They say you only turn 18 once.
On March 25th of this year, I celebrated mine. For a long time, my Mom and most of my relatives have been forcing me to celebrate it through holding a traditional debut party. They have been reasoning to me that it only happens so rarely in our family and that they wanted to enjoy that special day with me. Five years ago, my past self would have agreed. At that time, I already had drawn a design of the gown I wanted to wear; I already knew where to have the party; and I could already imagine what every single part of it would be. But I grew up and as much as I’d wanted to do them a favor, I really couldn’t make other people decide for myself. This probably is a sign of growing up – thinking practically and learning to identify what matters most in life. Besides, this is also being mature enough to learn to say no.
So here’s what I did.
Months before, I asked my Mom if we could travel, instead, on my birthday. Of course, she said yes, being such an adventurous mother where I probably inherited my wanderlust. The original plan was that we’d wait and purchase some cheap airplane tickets, either an international or local flight. But we both didn’t had the luxury of time and cash to attend to that. Fortunately, my Tito (uncle) of mine and a very close friend of my Mom, who had been our neighbor when I was still a child, found out about our plans and invited us to go to their place in the Northern Philippines. Big-eyed and all giggly, I got too hyped about the idea of it automatically saying yes. And because my birthday was also Good Friday of the Holy Week in the Lenten season, this week is declared holiday in our country. Plus, we could make it as our visita iglesia* as well!
That week for me started so challenging. I had two exams and papers due and I was sleep-deprived. So I kept holding on to this vacation and birthday celebration as my hope and remedy. We kept joking, “Let this hell be finally over so the long-weekend will truly be holy.” And on Wednesday, March 23, we only had half day of classes so I immediately went straight home with such a big smile on my face and unexplainable excitement feeling on my chest. My Mom fetched me and met me on the mall just beside the train station where I came from. I was surprised when I saw her on a table full of food she ordered on a Chinese restaurant. I said it was too advanced but she insisted saying she wanted to celebrate my birthday as early as possible. And so we did.
23 March 2015
When we arrived home, there was another surprise! Pictures of my childhood were all taped on our curtains. Some of those, I looked funny on; some, luckily, I looked cute on. (lol!) My Mom explained the events behind the picture and I can’t help but be a little teary-eyed. Time passes by so quick and I can see it right before my eyes. From being just on my Mom’s womb, there was I, turning 18.
At that evening, we were on our way north! Tito Jo’s cousin, Sean, rode shotgun in Tito Jo’s car while Mom and I were on the passenger seats at the back. We had some stops to buy snacks and drinks on Starbucks and also to pee.
Day 1: 24 March 2015
Our first stop was Abra River! Tito Jo drove so fast I was afraid it was our way to heaven, except his driving skills are as good as a professional race car driver. Even when it was kind of hard to get there before sunrise, we did. Tito Jo, you’re amazing!
We got so busy taking pictures as well! We were just starting and the North was already capturing our hearts!
After there, we got to our first church stop – St. Augustine Parish in Bantay, Ilocos Sur! We also went up the Bantay Bell tower!
“Life is like a book. If you do not travel, you only read one page.” – St. Augustine
After which, we went to explore Baluarte Zoo! I’m pretty sure the entrance was free but if you’d want other services then you’d have to pay. We didn’t have to. Just seeing the displays on the museum and watching two tigers sleep in peace were enough.
Aaanddd… here’s another extraordinary part of the tour – Vigan! For years, I’ve been wanting to go here and personally see the beauty of its old and classic beauty. We went to the Vigan Church, Calle Crisologo and ate at the Kusina Felicitas.
And Mom and I had some of the best shots ever! (Thanks to Tito Jo’s photography skills)
By the way, I also had a few #ootd shots! Here, on our first day, I wore my black sheer dress with black sleeveless tee tucked in my shorts under the see-through clothing. Also, I used this Parisian white sandals of mine that I just bought! And because they say, your footwear should match at least your accessories or bag, I matched mine with my white wristwatch. In this trip, I also used my wayfarer sunnies a lot, and I mean, A LOT. I bought it from Sunnies studios as birthday gift for myself. Hehe.
Ilocos Norte was next!
