Malta Treasure Hunts

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox’s Friends.

 

‘Revolutionising’ the way to visit the Maltese islands

Mosta, 25/09/17 – Island Publications ‘revolutionised’ the way tourists and residents toured the islands in 2010 with their Malta Treasure Hunts.

 

Today, the Mosta-based travel industry publisher has just produced the third edition of Malta Treasure Hunts (the second edition was published in 2013).

 

Devised, written and illustrated by veteran journalist Terence Mirabelli, this third edition of Malta Treasure Hunts is a 64-page booklet that contains a series of themed hunts that will take tourists and residents alike on a self-guided voyage of discovery around the Maltese islands.

 

For instance, Gozitan odyssey is a 45-kilomtere long treasure hunt that takes in the principal and offbeat sights of the island. Gozitan odyssey is an exciting tour undertaken by car or bicycle.

 

Other, shorter, pedestrian, hunts let one discover Victoria, Valletta, Mdina (aimed at children), Birgu, Zejtun, Zabbar, Rabat, St Julian’s as well as the popular resort of Bugibba and Qawra (dubbed ‘Bugiwra’).

 

For ‘techies’ Sliema – smart therapy is a pedestrian hunt that requires a smartphone. Clues come as QR codes and geographic coordinates.

 

All treasure hunts are colour coded, denoting levels of difficulty. Green hunts are easy, yellow ones are slightly harder and red ones require (a bit of) thinking and deduction.

 

Each hunt has a set of questions that sometimes lead to a landmark or require an answer to find a hidden password. Hunts are either circular or linear, meaning they either end where they start or not. A map is recommended for car and cycle hunts, otherwise one is not necessary for the pedestrian treasure hunts. Unlike previous editions, where hunters had to go online, answers are now available in the book – but it does require a bit of working out to figure them out.

 

No treasure hunt requires the payment of any entrance fees. Some hunts do go past sites, museums and landmarks that may require payment to visit, but entering these sites is at the discretion of the hunter.

 

Malta Treasure Hunts is the fun way to discover and tour the islands and see what they have to offer”, says Terence Mirabelli – managing director of Island Publications and originator of the hunts.

 

“The booklet is not intended solely for tourists, but also for residents of the islands. And hunts can be enjoyed singly, with friends, as a family or as a team-building exercise at whatever time of year.

 

“Moreover, Malta Treasure Hunts is the perfect tool for language students as they can be used as an exercise in English comprehension” Mirabelli adds.

 

“Producing Malta Treasure Hunts has been so much fun and educational, that I’m already planning a fourth edition”.

Malta Treasure Hunts is available from Agenda bookshops and from other leading book retailers and stationers at €10.

 

The hunts will also be available individually for download – as pdf files – from http://www.maltatreasurehunts.com from October.

 

For more information, contact:

Terence Mirabelli

Island Publications Ltd

tmirabelli@travelmalta.com

 

 

The Fox’s Friends; TM

Trottings = Trip Jottings

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Rethinking Alternative Facts and Fake News

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

Rethinking Alternative Facts and Fake News

I had always thought that the great polemic, started in the US, over Fake News and Alternative Facts was a mental-cum-political deficiency of those currently in power in the US.

 

I now believe it is something different. It is a Grammatical Deficiency on the part of Trump and the Trump Troggies (troglodytes).

 

I’ll explain:

 

 

Alternative Facts

The phrase is of course absurd. There can only be one fact about something, right? But no.

 

Rephrase it: Facts Expressed in an Alternative Way. One explanation is a half-empty/half-full cup. If you say ‘the cup is half-empty’, that is fact. That fact expressed in a different way is that ‘the cup is half-full’.

 

I realised this after reading a report (in Wikipedia, I think) where the report said (something like) ‘the CIA and the US Embassy deny involvement in…’ (the subject is inconsequential for my argument). That is, presumably, factually correct, but clearly the implication is that those two were involved.

 

Why did the Wikipedia report not add that the Russian Embassy, the Japanese bird-watching association, and the Barcelona football club, also deny involvement? That would be fact as well.

 

Geddit?

