New developments in Ilocos Norte



Chapel of La Virgen Milagrosa in Badoc, Ilocos Norte


Our Ilocos Norte stories continue. We spent four days and three nights in Paoay but saw a lot of the province using a serviced van. A must-see is the Chapel of La Virgen Milagrosa in Badoc, the southernmost municipality along the coast of Ilocos Norte. The chapel is newly built and has just been consecrated last December 2013. It is one of the most charming chapels I’d seen. It’s situated along the beach of a lovely little cove.


The chapel is built using indigenous materials. It was built by the Provincial government under the leadership of Imee Marcos.


The altar is made of sea shells. It is believed that the miraculous statue of La Virgen Milagrosa was wound floating at sea in the 1600’s and only the residents of Badoc could carry the weight of the statue back to shore.


We had lunch and spent the afternoon at Sitio Remedios in Currimao.


It’s a beautiful seaside resort.


There is a lovely little chapel dedicated to St Michael.


It is so quaint


It’s seen many weddings.


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There are lovely old houses…


These houses were transferred to the site from other locations in the country.


Here the houses are preserved and restored.


And now anyone can rent a house and stay there as a guest.


Lily found her spot.


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And so did Soph.


Every meal we had included bagnet. Seriously. Yum. Here’s Sitio Remedios’ bagnet and pakbet.


Tomato and onion salad




Catch of the day


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Another look at the buttresses of this lovely little chapel. I’d love to stay in Sitio Remedios next time I visit Ilocos Norte. It’s so charming.


The Paoay church (St. Augustine) at dusk.


The moon


My shadow selfie




It’s amazing, especially with the beautiful lighting


Right beside the St Augustine church is Paseo de Paoay, a brand new two-storey building commissioned by the Provincial Government of Ilocos Norte.


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The idea is to bring back the idea of a town plaza where church, commerce and culture can co-exist and attract a lot of tourists and locals. The building was designed by Palafox Associates who also developed the Metro Ilocos Norte Tourism Master Plan. All these — the Himala Concert, Leeroy New’s installation, the new La Virgen Milagrosa Chapel, the Paoay plaza including this Paseo de Paoay — are all part of that grand plan to make Ilocos Norte a dynamic and attractive destination for tourists and investors.


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The building has a neo-colonial features. Governor Imee Marcos’ vision is to have new developments conform to the architectural character of Ilocos Norte’s past. The province’s new master plan actually has specific building restrictions and guidelines such as arches, cement tiles and other neo-colonial elements.


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Paseo de Paoay was newly inaugurated just days before we arrived. There are a few restaurants open but more are still expected to open. The building is still in its finishing touches.


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The courtyard, still under construction.


This was my first time to have Batac empanada and it has changed my life!


All these years people were raving about Vigan empanada and I was always like, ok ya but… Then I tried Batac and wow, it blew my mind.


Ok so look beyond all that unhealthy oil.


The crispiest empanada I’ve ever had. And like Vigan empanada, Batac empanada also has egg. But basically the other ingredients are different – papaya, longganisa and other secrets. This was at Glomy’s in Batac.


I must say this made me so giddy. Our host uses DAPHNE® Home Scents from Bench. They were all over the guest house.


Stella in Batac


OOTD time. That dress I wore at Himala Sa Buhangin concert is one of my favourites. I bought it in Mist in Bali last February.


Sunset was quite spectacular


Great memories were once again made…


Thank you Ilocos Norte.


For information on Ilocos Norte Tourism check out Part One of my Ilocos Norte Diaries here and Part Two here. Next, more of Ilocos Norte, it’s museums and natural wonders, here.



Cath Kidston bags





01 Safari cotton backpack

02 Aubrey Rose backpack

03 Button Spot small leather cross body bag

04 Garden Birds bowling bag

05 Field Rose cross body bag


Ilocos Norte Diaries 2



Touchdown Laoag. I really like this idea of walking across the tarmac. It reminds me of my childhood.


Here is the next part of our Ilocos Norte Diaries. The reason we went to Ilocos Norte was to attend Himala Sa Buhangin. See the fabulous photos here. Now let me piece together stories from our four day trip.


