El Yu: The Wave Beckons

Dubbed as the surfing capital of Northern Luzon, this province is a magnet for surfers, beach lovers weekend warriors who love to chill out and enjoy the breeze. La Union is part of the Ilocos Region and is just about 270km north of Manila (4-5 hr drive).

El Yu or La Union (The Union) is said to be founded in 1850 as a fusion of the areas of Pangasinan, Ilocos and the Cordillera Region. Through the years, the Spanish ‘La Union’ is broken down into provinces, creating Pangasinan, Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. The Cordillera is further divided into provinces but collectively, they became the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR). At present, La Union is composed of 19 municipalities and a component city.

Sharing to you our La Union trip last August 2016:

Since we planned to have a trip comme le weekend warrior, we agreed to travel late Friday night. The bunch just came from PETA Theatre to watch Rak of Aegis and Cubao was the best rencontre for the La Union trip. We were a group of 8 people and it was best to tap a travel and tours company for ease in travelling (GAFA Tours and Travel Services Corporation). We left Cubao past midnight, taking on EDSA, NLEX and TPLEX to arrive La Union Saturday morning.

Before taking a turn towards Poro Point, there is a marker for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. This was built to honor those soldiers who fought during World War II. Such markers can also be found somewhere else in the Philippines, the country being one of the heaviest battlegrounds during the Second World War.

The next stop was Thunderbird Resort.

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This resort has a bit of Santorini vibe to it probably because of its white and blue motif. The architecture in itself is simple, arcs and lines painting Mediterranean-style structures fronting the West Philippine Sea. Thunderbird Resort is said to be the only 5-star hotel in Northern Luzon.

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From Thunderbird, we head on to La Union Botanical and Zoological Garden.

The site is but a few kilometers off the city proper. The Garden showcases several tropical plants, species from sub-tropical and dessert areas and other themed gardens that include the following: shade garden, fragrance garden, sunken, medicinal, Chinese, Arid Paradise among others.

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The La Union Botanical and Zoological Garden is said to be the hidden gem of La Union. Tucked a bit far away but it offers one with the proximity to commune with nature. Trails would also lead you to several collection of animals ranging from birds to snakes and mammals.

From the Gardens, we visited the Ma-Cho Temple.

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Ma-Cho Temple

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The tiered gates

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There is a substantial Chinese community in San Fernando. This temple was built in 1975, 11-tiered and 7-story high in an elevation of 70 meters. The temple’s attractions include the Majestic Five Door Gate, Bamboo Garden, the Liang Thing Pagoda, 2 circular pools or ponds and the golden emblem of a dragon, the Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. In the exterior of the temple, the “Chinese 18 Saints” (carved in stone statues) are worshipped at the entrance wall, facing the temple patio made of “tisa” or bricks in circular form. The courtyard has a pond of water lilies and gold fish (Wikipedia).

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One of the 18 dieties

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Deities surrounding the temple

If you’ll dig in more to the story of the Ma-Cho Temple, it would lead to a connection with the Virgin of Casaysay in Taal, Batangas. Ma-Cho is regarded as the Goddess of the Sea and is often associated to have much connection with fishermen and people living in coastal areas.

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Lunch was nothing short of wonder. We were brought to Halo Halo de Iloko in San Fernando. This place is not only known for its dessert concoction that is the Halo-halo (mix-mix) but also for its Ilocano food. The restaurant itself is adorned with wooden ornaments, capiz windows and other decorations associated with being Filipino.
It was time to proceed to Urbiztondo for the famous La Union waves. We were booked at Sebay Surf Central which is just a few steps from the San Juan Beach.

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The highlight of the trip is the beach and its waves. La Union is said to be Philippine surf’s best kept secret. On a good swell, the waves could be as high as 8-10ft. It is ideal for beginners to learn surfing here. There are surfing lessons being offered at a reasonable price.

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San Juan Beach is the heart of the surfing activity in La Union. It’s a primary beach that offers good waves between the months of May to March. The best time to go surfing here is during the months of October to March because of the north swells. December-January are the peak months.

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And so they claimed that San Juan Beach is the surfing capital of the north for several years now. Barangay Urbiztondo is the entry point for those who want to learn how to ride the waves. There is an organized group of local surfers who provides surfing lessons to tourists and beginners. There are also surfing schools within the area.

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Food trips for the Non-surfers.

Plenty of choices for food trips within the area. For this trip, we tried the following spots:

Flotsam & Jetsam – It is an artist beach hostel which offers good food, great music and lovely ambiance. Food can be served on a wooden board on a floor in bamboo hut of hammocks and bean bag chairs. Try their specialty pizza.

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El Union Coffee – this coffee shop was mentioned by Mikael Daez in his travel video blog. It was jampacked when we dropped by. We decided to have coffee to go.

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Other recommended food spots include Gefseis Greek Grill, Urbiztondo Grill House, Surf Shack, Mad Monkeys and Tagpuan.

Morning after was a quick visit to the beach again, watching surfers hitting on the swell and riding the waves under the bright Sunday skies.

We left Urbiztondo mid-morning, making a quick stop to the Basilica Minore of Our Lady of Charity in Agoo, La Union.

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This church is better known as Agoo Basilica and is dedicated to Our Lady of Charity. The parish was founded in 1578 but the church has undergone several construction and re-construction due massive earthquakes in 1892 and 1990. The church is now of Mexican-baroque architecture with two non-identical bell towers.

Our Lady of Charity is a 17th-century wooden statue which was originally from Bantay, Ilocos Sur. But this image was brought to Agoo by an Augustinian priest. It has survived the massive earthquakes. This Marian image, also known as Apo Caridad was canonically crowned in 1971.

Agoo was our last stop before we head back to Manila.

And so we wrapped up this weekend trip to the surfing capital of the north. La Union’s biggest draw is indeed its waves. May El Yu continue to beckon people to its San Juan heart.

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