 

 

Fake News

My take on this is not so technical. But I believe that Trump meant “(this) is not worth a news item”, or “(this) is not a valid news item”. Perhaps he was speaking as though he were an editor/sub-editor.

 

But because of his limited grasp of grammar and the English language (read his tweets), he appears not to have the grammatical capability of saying precisely (when it is necessary) what he means.

 

He meant, if you will, ‘Irrelevant News’ or ‘Not Valid News’. But after he called it ‘Fake News’ the first time, grammatical probity was irretrievable. And the Trump Troggies piled in; perhaps they also are grammatically-inferior beings, or feared challenging the Great White Chief.

 

But I admit that ‘Fake News!’ is a better verbal counter than “I Am Of The Opinion That This Particular Item Of News Does Not Warrant Such Prominent Coverage”.

 

 

 

 

Johnson (Dr Samuel, the English man of letters, not the US ex-president or the UK foreign minister) would be turning in his grave. If the man ever existed, of course. Probably Fake News.

 

 

The Fox

Remember, I’m an intellectual in the parallel world.

 

Cry For Freedom

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.

 

Cry For Freedom

I cry. I have lost my long-time ‘hero’ countries.

 

Broadly, I have liked and admired what the UK and the US stood for, how they went about business, and that they tried to do good for others not just themselves.

 

I don’t think I was hagiographic – condemning, as most sensible people must – the ridiculous gun regime in the US, for instance. (Including the fact that “it’s in the Constitution” is an argument for keeping it. The clause was needed on the Wild West; it is not needed now.)

 

I even defended (and still defend) the US decision to go fight Saddam Hussein. The west threatened him with invasion, and then hesitated. If the US had not gone in, today Hussein would be ruling most of the Arabian peninsula.

 

Back to today’s realities.

 

Today, I can no longer support my two ‘hero’ countries. They have become Little Englanders, believing that they alone are important and, more worryingly, right and righteous.

 

And they don’t like foreigners. Theresa May: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.” Donald Trump: well, nearly everything.

 

For sure, the UK and the US can lock themselves in and do everything themselves. It will cost more to buy a 100%-American iPhone, but obviously it can be done. (However, not only will non-American iPhones be cheaper, but possibly better. Because they can make enhancement choices based on what is better; American iPhones will have to choose America first.)

 

So now my heroes have gone, who is riding to the rescue?

 

France. Would that it could. It has an admirable socialist culture in its heart, but cannot realise that socialist economics cannot earn enough to pay for that culture. (Socialism as an economic policy does not work.)

 

Other big Europeans, such as Italy and Spain, are too troubled or politically insignificant (in world terms) to lead.

 

In the past, perhaps Netherlands, but it is torn at present with a Trump-like political challenge. Perhaps Austria, which has just dumped a potential Trump. Perhaps the Nordics. Although all these are too small to lead.

 

Then there are three countries that are ruled by Trump clones. Kaczynski in Poland, Putin in Russia, Erdogan in Turkey.

 

Outside Europe? Perhaps Australia, Canada, although at present politically insignificant (in world terms).

 

The only countries in Asia big enough to lead are China, India, Japan, Korea. Of course, China wants the honour, but with its Google-banning, wet-drone-stealing, illegal island-building, no way. India has too much domestic work to finish, including a sensitive moslem matter. Japan is parochial and frightened of the world. Korea perhaps, but it is presently in political turmoil.

 

I can see only one then – Germany. It is more socialist than I would like, but it has shown societal bravery (its refugee problem), willingness to help others (generally not militarily, mainly because many would worry about that), is culturally competent, creative, and liberal, has better bistros than France, and much else.

 

Meanwhile I’ll go to sleep, and hope this is just a nasty dream.

 

 

The Fox

Remember, I’m an intellectual in the parallel world.

Trottings: Sicily shorted

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The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.

 

Trottings: Sicily shorted

During a short trip to Sicily, we decided to travel to Taormina, hillside tourist spot on the east side of the island.

