I WAS 11 when I first heard of Vigan. My best friend spent her summer vacation there and she could not cease from talking about it. It took me eight years to encounter the city once again. This time, in a book of short stories, and I inevitably fell in love with it.

Reyann, TL and I rode the bus to Ilocos Sur’s capital at dawn on Maundy Thursday. After diligently waiting in line for seven hours for the bus, our patience finally paid off.

The journey to Vigan seemed never-ending. I was anxious even in my sleep. I was very excited. I had heard and read so many tales about Vigan. I felt that I was finally going to live its tales. I had never been there, but I felt that I was coming home.

We arrived in Vigan an hour after lunch. I felt the sun’s scorching heat the moment I stepped out. That was too early for my penitence, I thought. Earlier, Reyann reminded me that we were not on a pleasure trip. We were primarily there to observe Holy Week.

A tricycle brought us to Grandpa’s Inn, where we were to stay for the next four days. Grandpa’s Inn was a Spanish ancestral house converted into a small hotel. Like the rest of Vigan, it boasts of its rich antiquity evident in its preserved and well-maintained structure.

Our room was simple: a flourescent bulb, a ceiling fan, a desk, a chair, and of course, the bed. There were only the three of us to share the room, but there were three double-decks to sleep on. The stillness of our chamber got into us. Shortly, we were asleep.

Hunger woke us up from our deep slumber. We refreshed ourselves quickly and looked for a good restaurant. Vigan’s pride, the Heritage Village, a long cobblestoned street of ancestral houses turned souvenir shops, was just a short distance away from our hotel. Even with our empty stomach, we were not able to resist it.

Soon, we reached the end of the street and found our way to Café Leona, a few walks away from the St. Paul Cathedral. I did not find anything familiar on the menu, except for the beverages, pinakbet and Vigan longganisa, which were all found on our table.

After eating, we tried to look for Alder. He lives in Vigan and actively participates in its church activities. We would want to know the schedule for the religious services. When we realized that there was no way for us to find him, we decided to kill time through wandering and shopping at the Heritage.

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It became too late for us to remember that we had intended to attend the last Mass. The Cathedral was already jam-packed when we got there and the Mass was almost through. We just sat on the sidewalk and waited outside for the Mass to conclude.

Alder met us in front of the Cathedral after the Mass. He informed us of the church’s schedule for the Holy Week. He then treated us to empanada and ukoy in one of the stalls beside the Cathedral for dinner.

TL was the first to retire to bed when we returned to the hotel. He came to Vigan straight from his hometown, Pangasinan, where he explored the Hundred Islands with Paul. Reyann and I decided to cap the night off with coffee.

I was the last to sleep that night but was still the first to wake up the following day. I was getting bored watching Reyann and TL sleep that I decided to take a walk outside. My feet brought me to the Heritage Village. I had wanted to buy a keepsake the day before, but chose not to on the last minute. I will buy it now, I told myself. To my dismay, only a few shops were open. But it was almost 10 a.m.! Perhaps they open in the afternoon, I reasoned. It was only on my way back to the hotel that I realized that no more shops were going to open that day. It was a Good Friday.

It was almost lunch when we took our breakfast. We headed to the Cathedral afterwards, to attend the Seven Last Words, but the Cathedral was again full. Once more, we stayed on the street and listened from there. After the Seven Last Words, we worked our way inside. We thought that the people would be leaving. We were wrong. A liturgy came after it. Consequently, we were trapped inside.

The liturgy was delivered in Ilocano. I did not understand a single word spoken, but something in me said that I understood. I just knew that God’s message might be spoken in as many different languages yet they would all mean the same.

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While we were walking after the liturgy, the Bantay Bell Tower caught our eye. Its magnificence towered in the distance. Immediately, we were on a tricycle ride going there. We arrived at the foot of the tower in a few minutes. We climbed the spiral staircase at our own pace. The strong winds signaled that we were nearing the top.

I could see Quirino Bridge that connected barangays Sta. Ana and Bantay from there. It had been 12 years since the earthquake broke it down. Yet, it had moved on and showed not one trace of its past. Reyann and TL were taking pictures of the vast panoramic view when I climbed the wooden ladder. High up were the centuries-old gigantic bell and three other smaller ones that could have been nicer to look at without the vandalism.

After appreciating the view from the top, we went down the stairs and hurried back to Vigan. We intended to join the prusisyon by dark. We just arrived at the hotel when we saw the carrozas passing by. In an instant, we joined the rest of the city in praying the Fourteen Stations of the Cross.

Eldric was our host on our third day in Ilocos Sur. He and his brother fetched us with their owner-type jeep at around 11 o’clock in the morning at the entrance of the Cathedral. He was to tour us around his hometown, San Juan.

We arrived at Eldric’s home just in time for lunch, but we did not eat there. A friend of his was throwing a despedida lunch and Eldric invited us in behalf of his friend. From his home, we walked a small distance to reach his friend’s abode. A hut lay lonely under the sky. Beneath the hut was a long table full of food, mostly of Ilocano cuisine.

I barely touched anything on the table. I was afraid that I would be able to eat dog meat without knowing. I might have eaten pansit, but I got rid of the meat, thinking it might be dog meat. Eating dogs is as conventional as eating pork, beef and chicken in that side of the country. I loved dogs so much. I would never forgive myself if I ever let dog meat touch my lips!

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We had a walk down the river behind the bushes after we ate. Most of its parts were dry because of the sizzling summer heat. A portion still had affluent water though. The fish pen was in the river. I was given the opportunity to feed the fishes and I grabbed it. Reyann and Eldric took turns in helping me.

We returned to Eldric’s home afterward and spent a lazy afternoon in his backyard. Reyann, TL and Eldric feasted on Indian mangoes while I swung on a tire tied on a branch of a jackfruit tree. Afterwards, we had arroz caldo for merienda.

Eldric drove us back to our hotel in the evening. But before he did, we all watched how pots were made in a pottery shop in Vigan. Reyann, TL and I were not able to resist it. Each of us bought a sterling beauty. Eldric heeded my request and brought us to the beach shortly. Unlike in other provinces, beaches in Vigan are free. I wanted to rush to the sea at my first sight of it, but I was not dressed properly. I ached for salty water. The least I could do was to dip my feet. Yet, I was wearing sneakers. Tomorrow, Lyn, tomorrow, I whispered to myself. We were scheduled to swim at the beach the next day.

Easter Sunday marked the end of our four-day vacation. I failed to wake up at four in the morning for the salubong. For a while, I envied Reyann and TL for receiving indulgence, and for tasting the famed Sinanglaw, an Ilocano breakfast. But all these were more than compensated for when we went to the beach before finally going home. My long wait was over.

The sun was high, but I did not mind getting sunburned. I dashed to the sea and embraced the waves as they came to me. They were just as excited as I was. It had been years since I last yielded my whole being to the deep. I was just in time for my renewal.

I thought I was coming home with gifts. I had gathered plenty of pebbles in different colors, shapes and sizes during my perpetual hours at sea. But they slipped from my mind in the last minute. Despite the signs, the communion overpowered me. I was too deaf to hear the sea say that the gifts were not mine.

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