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In and Out of Vigan

The Brother Lolo might have worked us half to the death; but I could always coax him into treating us into an end-of-term trip. Like this one time in early March of 2003. We had just ended a council meeting and all it took was for me to tell him, “Brother, punta naman tayo Vigan… Hindî pa ako nakakarating…”

It was that easy. “Sigue,” the Brother Lolo replied; and he proceeded to instruct his secretary to make all the necessary arrangements.

Before the month ended, we went on our way. It was a small party of several of us top school administrators. We left at dawn on a Tuesday morning and spent 14 hours on the road. We were comfortable with one another, so we passed the time on the road chatting, laughing and napping – and not necessarily in that order.

For those who have never been to Vigan, do not let the 14 hours dissuade you from making the trip. We also, naturally, stopped to eat along the way. We even stopped to inspect this really old church an hour from Vigan that Padre Damaso would have been perfectly at home in.

We arrived in Vigan by late afternoon. What can I say? Vigan was – uhrm – old…

Don’t get me wrong. I meant that in a nice way. It was certainly quaint. It immediately conjured up images in my head of frailes delivering bombastic sermons atop their pulpits that consigned Katipuneros to severe roasting once they arrived in hell. Who got there first, that I leave you to judge.

Having taught History, I deeply appreciated the Spanish-style architecture that seemed to have jumped right through a time warp into the age of modernity. The city having been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO because of this, of course even Jollibee’s restaurant looked like it was the sort that both Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara would have felt comfortable having a date in.

Before long, we checked in at our hotel – which, incidentally, also used to be the Brother Lolo’s ancestral home. Like many such houses in Vigan, it was unbelievably old and beautiful. The walls were old stone and the floors wooden – not dissimilar to many other national heroes’ shrines you might have visited while on an elementary school field trip.

The décor was Spanish era; and there were blurred nineteenth century sepia family pictures adorning the walls. To complete the transformation into a long-gone era, there was at the back of the house a karwahe fit for European aristocracy. Kulang na lang si Cinderella

Thankfully, our room had air-conditioning. Even that seemed out-of-place, since the room had ancient history written all over it. I would have died if there had been none, though. Vigan that March was almost unbearably hot and humid!

We had early dinner together at the hotel and rested a bit. Before long, the Brother Lolo was calling us to join him for a walk to the plaza where – he said – we just had to try the Vigan empanada. The Vigan empanada is not quite what we Tagalogs know. It was really more gulay inside; and, fresh off the kawalî, I remember it to be a tad greasy. Tasted pretty good, though…

We walked around the plaza for a while then decided to return to the hotel. It had been – after all – a 14-hour journey. Some in our party headed straight to bed. I and a few others freshened up then went to the bar for a nightcap. I mean, if there were still some ghosts billeted in the same hotel we were, a few bottles of San Miguel were sure to exorcise them. In fact, I slept so soundly the ghosts never stood a chance with me!

The next day, we went on a calesa tour of the city. We actually rented two calesas, with five people assigned to each one. I took one look at the horse of our own calesa and was immediately suspicious. Inang! The horse looked a tad small and did not look like it would manage. I seriously thought of volunteering to walk instead.

How could I enjoy that ride? As the small horse struggled to pull our weight, I could not help but feel so sorry for it! I think the term beast-of-burden was coined to describe the way it tried to pull our calesa. Especially when the road inclined slightly upwards, my heart really felt like it was about to be crushed by the pity I felt for the horse. I did consider volunteering to pull the calesa in its place – but decided that would have been overly dramatic.

So we hopped from one old place to another. Everything now is, if I’m being honest, a blur. I mean, one old house looks pretty much like another old house. I was mesmerized, though, by that cobblestone-paved stretch of road bordered on both sides by – need I say – more old houses. It was the most recognizable Vigan landmark; and up close instead of seen on television, it looked even lovelier.

We did stop by this earthenware factory where they manufactured – old style, i.e. by hand – large water vessels. I had never seen pottery being made except on television before; so it was quite an experience to sit next to an artisan while he molded the clay into a vat.

After lunch, we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel and headed to the market. I normally do not buy a lot when I travel because I do not particularly like carrying stuff; but I did allow myself the purchase of some bed sheets – which were dirt cheap – and some really biting Ilocos vinegar.

By three, we were on our way home for the reverse 14-hour trip. We were laughing amongst ourselves that we spent more time on the road than at the destination: 28 hours traveling and less than 24 to see the place. Not that it really mattered. Everything was new – at least to me – and the amount of time we laughed while together flushed away all the stress of work accumulated throughout the whole school year.

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