Laoag International Airport is beautiful


Everything works – the aircon, conveyor belt, extra fans.


The bathrooms are new and well-maintained. All stalls have rolls of toilet paper. There is proper (not watered-down) liquid hand soap at the lavatory. There’s even a sink for kids, also with hand soap. The hand dryer is working. There’s a separate bathroom for persons with disabilities. There’s a diaper changing table for infants. This is what all our local airports should be like.


I love how those arched windows and local bricks reflect the heritage of Ilocano architecture. The airport looks great for something built in the early 80’s. Proof that a little maintenance can go a long way.


Our Ilocos Norte adventures started in the sand dunes of Paoay. We stayed at a nearby private guest house.


What do people wear in sand dunes? Shorts, cotton tshirts, head gear, slippers, sunglasses. Unless you are that man who is comfortable in jeans and running shoes. (I cannot imagine the heat and all that sand in the shoes). When we got there, I bought five “good morning” towels so all of us could ward off some dust. There were 4×4 races and other festivities during that weekend of Himala.


Sand castle competition.


We did our own 4×4 off-roading adventure.


Then the Vice Mayor of Paoay saw us and treated us for a ride in his custom pink buggy. Of course the girls loved it!


This video shows what goes on in a 4×4 Ilocano adventure. I had not felt this alive in a very long time. (There was one adult for each of my kids while we went down the sand dunes. They loved it!)


The morning of our departure, the kids went back to the sand dunes.


Lily tried sand-boarding sitting down


So did Soph.


I love this crazy video of Sophia attempting to do it standing …


With “Superstar” Nora Aunor at the Himala presscon.


The night of the Himala festival, those colourful tents were filled with people.


Eliza and I went in comfortable clothing.


I was presented with a Daphne® chair cupcake by a local baker Ava’s Cakes


I’d never seen anything so intricate. Thank you Ava’s Cakes. I’m going to want this in my next/future event.


Confession, the kids ate the cupcake but I kept the fondant Daphne chair.


The lovely family of Ava’s Cakes.


It was amazing to see the culmination of all the hard work and vision by the provincial team.


Fire dancers


Belly dancers


Eliza and one of the Ilocos tour guides in the moshpit before a gazillion people came in.


Word got out that Bamboo had arrived.


Within seconds, the crowd thickened.


To this.


And this.


It was amazing to see different genres of music and dance. I even heard Ilocano hiphop. Awesome. Kids were belly dancing!


With Nicole of the Provincial office and Eliza. I have to say it was my first time to attend a party like this – in the middle of the desert sands of Paoay with awesome music and company. Now I can’t wait to do it again.


So you think I had fun in Ilocos Norte?


A little bit?


For information on Ilocos Norte Tourism check out Part One of my Ilocos Norte Diaries about Leeroy New’s art installation here. And the one about new developments and old favourites like Paoay church and Batac empanada here.



Ilocos Norte: Himala Sa Buhangin



The Chrysalis Vessel 2 by Leeroy New, in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. Photo by Eliza Romualdez-Valtos


I was invited by the Province of Ilocos Norte to witness Himala Sa Buhangin, an incredible festival of art, music and culture that took place at the sand dunes of Paoay, Ilocos Norte. I brought my whole family along on this four-day mini vacation. The last time I had been in Ilocos Norte was in 1995 when I was visiting as a balikbayan. Now I can say, there’s more to Ilocos Norte than old houses, beautiful roads, and really hot weather. I’ll be writing a series about our Ilocos Norte Diaries. One entry is not enough.

Himala Sa Buhangin coincides with the feast of the La Virgen Milagrosa, the province’s patroness. The Province, under the governorship of Imee Marcos, put together the Himala festival two years ago, inviting visual artist Leeroy New to build an installation in the sand dunes of Paoay. This year, Leeroy did it again. He constructed a post-apocalyptic-looking vessel called The Chrysalis 2 made of indigenous material and found objects. It was surrounded by sculptural pieces that were strewn all over. These were worn by dancers in the film below and are meant to be part of the interactive display that is Leeroy’s monumental art.





Our family inside The Chrysalis 2. Quite the experience.


The Chrysalis 2 from inside


I’m so proud of my little trooper Lily. She was terrified of climbing the ladder. But I coached her all the way up and she did it!


Nicole of the Governor’s Office was our guide for four days. Soph got so attached to her.


The view from one of the tips.


When we got down from the structure, the kids met the artist Leeroy New.


Then Soph started to get ideas…


Leeroy gets playful. He dresses Sophia


And Lily too.


Just like Lady Gaga!


The installation needed a third model.


So I volunteered because Stella was pretending to be shy.


Many people have asked whether Leeroy New’s creations are permanent. Because of the natural characteristics of sand dunes, nothing permanent will last in this place. The structures – art, stage, sculptures – are as permanent as it gets depending on the natural erosion and evolution of the sand dunes. So the answer is no. One day these pieces will erode. So treat yourself to a fascinating experience and go see them now.


The morning after the festival, Eliza went to the site and took these lovely photos. This structure was large and high. Photo by Eliza Romualdez-Valtos


But in the vastness of the desert sands of Paoay…
Photo by Eliza Romualdez-Valtos


…the structures look small.


We explored the festival grounds. This sign says it all.


There was a makeshift tent with colourful pillows and chandeliers.


It was lovely


Our host, Governor Imee Marcos.


This is the Leeroy New stage where Bamboo would perform the next night at a free concert.


Beside the stage was this hill where the new Himala sculpture and tree were set up.


Kids, meet Elsa.


Photo by Eliza Romualdez-Valtos


Gerry Leonardo’s sculpture, “Elsa” is based on the character portrayed by Nora Aunor in the film Himala by National Artist Ishmael Bernal. I was filmed in these very same sand dunes in Paoay. Nora Aunor was at the Himala festival to inaugurate this sculpture.


The site is imagined to be a must-see for the fans of Himala and Nora Aunor. Like a pilgrimage site.


Himala, written by Ricky Lee, is the story of Elsa, a barrio lass whose visions of the Virgin Mary change her life and cause a sensation hysteria in a poor, isolated northern village in the midst of drought. The film is centred on the issues of religious faith and faithlessness, morality, and truth. Elsa, in her speech on the hill, delivered the film’s (and Aunor’s) most famous line –

“Waláng himalà! Ang himalà ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawâ ng mga himalà! Tayo ang gumagawâ ng mga sumpâ at ng mga diyos…” (“There are no miracles! Miracles are in people’s hearts, in all our hearts! We are the ones who make miracles! We are the ones who make curses, and gods…”)  Source: Wikipedia


Why himala? For generations, the sand dunes were viewed as the bane of the Ilocanos. The terrain was unique with its kilometres wide of pure sand. But nothing could be planted and nothing could be built on it.


The first time the sand dunes became functional was when it was used as the setting for the movie Himala. Other films followed like Panday and Temptation Island.


Now, they say, the real miracle (himala) is that the sand dunes are now a source of income for the locals who run sports and entertainment activities such as – 4×4 off-roading, sand boarding and now a concert venue and the site of an annual art festival.


This video shows highlights from the Himala Sa Buhangin festival. I’ll also be showing highlights from the concert next.


For information on Ilocos Norte Tourism, check out their Facebook Page or

Check Ilocos Norte Part 2 about the Himala concert here. My third entry about new developments in Ilocos Norte here.


President Yudhoyono



Let me relive my surreal Friday. I was on mommy duty for Sophia, who had a 5-hour animation class in Fully Booked BGC with the Alcazaren Brothers. It was the last of a two-day workshop. I figured I could use the five hours alone and hole myself up at the Starbucks with a laptop.

As we entered Fully Booked, I noticed there were a lot of PSG-looking men and women – not so inconspicuous in their black pants, white linen barongs, the pin on the collar, and ear piece. I figured there was a VIP inside the store. I hadn’t been in there for a while, but I know how security works around here. On our way up to the top floor of the building we saw PSG everywhere. They were scouting the area, looking out the glass windows, combing the racks of books. All the way up to my daughter’s workshop classroom.

