky because of the need to shower, so after saying my good night to them, I started to trudge back to the hotel. There was actually a light drizzle while I was walking, but I didn’t mind as I was going to have to shower anyway.
End of Day 1.
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This entry is part of the Ilocos series dated May 29-31, 2011: