The mere mention of La Union prompts people to ask me about going on a surfing trip. You cannot blame them as San Juan is one of the prime spots known for its surfing industry. It probably has become La Union’s tourism poster face for the province. But do not be sidelined by the adrenaline-pumping activity as La Union is more than just a surfing spot as I discovered during a weekend trip together with my fellow viajeros for the Instagram hub - @viajerongpinoy.
Touchdown: San Juan, La Union
It was a crisp Saturday morning when we arrived in San Juan, La Union and I was not surprised that the town was still fast asleep. You see… my brother, who lives in San Juan, informed me beforehand that the town wakes up rather late so we should not expect diners to open early in the morning. True enough, we had to suffice ourselves with coffee and instant noodles for breakfast from a neighbourhood store as I started working on our itinerary for the day.
Just to give you a backgrounder, I am one of the founders of the Instagram hub - @viajerongpinoy. It was created in 2013 with the mission of promoting local tourism by featuring different tourist destinations in the country, whether mainstream or that which are still to be discovered. We have evolved to become a group that pioneered what we call the “Instaviaje” – an instameet where we travel to a tourist spot with IG users where we discover and/or re-discover our featured destination. La Union was our fourth Instaviaje destination and our first for 2015.
Chasing Tangadan Falls
I stood in awe looking at Tangadan Falls.
After enduring a 45 minute trike trip and a 2-hour trek from the jump-off point, the view of water falling off a wall from a four-storey height was just amazing. I did not expect that Tangadan Falls would be this beautiful. The pictures that I have seen prior to the trip only captured a part of its beauty and having to come face-to-face with the beauty of this natural wonder was just an amazing experience.
Tangadan Falls is located in the town of San Gabriel, about 45-minutes away from San Juan by tricycle. You can expect a lot of scenic views of rice fields with the mountains in the backdrop as you travel from San Juan to San Gabriel. It is the largest municipality in the province and depends largely on its agricultural produce for its economy – namely bananas and tiger grass.
The trek to Tangadan Falls is not a difficult one as it is mostly over flat terrain through corn fields and foliage. We had a 7-year old lady with us who survived the trek so it is THAT easy. The trek normally takes about an hour to an hour and a half but since I was with a group of photo hobbyist, the trek took about two hours because of the stops that we had to do for photo opportunities as the trek offered great views of the riverside and mountain views. A great escape from the cityscape.
Tangadan Falls is a beauty and probably one of the most beautiful that I have seen. Water drops from a height of about four floors into a deep basin. The sound of water crashing down the basin and water gushing out onto the river was relaxing. It was a clear day but the walls of the mountain range surrounding the falls shield the falls and its surrounding areas from the sun. Finding your own spot was easy despite having quite a number of visitors on the day of our visit.
The cold water of Tangadan Falls is good for swimming but one needs to cautious on the depths of its catch basin. Locals have also made available rafts that will allow you to go across the basin or you may opt to go around it by foot which can be quite a challenge. And for those who are brave enough, you can scale up to the top of Tangadan Falls and jump off from its cliff into its catch basin to get your adrenaline pumping just before you head back to town.
Chasing the Luna Sunset
After a full morning of scaling the mountainside and chasing Tangadan Falls, our group then hopped onto a bus to head off to Luna – some 40-minutes away from San Juan. We got off in the town of Balaoan where we took the trike to our destination.
Luna was once referred to as Namacpacan, an Ilocano word that means “one who feeds”. The town was a stopover post, during the Spanish period, for people travelling from Manila to Vigan. Locals offer meals to these travellers hence the town’s initial name. It was later renamed to Luna in honor of Juan and Antonio Luna whose mother hails from this municipality.
Our first stop was a walk around the Municipal Town Center.
Luna Municipal Hall
Just like a typical old town in the country, Luna is no different where the focal point of the locals is the town center where you will get to see the church, the municipal hall, and the public market clustered together.
Located in one corner of the town center is the Luna Municipal Hall or the Presidencia. It was completed in 1915 and it is believed to be the oldest municipal building in La Union. The local officials were diligent to keep most of its structure preserved – its walls, flooring, and ceilings. A historical marker was installed inside the hall recognizing its historical value to the country’s history.
I was more than happy to see how well preserved the structure was. From the outside, you will get transported back in time visually. It had a balcony which I presume is still in use for municipal celebrations and gatherings. Too bad though that the hall was closed at the time of our visit that I did not get to see the interiors and the historical marker of the town of Luna.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Namacpacan
A few meters from the Municipal Hall is the century-old Church of St. Catherine de Alexandria or also known as the Namacpacan Church. The white and blue structure is the dominant structure in the skyline of Luna which is not a surprise as religion played a huge part in Philippine history. Two belfries flank the main artery of the church. The façade is a simple design highlighted by a stained glass window art depicting the Our Lady of Namacpacan.
One of the unique feature of the church is its step buttresses that leads up to the church’s roof which is the first of its kind that I have seen so far. The church has also preserved its original walls.
The church’s white-washed and simple interiors complemented its exterior design. The main altar is highlighted by a three-tiered retablo. There are two separate altars on the sides of the church – one bears the image of the Our Lady of Namacpacan and the other bears the image of St. Catherine de Alexandria. Standing from the loft, the church was beautiful with its simplicity, void of ornate designs and paintings.
The Municipal Plaza and Antonio Luna Monument
The center of the town is a sprawling park where locals can spend their lazy afternoons. The park has a viewing deck that gives you a 360 degree view of the town. It has a stage, on the other side, probably for community gatherings and town fiesta celebrations. Our group enjoyed doing creative shots using the stage as a backdrop.
Just right across the plaza is a small rotunda with the statue of Antonio Luna as the centerpiece. This little “monument” honors the Filipino hero to which the town was renamed after.
As you approach the shorelines of Luna, you will notice an imposing structure along the beach that got split in the middle. This is the famous “Baluarte” or watchtower in Luna. Built during the Spanish period, the watchtower served as an observation post against sea raiders. It served its purpose of warning the locals of Namacpacan against impending raids.
Through time, the state of the Baluarte deteriorated. Like a wounded soldier, the Baluarte is slowly giving in to time and nature as its base, from where it stands, slowly erodes to be claimed by the sea. Half of the structure is leaning towards the sea and locals have already taken the initiative of trying to save the Baluarte by installing braces to prevent it from leaning further or collapsing.
I hope that the locals, the local government, and conservationists would take the effort to preserve the Baluarte for its historical value.
Luna Pebble Beach
Have you ever heard the ocean give its applause?
You better check out Pebble Beach in Luna. The beach stands out from the rest because of its pebble shores instead of the usual sand. In fact, the locals make a living from these pebbles by collecting these rocks and storing them in a bottle that they sell to tourists who visit the area.
The pebble beach highlight is best experienced by sitting down along its shores and closing your eyes to hear the beach give its amazing “round of applause” as the seawaters hit its shores. Yes, you would here nature give its thunderous applause along the shores of Luna.
These amazing feature happens when the waves hit the shores of Luna forcing the pebbles to hit the other pebbles along the beach. The force of the water make the pebbles hit each other and the collision of the rocks make a hollow sound similar to a clapping sound. Now multiply these collisions a hundredfold and you get a thunderous applause along the beach.
La Union Sunset
As the sun started to set in background, the sky started to give off different color hues that thrilled us. This was one of the reasons why we came to La Union. The golden hour played out nicely with the Baluarte and Pebble Beach in the foreground as we took shots from different point of views capped off by the thundering applause of the sea as if bidding the sun a nice congratulations for a great day.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.