Catching the Last Tail of Summer in Santiago Cove

Frank Cimatu takes us with him as he chills out in Santiago Cove in Sabanga, Ilocos Sur.

By Frank Cimatu
September 28, 2011

Summer comes and you tuck it in your Incoming Files. There are more impending things to do: income tax, minding children on vacation, meetings, and before you know it, it's the end of June.

Fortunately, Baguio is often the first to tell the rest of the country that summer is ending--that is before the crazy weather caused by the Greenhouse Effect descended on the world. While the rest of the country is still caught "beyond the shimmer of quivering heat waves rose ancient hills not less blue than the cloud-palisaded sky" (Yes, I know my Manuel Arguillas), Baguio would get the rains--no longer the brief Agua de Mayo but the rains that drown strawberry beds.


That's about the time when I pack my bags and go to Santiago Cove in Sabangan, Ilocos Sur.

 The cove is easy to miss. Unless you ride a bus and tell them to stop at Sabangan, you will inevitably miss it. There's no Vegas sign to tell you to "Go Left" a kilometer before. By the time you are at the munisipio, you know you're beyond the shimmering and quivering waves and have to go back.

After Candon City, it would be Santiago town. You know you are in Santiago when you pass by a long bridge. After that (coming from the South), you have to be aware of the rotunda on your left for Sabangan. If you got that right, it's hectares of tobacco farms on both sides, and then a row of cabanas, and then it's Sabangan.

It is a cove where time and tide stand still. In the 18th century, the Ilocos coast was repeatedly attacked by Moro pirates. One rainy day in 1772, the pirates came and all the church bells rang and the people held high the statue of Saint James (San Tiago) and the Moros just left, never to return. Thus we have Santiago.

Missing it would be a shame because the cove is one of the best and cheapest places to swim. Typographers would delight in the cove because it forms a perfect "C" from above. The sand is white and the clear water just laps at your feet. You have to go to the mouth of the cove about a kilometer away to experience rough waters. And the cove's mouth is one of the best diving spots in the area.

As one tourist said, there are no local people selling you shell necklaces or sex by the beach. The colored cabanas (better appreciated from a bird's-eye-view) were provided by Cong. Eric Singson as the informal marketplace, and these are where you can sample simple Ilocano dishes like pinakbet, imbaliktad, igado and inabraw.

In the afternoon, the fishermen wives sell tuna and other fish at incredibly low prices. You just come out with your sushi knife, acquire some get soy sauce and wasabi, and you have a perfect pulutan. You can join the locals in drunken videoke, which is the only annoyance I experienced so far in this otherwise charming place.

The only accommodation here is the four-storey Ilocos Marina Beach Resort. Prices for the 32 rooms start at P2,000 up to P3,000 for the Northwing. There is cable TV and wi-fi in every room. The hotel provides jetski, scuba masks and suits and sea kayaks. There is a swimming pool and restaurant and bars at the lobby and at the pool.


Chef Jayme Natividad of the Dinelli's chain tweaked the hotel menu to include pizzas, nachos, and the local specialty, empanadas. The pinakbet pizza has a base of squash paste with julienned okra, squash, ampalaya and stringbeans sprinkled with bagnet (Ilocano deep-fried pork) and mozzarella.  There is also pizza of smoked tanguigue with capers and onions and arugula and proscuitto pizza. Their nachos are made of the same orange crust of the empanada.  

If you get tired of the solitude, you can take a bike or tricycle on the seldom used road along the coast. Tread slowly because you will get to meet friendly children and unfriendly dogs along the way.

After Santiago, you pass by San Esteban which is known for the Piedra Pinoy or those coral stones which are whittled into large tiles you see in the gardens or floors of the rich.

San Esteban town, like Santiago, also has pens for maritangtang or uni (in Japanese) or sea urchins. They are very expensive in Manila but you can buy them here as cheap as the rambutan that they resemble. But don't get the silly idea that you can bring them home to Manila. These sea urchins kind of eat their roe if deprived of anything else to consume and you end up with virtual shells when you arrive.

After San Esteban, the coastal road ends in Santa Maria town. This is famous for its church, La Asuncion de la Ñuestra Señora, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Built in 1765, the church is like a citadel overlooking the plaza. The Earthquake Baroque buttresses or contrafuetes are attached to the walls to reinforce it against earthquakes while the belltower lies separate. Come after the rains and the moss that carpets the church makes it look otherworldly.

But for gourmands like us, the Sta. Maria Market is the place to get the best bagnet and longaniza in Ilocos Sur.

Then it's back to Santiago Cove to have these for dinner as you drink the summer away.    


See Ilocos Marina Beach Resort's contact details here.
Find a list of hotels and resorts in Ilocos Sur here.
See more articles on Ilocos Sur accommodations here.
Read more about Ilocos Sur here.