 

We chose accommodation via AirBnB (ABB), not in Taormina, but in Gallodoro, a village even higher up the mountain than Taormina. Although this is also billed as a tourist village, there is little there – apart from a magnificent view, although that is probably how Taormina started.

 

We were there at the end of the main season, but early September, so just into the shoulder season. The village has two restaurants, but both were closed, not for the season but for that day. Wouldn’t you have thought they would get together, and make some arrangement – maybe pooling revenue? There were still a few summer tourists around. Worse, the villagers – and this has a population of 400 – did not know the restaurants were closed. Even the bar owner did not know.

 

We also found no 711-type shop, or any other, but fortunately we had stopped at a supermarket before we got to Gallodoro.

 

The village, as most hillside villages, has many between-houses steps. One came down two sides of ours, close to the apartment. So close that on the balcony, one feels obliged to greet the person. I regarded this as a plus, and the traffic is slight – four people a day?

 

Parking was just across the street from the apartment. However, the road led nowhere except to the top of the village (same way back), so probably always space. But if no space, there are options further up the street. Ten steps from the apartment is a little square – which could be called Piazza San Nicola, although I don’t think it has a name. At one time, there was a church there, and the shell of the building remains.

 

The little piazza has a couple of benches, and a railing, and a spectacular view. Down over the village, and where you realise how steep is the hillside. And where you realise that it would take not an earthquake, but just a tremor, to bring the whole village down.

 

Then further in the distance, the buildings by the seaside from Taormina. And of course the sea and the hillside.

 

The apartment?

 

Problems again with what is offered on ABB and what is delivered. I searched for a property that provided WiFi. But in Gallodoro, WiFi was available only upstairs in the owner’s apartment. I blame this more on ABB. They obviously have no system to check what is offered and what you pay for is there. Yet ABB got its full commission on this false-pretences sale.

 

(I have had this problem before. It is clearly something ABB needs to fix. ABB appears to be unconcerned, as I have had no response on either of these matters. I think that one day this will allow the growth of a rival, as obviously other travellers have had the same experience as me.)

 

The Gallodoro flat is very good for its price. The view is great, from one room. From the balcony, you have to look out at one side to see the view, because facing the balcony is a bare wall – 1m away and thus blocking any view.

 

The lounge needs better lighting; there is just one in the centre of the room.

 

Bathroom. There is a step up, that most visitors will trip up, because the tiling is dark. But not as bad as a trip down. There is a bidet – which I used for its more useful purpose – a footbath.

 

The shower unit is small. I needed to enter sideways; some overweight Chinese children and American adults might not even get that far. The shower unit is also small once you get inside. Sure I knocked my head, elbows, knees – but it is so small that it is hard to reach as far down to your calf and feet – which makes that footbath in the bathroom even more useful – or bring your leg up.

 

The shower unit is cheaply made, so does not work well. It is not easy to slide the doors closed. On my visit, the shower-window-screen partly came out of its setting, and one of the shower doors itself out of its guide-railing.

 

There is no microwave oven; not advertised, but would be nice. But the owners provided coffee, coffee machine (proper expresso style), sugar, salt, and even biscuits; also not advertised, but nice.

 

There is washing machine and clothes line.

 

 

 

The Fox

Trottings = Trip Jottings

 

Trottings: Exit – England out of UK.

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.

 

Trottings: Exit – England out of UK.

I propose the England hold a referendum to leave the UK.

 

-No more social support payments to Scots, Welsh, and, worse, Irish from the North (NIWS). We’ll give that money saved to our English social service. (I think we should paint that on the campaign bus.)

 

-No more foreign immigrants taking our English jobs. (That’s Irish and Welsh and the Scots who can bear England’s mild climate.)

 

-No longer a parliament with foreign members (NIWS) that makes decisions on England-only affairs. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it is based in Westminster. Many of its members are foreigners from NIWS; why should they rule our lives?

 

-We will establish our own parliament – and finally be equal. Northern Ireland has its Assembly, Scotland its Parliament, Wales its Assembly. Why not England?

 

-Hitler would never have allowed that.

