January 2012

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"Aside from the proven fact that this tower is already sinking, it also leans slightly to the north making it the Leaning Tower"

Built on a sandy foundation, Laoag City's Sinking Bell Tower is literally sinking. If there is a Leaning Tower in Pisa (Italy), the Philippines has a Sinking Tower and this is located in Laoag, Ilocos Norte. This unique quality makes this tower to stand out from any other belfry in the world!

The beauty of Laoag's Sinking Bell Tower never sinks

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The belltower is standing amidst the commercial district of Laoag City and it is located about hundred steps away from St. William Cathedral.

The quality of the foundation, being sandy reflects to the physical location of the tower which is near a river, so considerably, the tower was built at the banks (or near the banks) of the river itself. Around the sinking tower is a never ending daytime traffic flow of vehicles especially trikes and some other commercial establishments with dangling wires but the tower still stands attractive making these noisy trikes and establishments left ignored and what is only noticed is the majesty of this sinking structure.

The presence of dangling wires and establishments can't stop this tower to stand out!

Considered as one of the most massive and tallest bell towers in the Philippines, this sinking bell tower is presently standing at a height of 45 meters and believed to be sinking for about 1 inch annually.

The Augustinians built this presently sinking tower on a foundation of sand in 1612 and the sinking phenomenon has started ever since according to historians and experts.

Aside from the proven fact that this tower is already sinking, it also leans slightly to the north making it the Leaning Tower. The tower stands beautifully and the exposed bricks of the tower tell its oldness.

The above photo shows a calesa traversing Laoag's busy streets with the sinking bell tower at the backgrouund.

The main door as shown at the photo above is said to have accommodated a man seated at a horse's back, but now, since the tower sank, a single standing man can no longer enter the tower except if he will bow a little and enter.

The main doorway has really sank and historians and experts tell that the door has sunk halfway the original height.

The photo above is the view of the sinking tower from Laoag's Rizal Park (Tobacco Monopoly Monument) and from afar, the tower looks different because it is located in the middle of these business establishments that try to block the view of the tower.

Unlike in any other places where bell towers were placed in a vivid and clear view, this tower seemed to have been finding a space to this densely commercially developed street.

However, the majesty of the sinking tower still soars with might.

At the northern side of the tower, plenty of the exposed bricks can be seen.

For someone who might be thinking that this tower is no longer in use, you are wrong because the 6 bells hung in this tower still ring to call the faithful.

From different points and angles, this bell tower will never fail any photographer, fun shooter or professional, amateur or advanced, the tower is always beautiful. At the photo above is the view of the tower from St. William's Cathedral.

The best time to capture this tower in photos is during afternoon, just several minutes before sunset, for the reason that the rays of the sun highlights the tower while some structures below the tower are left shadowed.

P.S. I really wonder if the structures just around this tower are sinking too? 

The tower might be sinking, but considering the history and this unique quality that this tower has, its name will never sink from fame. In fact, that was paradoxical!

The more this bell tower sinks, the more it becomes famous making the name "Sinking Bell Tower of Laoag" eternal that will never sink in history books and tourism maps but will float to fame instead.

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"A look at the driver's area and seeing the road ahead, I can not see the road and everything has just turned to white! This gave me fear."

The road is carved and curved at the slopes of the steep mountain and the thick fog starts to cover the road making it very dangerous to go on since the driver can not see the way. At the right side of the window is the cliff and one mistake of the driver means the price of 30+ lives boarded inside the bus.

Supposed to be, green mountains are seen at the background but the
 thick fog has selfishly occupied the space making the view hidden.
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However, the bus driver seemed to be accustomed with this kind of scenario and for such reason, the trip must go on. 

I was on an ordinary mini-bus and gladly I boarded on this non-air conditioned bus because there will be no need for aircon once you reach the highlands. During the ride, it also rained and the fog just appeared just prior to the rain and could you just imagine how slippery the road would be and the cliff doesn't go out of my mind that the threat of falling there is possible.

As I was ascending to Benguet, the photo just above gives you an idea that what you will see is an endless range of green mountains with some houses and communities at the slopes.

Gladly, I was able to capture the scene just before the onset of the thick fog that seemed to block our way.

A house built at the edge of a cliff in Sablan, Benguet

Some other houses were bravely constructed at the edge of the road and the cliff is a few step away. In Sablan, Benguet, it is rare to see a community situated in a huge area of plain land. If there will be plain land, that would be for sure planted with crops.

For most communities, they are located at the slopes of the mountain, like the scene in Baguio.

As we are ascending to the higher parts of the highlands, the fogs are already appearing but for now, my appreciation to the foggy view is at its optimum level.

We can still see vehicles that we meet on the road and it is also very nice to see the views while putting my head outside the bus' window to enjoy the chill.

Little by little the scene is getting blurred and I didn't know still if the reason for this phenomenon is because of my eyes or just a work of nature.

Confirmed! It was the fog and sooner, the rain has come prompting me to close the window and put my head inside the bus.

A look at the driver's area and seeing the road ahead, I can not see the road and everything has just turned to white! This gave me fear. It is my first time to encounter this in my whole life and the things that are playing at the back of my mind are the news about buses that fell at the cliff in Benguet.

Well as I said, it was my first time. I have encountered fogs along the way for many times but this is the most severe and encountering this severe condition was my first time.

Heart pumping like a drum and anxiety is getting severe - praying to God for safety! The rain is pouring harder and the road is still unclear. We only have two destinations, cliff or the bus terminal, hehe.

Anyway, at least, this experience taught me that just trust the drivers because they are not new to this situation and I was very glad that we survived the thick fog that covered our way!

Surviving the thick fog is more fun in the Philippines!
Tags: Sablan Benguet | Traversing the Nagulian Road | Foggy Road | Naguilian Road | Road Trip to Sablan, Benguet | What to Expect in Sablan, Benguet | Fogs in Benguet | Fog in Sablan , Benguet

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"This is not your usual river cruise tour because your tour guide is an audio that is being played while the boat is cruising the river - an audio-guided river cruise."

Vigan is famous for its ancestral houses, the Calle Crisologo, it's museums, bagnet, empanada, etc. but only a few is aware that there is another way of understanding the history of Vigan - not lecture, not museum tours, not history textbooks but via river cruise. Yes, you read it right, it is river cruise that helps you understand the history of Vigan.

Understanding the history of Vigan via Vigan Heritage River Cruise

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Mestizo River, that is the name of the river you have to traverse and this time, I am having a good boat ride with a fellow travel blogger, Edgar Alan Yap of eazytraveler.com. 

For my 10 months of blogging [as of this post], it is my first time to meet a fellow travel blogger and it was a great time to be inspired by a hardcore traveler. I am in fact a Vigan-based travel blogger but never had the urge to try this Vigan Heritage River Cruise. It was programmed in my mind that it is not an emergency situation to try this since it is just few minutes away from our house.

However, this fellow travel blogger wanted to try it and of course, how I love to try this as well!

This is not your usual river cruise tour because your tour guide is an audio that is being played while the boat is cruising the river - an audio-guided river cruise.

This Vigan Heritage River Cruise is a 40-minute river cruise that will lead you 5 gigantic tableau that tell a story. This story is the history of Vigan - from the time how it was discovered, the Spanish regime to the present.

As you see these giant structures, the audio guide further explains and tell more about the history of Vigan and these man-made tableau are just a visual aid to help you understand what the audio guide is talking about.

While traversing Mestizo river, you will pass to 5 barangays namely Tamag, Beddeng Laud, Capangpangan, Cabalangegan and Pagpandayan.

I was actually interviewing one of our assistants during the cruise and he was telling me that there is a certain speed being implemented for the boat we are in. He says that as we reach one tableau to another, the audio-guide must be in sync with the tableau we are seeing so that what we are viewing will be related to the audio guide, thus we really had to consume the 40-minute narration and there's no way of making the ride too fast or too slow.

The river cruise was just relaxing! The weather this time was sunny and it was very hot but as we traverse Mestizo River, the air that touches our skin gets colder!

EDMAR (Edmaration) meets EDGAR (Eazy Traveler)

While enjoying the cool river breeze, we also had the chance to learn about the history of Vigan and see how the people live along the banks of the river.

As we traverse the river, several children and people are waving to us saying "hello" while my travel buddy was busy capturing these people in his camera.

