Friday, April 28, 2006

Countryside Wanderlust

Rational Technology for April 30, 2006

My countryside wanderlust started last year when I found myself in Olongapo with a few days to myself minus any definite plans. Consulting a guidebook, I hopped on a bus to Baguio and convinced a friend to travel with me to Bontoc, Banawe, and Sagada. We made no prior arrangements, took only public transportation, and sought lodging and food as we arrived in each destination. Needless to say, it was a glorious adventure.

Close to a year later, the urge was on me again. Personal business in Manila provided me with the opportunity; after a quick and satisfactory resolution, I hopped on a bus to Vigan. Like last year, this was to be a trip with no definite plan; but as my friends were all occupied, this would be a trip I would be making alone. Destination: the general direction of Vigan and other parts of Ilocos.

My journey started with the night bus to Vigan. The trip took eight hours, the bulk of which I spent sleeping sitting upright. Perhaps it was just as well, because at those odd moments that I groggily found myself awake, I could see that our driver was speeding on that dark highway at more than 100kph. It was always a good time to close my eyes and drift back to sleep. If I should die before I wake...and all that.

Daybreak, and Vigan. What can I say about the place? It was as if I had entered a time warp of sorts, back to the glory days of Spanish traders and administrators. Vigan's claim to fame is its history, and it is doing its best to preserve it and capitalize on it. Heritage houses double as inns and hotels; calesas ply the routes of Calle de Crisologo; and Plaza Burgos and the Cathedral of St. Paul continue to be the hub of activity. Strolling down the old streets and feeling the ancient walls is enough to soak in some history. Simply said, I loved it.

The following day, I headed on to Laoag, which provided a contrast of sorts. While the towns on the way to the capital of Ilocos Norte struggled and achieved some sort of vibrancy, Laoag itself felt a little old and stagnant. Laoag itself had only a few historical attractions, and seemed to lack for newer ones. There was no night life to speak of, and its commerce seemed no better than Dumaguete's. Could it be, I wondered, that it found itself stuck to the glory days under its most famous son some thirty years past?

It took a visit to the sturdy Boreador lighthouse, the magnificent Paoay Church and the eerie sand dunes of Suba to convince me of the wonders that Ilocos Norte had to offer. But all too quickly, my visit was over, and once more I was on a bus to Manila by way of Baguio.

To be sure, there are quicker and more comfortable means of travel to these distant places, but there's no better way to appreciate the countryside than aboard a bus. There are cheaper and safer ways of finding decent accommodation, but there's no better way to appreciate your countrymen than to seek help from kind strangers. In the same way, there is no better way to appreciate your country than when you experience it firsthand.

And that was the reason behind my countryside wanderlust. Too often, our view of our country is limited to the towns and cities we live in, and further narrowed within the confines of broadsheets and small screens. Our intellectuals have denounced our Spanish heritage and our Catholic culture that we might "move forward" -- move forward to what exactly is never made clear. Our political leaders have put our country in hock for their own gain, and they have the gall to tell us to learn English so we can bring in the dollars. We've divested ourselves of our identities; that, I think, is why we feel so lost as a people.

That is why I hopped on that bus to an unknown destination and onto the mercies of strangers: that I might get lost, and in the process, find myself again.