 

-Devon and Cornwall can fund their own poverty. Oh, sorry, ignore that; they’re in England. We will take the money that we give to NIWS and give to those two counties. Oh, sorry, we’ve promised that money somewhere else.

 

-NIWS will no longer be allowed to use our own language, English, unless they make an annual ‘free-access’ payment.

 

 

The Fox

Trottings = Trip Jottings

WYSKs: France to build airport folly; Russia inbound loss; SAGging in May – Singapore Airlines Group; Fast air in the US.

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FOXTROTS

Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.

Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.

 

WYSKs: France to build airport folly; Russia inbound loss; SAGging in May – Singapore Airlines Group; Fast air in the US.

WYSK = What You Should Know.

 

France to build airport folly

France has decided (again) to build a new airport 30km from Nantes in the northwest. It is planned as an international gateway to west France.

 

There is no known demand by travellers or airlines for such an airport. The demand would be to serve the city, which has a 285,000 population.

 

And despite that ‘international gateway’ aim, the new airport has a French name – Aeroport du Grand Ouest, say AGO.

 

Nantes already has an airport. Only 8km from town, in 2015 it handled 4.4mn passengers, +5.7%. Its capacity is 3mn. Some say it could be expanded to 4mn capacity. We reckon it could go to 6mn with better traffic management.

 

There are about eight airlines that use the current airport on a year-round basis, and will presumably be happy to move to AGO.

 

Building AGO is expected to cost US$644mn (€580mn). Opening capacity would be 4mn passengers (ie below current actuals), growing to 9mn in 2050. That indicates authorities know it will be a failure in money terms – an average annual growth of just under 4%.

 

Based on the 4mn passengers, the airport will cost US$161 per passenger to build, US$72 on 9mn. However, these cost estimates are old, and inevitably go over budget on such grand projects. We expect AGO to cost closer to US$1.25bn – thus US$330 and US$139 per passenger.

 

AGO is planned to have two runways, although only one is needed for the forecast opening traffic volume.

 

Nantes is considered the ‘capital’ of Brittany. Paris is 2-hours away by TGV.

 

 

Russia inbound loss

Not only is outbound travel from Russia falling. The same is happening for inbound travel, including of course, the all-important visitor spend.

 

Based on Q1 indicators, visitors to Russia will spend only US$6.3bn over all-2016. That would put Russia on a level with, say, Norway, or below Hungary.

 

In addition, that figure would be about half Russia’s peak, in 2013.

 

(We have worked on data from the World Tourism Organization for these findings.)

 

 

SAG in May – Singapore Airlines Group

Middling Month of May. Seat sales at parent airline SIA grew 4% over Jan-May. That may not look impressive, but it is better than earlier years – -1% for the same period in 2015, flat 2014, +3% 2013.

 

However, there are a number of items that should be on SAG’s ‘To Fix’ list:

-Tiger seat sales flat in the month although +3% YTD (our estimate). This is bad for an NFA*. But the reason is known – SAG is growing Scoot at the expense of Tiger.

-Seat factors; not easy to read these, but here goes:

 

-At SAG it is 76% +1pt YTD (our estimate).

 

-For an FSA* that would be fair, although it should be on 80%.

 

-But that 76% incorporates SFs of two NFAs……which would make 76% bad……but with Silk, operating hard-to-fill routes as a regional FSA, it makes the SAG total, once again, ‘fair’.

 

-One day, SAG will accept market realities and either make Silk an LCA*, or shut the airline down and operate its flights under the SIA brand, and/or with one of its NFAs.

 

-Scoot’s fast growth (see below) hides its low seat factor – 82% YTD. It needs at least 85% and aiming for 90%.

 

-Tiger is also at 82%. Same comments as for Scoot, but given Tiger’s business circumstances (an artificially-restricted operation) these results are fair. As an established NFA they should be higher, but those operational limitations change the situation.

 

The good news:

-Silk +12%; good for a mature airline.

 

-Scoot +50%. Good, even for an NFA, but to be interpreted against Tiger’s emasculation to give Scoot its growth, see above.

 

*Notes: FSA = full-service-airline. LCA = low-cost-airline. NFA = no-frills-airline. See earlier posts for our definitions for these three types of airline.

