The Philippines being under Spanish occupation for three centuries are dotted with lots of old Roman Catholic Churches rich with history, tradition and these structures are reflective of the olden times. Among the finest are Manila’s San Agustin Church which is also the oldest stone church in the Philippines, Paoay’s San Agustin Church, Miag-ao’s Sto. Tomas de Villanueva Church and Sta. Maria’s Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion. These four Baroque churches are inscribed with the UNESCO Heritage marker.
The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption (Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion), commonly known as the Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Sur. One of the four UNESCO World Heritage Churches in the Philippines.
Sta. Maria church is made up of bricks which are replete in the Ilocandia region. It is perched on a hill overlooking the town to protect the church form the Moro raids during the late 1800s. It was a twin chapel before built below the hill but because it was too old and earth movements the other chapel collapsed. The other chapel is still there but is now being used as a classroom for the local gradeschool.
I explored the church compound and saw an abandoned old cemetery, vines and bushes filled it now and some cows were grazing on the way to the entrance. I noticed that some tombs were exposed, the bones were probably moved to the new cemetery.
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“You are entering Abra” the sign said as I continued my journey up north. You realize that you are nearing the capital when you see the short tunnel, from there the landscape began to change from green mountains to brown and dry, making the road trip really hot. I opened the bus’ window to feel some gush of air as the bus continued on the zigzag road to Bangued.
I got off with the remaining passengers at Bangued, the town’s capital. Another province is added on my list and I was excited on my new destination. Searching for tourist information about Abra was hard, its one of the provinces not visited by tourist because of the political situation or maybe because it not yet that ready to accept visitors.
What I remember about lunch was the brown rice that went good along with stewed pork lungs locally known as bopis.
I waited until 1:00 pm before I went inside the tourism office beside the green and white capitol. The office was inside the Department of Trade and Industry and travel brochures were old. Most of the destinations listed were either too far or too dangerous to visit. I was instructed to go to the City Tourism Office inside a building about 200 meters away. I entered the office and saw the staff busy with there preparations for a Ms. Gay Pageant or something like that, I even saw two participants auditioning. I told the staff my purpose for visiting Abra and they were kinda surprised of my visit. They kept on telling me to don’t stay late outside and to just wear common clothing. I was thankful that they pointed me to the cheapest place where I can stay – inside the church complex, I rented a room for a night at the Diocesan Pastoral Center. It came with a small TV and double-deck bed. I was really tired so I took an afternoon nap.
Santa Catalina de Alejandria Church, located in Tayum, Abra, is claimed to be the best preserved church complex in the province and is considered a National Cultural Treasure.
Later that afternoon, I started to explore the neighboring town of Tayum, started with the Santa Catalina de Alejandria Church because it is a National Cultural Treasure. I was walking at the Mary Barbero Park when I felt that it was like a ghost town. There was a nice huge town plaza but only a handful of people were there. There was a playground but no kids were to be found. I tried to smile to a handful of people I met along the way but I felt that they tried to either look away or pretended not to see me. Could it be that that unfamiliar faces in town are thought to be hired killers?
I arrived in Bangued close to 6:00 pm and there was commotion going on outside the Mega Centrum where I was in earlier the day. Someone was shot three times, the gunman just walked away leaving the victim bloodied. The police came after the shooting and hurriedly brought the man to the hospital. I really didn’t know what to do so I just kept my calm and tried to blend in with the locals. I brought out my camera and tried to take some photos, asked questions pretending to be a reporter or something. Before long, I was asking questions to the police cordoning the crime scene. One asked who am I in Ilocano, I can understand a little of their conversation but couldn’t answer back. I thought it would be better to walk away as soon as possible. My heart began to beat faster and I just went back to my room. I was still on my 8th day and this happened already. Hmmmmmmm… what could be store in the following days. I immediately thought of Zamboanga, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi where I will be traveling two months from now. I tried to think of positive thoughts.
I remember the tourism officer telling me not to stay late so I bought grilled chicken and pork outside just near the plaza, two orders of rice and brought them to my room. I ate while the TV is on the news channel, I wanted to still know what’s happening around the Philippines. I guess I would be safer inside the church complex, tomorrow will be a different day, a different adventure awaits and the situation need not fear me.
I told my friends of the incident and one of them said that sometimes a gunman would kill just for a cavan of rice. I hoped it was not true.
Route: Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur – Bangued, Abra – Tayum – Bangued
Expenses for today: Php 527
45- sta.maria to bangued
25- ice cream
300- room (Pastoral Diocesan House)