Travelling around the Philippines is always full of surprises, and I'm always willing to be pleasantly surprised by what I find. The last two weeks have been full of new finds, enjoying tastes I've had before, especially those that bring me back to when I was knee high, eating food that was prepared just for me by those who cared for my well-being.
First, let's talk lodging: the land is dotted with hostels, low end resorts, flashy tourist traps, and divine bed and breakfasts. In Dumaguete, we had a private beach to stay in, a perfect hideout from reality. We'd awake to soft glowing sunrises, watch the moon cast a silver white glow on the water later at night. Eat fish caught right off the coast. And the breeze, oh how incomparable! But as it was bedeviled by rusty smelling water, lack of road access to town, we considered two other options over the next few days. Two nights at the Bethel Guest House was sufficient to get out the smell of rust from our hair, but it was at best sterile. All white walls, and no windows to the outside world. Convenient, yes. Every tricycle in town could pick us up and drop us off. They even had a good, inexpensive breakfast buffet, where you could easily overdo it by having eggs, with a platter of tapa or tocino or dangit, plus 4 budbud kabog with freshly brewed coffee and a banana or ripe mango. But no soul.
Our last night was a toss-up. We had checked out a city based hotel, near the boardwalk and with a pleasant exterior. The room, however, was old. Smelled old, that cross between too much coffee burnt inside, along with a mustiness from old carpets. So we went for a more upscale option outside of town. Bahura, a dive resort in Dauin, is probably one of the nicer options along the coast. It's run by the ScubaWorld group, whose Makati pool I've frequented often for dive lessons. We splurged on a villa, with a large king size bed on a loft, and a jacuzzi-style tub below. The only drawbacks included an inconvenient winding staircase you'd have to traverse each time you wanted to use the bathroom from the bedroom, and not having a phone in the bedroom area to call for room service. Disabled people wouldn't find this villa set-up particularly convenient. As we had a late night in town, and stayed in all morning, we didn't get to use the pool facilities in the resort, but why use a pool when you're going diving?
The next out of town trip took us North: Abra, Ilocos (Sur and Norte). There isn't much to see in Abra; but it's a lovely province, full of forests and zigzag roads. It's the quintessential pinoy "probinsya". Early mornings with everyone working hard at the farm, lazy afternoons to beat the heat, and absolutely nothing at night (I don't even remember seeing the karaoke bars in full swing). We stayed as guests at R's ancestral home, an old, presumably haunted house in the city of Bangued, with a lovely old tower and grotto. The house would need a lot of infrastructure improvements to get it back on course, but there's potential there. As for the ghosts, I did hear the heavy sounds of footsteps at 5 am on Sunday, but it didn't give me the willies. The only problem was when my camera failed to work that first morning. Did the ghosts want to toy with me by causing electrical malfunction? Hmmmm...
In Vigan, we spent a night at Villa Angela, a restored Ilocano bahay na bato - stone house - that also worked as a bed and breakfast. It's located on the outskirts of the old city, not quite on the cobblestoned streets, but a corner away, with a quiet back entrance, and easy access through the front gates. A sweet garden, the antiques in the reception and living areas and welcoming staff; I'd choose this again over the more modern amenities of Vigan Plaza Hotel.
And the final stop was in Currimao. Talk about revelation! I'd been directed to the resort through suggestions online, and was immediately overwhelmed by the actual estate when we walked past the main entrance. Sitio Remedios is owned by a doctor from Batac (currently working at St. Luke's Hospital in Manila), who built 6 houses based on towns dotted around Ilocos Norte. The owner and site manager went around the province and bought the pieces of houses torn down by OFW Pinoys. They used 200 specialist workers to reconstruct the pieces and create a "village" around a Plaza de Mantequilla, a chapel inspired by Paoay Church, a sand and wildflower walk way anchored by a stone tower with it's own mermaid. Greeting you beyond the steps is an expanse of beach, and the glorious strong surf of the South China Sea, which is a wonderful way to get some exercise: running or swimming parallel to shore, body slamming against the waves. Sitio doesn't offer a load of water sports, but the other resorts nearby seem to have a good supply of boats, skidoos, banana boats, and a rather odd looking large neon plastic ball (what it does on the water, I dare not attempt to imagine). We spent a lot of time walking up and down the long stretch of beach, gazing at the red bangkas resting on shore, watching the village volleyball tournament, chasing after a hermit crab, and giggling at the ridiculous tourists who walked along the beach fully clothed and contorting themselves in odd photo poses.
Sitio is not for everyone. I can't see it as the best place for people who like modern facilities (it does have western toilets and linens, electricity, ac in the main bedrooms; but they don't provide television, cable, internet. Hot water is available upon demand, but in the heat of summer, the cool showers were a relief); it's more for those who enjoy a nostalgic, aesthetic sensibility with large doses of Filipiana. It could be difficult for the younger set to enjoy its rustic charms. They'd have to be encouraged to hit the beach and take part in exploring the towns; they may even bolt at the fact there is nary a burger/fries combo on the menu (food details to follow). This would be a great place for mental and physical retreats, a zone of peace following a long trip. And the staff are willing and able to help you complete your respite.
Contact details of a few places we stayed in, including websites:
1. Bethel Guest House
Km 19/20 Maayong Tubig,
Dauin 6717 Negros Oriental, Philippines
Tel.Nos.: 035 425-2053 to 54
Vigan, Ilocos Sur
26 Quirino Avenue
Vigan Phone: 077-722-2914
Currimao, Ilocos Norte
Barangay Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte
Contact Person: Ray Boy Baroña