Our third church stop for our visita iglesia was the St. Augustine Church of Paoay. It was absolutely stunning. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its massiveness and monumental beauty, totally captivated me. Numerous tourists were also clearly amazed by it, you could see the amazement in their eyes!
Of course, my Mom and I never missed on taking pictures, although we didn’t actually traveled to take pictures, but instead, make memories. As a quote I once heard says, “Be not a tourist but a traveler.” Indeed, we were.
Because the sun was scorching, we opted to eat some halo-halo** in the food stalls just outside the church. After that, we immediately went to our next stop.
And for me, this was the best part of it all – Paoay Sand Dunes and Sand Boarding! It was almost as if I wasn’t in my country anymore. And yes, why would I even want to go to other countries, in the first place, when we have all the rich resources in the world? Being exposed to the unpleasant parts of this country where street children and homeless people can be seen almost everywhere, this side in the North is actually close to heaven. It was peaceful and utterly beautiful, I am left with awe and nothing but amazement and gratitude to God for creating such wonders.
Paoay Sand Dunes was like Dubai in a tropical country like ours. Just sand all over the place but just after a few treks of the 4×4 we were riding which gave us one helluva rollercoaster-like ride, you can see the sea already. It was remarkable. Also, we got to watch the sunset by the bay. (Yep, Tito Jo has got this astounding time management skills, you could actually follow this itinerary or better hire him if you want. Lol.)
I had fun riding the 4×4 as my heart leaped and beat a little too quickly on the falling sensations and bumpy thrills. My Mom and I also tried sand boarding and although, they were daring me to try to stand while sand boarding, I didn’t. I still wanted to come out of this tour alive. Lol. I still tried it twice again even though my Mom didn’t want to repeat already. My motto is to live life for moments that I’m lost and alive. I was, indeed. At this moment, my mind was free of all the stresses in life. That time, it was all about being free.
We didn’t want to leave but of course, we had to. That’s just life, you have got to go on. That was our last stop for that day even though we still visited one more church after.
We stayed in the house of Tito Jo’s relatives where they welcome us with such hospitality. I just couldn’t thank them enough.
Day 2: 25 March 2015
My 18th Birthday!
I can’t believe just how fast time flies! For all I know, I was just blowing 5 candles on my birthday cake; now, I’m not even celebrating with a cake anymore! Instead, I’m traveling!
Life truly is amazing!
Waking up with a smile on my face, my Mom and I prepared for our Day 2. I wore a new striped dress that my Mom gave to me in advance as her gift. And because we chose to travel light, I still wore the only sandals I bought besides my combat boots and the white wristwatch I had the day before.
Our day started through prayers and visit to the Bacarra Church and Museum. It was like going to the past again because we had seen a lot of antiques and other old things that were still preserved.
Then, we had some stops on the Ilocos Norte Capitol in Laoag. (Some people can’t be excused at so we had to take pics even if there were a lot of people as extras. Hahaha.)
We also went to the Laoag City Church and Bell Tower. In the latter, if you are keenly observing, you could see the face of Mary in the one side of the wall.
While praying inside, a little boy touched the arms of my Mom and showed her the sampaguita flowers he was selling. He pointed to the image of the Black Nazarene on the side of the church, silently telling us to buy his flowers because according to him, the Black Nazarene wants us to. I was in the brink of crying. Being a girl with such shallow tears, I felt him. That little boy touched me in ways he didn’t even know. I realized how inequality is truly inherent in this world and the fact that I was enjoying my birthday while he was here, selling sampaguitas to probably help his parents earn for some food on their table, actually made me thankful of my life. I felt a little helpless though because I couldn’t help him fully but in our own little way, my Mom and I decided to buy all his flowers. I wanted to make my 18th birthday fulfilling just like my 5th birthday were we gave food for a homeless family. Somehow, it made that day very memorable already.
I remember one quote which I would never forget that stated, “In the eyes of a child, you find Jesus.” Through this child, I think I truly did.
Afterwards, we were supposed to go to Cafe Bojeador but because the traffic was awful due to countless tourists in the place, we just stopped by the beach instead. It was stunning.
The wind was very strong so it was kind of hard to take decent pictures where our hair aren’t messing up with our faces. The struggle is real!
