Saturday, April 21, 2018

Impressed by Ilocos Norte's Incredible Beauty (Part 2)

Wanna have some adrenaline rush this summer? Then train your sights up north—and have some northern exposure in the land of adventure tourism—Ilocos Norte. Embrace the excitement as you buckle up, grip tight and head out for a ride on the wild side of the amazing sand dunes! But there are so many reasons why you should visit the province as there’s much more to it than its overstretched sandy terrain—although it’s veritably one spectacular attraction where one of my most unforgettable summer adventures happened!

Paoay Sand Dunes

Yes, there are numerous reasons why travelers from all walks of life head for this slice of paradise in the northwestern part of the Philippines—a destination quite unlike any other.  Who can resist Ilocos Norte’s intoxicating combination of sandy deserts, mysterious rock formations, craggy promontories, pristine beaches, historical landmarks, centuries-old churches, and never-ending adventures? Certainly not me and my friends!

Hannah's Beach Resort in Pagudpud

The time we spent in Ilocos Norte, most especially in the town of Paoay that I recounted in my earlier blogs is something that will probably be stored in my memory bank for quite a long time (For more about my earlier tales on the province, just click and

It was my first time and I ended up loving Ilocos Norte. The people are warm and hospitable. The food is delectable. The diversity of landscapes is awesome. Here’s a place so incredible, so impressive, so inspiring that I was able to come up with three blogs about it. So, let me now continue with this account of our adventures in the province, this time, in the towns of Bangui, Burgos, and Pagudpud.

Bangui Windmills (Bangui). An overcast sky greeted us as our van inched its way towards the shores facing Bangui Bay where about 20 towering turbines stand in perfect alignment along the nine-kilometer sandy stretch. When our vehicle finally came to a halt, a few of us stormed out of it like curious little children who’ve seen gigantic electric fans for the first time! Armed with our smartphones and digital cameras, we headed for the beach where the windmills are.

Commissioned way back in 2005, they’re probably one of the most iconic landmarks of Ilocos Norte. Operated by a renewable energy company, the NorthWind Power Development Corporation, the windmills of Bangui provide about 33 MW or half of the province’s power requirements. Each standing about 70 meters (230 feet), they’re said to be among the pet projects of former Governor Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.

En route to the beach, I noticed some air-conditioned huts that are said to be available for those who want to stay overnight. At first, it seemed like a good idea spending the night with those windmills until I saw the wild waves that were bashing the shore, accompanied by the strong winds that drove the turbines to work. Hmmm, maybe next time when the winds are calmer. Or do they ever get calm? I thought.

Forming a perfect arc reflecting the shoreline of Bangui Bay, facing the West Philippine Sea, the power-generating structures are a must-see in the province. For quite some time, the Bangui Windmill Farm was regarded as Southeast Asia’s largest until its counterpart in the nearby town of Burgos grabbed that title. Even so, the windmills of Bangui continue to attract the throngs because they’re more accessible unlike those in Burgos which are spread across the craggy terrain surrounding the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation.

Geez, it felt so surreal standing there on that beach on a gloomy afternoon, taking some snaps with the huge waves, the howling winds and the humongous monoliths at the backdrop, seemingly conspiring to re-create a chilling scene from a Hitchcockian thriller. Add some predatory birds into the picture and that would really scare the wits out of you!

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation (Burgos). Nothing prepared me for the amazing rocks of Kapurpurawan when our group visited this incredible wonder in the fringes of Burgos, one the province’s historic coastal towns. If the sand dunes of Paoay made my heart throb with excitement, the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation made it skip a beat with elation as I, together with my travel buddies, basked in its creamy white beauty!

From the highway, the rock formation is roughly three kilometers away. After our vehicle dropped us at the parking area, we started trekking towards the site, passing through a rugged trail just to see Kapurpurawan up close and personal. There are horses for hire there but we opted to go on foot so that we can appreciate the surroundings and take snaps along the way. Other travelers also braved the hot summer sun to reach the site.

Bashed by the wild waves of the West Philippine Sea, this one-of-a-kind marvel is said to have been formed by various oceanic and weather forces perhaps over thousands of years. The unique name of the rock formation is said to have been taken from the Ilocano word, “puraw”, which means white. On a bright day, the rocks looked resplendent in white as the sun shone upon the natural wonder. 

