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Three short stops in Ilocos Norte

Serene Paoay Lake early in the morning

I’m familiar with the usual attractions in Ilocos Norte having traveled to this part of the country many times. Except for Paoay Church, the two other stops: Paoay Lake and Mair-ira Cove was something new to me.

Last January 2010, I was invited by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau to join a media tour of travel writers and bloggers to experience North Luzon for seven days starting in Cagayan province all the way to Pampanga to sample the various local cuisines and experience the attractions offered by the various provinces along the route. 1 Paoay Lake
Fresh from our sandboarding and 4×4 offroad vehicle adventures at the Ilocos Norte Sand Dunes, Paoay Lake was a contrast. A wide expanse of water, calm early in the morning and quite inviting, we were just there for a very brief stop.

It is the country’s version of Sodom and Gomorrah, well, that is, if you go by the legends where a couple turned to stone when they looked back as their village was inundated with water due to divine punishment because of their materialistic ways.

Another version weaves historical accounts that in the middle of the 17th century, the now missing town of San Juan de Sahagun disappeared when a massive land displacement happened and swallowed it up. This cataclysm forced underground water to break out and this became the present lake.

The massive buttresses of Paoay Church is something that just stuns you.

The third version is more scientific (and boring). It credits the formation of the lake to the changing nature of the sand dunes where over the millenia, blocked a vital river system and dammed the water to become Paoay Lake.

During the habagat or southwest monsoon, the waves are strong that this lake is ideal for adventure water sports. In fact, local tourism is being planned to introduce funboarding in the area. During calm periods, kayaking might be offered.

2 Paoay Church
The church of St. Augustine in Paoay is one of four churches designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site designated as the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. Every time I’ve visited this edifice, I think, my third or fourth, I’m always in awe.

Just imagine an architecture that finely combines western and oriental architecture. Baroque elements married with Asian touches. A Spanish colonial era structure that looks more like a Hindu temple rising from the ground.

It’s massive buttresses wonderfully decorated with volutes or scrolls is unlike anything in the country. These buttresses were made as an earthquake proof solution which also applies to the detached belfry located a few feet from the church. During the Philippine Revolution, this tower was used by the Katipuneros (revolutionary forces) as a watchtower.

I was also happy for this visit as every time I was here, its always close. This time, I was able to enter and marvel at the beautiful interior. I was told that there are plans to bring back it’s old glory with the UNESCO supporting the changes. One thing that caught my eye are the wrought iron pulpit that I haven’t seen in other churches.

A beachgoer enjoying the emerald waters of the cove

Maira-ira Cove is one of those hidden gems of the province. CLICK TO ENLARGE

3 Maira-ira Cove
It was a pity that we only stayed quite briefly in this beautiful place. The emerald water is just inviting, the beachline is white sand and there are several rock formations around the area that should be explored. Its something wild and untamed and when one does climb the hills near the coastline, one is afforded spectacular views. But we were there only for lunch in one of the resort there.

It’s quite remote though. It’s more convenient to have your own vehicle or hire one than to walk all the way from the main highway. There is only one road that service the area and when you do reach the place, this former paradise is forever marred with another senseless development that does not jive well with the environment. (Rant post follows).

Ilocos Norte has several hotel accommodations catering to all budgets. Mira de Polaris (+63 917 501 1567 [email protected]) in San Nicolas town, is mid priced and is a good base to stay while in the province. It’s new and each room has free Wifi Internet.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications. He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces. I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

6 Comments

  1. Titanium Runner
    April 20, 2010 @ 18:21

    Looking at these pictures and reading this article, it makes me feel proud of what our country has to offer. But I also feel sad. All my pictures of Ilocos of mine are gone. So I am glad I can re-live the memories through your stories.

  2. estan
    April 20, 2010 @ 18:39

    thanx pre 🙂

  3. pompouspompo
    April 22, 2010 @ 10:43

    Awesome photos! Great article!

  4. joemill
    May 3, 2010 @ 16:46

    Is it just me or what? But looking at Paoay Church reminds me of Borobudur or Angkor Wat. 🙂

  5. estan
    May 3, 2010 @ 17:04

    @pompo, thanx 🙂

    @joemill, paoay church has been described as such by an architect. however, i’m very much interested to see a particular church in nicaragua, i just forgot the place, wherein there is a similarity with paoay.

  6. Thinking of travel? Do the Lakbay Norte loop | langyaw
    August 31, 2010 @ 12:19

    […] Last January 2010, I was invited by the North Philippines Visitors Bureau to join a media tour of travel writers and bloggers to experience North Luzon for seven days starting in Cagayan province all the way to Pampanga to sample the various local cuisines and experience the attractions offered by the various provinces along the route. Ilocandia is just too irresistible with its sand dunes and the exhilarating sports of sandboarding and 4×4 vehicle adventure. Other than that, there are also places worth a visit that is far from the maddening crowds like Paoay Lake and Maira-ira Cove. […]

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