So I asked the cashier. She said, “Baka dumating si Presidente.” (The President might come.) I asked why. It was a Friday, the last day of the World Economic Forum. She said President Aquino and the President of Indonesia were having lunch at Hossein’s across the street (unconfirmed) and may drop in to the book store. I asked again, why. She said, “Madalas si PNoy dito.” (PNoy comes here often.)

So I started talking to myself in Facebook. My friends kept me company.




Soph started her class on the third floor. I stayed in the second floor Starbucks and began writing my blog. But all the security activity continued. Men in white linen barongs first. Then men and women in batik came in. The mood was exciting but not intimidating. I knew President Yudhoyono was here on an official State Visit. But I still wondered, why Starbucks? I continued with my writing and so did the other Starbucks customers. Then I overheard two not-so-secret-service security talking behind me. One of them said, “Alanganin dito. Ang daming tao,” referring to the Starbucks set up. So I took a photo from the reflection of my laptop.


Security behind me.


So if PNoy and President Yudhoyono walked into my Starbucks, I figured that would be a great story. I started documenting what was going on. I’ve been told off many times by security. I was a news reporter, remember? So I’m not scared of taking photos. I’m more scared of retailers who don’t want their windows photographed.

Then when it felt that the heads of state were about to walk in, you know that moment when everyone stands on alert, I see two girls in Fully Booked uniforms rush upstairs with a tabo, disinfectant, and a pail of water. What the.. ?


President Yudhoyono in green shirt.


Minutes later, a wave of important-looking people walk by the Starbucks hallway. And then, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and First Lady Ani Yudhoyono walk through. There was no PNoy. President Yudhoyono really was just shopping for books. He went to the history, business, management, religion sections. I saw the owner of the book store showing him some books.


I really did a selfie.


Then the President and entourage went upstairs to where my daughter’s class was. Apparently they waved at him and he waved back. Later I found out what the tabo, disinfectant, and pail of water were about. Minutes before the president arrived, one of the pre-teen girls in Sophia’s class vomited on the carpeted hallway. Security and maintenance did a quick cover-up with a black cloth. No biggie.


The President of Indonesia, shopping for books.


This went on for a few more minutes. Then President Yudhoyono went to the washroom behind the Starbucks counter. At this exact moment, my daughter and one Alcazaren brother come to me. She needs to go the washroom too. “Uh, Soph, you can’t right now. The president of Indonesia is in the washroom.” There are separate washrooms for men and women. But still. I thought it best to let all the commotion go by. So Soph waited. Then this happened.


Soph, waiting for her turn in the washroom. The President and First Lady walk by.


And they did sit behind me. You can see in photo, the couple choosing their coffee. Then their staff lined up just like normal folk and ordered the coffee.


Soph did go to the washroom. After I snapped this photo. Surreal.


It was quite the event for me and my daughter. I’m sure she will always remember this. I grew up in the periphery of this arena. My dad was the military pilot of President Marcos. He was the chosen aide-de-camp for visiting Indonesian heads back in the 80’s. As a reporter, I covered the Ramos presidency and saw many heads of state come and go. And as myself, I met Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard at a cocktail reception during a state visit in Manila, but have no photos as proof. It feels a lot different when you’re just a mom in a sundress having coffee in Starbucks and the president of the largest Muslim country walks in and decides to sit right next to your table. President Yudhoyono, by the way, is a former general who served two terms as Indonesian president and is about to step down in July. He is leaving behind a very stable and dynamic democracy.

By the way I forgot to mention that on that very same Friday, President Yudhoyono and President Aquino just signed a historic agreement to resolve a 20-year maritime border dispute. According to the BBC, this is very significant in light of the regional tension felt in other border disputes with China. Wow.

So I posted a couple of photos in my Instagram.  And this morning, I find out that the First Lady, an avid photographer and Instagrammer, liked the photo I took of Sophia with the President and First Lady as photobomber.


First Lady Ani Yudhoyono “likes” my Instagram photo. She also posted this in her Instagram. Nice.


We are living in very interesting times.