A city preserved somewhere in time.
I found myself lost in the streets of a city that resembled a villa during the Spanish occupation. T’was midsummer on a Saturday, almost lunchtime and tourists flocked restaurants. But I needed coffee, all-day breakfast was what I had in mind, or maybe empanada? Went passed by a famous empanada place but it’s closed. No sleep, no breakfast, plus the summer heat, fine, I’d eat anything and the brew. Then, at last, a sign that says “coffee” at the side street, finally, brunch.
The city of Vigan is a tourist magnet at any given time in the province of Ilocos Sur. Perhaps even in the whole of Ilocandia. Well, it’s a Unesco Heritage Site after all.
As per historical accounts, Vigan got its name from its unique location, it’s an island, which used to be detached from the island of Luzon, by three rivers – the great Abra River, the Mestizo River, and the Govantes River. A Spaniard walking along the banks of the Mestizo River, asked a native “Como se Ilama usted de esta lugar?” The native then answered in Ilocano, “Bigaa Apo”, as he thought the foreigner was pointing at a plant, Bigaa being Alcasia Macroniza, a giant Taro plant belonging to the Gabi family which used to thrive at the banks of the river. Its strategic location made it an important coastal trading post between Chinese merchants in pre-colonial then became capital town during Spanish colonial times. Vigan was a European trading town in East and South-East Asia with migrant settlements, the Chinese have their own place called, “Los Sangleyes del parian” and the Spaniards were residents in a villa called “Los Españoles de la Villa”.
With its diverse residents, the city’s aesthetics reflect the coming together of cultural elements locally, China and Europe. Its main alley, Calle Crisilogo, has structures that are built of brick and wood, with a steeply pitched roof reminiscent of traditional Chinese architecture. And its street plan of traditional Hispanic checkerboard style. With accents made from traditional pots to hand woven textiles, Abel Iloco, and intricate woodworks. This is the heritage city that we know today.
By noon, there’s little trace of tourists at Calle Crisologo, the main attraction of the city. Everyone’s indoors. It’s picture perfect, like before dawn.
There’s a lot of renovations at that time, so I didn’t grasp the whole Vigan experience just yet. Probably because my mind wandered somewhere in the South, where I was supposed to be that weekend. But I’d always say yes to impromptu travels with my mentor, George Tapan, plus witnessing an underrated festival, the Viva Vigan Binatbatan Festival of the Arts. And the food, oh my, that I didn’t see coming. Well, it wasn’t really a bad first visit to Vigan.
To date, this heritage city has three lovely festivals namely, the Longganisa Festival on January 22, the City Fiesta on January 25 in honor of the city’s patron saint, Saint Paul the Apostle and a week long Viva Binatbatan Festival of the Arts on last week of April ’til early May. And I’d love to partake in any of these festivals again some other time. Yet public transportation to and from the region is somewhat preserved in time too. Dominated by one bus company, going in and out would be a challenge at times. Hitching might be an option too, but nonetheless, Vigan is good to visit sometime.