We then went straight to the Burgos windmills which, I must say, are very impressively and strategically built. There were a lot of them that may have been as tall and huge as a building. It really was fantastic, just looking at them!
The view was also incredible!
Right after taking pictures and enjoying the view, I thought it was only that. But nope, the North says wait there’s more!
We walked down the hill to the Kapurpurawan Rock Formations. Kapurpurawan, as my Tito informed me, actually meant “Kaputi-putian” or “white” because here, you can find white rocks that were formed through time by waves. White! And kind of powdery, when I touched it! How brilliant the world truly is!
We went there by noon so the sun was scorching hot and it was awfully windy. However, you would totally enjoy the fresh air and magnificent view of nature!
We didn’t have time to visit the Bangui windmills anymore so we just passed by the viewdeck where we can see the whole of it. It was great!
Then, my Tito drove us to the Pagudpud Beach. There was traffic as we go to the resort we were supposed to eat lunch in. I’m glad indeed that the tourism of this place is booming. After an hour of finding a place to park, we finally found one! While Tito Jo and Kuya Sean were ordering for food, Mom and I changed into our swimming attire (though mine wasn’t really a swimming attire because I didn’t plan on swimming). Mom, on the other hand, was all bubbly and so excited to swim in the beach! Hahaha, Mom and her not-so-slight addiction to waters and swimming.
While waiting for the food, the two boys stayed at a cottage we rented and Mom took a swim. I, however, just took pictures and enjoyed such breathtaking view of the Pagudpud beach. I felt blessed, indeed, to live in such a beautiful world.
Mom took some shots of me as well. I was wearing my swimsuit underneath the long-sleeves crop top and just some short shorts of mine. The breeze was so cold I was already shaking. Haha!
We stayed there for not more than three hours. All the traffic and the distance were all totally worth it! Plus, the food tasted so good.
Our next stop was the Pagudpud viaduct which was a very long pathway across the mountains with the beach on the other side. The transportation and roads on the North are really not much of a problem, especially with roads like this!
Finally, we stopped for the last time in the boundary of Ilocos Norte and Cagayan Valley. One of my bucketlists is to be on two places at once (A Walk to Remember movie feels!) and thankfully, I crossed it out on my 18th birthday. Yay!
After arriving in the house where Tito Jo grew up and lived, which was where we are staying for the night, we decided to finish our visita iglesia and visit two more churches. We actually conquered 8, not just 7, churches! All this for the name of God!
Tito Jo’s cousin knew the parish priest in Pamplona and told him in advance that we were coming. We were surprised that even how simply their life was in the parish, he still had offered us their food and welcomed us very nicely. After our meal and some very fun talks filled with laughter and stories, the Indonesian priest blessed me. (I think he still composed the prayer as he excused to us for a few minutes.)
While he was blessing me and stating the prayer, it was utter bliss and I truly felt God’s presence. My tears were begging to slide off my cheeks but I held them with so much strength because I didn’t want to cry. If I did, I don’t think I’d ever stop. It was just very overwhelming.
His prayer stated, “She is young and full of dreams.” Oh God, how I loved this line. It was the best words Father could ever describe me even if he only knew me for a few minutes. He also gave me a very simple paper bag which contained a mug and I swear to cherish it with all my heart. Thank you, God, for I have met you in various faces today but I knew, they were all you because I can feel it, I can feel you in my heart. Thank you for this gift of life.
Day 3: 26 March 2016
It was Saturday and also our last day of the tour. Tito Jo brought us to Miki’s House where we ate their very delicious delicacy called Miki and I also ordered some mocha.
And for the last time, we took a ride and stopped by the Sanchez Mira (Tito Jo’s town)’s town hall. Thank you, indeed, for being a part of this memorable tour.
At night, even though I didn’t want this to end and we didn’t want to leave this haven, we rode the bus going back to Manila. Only my Mom and I this time. Fulfilled and with joyful hearts, we breathed and continued to live bring with us all the fondest memories we had from this travel.
And as for my birthday, yes, I am young and full of dreams. More memories are sure to come but the North definitely has a place in my heart. I am eighteen and I am free.
* a Roman Catholic Tradition during the Lenten season where people attempt on visiting seven churches or religious sites
** common Filipino dessert with a mix of shaved ice, milk and other savory ingredients