To our dismay, the local government has sealed off some parts of Kapurpurawan—a watchman looked after violators and whistled them against climbing certain portions of it—to stem the tide of vandalism and protect the rock formation from erosion. Even so, we still had a grand time taking our pics with the Kapurpurawan as our backdrop. Just seeing it up close and personal is definitely worth the trek!

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Caveat: It’s not advisable to go there close to high noon! It was a case of wrong timing for us when we got to the rock formation as we had to endure the blistering high temperature, which came close to 37 degrees that day! I guess the best time to visit the rocks is early in the morning, say, between 6-9 AM, if you want to be spared from the scorching heat and the swarming crowds.

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse a.k.a. Burgos Lighthouse

Cape Bojeador Lighthouse (Burgos). Although I like seeing old lighthouses, I’m not really that keen about exploring them. I used to think if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Not until I stumbled upon Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, located in the quaint town of Burgos, which our organizer included in our Ilocos Norte itinerary.  From what I’ve gathered, it’s not just an ordinary beacon, having been declared a National Historical Landmark in 2004 and a National Cultural Treasure in 2005.

Joining the curious crowd who braved the heat and climbed the 164-step concrete stairway leading to the octagonal stone tower, I, together with some of my travel buddies, went on a quick trek to the lighthouse. Standing some 20 m (64 ft), the tower is probably the highest landmark in that part of Ilocos Norte. Nonetheless, Cape Bojeador Lighthouse isn’t the tallest in the country.

Part of the crowd going up and down the lighthouse

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Built atop the Vigia de Nagpartian Hill, the monolithic structure dazzles visitors with an unobstructed, panoramic view of the promontory and the sea. Said to have been erected by the Spanish colonizers during the last few years of their rule over the islands, it was first lit by pressurized kerosene lamps on March 30, 1892. Today, its beam comes from a modern electric lamp powered by solar panels.

Capturing a capture of the lighthouse

Arriving at the courtyard, we paid a small token (I forgot the amount!) as entrance fee to the lighthouse. At the courtyard, I caught a glimpse of the service buildings and the cistern. A near pyramid-looking stairway led us to the porch of the main pavilion. Overlooking the scenic Cape Bojeador and the West Philippine Sea where galleons used to sail by, the porch is one of the visitors’ favorite spots for selfies, duofies,  groupfies and what have you.  The pavilion itself has several rooms, most of which have been converted into a museum that featured several artifacts.

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Walking into hallway of the main pavilion, I reached the foot of the covered stairs that lead to the tower’s entrance. That was as far as I went while the other tourists entered the tower. Some of them, however, had to wait for their turn as only a certain number of people are allowed inside at a time.

A picturesque view of Cape Bojeador and the West Philippine Sea

Later in the afternoon, we headed for Pagudpud. Halfway to our destination, a slight drizzle that later turned into heavy rain started falling. The downpour hardly waned as we reached Maira-ira Cove a.k.a. Blue Lagoon, a cove which boasts of a creamy white-sand beach. Too bad, inclement weather prevented us from having fun at Hannah’s Beach Resort and taking some pics at the Patapat Viaduct, both of which are found in the northernmost part of Pagudpud.

The road to Pagudpud

Blue Lagoon on a stormy afternoon

As the rain poured, we ended up sipping hot coffee in one of the food outlets near the beach. Well, I took these little snags in stride and thought of them as valid reasons to find my way back to Ilocos Norte in the coming days.
A playground/theme park at Hannah's Beach Resort

Add to all the interesting sites and sights I’ve mentioned in this two-part blog the impressive lineup of centuries-old churches dotting many of Ilocos Norte’s quaint towns that will certainly arouse the culture-vulture in you. That’s what I felt after seeing the magnificence of Paoay Church. 

Patapat Viaduct

A bus making it through a section of the Patapat Viaduct

Days after our Ilocos escapade, I thought about embarking on a visita iglesia to take a peek at the old churches in Bacarra, Batac, Laoag, San Nicholas and Sarrat, among others, in time for Holy Week next year. Now that would be one helluva good reason for an exciting return to the province!

Finally, the modesty, hospitality and bonhomie of the Ilocanos are something for the books—they’d really make any vacay in the province truly a pleasant and memorable one. Take it from me as I’ve personally experienced these myself during our interactions with the locals that we met along the way. Surely, they’ll make all those who’ve been there love the province more!