ILOCOS SUR, OCTOBER 9, 2003  (STAR) Rendezvous By Christine S. Dayrit  - Vigan, the capital city of Ilocos Sur, evokes memo-ries of glorious past. Anyone who has set foot, on the cobblestoned Crisologo Street cannot help but be mesmerized by the grand stone houses and churches that date back to as early as 1700. Inscribed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, Vigan is a living testament to our splendid history.

Recently, my group and I were welcomed by gracious Ilocos Sur Governor Deogracias Victor "DV" Savellano whose efforts to promote Ilocos Sur through eco-tours and historic tours or "histourism" are quite commendable. Catchy slogans like "We’ve only just Vigan, but our grandeur dates back hundreds of years" and "Discover Vigan’s Best and Soar" have become personal favorites.

According to Damaso King (the much sought-after and respected local historian), at the height of the war, the American forces were ready to bomb Vigan because of the Japanese presence. The bombing was aborted and redirected to another place because Fr. Joseph Klecamf, SVD, the parish priest of Vigan, told the American soldiers that there were no more Japanese soldiers in the area. King added that Klecamf was requested by two Japanese soldiers – Fujiro Takahashi and Sakae Narioka – not to allow Vigan to be ravaged by war for the Japanese soldiers’ families were living there. Takahashi was married to a Filipina named Adela Tolentino. Narioka, on the other hand, was married to another Filipina named Belen Castillo. "Therefore Vigan was saved by love," enthused Gov. Savellano. The discoveries we made were so inspiring that Gov. Savellano comissioned us to document these stories and even produce a telemovie on the topic.

Apart from his knowledge of Vigan during the time of war, King also told us of the Chinese presence in Vigan in the olden times. "The Ilocos province since the 9th century had interrelations with the Chinese traders. Between the 13th and 14th century, Chinese traders arrived in Vigan," related King. The local historian added that when Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo discovered the village of Vigan on June 13, 1572, he noticed the presence of many Chinese and their families in the place. Among the many contributions of the Chinese to Vigan is industries included jar manufacturing, weaving, furniture making, craftsmanship, cuisine, delicacies, embroidery and arts.

On board a horse-drawn calesa, King became our personal tour guide in Vigan. Passing through the cobblestoned Crisologo Street, he educated us on the old houses. Old families who still have houses in Vigan include the Florentinos, Quemas, Crisologos, Singsons, De los Reyeses, Villanuevas, Encarnacions, Syquias, and Versozas.

Many of the old houses have been turned into inns and hotels. A few have been abandoned. Others have been used as either recreation centers with billiard tables or stores selling rice and animal feeds.

One inn that caught our attention was Grandpa’s Inn. This inn, according to owner Joey Pasimio, is an ancestral house built in the 1800s by Don Mariano Favis Donato as gift to his wife Dona Carmen Rivero. In 1970, it was sold to Dr. and Mrs. Jose Pasimio Sr. and was immediately converted into St. Therese Dorm, a dormitory for girls (second floor) and offices (first floor).

In 1979, it was again converted into an inn with 19 rooms, a restaurant and bar, and coffee shop. With 24 years of service, Grandpa’s Inn has become a favorite place to stay and dine by many foreign and local tourists. In fact, it was in this hotel where the Rico Yan-Judy Ann Santos movie Kay Tagal Kitang Hinintay was filmed.

The accommodation at Grandpa’s Inn has unique features like its calesa room, kariton bed, antiquated sewing machines, typewriters, saxophone and piano among other things. Each room is air-conditioned and is decorated with antique china pieces. A family room for three people costs only P1,300 inclusive of breakfast. A three-day/two-night package for single occupancy is pegged at P7,200 inclusive of roundtrip transfers, daily set breakfast, a tour of Ilocos, among others. Café Uno, the coffee shop of Grandpa’s Inn, is very famous among tourists and locals. Here, one can enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice, a cup of local or imported coffee, or a bottle of ice cold beer. The food at the café is never second best. Ilokano dishes like dinoydoy (squash and ampalaya sauteed in onions and broth), poqui-poqui (eggplant omelette), bagnet (their version of deep fried lechon kawali) as well as Mexican delights will surely satisfy the most discriminating of palates.

It was also at Grandpa’s Inn where we discovered one of the youngest treasures of Vigan: Jerome Villalun, an up and coming twenty-two-year-old painter of Ilocos Sur. Being the resident artist of the inn, many of his artworks in the inn walls. Villalun is a college student at the University of Northern Philippines in Vigan where he is taking up Fine Arts.

His larger-than-life rendition of Crisologo Street done in mixed media is proudly displayed at the reception of the inn. The images of houses were done in styropore coated with oil and acrylic. Tiny blades of dried grass were incorporated in the artwork to achieve a nostalgic effect. Villalun has sold more than 50 pieces of his artworks. Gov. Savellano, an art aficionado himself, invited Jerome and several other young artists to exhibit their works at the Ilocos Sur trade show in SM Megamall next month.

The newest treasure of Vigan is the Vigan Plaza Hotel. Walking from the reception area to the quaint fountain in the courtyard made me feel as though I were transported to Avignon in France or Seville in Spain. Owned by former governor Chavit Singson, the hotel is fast becoming a haven for many a tourist of Vigan. Old-world charm combined with luxurious amenities gives visitors a certain kind of high.

A visit to Vigan is not complete without dining at Café Leona. Apart from the sumptuous food the restaurant offers, its Thai chef, Jimmy Punpinij, is another highlight himself. Formerly the executive chef at ShangriLa in Bangkok, chef Jimmy has been in Vigan for about six years now but it is as if he has lived there all his life. In his vintage Mercedes Benz, he also toured us around the historic city while untiringly taking photographs for us.

On our flight back to Manila , we did not only carry with us the ubiquitous Ilocos Sur delicacies like Tongson bibingka, Vigan longanisa, bagnet, and empanada. Deep in our hearts, we experienced the soul of a magnificent place as we stepped back somewhere in time to a glorious past still intact.

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For inquiries about Vigan Plaza Hotel, call (077) 7228552; Grandpa’s Inn, call (077) 722-2118. Reservations at Café Leona can be done at (077) 7222212. Contact the Ilocos Sur Tourism Information Center(077) 722-8520

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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