 

 

  1. Fast air.

International air passenger traffic to-and-from US is growing fast – particularly impressive, given the size of the market.

 

New Q1 data (from NTTO – National Travel and Tourism Office) show seat sales grew 7%. Of the regions we track (Asia Pacific, Europe, North America, and sometimes Dubai/UAE) the big moves in the big markets were UK +6%, China (half the UK size) +24%. The biggest AsPac country-pair is still Japan; it grew only 3%, and it is still below its peak in 2013.

 

For the big Gulf-3 airlines, we do not track Qatar, but the UAE (Emirates, Etihad) was +12%. The UAE market is big – almost the size of France – and including Qatar would make it the same size as France. (Remember, however, that some (most?) of this is not UAE-bound, but onward transit traffic to Middle East, East Africa, Indian sub-continent, the stans, and others.

 

The March terrorist attack in Brussels caused the expected fall on the US air traffic, pushing Q1 down to -10%. Interesting is that France is a good +6%, with each of the three months growing – despite Paris suffering a big terrorist attack last November.

 

 

The Fox

Remember, I’ll be famous after I’m dead.

Post-ATF Fam Tour

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TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

The Fox Trots: Travel Stories from The Fox.

 

 

Post-ATF Fam Tour

TROTTINGS = Trip Jottings

ILOCOS: UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE TOUR, 4D/3N.

Organised by Department of Tourism. As programmed; see report for actual.

Program, main details (commercial names noted):

 

DAY ONE

Flight Manila-Laoag on Philippine Airlines. Lunch at Cafe Ilocandia, Laoag, Ilocos Norte. 2-hour bus drive to Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Check-in at Hotel Luna, visit the hotel’s art gallery. Dinner at Cafe Leona.

 

DAY TWO

Breakfast at the hotel. Vigan Heritage Tour, on foot. Visit Burgos Museum, which was the official residence of a martyr of Bagumabyan, Father Jose Burgos. Visit Burnayan pottery shop, which began with Chinese immigrants in the 1500s. Lunch at Cafe Uno. At Curimao, visit Marcos Museum and Paoay Church. Dinner at Sitio Remedios. Return to Vigan. Massage. Overnight at Hotel Luna.

 

DAY THREE

Breakfast. Drive to Laoag. Check-in at Plaze del Norte hotel. On Laoag tour, visit the Sarat Museum, Burgos Museum, Bani. Lunch at Cafe Preciosa. Massage. Dinner at hotel.

 

DAY FOUR

Breakfast. To sand dunes – 4×4 jeep ride over sand dunes. Picnic brunch at Paoay Beach. Check-out of hotel. To Laoag airport for flight Laoag-Manila on Philippine Airlines.

 

 

Trottings; Travel Jottings On This Post-Tour At ATF.

 

DAY ONE

The domestic terminal at Manila airport is clean and modern. There are even laptop charging areas – but with only Filipino plugs, not universal. And all retail outlets, six of them, were only F&B – nothing else. Internet connection was poor. Philippine Airlines tent-cards promote its own WiFi network at the airport, but staff recommend you use the airport’s one. There were two airport WiFis available, and it was not clear if both were official.

 

The flight was uneventful, but acceptable. Drinks and snacks (of unknown provenance).

 

Laoag’s airport is a small provincial airport, the region’s only commercial airport. Drummer-band to greet our arrival. Based on what I saw, the airport is expanding its terminal about double. At present it is a basic and unattractive airport from another era.

 

Laoag, capital of the province of Ilocos Norte (IN) at the top of Luzon island, is the Philippines’ northernmost large city.

 

IN is Marcos country. Imelda, wife of the deposed-late-president Ferdinand Marcos, is a local senator, and daughter Imee is governor of the province. Their other children are Aimee, Ferdinand Jr (‘Bongbong’), Irene. Bongbong is a senator in the national parliament.

 

We take a tour-bus from the airport to Paoay, where we have lunch in the Herencia restaurant, one of two restaurants in this big church square. The church is long, baroque style, and built before the adjacent church tower. There is a two-storey government building in the square, which houses the other restaurant.

