[COLUMN] Begin the beguine with Vigan

WHEN, and not if, this blasted pandemic finally leaves without a trace, what are your plans?

Here’s a thought. How about playing tourist in your own native land?

Get out of the city and really look with fresh eyes at the countryside. Let it not be said that aliens and other strangers saw something worthwhile that we didn’t — right in our own backyard.

Those cavernous shopping malls, tiendecitas, tianggues and the stalls of Greenhills springing up like mushrooms, awash with gizmos, trinkets, doodads and brand name knock-offs for consumers to buy —we will always have with us—but certain places in the country deserve a long, hard look and a VISIT, before they fade away to oblivion.

Vigan is one of them. If you fit the bill of an expatriate who must cram the tourist experience into a 2 to 3 week time frame and there is only one chance for a local side trip, just one chance to do one mad dance before your Philippine trip is all over, begin the beguine with Vigan.

Vigan has first claim to being the best of the old remaining towns of our Philippine colonial past. It shows the eclectic blending of many cultures forged over hundreds of years. Vigan shows aspects we would never see just by reading a travel book or watching a video. Vigan shows aspects of our character, of who we are as a people. VIGAN TEACHES US.

For the longest time, I have always wanted to go North of Manila and visit Vigan in the Ilocos province, struck by the memory of an image I’ve seen in some tattered travel poster years back.

Here is Philippine history you can actually touch, a narrow, colonial street you can actually walk on or keep your ears peeled to listen at sundown to the soothing clip clop of horse-drawn calesas for hire to tourists at 150 Php/hour mixed with the annoyingly grating sound of the ubiquitous tricycles. The authentic remnants of Spanish architecture on Calle Crisologo, a short strip of narrow, cobblestone road, allow us to get a glimpse of what life must have been like several hundred years ago.

If you have any clairvoyant bone in your body, you can even sense the presence of curious, benign ghosts of ages past in the ancestral homes, mingling and jostling with the tourists eying strangers curiously wondering about us just as we wonder about them.

At the nice, neat bed and breakfast inn we stayed in called Grandpa’s Inn, named for the doctor who owned it sometime ago, I could swear there is a quietly hovering presence in one part of the upstairs open area, faintly caught on camera, mysterious and otherworldly, making the small hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. If it were not for the bagnet, the daing and the longganisa they were serving for breakfast and the quaint calesa bed, the pleasant people at the reception desk and the efficiently working air conditioning in the Kalesa Room we were billeted in, I would have bolted for other accommodations.

It takes serious money and pigheaded determination to undertake preservation projects on a huge scale. In time, the ancestral homes that line Calle Crisologo will need to be preserved, if they are to be seen by generations yet to come who must be afforded the chance to see bits of our past in order to understand who they are, as a people with a shared history, heritage and distinct personality in the context of an increasingly global world.

The venerable Ayala Family, who understood history, art and culture and its collective role in nation-building, saw this clearly far ahead of anyone else in the country and did its part through Ayala Foundation, decades ago. The legacy lives on in the well-kept Burgos House which is now under the auspices of the National Museum. But more needs to get done.

There is a certain sense of urgency in seeing just such a place — before the passage of time, changing mores, priorities and the inroads of crass commercialism endanger and eventually transform these old remnants of our history into just a memory, preserved only in history and travel books.

Sadly, under present conditions with the country constantly grappling with its social, economic and political woes while searching for its soul in waging a fight to the death with endemic corruption from the highest to the lowest rungs of government, preserving history, art and culture will have to stay in the back burner for a very long time. What this means for us is that the remaining relics of our history, if we don’t take the effort today to provide for their preservation, will simply be allowed to crumble to dust and fade away.

But enough thinking about tomorrow! Today has enough troubles of its own. For now, there’s enough of Vigan to enjoy just the way it is.
(To be continued in next week’s issue …)

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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.
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Nota Bene: Monette Adeva Maglaya is SVP of Asian Journal Publications, Inc. To send comments, e-mail monette.maglaya@asianjournalinc.

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