The Historic Town of Vigan
14.05.2011 - 15.05.2011
“Welcome to Vigan!”the strange man on the front seat announced around four in the morning as the engine halted in a dark square. I'd never been to this place before but my body felt all too familiar, almost weird, to this strange environment.
I gazed up to a sky devoid of stars, a seemingly plain canvass a painter happily whisked unto his palette of blues and blacks. The air smelled of something so familiar, old and rustic. Breathing in the scent of the fresh fallen leaves swirling in the breeze, I realized Vigan was reminiscent of the town I’d never been to in years. It felt like Bislig. A rooster frantically crows in the background and I could almost hear the yawns of the locals eager to start the day. My body thought it was home.
Vigan, the capital city of Ilocos Sur, is 249 miles away from Metro Manila, the National Capital Region. It is situated on the western coast of Luzon, facing the South China Sea. It is the quintessence of an intact Spanish colonial town in the country. With the unique integration of the Filipino, Chinese and European architectural mastery—reflected in a culture and townscape that remain unequalled in the whole of East and Southeast Asia—this historic town was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1999.
Amidst my companion’s raptures of delight, I ambled on the cobbled-stone street with hushed excitement. Every single crevice and cracks on ancient walls promised of stories never published in books. And through the amber lamps illuminating Calle Crisologo, I marveled at the evidence of Castillian architecture was reflected everywhere. The atmosphere was too enchanting for me. It spelled classic to my senses and I willingly drank in the history of the place.
Being Filipino and a naturally inquisitive person, I am always curious about the origin of the names of every single place that took my fancy. It is popularly established that the great conquistador Capitan Juan de Salcedo derived Vigan's name from Bigaa, a taro plant that thrived along Mestizo river. However, I have already learned from my reliable history textbooks that the credits should actually be awarded to the merchants from Fujian Province.
The area was originally settled by the early Chinese traders who were drawn by the country’s pristine coastline. They called the place Bee Gan which literally translates to "Beautiful Shore". But the Castilian conquistadors pronounced it with the a distinct “V” and thus the Fujianese Bee Gan became Vigan. The place was then fully named, Villa Fernandina in honor of Prince Ferdinand, the firstborn son of King Phillip II of Spain. As the town grew into a city, the name was changed to Ciudad Fernardina de Vigan.
Deep in my revelries I already saw myself sipping a hot cup of rice coffee, smoking in between sips as my friends converse about politics, our worries and hopes for the country. We could bask in the glory of the northern twilight until sun fully claimed the day. But to burst my bubble, no cafes or restaurants were open at the time. As as tourist from Manila, I was excited to dine in a regional restaurant serving authentic Ilocano cuisine and delicacies. It disappointed me all the more to see the prevalence of modern fastfood chains in the vicinity. This disrupted the whole vintage theme the old city stands for.
Vigan is a bit crowded in the day. Calle Crisologo was lined with various antique shops and stalls selling crafts and memorabilias. I was mesmerized at the sight of the ones made of coconut shells and other raw materials and hardwork and pure passion. I will always be proud of the genius of the native Filipino. How could anybody else make such marvelous piece of art out of scrap? And that’s without formal training yet. Only in the Philippines indeed.
The city also boasts delicacies such as bibingka (rice cake) that looked and tasted like cassava cake to me, longganisa (ground meat wrapped with intestines) and empanada. Empanada is certainly not one of my favorite food but Vigan's must be really good because I found myself savoring every bite.