Ilocos Norte is one place that is wonderful to explore by bike. Unlike other destinations here in the Philippines wherein the main attraction is the destination; it can be said that in traveling Ilocos (both Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte), the journey itself is the adventure. For example in going to Pagudpud (the usual end point in exploring Ilocos), each town that you will pass on your way to Pagudpud has something to offer and worth the stop over compared for example in going to, say Legaspi City, wherein the towns on the way has nothing much to offer. And each town has something different to offer from historical, to natural, to man-made structures. Historical includes old churches like those under the UNESCO Heritage list (Paoay and Sta Cruz), old houses, historical structures like the Cape Bojeador light house and historical personalities and events (Gabriela Silang, Tirad Pass, Antonio and Juan Luna birth place and the remnants of the legacy of then President Marcos). Natural sites includes Kapurpurawan (White Rocks), Sand Dunes, the Burgos Falls, Paoay Lake and the Boracay of the North- Pagudpud. Manmade structure includes the Windmills of Bangui and the soon to be Burgos Windmill Farm. I have driven to Pagudpud a couple of times and each time seems not enough to explore the place. But riding Ilocos brings a new dimension as you can see the details of each place. It offers an opportunity to have a closer look and if time permits to explore each one in more details including those lesser landmark often bypassed by tourist caravans.
In one of my earlier blog, I have mentioned the suggestion of how to explore the North. For hard core riders with ample time, the suggestion is to start from La Union, then first night at Vigan, second night at Laoag and third night at Pagudpud. Then allot a day or two to explore the Pagudpud environs towards Patapat via duct (i.e Blue Lagoon, Sting Ray Memorial, some Falls etc.). Of course there are people who have biked the North starting from Manila and some even returned via the Cagayan- Nueva Vizcaya route. But I tell you, you may have very little time to explore Ilocos that way unless you really have more than week to ride. For a lesser time allotment, you can start from Vigan then a night in Laoag and then Pagudpud- which is what we have done in this trip.
We left Manila Friday night. We actually brought a pick-up truck with us as we were not sure of travelling by bus and the inconvenience of loading the bike. But we found out on our way back to Vigan from Pagudpud that there are buses that go from Manila to Pagudpud and they have this “through compartment” where you can transport your bike without removing the wheels. It was tiresome as I drive all the way from Manila to Vigan. We left 9PM and arrived at Vigan at around 4AM. We had a quick breakfast then started the ride immediately towards Laoag City. We left the car at the town plaza which seems pretty safe. It was too cold in the morning (must have been due to the Snow Surge in Japan, and being at North the temperature is more felt) fluid started flowing from my nose. I was riding with Rommel Jotic who was a newbie in terms of riding which is also the reason why we opted to do the Vigan to Pagudpud route after lengthy planning for Leyte or even a Sagada to Ilocos. Only two of us confirmed the ride and for me, just one companion is enough to push through with the ride. The choice of Vigan to Pagudpud was mainly because I have biked from Manila to Vigan before but haven’t done the Pagudpud yet and given the justifications mentioned above regarding the wonderful places to explore plus the tight schedule and the easiness of the route, ideal for a beginner- this was a perfect choice.
Our first stop was at Cabugao after we saw a marker stating “Boracay of the North.” But upon checking; it was white sand indeed. Note- sand and not crushed corals so it was more of like a fine dust. So much for the title “Boracay of the North”. No wonder the place was unheard of as we all know that Pagudpud is the real Boracay of the North. Anyways, I was really open to exploring each sign that I see, which is the advantage and the purpose of biking in the first place. When I first drove this route- I was disappointed not to see the tobacco plantations Ilocos is famous of but apparently I just missed it and now that I am on a bike, I have seen it the entire two days I was riding. We entered Ilocos Norte by 8:30 AM at 40km and halfway mark. Given that time, we have enough time to either explore Laoag or push further to shorten the ride the next day and have more time to explore the sights towards Pagudpud.
