Beginnings, Cliches, and the Ilocos

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

windmills in the philippines
Storytime is a series of  stories about my most memorable travel experiences. Read more here.

It's been almost four years since I started this life, since this magical, wonderful, wandering life became my reality. It may have been born of sorrow, but it had lead me to experience joy in ways I wouldn't have if I'd stayed in one place

On that fateful day in April of 2014, just three months after my mother died, I'd gone to what was the first of my many adventures. It was in the Ilocos that I'd traveled to, with my former colleagues who'd been kind enough to extend me an invitation. 

I'd just quit my job, and was helping out my eldest sister with her business. I'm still amazed at how perceptive she'd been, in that she'd known that that trip was exactly what I needed. She'd lent me some money (which I'd managed to pay back by helping her with her business for a few months) to pay for the cost of the trip. And then before I knew it, I was on a coaster to Ilocos. 

This 2018, after almost four years, I came full circle.

This year, I was again fortunate to be part of the North Philippines Visitors Bureau's Lakbay Norte Media Tour. This year's installment took us to three provinces up north. First, to Bulacan, to the heritage town of Malolos and into the secret nook that is the San Rafael River Adventure. Then, to Tarlac, to its trio of fascinating churches, its handful of must-try restaurants, and to a farm perfect for a full moon party. Our last stop was Ilocos Norte, with some sidetrip to Ilocos Sur. 

For this third and final leg, destinations I haven't been to were in the itinerary, but a few  had comprised the springboard of my vagabonding ways. 

When we went to Bangui, I stood once again amongst the giant windmills, braving the heat and the miniature dust devils. It was the same as I remembered it, only for some reason, I thought the towering fans somehow looked a little sharper. 
bangui windmills ilocos norte
Photo courtesy of the North Philippines Visitors Bureau via Martin San Diego

I then watched National Folk Artist Fidel Go himself fashion art from clay in Pagburnayan. I correctly answered his brain teaser, earning me a pair of tiny pots he'd crafted and signed himself. I also got a peek at the backstage this time. I saw the kiln, and listened to the artist's plight of not getting his due financial incentives, how some of his most prized works had not been returned after being lent for exhibits. 
national folk artist for pottery

potter in the philippines

When it came to walking through the cobbled steps of Calle Crisologo, I felt more at ease. I still sensed its poetic vibes, its old-world charm. I remembered setting foot here for the first time, how happy I was. Vigan had been in my bucketlist. 
calle crisologo vigan ilocos sur

call crisologo

That bucketlist had been the first of many versions. It had been filled with, for lack of a better word, cliches. I'd wanted to see the popular tourist sites. I'd wanted to get to all the famous landmarks. I'd wanted to be to as many places as possible. As time progressed, however, as I traveled further, my outlook inevitably changed. With that shift in perspective, the bucketlist in turn underwent some revisions. 

Today, I prefer less crowds and lesser-known destinations. Slow travel. Quality over quantity. Close friends for travel buddies instead of large groups full of strangers.

On our way back to Manila, as I sat in the Victory Liner bus that was our ride/home throughout Lakbay Norte, I feared that, maybe, making this life my main source of living had taken its toll, that perhaps I have become fatigued from the deadlines and the pressures, that there might really be such a thing as too much traveling. Am I no longer that wide-eyed wanderer when I started out? Have I become boring?

Then, I realized Lakbay Norte is a cliche. It was the kind of trip I've gone into, and have preferred, in the beginning of my life as a traveler. Did I enjoy it? Of course! It's my favorite media trip of all time. I look forward to it every year, for more than the places we visit, the quality of connections that are invariably forged here was off the charts. Some of my closest friends today I've met in Lakbay Norte.

Cliches are cliches because they are tried and tested. It's true that I would still prefer a slow, personal trip to unexplored terrains with only Dennis and the barest of necessities than fast-paced organized trips with lots of people. But trips like Lakbay Norte reminded me that there's nothing wrong with enjoying and believing in cliches; that, when we don't yet know who we are or where we want to be, we follow the well-trodden path, hoping that somewhere along the way, we'll be able to blaze our own trail.
celine murillo
Photo courtesy of the North Philippines Visitors Bureau via Martin San Diego

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