A Facebook post from a fellow traveler caught my eye and piqued my interest. There was an international conference on cultural tourism that will take place to the historic city of Vigan, an eight- to ten-hour ride from the capital of Manila.
As I was in between jobs and had a week to spare while I transition from my previous employment to my new one, I decided to attend the said conference. The conference was in two-week’s time. Plus, there was a two-day holiday before that, which meant I had to make the necessary preparations in just a few days. So, I sent an e-mail to the secretariat, deposited my registration payment, booked my hotel, and arranged for my transportation. Sounds easy but this one sentence took some time and effort before everything fell into place.
I decided to travel a day before the start of the conference, just to make sure I arrive there early and less harassed. I knew the hotels would be fully booked and I feared that getting on the right bus would also be a headache. And there I was, 24 hours before traveling, and still calling up the bus companies for their schedules and inquiring about making reservations for a seat in one of their buses. Good thing the organizers chartered a bus and offered us a free ride. I was less than six hours from the scheduled trip and still no confirmation from the organizers. I decided to wake up early before dawn and try my luck on the chartered bus. At the bus station, I met the organizers, saw a fellow travel blogger, and got acquainted with other conference participants.
We traversed the length of the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX). The scenery was all too familiar as I was on the same highway a week before, when I went to Subic for All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The long bridge over a swampy area signaled we were near Candaba, where bird watching can be done.
At the end of the NLEX, we entered the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) passing Tarlac, Pangasinan, Agoo and La Union. We had lunch at San Fernando, where I had the chance to dine with a student participant, named Sandra, and her mother. The next leg of our trip went through several more towns. It lasted 10 hours all in all and the sun was almost setting down when we got to Vigan.
The city is as quaint as the last time I was here. We were dropped in one of the narrow streets and participants went their way to their respective hotels. Good thing there were three others who were staying in my hotel. I made friends with two ladies working with the Intramuros Administration.
It was not easy to look for a hotel during a conference. Of course, I had to contact the local Department of Tourism office and e-mail each hotel. On hindsight, it’s always easy to look for accommodations online, especially in websites like hostelword.com.
Vigan Hotel is a backpacker’s inn. It was an old ancestral house, dating as early as the 18th century, by the family of Don Mariano Villanueva. It has been transformed into a hotel in 1958 and is now managed by Oscar Villanuava, Jr.
The hotel is very accessible, located behind the Vigan Cathedral and a few steps from Plaza Burgos. Since it used to be a family residence, the hotel has a homey feel, although the rooms are quite old and simple. Not elegant, contrary to what was described in their site. Yet, it’s perfect for those who are on a tight budget. I paid only P695 a night for an aircon single room. Other hotels offered me rooms amounting to P3,000 to P5,000+ a night. A bit pricey for me, and with hotels filled for the conference, Vigan Hotel was my perfect bet.
Nevertheless, my room had an air conditioning unit, a desk, TV set, and free breakfast delivered every morning. Bathroom and toilet was common, so be prepared with this scenario.
It was the first time I heard of ICOMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites. They work for the conservation and protection of cultural heritage places. As a traveler and an enthusiast of culture, language, and people, I felt compelled to know what other heritage and cultural advocates had to share.
I heard various case studies from various countries, such as India, Egypt, and the United Kingdom. The conference touched on the economic and social impact of tourism, war and peace in tourism and heritage site visitation management. There were many topics and speakers from all over the world came to Vigan.
Yes, we need to preserve our culture and heritage and bridge our past to our present and, eventually, the future. Visiting sites such as Angkor Wat, Borobudur, Terra Cotta warriors, Great Wall of China, and Jose Rizal’s Dapitan home has given me a fresh perspective on life. More so when I toured the MacArthur Suite and Presidential Suite of the historic landmark, Manila Hotel, because I appreciated the sacrifices of people before me and the life I enjoy now.
The best part of the conference was meeting people and making friends. We were also treated to a zarzuela play and a dinner beneath the stars in front of the city hall, courtesy of the Mayor and the local government, as well as a folk dance presentation.
Calle Crisologo and Burgos Museum
The old homes of Calle Crisologo and the Burgos Museum transported me back to the time when Filipino families lived a simple life, centuries back. Watching the zarzuela at the local theater on women at war brought history to life. The landmarks and monuments, as well as the play, also made me realize the difficulties people back then had to go through at war time.
The cobble stone path of Calle Crisologo had ancestral homes lined up left and right. Only that some of them now houses commercial establishments, although there were still some families that took residence at the second floor. The houses were built on stone or cement, wide door were made of wood, sliding windows were of capiz shells, and ceilings had intricate designs.
Woven baskets, cotton blankets, t-shirts, vinegar, and local pork sausages were sold along Calle Crisologo. There were also some hotels, learning centers, coffee shops, and religious centers along this street. Horse-drawn carriages ply the length of the road.
The Burgos Museum, on the other hand, was home to Padre Burgos, one of the acclaimed heroes of the Philippines. There were also dioramas on display at the museum. The second level had rooms with furniture and antique items of the Burgos clan on display.
In one of the lunch breaks, we took a time off to check out Baluarte, the private-owned zoo by Ilocos Sur Governor Chavit Singson. Tigers were placed at the entrance, as if guarding the Baluarte from strangers. Yet, the zoo is open to the public and, the good part, is for free.
Ostrich and reindeers roamed the whole expanse of the zoo. In fact, there were several species of deers in the compound. There were also ducks, birds, and peacock. A pony-driven open carriage takes visitors around Baluarte, which we refused to ride.
With limited time, we weren’t able to see everything the zoo had to offer – only the towering dinosaur statue that gave the feel of a Jurassic Park. I’m pretty sure the governor will add more to his collection.
On my third day at Vigan, the conference has finally ended. My friends from the Intramuros Administration and I left Vigan at the wee hours of the morning and made our way back to Manila. It might take some time again before I’ll be revisiting Vigan and immerse myself in heritage and culture.
For more photos, check http://www.facebook.com/firsttimetravel.