HELLO everyone! May 2 is the 122nd day of the year (123rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 243 days remaining until the end of the year. Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist, is said to be dead…Actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, British singer Engelbert Humperdinck and English footballer David Beckham are celebrating birthday today. Meanwhile Boa-Boahan Festival in Nabua, Camarines Sur is also celebrated today .The highlight of the affair is the re-enactment of the 13th century pagan rites which is enriched by colorful costumes.Lets meet our featured traveler for this month. Jason Quinones is the name. But you can call him jakes…Another hungry, young solo traveler, a certified BACKPACKER and an environmentalist who also hit the road at a very young age… He is currently working overseas but regardless where he is at right now, for him The Philippines is still the best place on earth…

He considers himself friendly and outgoing person . Most of the time, he travels with his family and friends. But he is very much an introvert person and loves solo backpacking. In the midst of balancing work, friends and family  as well as his other advocacies and commitments. He takes time off  to get away from it all. He takes it as once (sometimes more) a year personal retreat. Just a way  to reflect, reassess and relax at the same time. He recommends solo backpacking trip as its more practical  and efficient, in terms of  being able to  move faster and easier on the budget. 

Here are some of the tips he wants to share with the rest of our readers

1.    Have enough budget.  You have to be ready with your budget since you don’t have somebody to split the bill with.  Set your limits.
2.    Prepare for your trip, do research – be sure to make a thorough research about your intended destination and read up on local and tourist reviews.  This should at least give you a realistic picture of what to expect during your journey.  A good way is to go online, chat with people who have been there, or better yet, chat with people who are living there.
3.    Travel light, bring only bare necessities – Remember you don’t have anybody to help you with your bags and luggage and this way, you also have room for pasalubongs and souvenirs to take home.  As a general rule, I do not bring anything I can’t afford to lose. So leave the expensive laptops and gadgets to avoid unnecessary attention.  Just bring one camera for travel documentation and a book (ok, you can bring your iPod) for personal entertainment during down time. 
4.    Work your Charm – Be friendly. Local and other tourists are always receptive to a person with a smile.  Don’t be afraid to talk to other tourists or to locals.  They say great bonds or friendship are usually made when people share the same experiences. (Who knows, you might even meet ‘the one’ during your trip.)  Engaging in a conversation with other travelers or locals is a good way to get tips on the best places to visit, the best activities to do and the best food to eat.  While you are at it, why not meet up with the friend you had a chat with online!
5.    Have an open plan – You’re solo, you don’t have to stick to other people’s plans or itinerary. An advantage of travelling solo is you can easily join a group or slip away on your own anytime you like.  Feel free to take on the tips you got from your fellow traveler or to go to that reclusive beach that a local told you about.  I usually start my adventure by asking a local street vendor or a driver, “Manong/Manang, ano pagkain dito na wala sa Manila?” then take it from there.
6.    Enjoy the experience – This is your adventure.  Keep your mind away from life you left behind, or bring an outdoor GPS tracking to avoid losing yourself in the process.  This is the time for you to move beyond your comfort zone and discover new things about yourself.  By the time you get back, you will be the new improved you.
travel nuts
Hands down, He’s been to many places but his favorite local travel destination is Ilocos region.  Ilocandia fulfills what He calls ‘ three simple joys in life’: travel, food and Romance (subject to reader’s own interpretation *wink*). He must have traveled to this region several times and still haven’t run out of places he wants to visit. For him  Ilocandia is definitely for everyone – adrenalin junkies, nature lovers and history buffs alike.  For solo travelers, this is a place where you could get the best value and maximum experience for your money.  You do not have to blow your budget to move around different locations, be well fed and have a good nights’ rest in Ilocandia.

The best time to travel to Ilocandia is during the summer.  Try to go during the first week of February for the Pamulinawen Festival in Laoag City.  This is usually a week before Baguio’s Panagbenga.

travel nuts

There are a lot of destinations and interesting sites to visit in Ilocandia, so you need to constantly be on-the-go when you are there.  Whenever He is in Ilocos, He likes setting his base in Laoag.  There are a lot of affordable and decent inns or hostels for solo travelers that you could rent for a night.  Just walking distance from each other and within the city center are the Sinking Bell Tower, The tobacco Monopoly Monument and the Museo Ilocos Norte.  You can also visit the famous Sand Dunes of Laoag just outside the city proper.  4×4 truck exhibition games and competitions usually happen also during the summer time around the area near the bridge entrance to Laoag city.  The water in the river at this time is not too deep and some parts of the riverbed are exposed making it perfect for 4×4 driving. Everything is approximately within 2 hours by commute from Laoag City.  This makes it easy to make your own itinerary per day. Going northward, you can visit the modern and eco-friendly Bangui windmills, the Spanish-era Burgos Lighthouse, the legendary Pagudpod beach and other nature destinations like, the unique Kapurpuran White Rock formation, majestic Blue Lagoon and a number of refreshing rivers and waterfalls.  Going southward, with less than an hour commute, you can visit the Iconic Paoay Church, The Malacanang of the North & the infamous Marcos Mausoleum in Batac.  Further South, the Heritage Area and Gov. Singson’s Baluarte in Vigan Ilocos Sur are just 2 hours away.