 

Continue in the bus for about two hours to the Unesco-heritage town of Vigan in Ilocos Sur, not IN; one of six Unesco World Heritage sites in the country. Vigan is the centre of the cultural area, and also known for its old stone houses (bahay na bato) made from hard adobe stones.

 

We stayed at the Hotel Luna. Unfortunately, some people when they hear the name will think of Luna Park, and even to those that don’t it, it will not sound special. It is.

 

On the first floor is what is called a museum, but I would call a gallery. Two-almost-three rooms of paintings, sculptures, and other artefacts. Some modern (not modernist), some old, some religious. In other words eclectic, and impressive.

 

The hotel’s management should create a room/shop to sell works of local artists. Items in the gallery can be for sale or not, and those in the shop may not be collector’s pieces, but commercial works. The Philippines has many talented artists of all types.

 

Room rates are not low-provincial (lowest prices around P2000) but it a cultural gem. The overall style is comfortable wood. Unfortunately, though, it is a hotel and not a cultural centre. And thus because most rooms do not have windows to the outside or even to the atrium, that is a giant negative.

 

My room was well and stylishly furnished and equipped, albeit a bit cramped – as though everything (including a postered-bed) had to be fitted into the space available. For instance there was a 3/4-seat L-sofa, which has probably never been used apart from storage. The room was off one of the gallery rooms. Slightly awkward when leaving the room if there are people visiting the gallery rooms, although it also made me feel slightly special; perhaps people would think I was the owner?

 

The main tourist street in Vigan is about 1km long. Said to have originally been homes for Chinese traders, most are now little shops selling souvenirs, as well as eating places, and even some inns.

 

At the top end of the street is a big church, St Paul’s Cathedral, in a big square, Plaza Salcedo. And even a McDonald’s (and a Jollibee) – so the place must be OK! The area is somewhat unkempt – although I accept that 100s-years-old attractions cannot all be Singapore-neat-and-tidy – but attractive nevertheless.

 

The church was built in the 17th century, and is very big inside. (Sorry, I’m not qualified to describe eglesiastical (don’t look it up; it doesn’t exist) attractions or otherwise of churches; they are basically all the same to me – so either big, small, dark, etc.)

 

Outside the church are some Chinese carvings – reference to the Chinese presence (private, not government) during the Spanish times.

 

The square also houses a music fountain, next to the church. Somewhat incongruous for a Unesco heritage location, but obviously not everyone comes for the old culture, and you can’t eat culture either. (Hence, McDonald’s.)

 

There is 30-minutes free fountain show every night. There is also an airconditioned VIP enclosure, and a roof – which obviously our group had access to. The music varied from PSY to Beethoven (sorry, Beethoven to PSY). The fountain attraction was started two years ago, by the local government.

 

The local government has (unspecified) plans to add tourist attractions, and there is some work taking place. But the place is still isolated – being at least a 2-hour drive from the closest airport, Laoag, and nothing much else around – as this trip showed.

 

(Such comments are intended as constructive criticism. There is little point to saying this is a nice place to visit, and a foreign tourist spends three days and $750 and sees a musical fountain.)

 

 

 

DAY TWO

Visit Syquia Mansion in Vigan, an impressive ancestral home, part of which is still occupied by descendants of a former president, Elpidio Quirino, a Chinese-Filipino. In the part of the mansion that we (and other tourists) could visit, were some impressive ancestral artefacts, furniture, and antiques.

 

At the Vigan Conservation Complex we visited is an arts and crafts museum, training centre for the local handloom weaving technique. There is also a small shop selling samples of the cloth, with prices probably 50% of Manila’s (low) prices.

 

The Museum of the North provides information on the local tribes in the area; many still live in the nearby Cordillera Mountains.

 

Visit the Cordilleras museum in Laoag. When it officially opens, entrance cost will be P50. The museum is interactive. Museum completed November 2015. Some comments:

-Pieces are exposed – meaning they can be touched, even picked-up. This will end badly. Pieces will be damaged or broken – not necessarily deliberately, but out of 500 who pick up a cup, one will drop it.