The Eazy Traveler [Edgar Alan Yap] enjoying the river cruise with our assistant (right)
The feeling was actually relaxing as my travel buddy this time has uttered. Aside from the audio-guided cruise while learning Vigan's history, it was another way to unwind from the stress of the city seeing only beautiful scenes in the absence of buildings, traffic jams, crowd and noisy streets.

The sky this time was so clear telling that we are lucky because there are no threats of the rain. In fact, it is a sad story to tell that places around this river we are cruising this time were washed out by flood when typhoon Peria hit the city way back in 2003.

Many people were left dead and others were homeless. This river overflew and wasn't able to contain the rushing flash flood that is hitting the city. It was a tragic event in Vigan and remembering my friends' stories that they were at the rooftop of their houses waiting for rescue while others' home were totally submerged, this river is bringing me a melancholic ambiance.

Nevertheless, the past was just a big lesson for everyone. Now, this river is used in sharing the colorful history of Vigan - and it's time to move on from the tragic past!

San Julian Bridge, linking the Vigan's Eastern barangays to the west

Shame on me, it was my first time to do this though I see this river almost everyday of my life, lol!

It was a nice learning methodology and a great way to travel to Vigan's past.

How to go to Vigan River Cruise?

1. From Vigan's poblacion area, ride in a tricycle. Fare is 10 pesos per head if you are in group. If you are alone, 30 pesos will be more then enough. Trike drivers charging you more than 30 pesos should be ignored for there are others who accept 30 pesos. You can even lower it to 25 pesos depending on how you bargained.

2. Tell the trike driver to drop you to Celedonia Garden in Beddeng Laud.

3. After the driver has dropped  you to Celedonia Garden in Beddeng Laud, you will see a sign board "This way to River Cruise." Just follow the direction where the arrow is pointing. It is about hundred steps from the road and you will be seeing the staff out there. Just approach them and they will assist you.

Do you want a FREE ride going to the Vigan River Cruise? Read this:

1. Go to Calle Crisologo.

2. Look for the Ilocos Sur Tourism Office, it is just beside Cafe Leona and near Max's Vigan.

3. This tourism office along Calle Crisologo offers free shuttle ride using the Vigan electronic jeep from 9am to 4pm daily.

4. Just tell the staff you want to avail the free ride going to the Vigan River Cruise.

Important things to know about Vigan River Cruise

1. The river-cruise is audio-guided and it is about a 40-minute cruise.

2. You have to pay 100 pesos per head if you want to try this cruise.

3. Wear the orange life jackets for safety, just in case.

4. There is no minimum person required to get the cruise going. If you are alone and you're so itchy to try it, go! Just pay 100 pesos and you will be riding alone! For students, 50 pesos, and 70 pesos for Senior Citizens.

5. If there are other people in queue, this time being solo should not be your ambition because for sure you won't be granted that privilege. Just get here when there are no other tourists and go solo in that case!

6. There is no minimum cruisers but there's maximum persons allowed. 9-12 people can fit the boat depending on the body sizes and weight of the passenger-cruisers. If you will go beyond that, expect to swim with the fish at the river!

This article is part of the 112 on 2012 Travel Challenge: Exploring 112 towns and cities in 2012.
Tags: Vigan River Cruise | Vigan Heritage River Cruise | Heritage River Cruise | River Cruise in Vigan | River Cruise in Ilocos Sur | What to do in Vigan | Tourist spots in Vigan | Audio-guided river cruise | activities in Vigan | How to go to Vigan River Cruise Dock? | How much to pay in Vigan River Cruise |
Photos, videos and stories of town explorations.
"There are threats of rock slides and land slides along the way but we were not thinking about it because the enjoyment, freedom and awe we are feeling is turning on our positive side and optimism to encounter better things and not the worse."

Being an off-beaten destination, Sallacong maintains the purity of its beauty! There are few human activities happening in this hidden destination except for the fertile valley that is being planted with crops and the stunning green fields where livestocks freely enjoy the nature's gift for their survival and to wit, the purity of its beauty is preserved.

We entered this destination taking the inconvenient and bumpy road and the first person we saw was with a gun that made my brother decide not to continue the journey because of fear. It was a frightening welcome!

However, as we observed the old man with a gun, we just came to know that he was just hunting wild birds and strangers like us wasn't his target. We were relieved and felt safe! We were able to take a deep breathe of soundness after knowing that our life is not at risk for the very first person we met along the road. So we continued our journey.