 Ilocandia is definitely a must-visit destination for any foodies.  Ilocanos are known for being thrifty or kuripot and it is very evident in their food.  They use any and all edible vegetables and animal parts in their cooking.  Home-based cafeterias are a dime-a-dozen around Laoag, while there would always be affordable places to eat anywhere near town centers in Ilocandia.  They offer an assortment of vegetable dishes.  The authentic Ilocano Pinakbet is a staple in any of the eateries alongside other vegetable dishes that most Manilenos are not familiar with.

If you are the adventurous type like Jason, try the different pickled vegetables and fruits you could buy from the street vendors along the street beside the St. William’s Cathedral (Laoag Church).  You shouldn’t miss the Bagnet (Ilocos’ version of the cripy pata/liempo).  For the most value for your money, you can buy it ready-to-eat from the Laoag Public Market meat section.  For quick snacks, try out the brightly colored Ilocos Empanada or sometimes referred to as Vigan Empanada.  These are widely available anywhere in Ilocos.  These are orange-colored emapandas with mongo sprouts, egg and grated green papaya as filling.  You can also order it as ‘special’ and they will add in some Longganisang in the filling.  For the best experience, ask the manang to cook a fresh one for you, and request for the egg to be malasado.  Other specialty food here that you can take home as pasalubong are the longganisang Ilocos, Sukang Iloko, Rice Coffee, and the very addicting Chichacorn.

travel nuts
travel nuts

Lets talk about Romance

I have had 2 romances in Ilocos, one didn’t turn out to be Love and the affair ended badly but the other one certainly is still a romance that is ongoing.  The first romance would be an entirely different story and would need a different kind of blog altogether so I will just tell you about my Romance with Ilocandia itself.

My friends have always told me that I’m an old soul and if you are like me, you would love Ilocandia with its old world charm.  Laoag is a city, but not the kind of city that is Makati or Manila.  It is a grand provincial city that has maintained its heritage and most of its old architecture.  Although there are a lot of modern buildings, the old buildings are still common and most are well-preserved.

travel nuts

When getting around within Laoag, I prefer taking the kalesa instead of the tricyles.  It is an eco-friendly way of travelling.  The kalesas in Laoag are still widely used as regular public transportation, not just for tourists. You could easily enjoy the experience of how our ancestors get around during the Spanish era.

Old ancestral houses and Churches are common in Ilocandia but the area where there is most concentration of well-preserved houses and structures are in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, walking through the streets of Vigan is like time travelling.  I was so enthralled by this place that I could almost see the guardia civil patrolling the streets.  I was even waiting to bump into one of Rizal’s characters in Noli.  Taking a tour of the Syquia Mansion and other ancestral houses would give you a glimpse of how opulent our ancestors lived during their time.  Of course it is not right to assume that every Filipino lived like this but even the masses during those times are rich in skills and talent passed on from generation to generation.

The art of pottery is very much alive with the simple and very sturdy Burnay jars still in production today.  You could watch and/or even get your hands dirty on a crash course in pottery by asking the manong kutsero to take you to one of the pottery shops around the outskirts of the city.  Another product that is uniquely Ilocano is the Inabel or Abel Iloko.  It is a fabric weave that is indigenous of the Ilocos region.  It is sometimes referred to as a ‘sacred weave’ because of its quality and durability.  During olden times, these fabrics are passed on to from parents to children, sort of a family heirloom.  For the best deals when buying the Inabel, head to the dry section of the public market.  Most vendors would offer their products on regular ‘non-tourist’ prices and are open for haggling.  Just a tip, the manongs and manangs  are most likely be open to haggle the price if there are no other customers, so stay away from the group of tourists and haggle when there’s no other customers around.   Lastly, the Ilocanos are very accommodating and hospitable. You would notice that most locals would adjust to you when they notice that you do not speak Ilocano. As a solo traveler, it would not be difficult for you to find new friends in Ilocos.  So next time you’d like to get away from the hustle and bustle of Manila, head on north to Ilocandia where life is still much simpler, where the food are healthier and delicious, where the culture and the arts are alive and the people are warm.  What’s not to love in Ilocandia?

Thanks a lot Jakes. You are a certified travel nuts!

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