Discovering San Vicente, Ilocos Sur: Where to Go in this Old Town

February 25, 2019

by Dudez Perez

What drives us to explore unknown places is discovering something that gives us new waves of emotions. While fear lingers, there is the thrill of the hunt that comes with it. That’s because all great adventures are about taking a chance. It’s not about going where people have been. Be the stray who walks off the beaten path! I assure you that you are going to have an experience filled with magic.

That was exactly what we did.

For 39 years we have been coming home during the Holidays to visit my grandma in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. It is located in the northern region of my country – the Philippines. It has been customary that we swing by the heart of Vigan to get awed once again by the exquisite Spanish structures along the stretch of Calle Crisologo but it was swarming with tourists! All armed with their selfie sticks, posing in the middle of the cobbled street with their tongues sticking out. They hovered around old wooden benches, antique shops, ice cream stands, everywhere! Even the horse-drawn carriages didn’t have enough space to trot down the road. So the best decision was to drive past all the chaos.

A couple of towns after Vigan, we find ourselves smacked in the middle of a crossroad. Clueless of where to turn, we looked around to see which direction we should take. Only to find ourselves surrounded by what seems like an extension of Vigan. The whole place was still drenched in rich history! We have reached the old town of San Vicente.

It was quiet. As if it was an abandoned town except it wasn’t. Home to around 12,000 residents, this quaint town almost had the Spanish aristocracy air that Vigan holds but coupled with the Pinoy heart and humility. Old heritage houses alternate between acres of farmlands, vast plantations of Narra trees and charming farmer’s huts. We went further to discover more. So where do we go in this place?

Palazzo Del Gobernador

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Asilo de San Vicente

What greeted us was an old crumbling mansion. During the colonization of Spaniards, this was where the governor of Vigan resided. He would be seen gaping out of his huge capiz windows to watch a Spanish play called ‘comedia’ or Zarzuela’ being acted out on the streets.

Later, this ancient tenement once served as a home for the nuns of Vincent High School during the 1990s to the year 2000.

It was closed when we found ourselves looking at the majestic palace but even in its deserted state, its distressed bricks are packed and pulsating with stories woven through time. You wonder. You imagine. You know you will be back to find out some more.

San Vicente Ferrer Rectory

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Entrance to San Vicente Rectory

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Distressed Walls

We moved along. We rarely saw people out on the streets. I did see a young boy guiding 3 baby goats as if he was a little shepherd Jesus. Where the hell am I? Was the crossroad some sort of wormhole that transported us back in time? I got sucked in this ethereal world of San Vicente.

Behind the plaza was the church’s rectory. The steel gates were unbolted. The dog was unleashed. The corridors were dark and empty. Still, we walked in. Not that we were trespassing. I mean, the place was connected to the church so we assumed that it should be open to everybody.

I hung back from my group of explorers. I soaked in the hauntingly beautiful vibe of the whole clergy home. Despite the shadowy corners and disembodied sounds whispering through the halls, the energy wasn’t ominous at all. What lined the aisle were huge carruajes or carriages where they put figurines of saints to be pulled during a procession. There were headless statues resting by the floor. Massive windows upstairs allowed lots of light to come in. Empty guest rooms with a single dusty cushion sat quietly on the wooden floors and custom wood doors leading out to the veranda where you can oversee the plaza mayor.

It was from a different time. It was mysterious. It was exciting.

San Vicente Ferrer Parish

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Church’s side entrance with huge buttresses

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Baroque Style

An archway from the rectory led us inside the church which was built in 1795. Since we came from the inside, the original pulpit dwarfed us as we stumbled in. The first to greet us was the life-sized statue of the miraculous patron saint, St. Vincent Ferrer. It was known to attract pilgrims from all over the country due to its phenomenal wonders. I touched the image, believing that I will be bestowed with its graces.

As I bowed my head in respect and stepped away from the altar to move along the exquisite Spanish tile floors, the house of prayer warmed me with a welcome that felt homely. There was enough light that trickled through the windows and with the doors closed, the sound of my footsteps echoing across the cathedral sounded like the prelude to my own version of Stairway to Heaven. I was in paradise. I felt peaceful as if all sins have been forgiven. This was definitely a different kind of adventure. The whole place was a dream. All your senses were active yet everything was so surreal. The atmosphere that this realm carried pulled me in a state of lucid dream.

Since I was a baby, I come home during vacations to this side of the country. Every time I go back, no matter how old I get, the fantasies I played at the woodsy area behind our home came back to life. The dark tales I heard when I was little loomed around again. Time was nonexistent. I was a kid once more. There was just something about Ilocos that seemed to trigger the magic within me. So as I moved further away from the familiar zone that I have been coming back to, there lay more secrets waiting to be uncovered. There in the crossroads, we found an imaginary closet that led to Narnia. There in the junction, we discovered San Vicente. I have become that stray who walked off the beaten path and what I found was truly a delight.

Dudez Perez

By Dudez Perez

Dudez Perez loves to stimulate minds. If she isn't out there writing thought-provoking and challenging pieces, she'd translate her thoughts into photography. Her writing nook is a make shift aquarium stand with a wooden board on top that is stacked with literature, a bottle of absinthe and photos of her kids. This is her paradise. It is where she finds freedom. Writing sets her free.

Read more at dudezperez.com

Leave a Comment...

Carl Q, Quitoriano

March 1, 2019

Lovely adventure indeed . How eloquent you described the your experience, stirring my interest to follow the same footprints you left just to see for myself and experience the spirit of history lingering. Good job Dez. More power !

Alexander Perez

March 1, 2019

a very good read of a place filled with mystery and history.

This article transported me to a time and place worth revisiting and discovering over and over again....!

Kudos to a well written travelogue..!

TIN \"ojo\"

March 1, 2019

This is the writer I wish to read over and over again. Not because she\'s someone so dear to me, but because her words take you to a delicious flight amongst the unknown.

Ruben Rosuman

May 3, 2019

If you’re in Vigan, i would like to invite you and see our Dinosaurs Island in Bayubay Sur, Sn Vicente. It’s not yet open as of today but i’d love to see your kid’s reaction if u may.