Philippines Travel: Very cool Vigan

Arrived in Vigan in the mid afternoon, but that still didn’t stop me from spending the next half hour wandering lost around the bus station, dragging my suitcase and trying to get my bearings. I had my Lonely Plant open to the town map, but it wasn’t until the next day that I discovered that the map is all messed up. Meanwhile, to the amusement of the locals in the Public Market (who had never seen a real giant before), I went in circles about four times before I quit, flagged down a ‘tricycle’, asked him to take me to a LP recommended guesthouse, and crammed myself in.


I say ‘crammed’ because I had to fold myself up like a fortune cookie to get in there. It wasn’t until two days later that a driver told me to just hop on the back seat with him and put my bag in the sidecar…I’ll be glad when I finally learn all these stupid little common sense things and stop looking like a fool. It didn’t help that I was now feeling about as sick and flu-y as I can stand, and just wanted to get somewhere and lie down.

We drove into town, and as we passed a computer shop, I told the driver to stop there. I had to replace the charger for my laptop, so I went in and asked if they had a charger for a Macbook Air. Unfortunately, it seems that Apple has not made much inroads into rural Philippines, but the guy at the workshop next door said he might be able to find me one. He roared off on his scooter, and about 15 minutes later returned with the right charger (although I’m not so sure that it’s original Apple equipment). So I bought it for P2000 (my budget for the next 4 days), and set off to find my guesthouse, which should have been just around the corner, according to the Lonely Planet map.

Of course, it wasn’t.

I wandered around the block about 5 times before I saw some people and asked them. I have a horrible time guessing how old some folks are in this part of the world….I guessed that these four folks were maybe mid-20s, but after a moment, I realized that they were probably 10 years younger! But no matter…they were so incredibly helpful and endearing, and decided to ‘adopt’ me and help me find my guesthouse.

In fact, one overwhelming thing I have learned is that the Filipino, especially the kids, are just so open and helpful and honestly want to assist you in any way they can. That they all call me ‘sir’ sort of gets irritating at times, but I can’t fault their sincere smiles and openness.

They ended up walking with me for several blocks, talking to different shop owners and taxi drivers, and eventually guided me to the guesthouse. laughing and joking with each other the whole time. When it turned out to be full (honest to god…the last room went to someone who had walked in as we were approaching the front door!!) they found me another one across the street that didn’t even have a sign out front. Then with big white smiles and a wave, they wandered off together.

I checked into this guesthouse…not much more than a small room and attached bathroom, and laid down for a bit. As I felt a headache coming on, I decided to wander out to find a pharmacy to get some aspirin, and maybe some Sudafed.

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 3.22.47 PMAfter a bit of wandering, I found what passes for a Pharmacy in the Philippines: it was more of an outdoor shop with a range of strange offerings, and someone behind the counter with a white coat who probably has as much medical training as my cat. They had candies on the same shelf as painkillers, and a random range of skin lotions and cremes and shampoos. I asked if they had Sudafed, and the woman had a blank stare.

“Sudafed?” I asked, “For congestion? Pseudoephedrine?”

More blank stares. Even my silly pantomimes trying to demonstrate a clogged nose clearing up (I’ll leave that to you to imagine) did no good. Eventually, I settled for some local brand of acetaminophen and a Vicks inhaler.

To the pharmacists credit, a later Google search showed me that pseudoephedrine is not sold in any form in the Philippines, as it is a key component to making Meth (as anyone who watched Breaking Bad knows). No Sudafed, no Nyquil, nothing. You have to tough out your congestion.

Then I went out for a walk around town.

Vigan is the oldest Spanish colonial town in Asia that retains its Old World feel. All the other old towns either were flattened during WW2 (a fate spared Vigan when the USAF bombers were recalled at the last moment as the Japanese retreated), or else earthquakes, or just the ravages of time. But Vigan is so well preserved that it’s on the UNESCO lists, and movies use it as a backdrop for Spanish towns. Maybe the most famous movie that Westerners would know is “Born on the Fourth of July”, which apparently had some scenes filmed here, although I cannot remember the movie that well.

I wandered the streets a lot…excellent old buildings and horse-drawn carriages. But remember, I was feeling pretty sick so I could not spend all day wandering about. I stayed for three nights…enough to feel well enough to head on down the road, but I did manage to visit a great old house museum (home of an ex-President), the jail (the outstanding local museum attached to it was closed), eat at some very cool little eateries, try local Longganista (a very spicy and tasty sausage made here) and to wander the cemetery.

IMG_7263 IMG_7262For some reason, I really like strolling through old cemeteries. The dates and quality of the tombstones tell a tale, for those willing to read between the lines. Couples who died close together, or far apart….children who died during the war, or multiple children who died together (fire? plague? war?). You can tell the rich families, and how their wealth may have faded over the years (great-grandpa has a huge mausoleum, later generations have a simple stone). But the most sobering thing is I’m really starting to notice all the people who were born after I was, who are now deceased. It makes me think that I somehow owe it to them to continue to live an interesting and fulfilling life, since theirs were cut short.

IMG_7228Later, I decided to take a ride in one of the horse-drawn carriages that help define this town, but it became obvious that, once again, 6’3″ western man does NOT fit inside the transport. Everyone but the horse got a kick out of seeing me jam myself in there, then try to extricate myself gracefully.

After three nights in Vigan, I finally felt well enough to head out of town. I decided to head up north, to the beach town of Pagudpud, recently voted as the Best Beach in the Philippines, where I could lay in my hammock, relax in the warm sun and finally shake off the rest of this flu.

Did I have a surprise coming….


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