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.


Leave a comment

  • Lia

    I’ve been wanting to see the sand dunes of Ilocos and try sandboarding. Soon.

    May I ask where your flat sandals are from? 🙂

    • Anonymous


  • Dinah

    This reminds me of Burning Man! Kudos to all the organizers. I hope they’ll continue this each year and at the same time feature more (up and coming) artists to feature their works. And ohhh, this is such a nice place for a week long music festival too! 😉

  • herminegildo

    walang himala ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao