Escape North: A Narrative of a Lone Backpacker (Part 1)

My favorite escape has been the same route since I was young. The moment I was allowed to travel by myself Pagudpod, Ilocos Norte was always a hot spot on my list. This time I enjoyed it again, unaccompanied.


My trip started with a 2-hour drive to the airport. The heavy traffic is one of the reason there’s a need for me to take a retreat. I feel like the city is closing in on me. Nearly missing my ride, I sat pondering what lies ahead – mainly to distract myself off the roaring engine. The 45-minute plane ride to Laoag was always a necessary evil – issues: I have a self-diagnosed aerophobia relating to acrophobia … sucks to be me on an airplane. It’s either that, or I suffer a 14-hour bus ride. No thanks.


11:00am: The Laoag airport lobby have pamphlets given out for free to tourists. I grabbed every brochure I can get my sweaty paws on and sifted through choices of hot spots. My plan was to stay for a night in Laoag before I head to Pagudpod. Again, I was led to my favorite tourist friendly Hotel – Hotel Tiffany. I hailed a jeepney and joined several commuters to be taken to the city proper and was eventually dropped in front of the inn.


I was provided the cheapest room (with air-conditioning, cable television and hot/ cold water), as requested, for $11.00. I rested my feet for a few minutes and readied myself to a city trek and a meal.


12:30pm: If you know where to go, Laoag will provide you beautiful places to see and scrumptious food to devour. First stop, a local eatery by the park. I ordered two empanadas, isaw (grilled chicken intestines) and a tall glass of sago’t gulaman (popular refreshment made from seaweed). During my meal, I chanced upon asking a local if I could take their picture which they gladly obliged. Even by just sitting at the eatery, I was already greeted by several sights that tugged the photographer in me. I don’t always see commuters hailing for a kalesa (horse driven carriage).


After eating, I decided to rest a little before I start my city tour. Soon after, I was told by the owner of the eatery that I should come at night to see the beautiful lights at the park. I obliged with a nod and explained that I might need a full nights rest since I’m bearing north. She insists that I should and I can visit as early as 5:30pm and need not stay very long. Since I control my time, I thought I should give it a shot and gave the nice lady a smile as a yes.


1:45pm: Continuing my journey, I went to San Nicolas. I basically crossed the street from the park where I ate and hiked a lengthy bridge to the next town known for their clay pot making. From there, I asked a young local where the nearest pottery is and gladly pointed me to his kin’s place. If there’s anything I’d like to learn, that would be how to make potteries. No, my interest did not strike from the famous precoital display of a popular movie – honestly, I think that’s gross.


I watched silently as the young lady chose her clay and moulded it to its form. Kicking the contraption to spin, she sat gracefully moving her hands to guide the dirt. There’s a Zen like trance in making these objects, I suspect I’ll fail it miserably not by my lack of skills but of my mere unrest – I have an ounce of ADHD (again, self-diagnosed). I left as soon as she made one – like for most people, one cup of coffee to start the day right.


3:00pm: The thing about old churches is its mystery. Most church here were made during my great grandfathers so I can only imagine the number of souls that passed its doors. I said my prayers, sat and watched people go about. I lingered for a while and took pictures of anything that seemed interesting.


4:30pm: There is now a significant twinge in my feet so I looked for the nearest place to rest and possibly have my merienda. I first thought of chocolate Sundae and was greeted by a distant sign familiar to me.


At McDonald’s I saw a familiar face that zoomed its eyes on me the moment I stepped in. 30-minutes from Laoag are my parents hometown so it’s not impossible that I see someone familiar. He offered me a seat and talked – mostly for catching up. For half an hour I was locked to a conversation I did not mean to start. The purpose of this journey is to disconnect and reconnect with myself – if you’re smart you’ll know what I mean. If I travel alone, my main objective is … to be alone, duh. If need be,I will approach you and strike the first conversation and not the other way around.  I was told by a fellow backpacker, that in order to look distant without looking snooty, put on thick dark glasses (ala Wentowrth Miller and his famous aviator glasses), you get to watch people on stealth providing defence and people obviously can’t make eye contact with you in case they want to talk or sell you stupid shirts. Note to self: No McDonald’s on events like these, acquaintances from the past don’t care if your wearing dark glasses or a welder’s mask.


6:30pm: Finally being released from a nonsensical conversation I headed to the park. The horizon is now streaked with beautiful colors of pink, orange, different hues of blue and the pervading black. They’ve already lit the lights and I now understand as to why the lady at the eatery persuaded me to see it. It’s beautiful and it felt like Christmas.


Like all the places I went to see that day, the park also offered the same peace and quiet I was looking for.


Food stalls were put up close to the park and there, I took my dinner. This time with one empanada, grilled stuffed bangus and a tall glass of iced tea. Man I’m hungry.


Hotel Tiffany

            Office Phone: 63.77.770.3550






Expenses for the day:

            Food and Transportation: $6.00

            Hotel Accomodation: $11.00

            Plan Ride (Manila to Laoag): $ 45.00

            Pottery Making Viewing: Free

            Lights Showcase at the Park: Free


Other Places To See:

           The Sinking Bell Tower

           Museo Ilocos Norte

           Malacanang of the North

           Fort Ilocandia Resort and Hotel

           Casino Filipino