So many times I’ve said that I would blog while I’m traveling. Or, I’d blog as soon as I get back. I’m not very good at either. I actually am no good at all. I often recount my travels weeks after I’ve come home, sometimes even months!
I think most of this is because as soon as I land somewhere, I want to be completely immersed in the experience. So I put down my phone, don’t worry about documenting everything, and just ride it out. But I’ve come to a realization that it really is important to document the people and places I’ve seen. It soothes the travel bug just a little bit and takes me back to a happy place.
In the next few weeks (give or take), I’ll be taking a trip back down memory lane to recount my steps around the world. First stop: Ilocos Sur, Philippines!
I might be biased (Ilocana, hey!), but the Ilocos Region of the Philippines is absolutely breathtaking. Vigan and Bantay are no exception. Today we’re visiting the Bantay Bell Tower, [vicariously] eating Ilocano empanadas and [virtually] riding a kalesa.
Bantay Bell Tower
The Bantay Bell Tower is a short drive away from Vigan, just about ten minutes at a good hour. It’s quite common for tourists to stop over Bantay before or after hitting up Vigan. In our case, we had lunch nearby and we decided to walk to Saint Augustine Parish Church so we could hang out at the Bell Tower.
Bantay Bell Tower or Bantay Belfry
Saint Augustine Parish Church(also known as Bantay Church)Bantay, Ilocos Sur, Philippines
The grounds in which the bell tower is situated is said to be the same place where Diego Silang y Andaya fought the Spaniards in order to establish an independent Ilocano nation.
Once you go up the narrow and winding stairs of the tower, you can enjoy panoramic views of neighboring city Vigan and the province of Abra. It’s really quite a beautiful sight to behold. You’ll see traces of the colonial past here and there, and it’s a marvel to know all of the history behind it.
Despite some patches here and there, the majority of the grounds have been well-kept and preserved. Ilocus Sur prides itself in being a destination for Filipinos to retrace our heritage, and it’s safe to say that the province lives up to that expectation.
Food Find: Empanadas de Ilocandia
I like to think that Ilocano food is typically healthy. Most of the time when we visit our family in La Union, we eat fish with vegetables. We almost never eat beef or pork, it seems like, unless there’s a special occasion or the holidays are in full-swing. But seriously, though, when Ilocanos find an excuse to deep fry something or add a little bit more oil than usual, they go all out!
The empanadas you’ll find in Vigan are amazing, I know I won’t find an equivalent anywhere else! There’s just something about how it’s made there. You have to get it from the streets! As you can see from the stain on the paper bag, it was ridiculously oily, but I only felt half the guilt because like other Ilocano food, it was packed with veggies.
This particular empanada had lettuce, carrots, onions, bean sprouts, grated papaya, and just a little bit of egg and Vigan longanisa. These ingredients are also known as Heaven on Earth.
Like many older colonial cities in the Philippines, kalesas (Spanish: calesa/caritela) are still roaming the streets of Vigan. During the Spanish period, kalesas were reserved only for the upper class that included aristocrats and high-ranking officials. Now, they’re more of a tourist attraction that will get you through the cobblestone streets, if you prefer the “scenic route”.
In all honesty, kalesas quite literally stink. I mean, you’re sitting right behind a horse and [what my sister called] its “poop catcher”. Nonetheless, it is remarkable to know that centuries ago, this mode of transportation was seen as a luxury and that it’s stood the test of time — just like many other parts of Vigan.
Going to a place like Ilocos Sur, so well-preserved and not to mention, spotless, makes me proud to be an Ilocana. Sure, my Ilocano roots are further down south, but I felt right at home. To say the very least, it’s a beautiful place. The vibe is just right for me and I look forward to going back there in the years to come.