Church of St. Monica (Sarrat, Ilocos Norte)

Church of St. Monica and bell tower
After visiting the Marcos Museum in Sarrat, we returned to our bus and proceeded to the nearby Church of St. Monica, also located along the Padsan River.  Probably the largest church in the province, it was first built in 1779 by Augustinian friars, the last Spanish-era church built in the Ilocos.  Its red brick exterior facade blends simple and formally organized Neo-Classic proportions (a central main entrance and smaller side windows, all decorated by triangular pediments) with Baroque features (massive, heavily-rounded pilasters on solid rectangular pedestals with elaborate and curvilinear scroll-like pediments with heavily outlined volutes).

The impressive convent, known as the Casa del Palacio Real, was first built in 1779, reconstructed  in 1817 and 1886 and completed by Fr. Celedonio Paniagua. It was, at times, used as a Presidencia Municipal.  Within its environs then were a jail where criminals and political prisoners were incarcerated and tortured, a sala court, a strangulation room and other secular sections. It also served, for a time, as the Colegio de Santa Monica (a branch of the Liceo de Manila). The convent is now a parochial museum (Casa Paroquial Sarrat).  A unique, massive and attractive brick staircase connects the convent with the  church.

The brick staircase connect church and convent

The church and convent survived many calamities – fire on February 3, 1816 and 1882 and an earthquake on March 19, 1932 (its bell tower was damaged).     The church interior, along with the houses surrounding the plaza, were renovated in 1983 for Irene Marcos‘ (the youngest daughter of the late Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos) June wedding to Greggy Araneta.  The lavish ceremony was attended by 5,000 guests and cost an estimated US$10.3 million.  Food was provided for over 100,000. A few months later, on September 7, 1983, an Intensity 7.8 earthquake severely damaged the church’s main altar and upper facade. The former 3-storey square brick bell tower of diminishing sizes lost its top storeys. 

Marcos Museum (Sarrat, Ilocos Norte)

Marcos Museum

After our lunch and church visit at Paoay, we again boarded our bus for Sarrat, the birthplace of the late Pres. Ferdinand E. Marcos.  Our first stop was, fittingly, the Marcos Museum.  The museum, overlooking the Padsan River, is actually the Edralin house where Marcos was born on September 11, 1917 to Mariano and Josefa Edralin Marcos, both school teachers from well-to-do families.  He lived here until he was 8 years old when his family moved to Batac.  

The museum’s ground floor

The house then was a traditional 2-storey bahay na bato, with a red brick ground floor for storage and the wooden upper level, with its hardwood floor, reserved for the living quarters.  It was renovated by  First Lady Imelda R. Marcos in 1977, the president’s  60th birthday, but was left abandoned after the fall of the Marcos before being restored again.   Many of the items on display were taken from the Malacanang Palace Museum as well as from the Malacanang of the North in Paoay.   

The museum’s second floor

On display are the 4-poster bed where Marcos was born, the old clock set to the time of his birth, the many barong tagalogs he wore on different occasions, musical instruments (harp, piano, etc.), many old photographs of the family, busts of Don Mariano and Dona Josefa Marcos, the license plates Marcos used for his cars, the Marcos family tree on the wall facing the stairs, as well as documents and old furniture (the escrihana used by Don Fructuoso Edralin y Carpio, the presidents grandfather, when he was vice-gobernadorcillo; the president’s swivel chair, aparadors, etc.).

Marcos Museum: Brgy. San Agustin, Sarrat, Ilocos Norte.  Open Mondays-Saturdays, 8 AM-12 noon and 2-5 PM.

Church of St. Augustine (Paoay, Ilocos Norte)

Church of St. Augustine

After our delicious lunch at Cafe Herencia, we still had time  to visit Paoay‘s most notable landmark, its Aztec-like Church of St. Augustine, situated near the banks of the Wawa River.  This fortress-like church, a premier example of Philippine Earthquake Baroque architecture, has been declared a National Cultural Treasure for its architectural style and cultural value and was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1994.  This will be my second time to visit the town, and the church for that matter, but it was only a stopover for photo ops and I never got to enter the church.

The gracefully curving and flowing, 
scrolled stone buttresses

Built from 1699 to 1702 by Augustinian Fr. Antonio Estavillo, the church was repaired in 1865 by Fr. Ruperto Rodriguez and Fr. Baldomero Real did major restoration work from 1889 to 1898.  The church was officially inaugurated on February 18, 1896.  The church has 24 2.5-m. thick, massive but gracefully curving and flowing scrolled stone buttresses that ballast the walls (found nowhere else in the country) and two exterior stone staircases (near the main altar transept) on both sides that reached the church’s roof.  Its 1.67-m. thick coral block walls were faced with bricks and sealed with a particularly hard lime mortar mixed with sugar cane juice.  The main nave, supported by 14 molave posts, is 60 m. long, 15 m. wide and 5.10 m. high.  The transept is 7 m. high. The church’s unique two-level triangular facade, divided by horizontal string courses, combines Gothic, Baroque and Oriental (Indian Madjapahit) designs. The buttresses are Baroque features and the decorative pinnacles are reminiscent of Gothic architecture.  Chinese elements are seen in the gable, while the crenellations and five niches (each with a large statue of a saint) topping the walls suggest Javanese influence.    

The church interior

Inside is a 3-storey main altar and two side altars each fitted with gilded retablos.  Over the wooden rail of the choir is a large wooden statue of Christ.  Its intricately designed pulpit and a statue of the Holy Family where brought from Spain in 1891.  Its separate three-storey, coral stone bell tower, was first built with 3.5-m. high wooden posts and three bells and enlarged from 1753 to 1756 by Fr. Tomas Torres with chopped 12 inch by 16 inch coral stones and molave braces put together.  The main entrance door was installed in 1793 and five bells were installed by Fr. Jose Nieto in 1818.  The bell tower was used as a watchtower by Katipuneros in 1898 and by local guerillas during the Japanese occupation.

The Surreal World of Kapurpurawan Rock Formation (Burgos, Ilocos Norte)

Kapurpurawan Rock Formation: The Sphinx-like “Head”

After our biscocho and salt making observation tour in Pasuquin, our Lakbay Norte 2 media group then boarded our bus and proceeded to the fellow Ilocos Norte town of Burgos.   From the National Rd. our bus turned towards a gravel road and traversed it for about 3 kms. until we reached a makeshift picnic hut, our jump-off point for the amazing, unique and Sphinx-like Kapurpurawan  Rock Formation, one of the best places to visit in the town, aside from the iconic Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, the country’s tallest.

Bonsai-like plants amid pools of limpid sea water

From the hut, it was a 30-min. walk, along concrete steps, dirt track and then, through a tidal pool.  At the tidal pool, sea water-filled coral rock pools, of varying sizes, and bonsai-like vegetation can be seen sporadically.  The rock formation was formed from sandstone naturally carved by weathering from wind, sand and water to create different surreal shapes such as the iconic “Head,” “Cradle” and the “Resting Dragon.” The word kapurpurawan was derived from the Ilocano root word puraw meaning “white” and these formations are said to be much whiter during the summer months of April and May.

This rock formation, possibly the “Resting Dragon,” looks
like a slithering cobra  about to pounce

Our short Kapurpurawan Rock Formation hike made us hungry and, as it was lunchtime, we proceeded to the nearby, picturesque town of Paoay for lunch at Cafe Herencia.

Check out “Restaurant Review: Cafe Herencia

Herencia Cafe: MacArthur St., Brgy. 14, Sangladan, Paoay, Ilocos Norte.  Tel: (077) 614-0214

Salt Making at Pasuquin (Ilocos Norte)

Boiling rock salt and water in a vat

From Pasuquin Bakery, we next proceeded to a crude salt processing area near the National Highway to observe the long-time tradition of making of rock salt, said to be one of the finest in the country. Salt, besides being a seasoning, is used as a food preservative for meat and fish and, here in the country, in the making of the local bagoong (fish sauce).  It is so important, even in the olden times, that the early Roman soldier’s pay was in salt and that the word “salary” was derived from it. The taste of salt (saltiness) is also one of the basic human tastes.

The finished product

Clean sea water is first pumped into salt beds along the seashore, sun dried there for several hours and, when the various sediments and impurities have settled, the dried salt is transferred to vats in makeshift huts.  Water is poured into the vats and then heated overnight (around 12 hours) by ovens directly underneath the pans, fueled by rice by-products such as dried husks, leaves and stalks.The coarseness diminishes during boiling, leaving pure white salt.  The salt is then sprayed with iodine, packed in 10-kg. sacks and sold at around PhP60 per sack.  On average, 5 sacks of salt are produced in a day. 


The Biscocho of Pasuquin (Ilocos Norte)

Pasuquin Bakery

After breakfast at the Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center, our Lakbay Norte 2 media group proceeded to Pasuquin, a farming (rice, onions, garlic) and fishing town, to observe making of biscocho and salt.  Joining us on the bus was local historian Rene Gluatco and our first stop was the Pasuquin Bakery.  My idea of biscocho is the crunchy and sugar-sweet pastry made from stale leftover bread.  Pasuquin biscocho is different, making use of freshly-baked bread specially made to be toasted. It is also soft and not sweet, being flavored with anise.

The immensely popular biscocho

The couple Sixto and Estefania Salmon, the assistants of the late Timot Josue who was trained in one of the Spanish style panaderias in Manila, were said to have been able to deduce, through careful observation and measurements, both the ingredients and the process of making this biscocho.  After World War II, Sixto, who served as a baker to the American forces temporarily stationed at Victory Road, south of the town proper, established Pasuquin Bakery with his savings. His only child, Esperanza Alvarez, better known as Manang Pansing, currently manages the bakery. Nowadays, the immensely popular, freshly-baked soft biscocho of Pasuquin Bakery is a must buy. It is perfect with cheese, condensed milk or Spanish-style sardines.

Pasuquin Bakery: Brgy. Poblacion 3, Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte.  Tel: (077) 775-0198.

Arrival in Laoag City (Ilocos Norte)

Laoag City Hotel and Convention Center

After our Adams adventure, it was back to our coaster for the 2-hr. drive to Laoag City  where we were to have dinner.  We arrived there by night time and were dropped off at the City Hall were we were welcomed by Mayor Michael V. Farinas and other city officials.

Courtesy call on Laoag City Mayor Michael V. Farinas

After a short presentation on Laoag tourism and Cebu Pacific (one of our corporate sponsors), a delicious dinner of longanisa, fried chicken, bagnet, empanada, etc., was served.  It was now time to call it a day and we were all tired after our grueling hike to Anuplig Falls.  Media colleague Gabby Malvar left our group at this time as he had to return to Manila.  Travel blogger Nina Fuentes left even earlier, prior to our Anuplig Falls hike.

Our bus brought us to the Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center at the city’s outskirts, 5 kms. from Laoag International Airport, where we were to stay overnight.  Kim Madridejos and I in stayed in one superior airconditioned double room.

Check out “Hotel and Inn Review: Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center

Double room

City Mayor’s Office
: Tupaz St., Brgy. 10, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte.  Tel: (077) 772-1100. Fax: (077) 771-3168.

Ilocos Norte Hotel and Convention Center (INHCC):  Brgy. 41, Balacad, Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, 2900. Tel: (077) 670-8817.  E-mail:  Website