I just got back from our unexpected Ilocos trip with my family last Sunday. Though it was a 3-day trip, it was a long and tiring one despite the new express ways built to speed up your travels up in the northern provinces. Back in the day, it used to take us about 9-10 hours of non-stop driving to Ilocos, but since it was a long weekend, city dwellers flock to their respective trips out of the city. Of course, this was expected since most people were either itching to go out of town whenever a long weekend comes up or still hung up on the holidays, therefore grabbing every opportunity to extend it as long as possible.
So there we were, stuck in a stretch of slow moving (and at times, non-moving), north –bound Manilenyos on their way to Baguio mostly. I only realized this when one by one, cars disappeared behind us as we neared the forked roads going to Baguio and La Union. It was almost as if 98% of those who were stuck in traffic with us in the middle of TPLEX or SCTEX were off to Baguio!
My back was hurting (don’t know what position I still haven’t tried while in the car) when we reached Candon at 10 in the evening to have dinner. It was a good thing that we had lunch at Matutina’s at 2-3pm where the food was heavenly, and which stocked up our empty, dehydrated bellies. Calculating the total travel time, it took us about 16 hours to reach Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur where our lolo sa balikat was patiently waiting for us, laid down in his simple, white casket.
I don’t know much about where my family originated. I just assumed when we were young that my mother’s side of the family also came from Batac, Ilocos Norte since we used to go there to visit my tita’s husband’s family. Apparently, my real lolo’s (my mother’s father) family resides in Ilocos Sur, which I only came to know back in 2011 when we first visited and got to know them.
I still have no idea how this lolo whose wake we went to was also our grandfather. I think he’s a cousin of my real lolo. Don’t ask me why I didn’t even bother to ask my mother or other relatives about this. I was too preoccupied getting to know and trying to remember everyone that I forgot to ask how we are all related. What’s important is that we are all family and that they were very hospitable enough and not to mention overly-excited to relay their stories of how when they were all young, my mother’s cousins and siblings would stay in my real lolo’s house in Novaliches and play their simple and probably now non-existent games. It is nonetheless always an experience going home to that place. It always almost seems like how the American Idol finalists feel whenever they come home to theirs. Lots of excited people around, not to mention the glorious Ilocano specialties they prepared for you. It’s always a party, regardless of my lolo’s wake, this time around. Picture the movie, Elizabethtown.
After a lot of exchanges of hugs, kisses and nostalgic recollections, my cousins, siblings and my youngest tito (who seems a lot more like our cousin) set off to Vigan on our second day there. We couldn’t let this chance pass up not knowing when we will be able to come back again, so we let our parents and our other tito and tita do the reminiscing of their golden days, while we hit the road, tourists mode on. From Sta. Maria, it would take you an hour or less of travel time going to Vigan. On our way there, we had to stop over the Quirino Bridge (I don’t know what the new bridge’s called) for a few selfies and jump shots (you would think that we were out of our minds knowing that this bridge collapsed, hence the new bridge). Of course you shouldn’t miss the Philippine Sea or South China Sea on your way there too. It’s equally enthralling as the Quirino Bridge experience.
Upon reaching Vigan, I was so frustrated to see the heavy traffic (AGAIN) brewing on the entrance. I got even more upset to know that they were celebrating Vigan’s fiesta. It wasn’t that I hated celebrations, but it occurred to me that I would have to endure yet another butt-breaking drive just to set foot in Vigan. Good thing it wasn’t so bad after all. It only took us a few minutes to get in.
We wasted no time and went straight to the empanada stalls to experience another sumptuous, once in a blue moon, authentic Ilocano meal and off we went to the heritage site. We only had a few hours to spare so we took some shots, ok more like a hundred shots, visited the church before we headed back to Sta. Maria.
We had to stay in a nearby hotel for two night because our relatives couldn’t accommodate us all (other relatives came home to visit as well). It was actually quite relieving since I can’t stand to have a few more awkward wordless conversations with our newly-introduced relatives, especially the younger ones. Don’t get me wrong, I like talking to the older ones. My cousins on the other hand were just either too shy or snobbish, just like me, to engage in long comfortable conversations.
On our second night, we bid goodbye to everyone. I sure felt that I was going to miss everyone despite our 24-26 hours of bonding. As I’ve said, everyone’s too kind and thoughtful for you to feel otherwise.
That said, this short, unexpected trip back to my roots (partially) made me feel at home in a different way. Somehow, I feel like even though I am not a hardcore Ilocano, but by heart, I can be too. I love the way they cook Pinakbet up in the north. I am very, very tight-fisted and not because my parents taught me to be one. My mother squeezes in a few Ilocano words when she talks to us, one we even used unknowingly ourselves for a long time thinking that it was something everyone else uses. I am very much a die-hard empanada and miki fan. I love their garlicky and salty Longganisa and I love Ilocos in general. See? I can be an Ilocana too though I don’t have any inspirational, parting, Ilocano words of wisdom to share.
On our way home, we had to change routes, assuming that like us, people were all going back home to Manila, thus would congest the roads again. Therefore, we took the route going to Manaoag and passed by to say a few prayers and thank yous to Mama Mary.