Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Year-End Special

I've always been an advocate of DIY trips. I love love love researching, planning and booking. I handle my own itineraries up to the last bit of detail on transportation, accommodation and ticket. Reading the map, carefully following the researched routes and even getting lost are all part of my adventure. It what makes my travels more memorable. I love doing it for other people too.

My last trip was the test of it. I'll be travelling with my husband plus my parents. I really really wanted to scour the internet for some tips on how to manage an Ilocos Norte and Sur trip the most convenient way possible since there'll be the four of us. That northern leg of Luzon is a bit challenging since there are a lot of tourist spots that are miles and miles apart. I am about to enjoy the headaches of planning it when my father told me to just book a packaged tour. My heart sank upon hearing that. I felt restless not having to arrange anything. Then I realized, our target date is a long weekend which is just a few days away, the mere search for a legit and affordable package is a challenge itself. Challenge accepted!

True enough, I had a hard time finding an agency that still has 4 slots left. Then I found this agency called Byaheng-Pinas which offers various tours around Luzon. Luckily, Ms. Jane, their contact person, arranged something for us on the last minute. Transaction was very smooth. It was a 3 days and 2 nights tour.

Day 0 was a crazy busy day. I still had to wake up at 5am to work. At 10am, I logged out early to prepare for a friend's wedding. The wedding concluded at around 7pm. I had a quick nap before preparing again to leave by 9:30pm. We met our driver at 10pm at Dau bus terminal. It was a convenient arrangement. We're supposed to go to Manila to meet him but he agreed to pick us up instead. Having been awake since 5am, I slept like a baby all through out the 7-hour travel going to Vigan.

Day 1 began at 5am. We arrived at Vigan while it was still dark. We were given some free time to roam around Vigan Heritage Village. It was an interesting place. I specifically admired Calle Crisologos' beautiful cobblestones. This street's old feel is nicely preserved and/or restored. Sadly, my digicam was forced to a very high ISO due to darkness hence, poor quality photo. Oh well.

Well of course, I wouldn't miss having a photo on this famous seat.
At the Vigan Church
Bantay Bell Tower
We then proceeded to our next stop, Chavit Singson's Baluarte. I wasn't exactly hyped up to visit Chavit's property, after all, I am not a fan. All I know is that he's insanely rich and has some tigers and snakes in captivity. Maybe it's the animal-lover in me, but I genuinely enjoyed it upon seeing small horses, deer and my most favorite animal in the world, the llamas! Plus in all fairness to him, there were no payments required to any area and donations were even prohibited. I now think it's very generous of him to open up his place for the public's amusement.

Well hello there cutie Llama :)
That concluded our Ilocos Sur leg. It was still early in the morning when we left Vigan City to proceed to Paoay. I was particularly excited at this point, I knew Marcos' Museum is next. I am a fan of Marcos, I think he's a genius. If only his regime continued (well of course if he hadn't got sick), we're a first world country now. That's just what I think, I'm no expert so don't start a debate on me. So there we saw his actual preserved remains. Photography is prohibited, bummer. Near his mausoleum is a museum of his photos, features and memorabilia. It was very interesting.

After a quick lunch at a local eatery, we proceeded to the famous Paoay Church. Old churches are very interesting and photogenic. That drives tourists to rather have a photo shoot than to actually pray. I'm sometimes guilty too, of course.

Beautiful Baroque Architecture
After this quick stop, we found ourselves agreeing to join the optional 4x4 ride going to the sand dunes. I wouldn't miss it for the world. Fee is not included in the tour. It costs 2500 Php, sand boarding equipment included. That will be further split up into 5, which is the capacity of the 4x4 vehicle. My father, having been used to sand dunes all his life in Saudi Arabia, decided not to go. Two of the friends we've met during the tour decided to split the fee with us. Cool, it's a go then!

Okay, this is hard, I wish I could give justice to the whole experience in a form of writing. It was a one hell of an experience! We road the 4x4, not knowing what to expect. All I knew was it'll be used to navigate the sand dunes going to the sand boarding area. Wrong! It was used as a roller coaster! We rolled down on dunes that were as high as a house on a very high speed. We were standing, clinging on to the bars, without harnesses or anything. Our lives depended on our grip. The danger is real. One wrong slip and the momentum could easily throw me out like a piece of rock. We were laughing and screaming all through out. It was totally the highlight of this trip!

Very strong vehicle indeed!
Genuinely happy!

Feeling nervous that my clumsy body will fail on me.

Sliding gracefully down this very long path. Success!
Sand boarding was a very cool experience. I never knew I had that balance within me. After some rounds, we rode our trusted 4x4 and had the second round of adventure! We had a quick stop at a nearby beach by the way. What an all-in-one experience!

After this adrenaline-pumping experience, we proceeded to a more laid-back stop, The Malacanang of the North. It was where Marcos lived during his regime whenever he's in Ilocos Norte, very interesting and educational indeed. It was a lovely place too, the balcony overlooks the Paoay Lake. I guess with that serene view, ruling an entire country will be a little less difficult.

There we also ate the famous empanada. It was okay, especially the sukang Iloko. Okay, honestly, I wasn't crazy about it. Maybe some places had better versions?

With our sore bodies from a seemingly endless road trip and adventures, we moved even further up north to rest on a decent hotel in Laoag City. I took a bath, had dinner then slept at 8pm. I think that's the earliest sleep I ever had, as in ever!

Day 2 will follow soon.

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