IF YOU want to spend a truly relaxing vacation away from the maddening crowd of the city and even a hotel, I strongly recommend trying Sitio Remedios.

Sitio Remedios is a village situated in an 18,000 square meter of land in Barangay Victoria, Currimao, Ilocos Norte, facing the South China Sea.

It was nightfall by the time we reached Sitio Remedios after landing in the Laoag International Airport. Nothing imposing about the gateway but once you enter its gates, you are greeted with lighted fountains on both sides of the pathway which are made of Pasuquin stones.

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Azucao or local lotus lilies which were once abundant in the Paoay Lake stand proudly in the pond, however, the splashes from the fountains cause them to sway gently. Looking closely, the 14 Stations of the Cross on cement plinths in the shape of lotus flowers are in perfect distance to each other to enable one to make the Via Crucis. No wonder I heard that during Holy Week the place is packed with guests who want some time for prayer and meditation.

At the end of the path, you cross a bridge made of antique bricks and ascending the steps is an open area dominated by a grand fountain topped by a statue of San Miguel slaying the Devil. It looked most dramatic at night especially with the interplay of lights. To the right, is the Capilla San Miguel, which is miniature of the world famous Paoay Church.

Tired from our trip which was really from Bacolod yet and connecting to Laoag, we decided to check our rooms. We rented two one-bedroom houses since the two-bedroom house was unavailable. You must be wondering? A whole house? Sitio Remedios is like a compound, a villa or a small community built to be a re-created Ilocano village typical of the mid-fifties. We asked which of the seven houses are ours. The houses and all the surrounding buildings are made of vintage bricks. Everything inside the house is reminiscent of our very own Tana Dicang house but in a smaller scale. More inspection of my home for the weekend showed that it was fully furnished with vintage Ilocano furniture. Aside from the bed, antique dining tables, wooden sala sets, aparadors, altar tables etc. are found. There were vintage lamp fixtures and authentic crocheted bedspreads and tablecloth along with inabel sheets, pillowcases, and towels to complete the traditional and spare Ilocano look. I loved my bed…it was huge with curtains at that!!! I felt like I was sleeping in my lola’s bed!!! How chic!!!

Tita Cami asked me: “Basi may mga murto diri?” But I slept like a log that night. It was quiet and peaceful and my son, Luigi, finally felt like he could play his classical music with the right ambience. There were no television sets which just add to our stress anyway when we listen to the horrifying news of the day. The carvings that lined the walls proximal to the ceiling, which is typical of the turn of the century look were covered with glass to allow the guests to enjoy airconditioning. The Ilocos heat can be quite punishing.

We were treated to authentic Ilocano cuisine for our first dinner at Sitio Remedios as well as for the succeeding nights. The Ilocano staple seems to be bagnet. It is a cross between chicharon and lechon kawali. It is dried pork belly fried with bagoong until it is super crisp. Considering the amounts of cholesterol, they try to balance it off with pinakbet and dinengdeng which is malunggay or its fruit boiled in watery soup, seasoned with bagoong and topped with grilled fish. Dinners were always served al frescoe with the rush of the waves of the China Sea serving as pipe in music. What is amazing about Sitio Remedios is that dinner can be quite elegant as they decorate the tables with a profuse spray of rich scarlet bouganvilla flowers coupled with glowing candles. Supper becomes truly special.

After dinner, Tito Ben would bring out his cigar and we would join him for a smoke or two at the main plaza fronting the chapel. I love the chapel which is dedicated to San Miguel, the patron saint of Currimao. This is truly relaxing!!! We would sit there and just listen to tides from the China Sea rushing to the shore and the drippling water from the fountains!!! If life can only be this tranquil.

We had the good fortune of meeting the man behind Sitio Remedios, Dr. Joven Cuanang, who was there to spend the weekend. Dr. Cuanang told us: “I saw a lot of old houses echoing the lifestyle of the 1940s and 1950s being demolished. What we did was buy the houses and then we created a village and reconstructed the houses piece by piece," he says. In Ilocos, everyone we met had a brother a sister or parents and relatives living in Hawaii. So with the foreign aid coming in, the families wanted a more westernized house and some were even using precious hard wood from their old homes as firewood. What a pity. But Dr. Cuanang saw a eureka project in that. And so timely too for 0he met Rex Hofileña an architect from Bacolod, (would you believe?), who captured his dreams and made them a reality. When the homes were finally piece together, he injected his extensive collection of fine art works and furniture to give them the complete ambience.

Dr. Cuanang is a neurologist and medical director at St. Luke’s Medical Center, went to Harvard Medical School in the ’60s on a China Medical Board Rockefeller Scholarship. He was a doctor by the age of 21. Dr. Cuanang developed early interest in medicine from the village doctor who inspired him so. He fondly recalls how his mother, an elementary school teacher who died when he was a second-year medical student, would engage him and his two elder siblings in discussions about Shakespeare. “My mother was a great influence on me. I have dedicated this special place to her. Hence, the name Sitio Remedios. She was an exceptional woman, a school teacher who inculcated in me the value of education.”

Quoting Dr Cuanang, he says: “I still see patients. I love seeing patients because while you heal and comfort them, you also get healed as a doctor and dealing with people who entrust their lives to you is a very, very unique opportunity." He goes on to say: “Like the patients, doctors themselves need their own "healing" and this is where the arts come in.”

Dr. Joven joined us for breakfast and we were treated to Ilocano longanisa and dried fish which was also like staple Ilocano meal. Overlooking the breakfast area is an infinity pool and a Jacuzzi which is the best way to either start or end the day. The ladies who served the meals are dressed in some patadyong like skirts and cotton kimonas. The good doctor says that these were how the women of old used to dress.

Our four-day stay at Sitio Remedios was like being brought back to another space in time. It is living in a time capsule with heritage and culture so perfectly recaptured. Like any typical Spanish encomienda, the central part of the sitio has the church, the town plaza where all community and social activities transpire. How totally quaint and charming to relive an long gone era and to be away from all the modern amenities which can be toxic to our well being anyway!!!

We should be proud of our history, our tradition and I believe that everyone should make an effort to preserve what was good, gentle and genteel in the Filipino. In the words of Dr. Joven Cuanang: “Through Sitio Remedios I have preserved my heritage for all the world to see. I am so proud to be Filipino and proud to be an Ilocano.” Can we say likewise of our legacy?