-All explanation signs are in English language only, whereas 90% at least visitors will be Filipino, and 25-30% will not understand written English enough to understand.

 

This visit was followed by a ‘cultural show’. Unfortunately, it is hard to explain how good this 15-minute show was – partly because of the often-negative sense of the words ‘cultural show’. The presentation was part of a play, with singing and acting, in period costumes. Because it was in Tagalog, and we had no information (in advance) of the story, I cannot say what it presented – although it was part of the Filipinos’ struggle for their country.

 

And so I can comment only on its artistic quality. Again unfortunately, I am no expert, but if it had been in a theatre, I would have stood up to applaud, and shout “Encore!”. Although this was in a provincial town in the northern Philippines, many Filipinos have extraordinary cultural talents (singing, music, painting, more).

 

Imee Marcos spoke to us, saying nothing special. (That is the major special skill of politicians.) But she was welcoming, cool (dressed in jeans), and so I liked her and, by extension, that the Marcos’s were maybe not that bad. (My thought processes can go like that……)

 

After her address, she stayed for photo-ops, amplifications, etc. She told me that 61% of the province’s revenue comes from Overseas Filipinos – which seems extraordinarily high and so I may have missed some qualifications there.

 

Prompted by me, she added that tourism is about 10% of the province’s revenue. And she also agreed with my growth projection of 20% in five years, but did not seem convinced. She said the province counted more visitors from China in the past. But since the points of contention (atolls/almost-islands in the South China Sea, long considered part of the Philippines, and now claimed and, some cases, defended and built-on by China), they no longer come.

 

They came mainly for gambling, not the culture – even if China (or, rather, people, not the government, so ‘Chinese’) figures in much of the local history. Also, times were more peaceful – possibly because it was built around trade. Today’s conflicts are built around politics and national pride.

 

She includes tourism as a priority for her province. But she also adds agriculture and industry, which rather devalues the priorities; not everything can be a priority. She talks of attracting hotel groups (although that rarely happens until enough visitors-come-guests are there, or they are subsidised). And also of creating access to the east of the area, across the Cordillera mountains.

 

I told her she should call the region ‘Top of the Philippines’ – top = best, and top = geographically. She added that yes, it is also a song – Cole Porter’s ‘You’re the Top’.

 

But it is going to be a longhaul, unless Vigan (which is not in Marcos’s province) can be smartened up, and then more international visitors may come. Or perhaps start with a heavy push for domestic tourists.

 

In the Ilocos Museo museum in Laoag, not yet open to public, I told them they needed to protect the pieces on display – which most visitors will touch and move – against breakage and wear-and-tear.

 

At Bantay, just outside Vigan, we stop at another church – St Augustin with its bell tower. Climb to the top where there are 360d views of the countryside including the Cordillera mountain range one side, and the coast side on another. Pleasant interlude.

 

 

 

DAY THREE

Visited so-called ‘Malacanang Palace of the North’ opposite a new hotel and conference centre, the Plaza del Norte.

 

Ferdinand Marcos was born in the area (at Sarrat) and in Batac there is a museum about him and in the adjacent mausoleum, his embalmed body.

 

The Marcos family used this as a breakaway residence until 1986. Then after he was deposed as president, it was taken over and run by the government, and then became a sort-of pro-Marcos museum, displaying aspects of his life. Was called Vigan House, changing its name to MP after 1986 and the ‘people revolution’ that deposed Marcos.

 

Also, the view over Paoay Lake is so beautiful and peaceful that it would be an inspiration.

 

Nice hard wood floor. Still not worn. And some red brick floor tiles. All well done. I told them they needed to put benches for people to sit. Everywhere there are signs saying Do Not Sit – which makes you think of sitting.

 

And they need to sell something to visitors. I guess they cannot sell statuettes or keyrings of Marcos, so it might need to be some kind of F&B outlet. It need not spoil the atmosphere and environment of the place.

 

Management told me that they could stage special events here, although I saw no details, so that may require a ‘personal’ approach.

 

This day we went to wind farm, of which there are three in the province. Ok, one was the first in the Philippines, but I cannot see this as being much of a tourist attraction for visitors, certainly foreign visitors. That said, we all took photographs of them – one set along a 2km stretch of beach, another in a sort-of tiny national park, including a walk to a set of rocks and things by the sea. Nice, but not really special.

 

There is a wind farm at Bangui on Bangui Bay. I note this because this is presented as a tourist attraction. And it seems to be, for domestic tourists. Road in this part runs alongside sea, making it a visibly pleasant trip.

 

The Bangui wind farm is big local tour attraction, but it is a rock formation. And it is by the sea, and windy and sunny, and a 10-minute walk to the site, with donkeys for those with no animal compassion. Costs P15 to get in.

 

It is said to be the first windfarm in Southeast Asia, and provides power for the Luzon island.

 

Bangui windfarm started in 2005. Was the country’s first; the Burgos windfarm is new.

The road down to Burgos is new, for this attraction. Many tourists here from Manila.

Bangui started in time of Marcos. There are 96 windmills in the whole province; the long term plan is to have 200.

 

Near Laoag there is a tourist attraction of open-jeep rides on sand dunes. One passenger in the cabin, and two stand in the back. But there is certain to be an accident one day, hopefully not too serious, from when some basic safety features will be introduced. Minimum needed are crash helmets (those in the back simply hang on), and possibly some sort of harness (although that might be worse if the jeep overturns).

 

There was also sand-surfing there.

 

Fun; a pleasant hedonistic interlude from our primarily-culture tour.

 

We stayed at Fort Ilocandia resort near Laoag. Big, and popular with Chinese tourists from the Philippines and China – partly because of its casino and grounds (for families). It has some sporting facilities including a golf course, and a mini zoo – which is not animal-friendly and should be either improved or shut down.

 

 

 

 

OBSERVATIONS/AMPLIFICATIONS

-Before the arrival of Spanish colonisers in the 1500s, the tribes of the region traded with merchants from China and Japan. The Spanish first settled in Vigan, which became the centre for the ‘galleon’ trade between the region and the Spanish settlements in Mexico, especially from Acapulco. Some towns are named from these times.

 

-Some in the region of Burgos, north of Laoag, are thinking of developing surfing resorts. From what I could see, the waves did not seem to be good enough for that, but this is not my expertise.

 

-Ilocos is considered an energy-producing province – hydro, solar, and now wind. The region produces rice, sugar, salt, tobacco.

 

-There is a village named Marcos, but named after father of ex-president Ferdinand Marcos. And also what is called, unofficially of course, Malacanang Palace of the North, on Paoay Lake.

 

-Just outside Laoag is a village called Vatican Of The Philippines because, say local commentators, it produces many priests.

 

-At the time of our visit, I noted many road works including a fair amount of bridges. That presumably is (literally) a concrete example of what governor Imee Marcos is doing to improve the infrastructure of Ilocos.

 

-The Philippines department of tourism has a director for the north. Moving from Manila, he has been in the region for 11 years.

 

-Sampled local dishes such as the longaniza (sausage), empanada (meat pie), bagnet (deep fried crispy pork crackling).

 

-Calesa (horse drawn cart) tour in Laoag and Vigan which, given my pro-animal sensitivities, I declined.

 

-We had a 2-motocycle police escort for all our bus trips, including those out to dinner in the evening. They rode ahead to clear the road for us. This ensured that on the 2-hour trip Laoag-Vigan, for instance, we saved at least 30 minutes.

 

-Many if not all of the restaurants we stayed at had their own WiFi. It seems standard. When you walk into a restaurant, you don’t first ask for the menu, but for the WiFi password.

 

-We did not visit, but from here some visitors might want to visit the Cordillera Mountains as well as Banaue, location of the 2000-year-old rice terraces. These are about 100km from Vigan.

 

-A good circuit could be Baguio, 100km southwest of Banaue, the Banaue and Vigan. But that misses Laoag and Ilocos Norte, which was the centre of my visit. Whoops.

 

 

 

The Fox

Trottings = Trip Jottings

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