, MARCH 5, 2007 (STAR) RENDEZVOUS By Christine S. Dayrit - I often say, just like true love, you never really know what you’re looking for until you find it. Such thoughts kept recurring in my mind as I stumbled across the most scintillating gem of a place tucked away in Currimao, Ilocos Norte. Welcome to Sitio Remedios.

The surreal surroundings are as black as ebony. Only the moonbeams skimming across the calm ocean water and a few sparkling stars illumine the northern sky. Nightingale voices of precocious children, garbed in their red-and-white choir ensemble as they sing Ilocano love songs, fill the air with magic. Countless candles light our path against seemingly Balinese artistic structures that we later realize are the 14 Stations of the Cross. Sitio Remedios, the newest crown jewel of the north, is truly awe-inspiring and humbling.

This quaint village resort greets us as a romantic cobbled-stoned pathway leads us to the vast expanse of pristine beach with a nostalgic watchtower. As we lie on our mats on the fine, powdery sand, the universe as our security blanket, we bask in the glory of silence where our heartbeats seem to be the most dominant sound there is. To be in touch with the cosmos and ultimately yourself is perhaps one of the most soulful retreats you can be rewarded with.

Sitio Remedios, a paradise of old-world charm with modern luxuries, was named after a remarkable lady whose life and example inspired her children to be exemplary citizens. Among them is her son Dr. Joven R. Cuanang, a top neurologist and medical director of St. Luke’s Medical Center, who is the proprietor and visionary behind the resort. Dr. Cuanang went to Harvard Medical School in the mid-’60s on a China Medical Board Rockefeller Scholarship, then went backpacking across Europe for a year and worked in Davis, California before practicing medicine in the Philippines. He considers education as the best gift from his parents, particularly his mother, who was a schoolteacher.

Many creation myths declare that the world was created in six days. In similar fashion, this heritage village by the sea evolved similarly. On Dec. 31, 2005, during Dr. Cuanang’s birthday, the idea of creating a heritage village by the sea came up. The following day, architect par excellence Rex Hofileña, who hails from Bacolod, drew three sketches of the dream destination. After six days, the final plans were approved. Six-century-old homes earmarked for demolition were purchased to form the villas at Sitio Remedios. According to Rene Guatlo, trustee of Silangan, which is Dr. Cuanang’s foundation for art, culture, ecology and healing: "Each piece of vintage wood and brick was numbered, meticulously dismantled then reassembled on the new property."

A microcosm of the grandeur and elegance of mid-century Ilocos Norte is recreated within the resort with a chapel devoted to San Miguel, the patron saint of Currimao in the center of this idyllic haven. On May 1, 2006, through the dedicated work and loving persistence of Dr. Cuanang and over 200 skilled craftsmen, this unique jewel was inaugurated.

The villas are named after the towns from which the ancestral homes originated. Our dearest family friend, Tita Ethel Timbol, stayed with me at the largest villa called Balay Batac. Batac is popularly known for its famous sons Gen. Artemio Ricarte, Bishop Gregorio Aglipay and Ferdinand Marcos. A major highlight here is the wedding portrait of Mariano and Remedios Cuanang created by National Artist Bencab in his inimitable "Larawan" style. A huge mural by artist Manny Garibay, honoring the bravery of Gen. Ricarte ("El Vibora") and splendid portraits of Bishop Aglipay and the Luna brothers Juan and Antonio, born in the neighboring town of Badoc, are also featured.

Balay Dingras is inspired by one of the eastern towns of Ilocos Norte made famous by its roofless church ruins and centuries-old houses. Fabulous prints by artist Claude Tayag complement the two charming bedrooms that lead to the secret gardens dedicated to San Francisco. Balay Radrillo is highlighted by red bricks fashioned from Ilocos clay, which adorn the verandah at the house entrance. Balay nga Puraw is inspired by the arrival of the Americans at the turn of the 20th century, utilizing cement and iron grillwork, balusters, and finished in a dazzling white. Balay Piddig is inspired by the famous Basi Revolt of 1807. In honor of its first occupant, piano virtuoso Cecile Licad, the bedroom is named "Kuarto ni Cecile." Balay Bacarra, made from wood salvaged from a Bacarra house, features artwork by the famous photographer Wig Tysman.

One may also have a much-deserved pampering retreat at the health and wellness spa Ablon, an Ilocano term for healing through massage. A cozy bar and restaurant nearby also serves seafood delights, vegetarian cuisine, fresh fruit juices and herbal drinks.

Over a delightful candlelit dinner of Ilocano delicacies, fresh seafood and sparkling wine hosted by Ilocos Norte provincial board member Michael Keon, we learned the name "Currimao" was derived from a combination of "corre" ("run" in Spanish) and "cumao" ("marauder" or pirate in Ilocano), the cry supposedly yelled by the watchmen whenever attacking ships were sighted. Dramatic coral formations rise almost miraculously from the crystal clear water. Reaching heights of more than 12 feet, these jagged mountains are of the same material used to build the massive baroque churches of the province.

After a sumptuous breakfast of longganiza, fried fish, garlic fried rice and poki-poki (scrambled eggs with eggplant sautéed in tomatoes and onions), we visited the exquisite Fort Ilocandia in Laoag then proceeded to the town of Paoay which gained international attention with the inscription of the Church of San Augustin, as a UNESCO Heritage Site. At the charming Herencia Café, across the Paoay church, we had the pleasure of meeting the gracious SC Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales, Paoay Mayor Bobby Clemente and Herencia Café owner Sam Blas. Try their delightful pastas, pinakbet pizza (a heavenly combination of fresh veggies, mozzarella cheese and secret spices) and other specialties.

A visit to Ilocos Norte is never complete without attending the very colorful Guling-Guling festival held recently. What Fat Tuesday is to Americans, Guling-Guling is to people of Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Food, of course, or rather sheer bacchanalia plays a big part in the celebration. Guling-Guling (introduced by the Spaniards in the 16th century) is Ilokano for "to mark, smear, or make a sign" since it is all about imprinting the sign of the cross on a person’s forehead using white rice flour mixed with a little water. The women don their traditional abel (hand-woven) kimona and pandiling, with jewelry and accessories to match; the men wear kamisa de Chino and abel trousers as they dance to their heart’s content.

On our last day in Currimao, Dr. Cuanang and I walked on the pristine shoreline, he shared with me the essence of Sitio Remedios that reminds him of that familiar place called home. "It is exhilarating to take a step down memory lane, to relive one’s roots where history returns to life and to protect our heritage before they are lost completely," Dr. Cuanang enthuses. Visit this haven built by love and inevitably; be consumed by it. Hopefully, many more will be inspired to create a heritage village like Sitio Remedios. It’s more than a resort, it’s a living museum of one’s culture.

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Sitio Remedios is located in Brgy. Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte. For details, call Ray Boy Barona at 0917-332 0217 or log on to

Cebu Pacific flies to Laoag from Manila every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. For reservations, call 702-0888.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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