Last week, I got an invite to travel to the various provinces of Region 1. Of course, I was excited to go. I followed all the safety protocols before leaving: I registered online, and had a PCR test 48 hours before leaving for Baguio. The Department of Tourism, together with the local governments of these provinces, are opening their doors to travelers from Manila. They insist that you follow all safety protocols and then have the most fun you’ve had in a long, long time, like I did.
After about three hours of straight driving on the newly opened Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway, we exited almost at Marcos Highway. We went to the convention center to observe the efficient testing and safety centers of the city. This center is something that all leaders of each province can duplicate to assure their visitors’ safety. When you see this facility, you’d think you’re in a place like Japan. It is so clean and organized.
That evening, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Mayor Benjamin Magalong. His example on how to handle this pandemic head-on is something we should emulate all over the country. I asked questions related and not related to the pandemic, even about his days as a military man and all the investigations he did in the past. His very interesting story needs to be told. He says his report can be read online.
We dined at Mitos Benitez’s Hill Station, which I was happy to know is now open. The Barn is the newest restaurant that also opened. I am told the Baguio market is impeccably clean.
After two days in Baguio, we drove down to La Union to check out the surfing places also ready to open. Then we drove to Vigan, where a testing place is also ready for visitors. Gov. Ryan Singson treated us to a merienda of Vigan empanada, which I loved. Rep. Bonito Singson has a new restaurant which I can’t wait to try. His cook, Manang Tita, cooks the best and most authentic Ilocano food. Ilocos Sur will also open its doors to visitors very soon. I had never seen Crisologo Street in Vigan so empty. Weird.
From Vigan, we drove to Pinili in Ilocos Norte where they had their testing center as you enter the province. This is something that Gov. Matthew Manotoc saw in Baguio and duplicated in Ilocos Norte. Safety first, then enjoy!
I lived in Ilocos Norte in the ’80s when we had a tomato paste plant in Sarrat (it is still operational to this day). I also visit here every so often. I love the good food because I also know where to find it.
On this trip, I fell in love with the most delicious Ilocos longganisa at a breakfast in Fort Ilocandia. Vice Gov. Cecile Marcos sent me off with 4 kg, which I intend to eat by myself. Not sweet, garlicky and oh, so good.
I attended a dinner catered by Pam Zaragoza of La Preciosa restaurant in Laoag. It was a formal dinner with authentic Ilokano food and I thought the dishes were superb. I remember the bagnet with tomatoes and fish bagoong, and the dry dinuguan with chicharon. Yummy! Of course we had to go to Batac for Glory’s original empanada. I was given 10 empanadas to take home. I just fry from frozen then eat.
A new discovery was one brought by Ms Cecile: crispy miki. Oh my gosh! These are crispy miki noodles, fried and put into a delicious, rich and thick broth. Outstanding! This is the new discovery in this trip. I dream about it. This is made by Sea Chelles meryendahan. Saraaap!
I left with 10 kg of longganisa and 10 pieces of empanada. What an experience!
Soon, the entire Region 1 will open to land travelers. It’ll be nice to take a break and visit these places. They are much safer than Metro Manila because of the open spaces and clean air.
By the way, this will be my last column with the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I thank the owners, managers and the various editors I worked with for blessing me with the opportunity to have been part of this Inquirer family for 28 years! Mabuhay!