The road we had to take was challenging. But behind the challenge of traversing this path, is a rewarding accomplishment because the fact that we are traversing the road, beautiful sceneries kept appearing!

Never mind the bumpy path, it was just a part of the journey. Along our way, the lush green steep mountain ranges of the Cordilleras seemed like waving a warm welcome for us.

It feels like the mountains can rarely see strangers that had the courage to explore their hidden paradise amidst the rumors and news that Sallacong is one mischievous place for strangers. Because of it's isolation, it is a favorite throw-out place for salvaged and dead bodies, as the rumors are telling.

In spite of the false threats and unconfirmed rumors, there's none that will stop us and I think the only things that will stop our journey are imminent danger, flat tires and empty gasoline tank.

There was sense of freedom thinking that we were the only three (with my two younger brothers) on the road without seeing any houses and even if we will shout out loud, we are so free to do it because of the sense of freedom this adventure is bringing us!

The views we are seeing are so unlimited. It was just a heart-to-heart encounter with nature! The clear afternoon sky, the lush green mountains, the calm and pristine river and huge rocks just made this adventure a total package.

Of course, for ordinary tourists seeking the convenience of the destination, this place is hidden. So it is just waiting to be discovered. If it  has gained the attention of the people, hotels, restaurants or spas may have popped out in this area.

But the thing is, what makes this place so special is that it is hidden and because it is an isolated area, the greatest thing it could do to you is to surprise you with it's beauty you've never expected.

My brother even did perform planking at the top of a rock direct to the cliff which I also did.

It was a beauty you will never expect because given the negative publicity and the location of the place, being not so accessible, only a few will dare to explore Sallacong. Of course, who would discover the beauty of this place if the image is not so good? So it will just surprise you with natural wonders you have never known before.

Sallacong is located in a fertile valley in between Bantay (Ilocos Sur) and San Quintin (Abra Province). There are no regular trips entering Sallacong, you must at least have your own vehicle or to walk instead.

We were enjoying our adventure and we did all the fun we can do this day. There are threats of rock slides and land slides along the way but we were not thinking about it because the enjoyment, freedom and awe we are feeling is turning on our positive side and optimism to encounter better things and not the worse.

We continued the trip ahead and it was such an unexpected discovery that behind the mountains that hide this community, there situated a multi-billion project called the Banaoang Pump Irrigation Project! Wow!

It is a project that waters the rice fields for most of the towns of the first district of Ilocos Sur. I didn't know I can find it here.

Well at least, there is a huge man-made structure in the area. The good thing is, it is located in a location where it does not obstruct the beauty of the sceneries you see.

Going ahead, we were climbing on the road to a higher elevation and what we saw in the valley was just so surprising!

The view was relaxing! We saw wide green fields with cattle grazing! The view is like the pictures I see in New Zealand.

The grazing fields were just enough to feed the livestocks that also enjoy the sense of freedom they have while feeding at the green grazing fields!

Now, we are already seeing people, mostly shepherds, and I now can say that the people here are not dangerous, they just want to live peacefully with their very own hidden paradise.

My youngest brother exploring with me.

After that very great and unforgettable encounter of the valley which we are overlooking from the road situated in a higher elevation, we decided to go down the river and the scene was more than fulfilling!

We absolutely had an intimate moment with nature until sunset is already appearing at the west on which it signals us that we need to go home although we were still starting to fall in love with the place.

The Abra River was just so magical. It flows so calmly as it goes down below the mountains watering the valley towards the West Luzon Sea.

The Abra river has a big role in Sallacong. Aside from the fact that it adds beauty to the place, it also waters the fertile valley giving the local residents a chance to harvest in high volume of crops.

Now, we just have explored and discovered a hidden paradise that also served as a quality moment with my two younger brothers and it is time to go.

Sallacong was such a hidden paradise and I would prefer it to just be hidden because the more people will know about it, there is a great chance that commercialization will take place.

I just mean that I am not against commercialization but what I would want to happen is that can we just leave the place as it is without applying the laws of economics and just allow the place to thrive naturally that everyone especially the new generation will just view the sceneries the way we used to view now. /end

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Tags: Off beaten path in ilocos sur | off beaten path in ilocos | sallacong | abra river | motorcycle road trip