After that we passed by Badoc, I was looking at the sign to the shrine of the Luna’s (Antonio and Juan) but it seems it was removed so we were not able to go there. Though I would assume (sadly) that the Luna shrine would not have any Luna painting on it- I think it is still worth the visit. In Curramao, there was a fork wherein the left route has more scenic spots but has steep uphill roads. It was shorter though and it was were I was planning to take Rommel. But we saw a detour sign and took the right route so we ended up at the Batac intersection. A gradual but longer way to Paoay. We took the left towards Paoay passing by Don Mariano Marcos State University. We arrived at Paoay when the sun was at high noon- it was no longer cool but so hot. We had our lunch- of course bagnet and pinakbet in a popular restaurant in front of the Paoay church yard. We then proceeded towards Laoag passing by Paoay Lake and the Sand Dunes before reaching Laoag. I was actually thinking of trying to ride the dunes which would seems so cool but I think if we do a side trip, Rommel might have problems making it to Laoag. I proceeded straight to Java Hotel which caught my attention whenever I pass by Laoag but it was not my time to stay there. It was fully booked. We ended up at Isabel Suites. It was nice though- near the center of Laoag and the price was reasonable at 1.4K for the twin sharing. Isabel has a new building being inaugurated the next day so we were a day early to be booked at that brand new hotel. They don’t have a place to store the bikes though and they asked us to just park it in front of the hotel with an assurance that the place is guarded 24 hours. So we hoped we still have our bikes tomorrow to continue our ride, else we will ride a bus back to Manila.
Armed with Google, we searched for the best place to eat at Laoag. Most of the places we found on the internet was no longer in existence, we ended up at a Cebu themed grill restaurant. After that we started looking for a place to hang-out. We went around the capitol ground and the square where a local rock fest was happening. We then had some pictures at St. William’s Cathedral and its sinking Bell Tower. Then we asked the locals for the best night life experience. Surprisingly, we were brought to a restaurant called “Night Life”. It has live bands but due to our age- we are no longer into loud music so we searched further. There was a Gerry’s Gill but it was too quiet. We were curious so we ended up at Barangay Uno but we hurriedly left after seeing the place. That is not the place where I would want to be killed and be reported. I was tempted to go to Fort Ilocandia Casino but I guess they will not accept my bike for loan. Finally the place where we settled was just beside our hotel- The Coco Grill. But before proceeding, we passed by a Spa (yes a real one and not a sleazy one) to relax our tired muscles. Then had a quiet folk song night at Coco Grill while eating some crocodile meat which, as predicted came from Palawan.
I guess we drank a lot the night before so we were not able to get up early but it was ok as the ride this day was shorter. Our bikes were still there so there is no excuse not to ride that day. That day was more exciting as there are more wonderful sites to explore in this leg. We first stopped at Bacarra to see the bell tower ruins. Then I found out there are hotels on the next town, Pasuquin so if you have planned of extending the first day ride by 20 kms, then Pasuquin is an option (though there are few restaurants in town compared when staying at Laoag). The next stop was a bit farther- at Burgos. After arriving at Burgos we asked the locals on how to get to the cliff side house ruins I often see when we visit the Bojeador Light house. We went there and explored the place then proceeded to Cape Bojeador. The light house was located atop a hill so I just asked Rommel to take tricycle to the top and I will just stay at the road to guard the bikes as I have been to Bojeador for two times already.
The next stop was at Kapurpurawan. I went ahead and ordered some food at the Tourist Center and found out that the 3km road to Kapurpurawan was already paved (I was thinking of an off road adventure). Rommel passed by and has not noticed me so I guess we will be skipping Kapurpurawan. I was not able to follow immediately as I had ordered some food so after eating, I raced to catch up with Rommel. Passing by Burgos town, Rommel was not there so we will also skip the two falls at Burgos. I went to Bangui Windmill Farm and had lunch there and Rommel was still nowhere to be found. After several attempts to locate him, I gave up and rode towards Pagudpud in a race phase trying to catch Rommel. I saw him at the entrance to Pagudpud. But everything was ok as we knew each other well to let minor things like that to mess up the trip. We went to Pagudpud market where I brought the Pagudpud longanisa as pasalubong which is not that popular but which we have loved after tasting it on a prior trip before. Then we went to the beach and had some pictures and of course, drinks. By late afternoon we rode back expecting to get a ride at the Pan-Philippine hi-way but we were surprised to find a bus bound for Cubao near the Pagudpud municipal hall. We rode towards Vigan (where I supposed to be asleep for the long drive ahead but Expandables and surprisingly- Celine Dion Live kept me awake) and at Vigan, had our dinner and some few beers- again another Bagnet before we left the Ilocos Region. After that we drove back to Manila and arrived by 9AM the next day.
Map of the Trip