Did you know that the Philippines experience an average of twenty typhoons in a year? Twenty is a lot, in fact too much to bear, majority of which are swirling in the Pacific Ocean but there are a few that would dump heavy rainfalls and gusty winds in the Philippines as they pass through the islands and head northwest to Vietnam and China.
Philippines receive the brunt of typhoons due to its position in the Western Pacific Ocean where the water temperature is at its warmest above 28 degrees Celsius. Along with high humidity, the conditions make an ideal recipe to form a typhoon.
I was travelling with nine travel bloggers to the region of Ilocos in northern Luzon as part of our Ilocos World Heritage Tour. We had been hearing reports that a typhoon was going to hit northern Luzon but I guess secretly we were hoping that we would be spared from it. Our arrival at Laoag airport in Ilocos Norte was greeted with showers (we thought nothing about it really – it’s just tropical rains!) but the following day was sunny as we took advantage of the fine weather to do sand-boarding, visited windmills, churches and museums, and enjoyed a lovely dinner at a beautiful heritage resort by the West Philippine Sea.
But that was the calm before the storm. Our guide announced to us first thing in the morning on the second day of our tour, that a typhoon of signal 5 would be heading towards Ilocos Norte later, therefore it was imperative for us to leave the province the soonest possible. As such, we had a quick tour of the remaining highlights of Ilocos Norte and thereafter, we drove towards Ilocos Sur.
As if the typhoon wanted to ensure that we left the region altogether, reports were coming in that Ilocos Sur would be hit with signal 4 and landfall was expected to hit by 2am. By the time we received those reports, we had arrived in Vigan in Ilocos Sur, a well-preserved 16th century Hispanic town which we could not resist its lovely charm.
Questions were raised whether should we leave Vigan immediately in the late afternoon and drive straight for Manila, a road journey that would take 10-12 hours? What if landfall hits earlier than expected? Would it be risky to drive through lashing rains and gusty winds in the dark? And what were our chances of escaping the typhoon if we left Vigan the following morning instead? Collectively, as a group, we debated about this with our guides for some time, and finally, we arrived at a decision to stay a night in Vigan and to leave for Manila in the morning.
By nightfall, Vigan was experiencing showers. Shops were closed early and not a single soul was found on the streets…except a few of us in raincoats braved rains and wind and walked along the streets of Vigan to take night pictures!
Landfall did hit earlier than expected, around midnight. Howling winds could be heard from my hotel room. Vibrations from the ferocious winds could be felt from the roof. The rains lashed against the doors and along the walkways, water was everywhere. Power was cut off temporarily but luckily, the hotel was powered by generators, thus electricity was restored within ten seconds. Phone network was down. Still, we were safe inside the hotel. I had imagined that things would have been much worse especially for those whose homes do not have such facilities.
And the reality wasn’t far from I had imagined. As we drove out of Vigan and headed further south, we saw all kinds of debris brought on by the typhoon by which we had already learnt its name – Typhoon Lawin. Toppled trees and electric poles, damaged zinc rooftops, major flooding, calf-deep water levels and strong currents, and damaged crops. Intense rains made the river to swell and turned into a massive brown lake.
Hardly an hour into our journey at Santa, we came across fast-moving water currents which caused our mini-bus driver to hesitate. He was worried whether he would be able to continue the journey safely without risking damage to the engine, and our lives too. After much consultation with the locals and the policeman, we decided to wait at a mechanic workshop until water levels subside.
However, the rain didn’t stop and after nearly two hours of waiting, it got heavier and heavier. Fed up of not being able to get through help due to problems with phone network, our guide decided to take the chance to flag down a public bus heading south. Her plan was to get us board the bus as the vehicle was in a better position to drive through higher water levels, and if our mini-bus was able to do the same at some point, then we could return to our vehicle at the nearest town. However, should water levels continue to be high, then we had no choice but to continue our journey on the public bus all the way to Manila.
Fortunately, luck was on our side. Halfway through the three-hour journey on the public bus, we saw our mini-bus overtaking us – this meant we were returning to our vehicle later! Three cheers for our driver, Chris! We switched vehicles and transferred our bags at a small bus terminal in San Fernando. To celebrate our success, we stopped at a nearby restaurant for a meal, after which we drove back to Manila. We reached the Belmont Hotel at 11pm, utterly exhausted and yet relieved.
The typhoon experience was the first for all of us – the nine travel bloggers. It was quite an exciting adventure, and I must say, we were very good-natured and pleasant about the whole experience, something which we will always remember and talk about it for a long time. Our guides had done their very best to take care of us in spite of the weather. They ensured that we enjoyed the main highlights, if not the best, out of the Ilocos tour; fed us well with meriendas and snacks; and not to mention, ensured that we were safe throughout the typhoon escapade.
What impressed me most during this typhoon experience was the patience and resilience demonstrated by the Filipino people. Considering its geographical location, a country that is also threatened by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the Filipinos are quite used to natural disasters. They cope well in such circumstances. Everyone helps each other, giving directions and advice. The public bus driver allowed us to come on board with our big bags, and no one in that bus showed displeasure or expressed irritation as our bags occupied space on the aisle.
Instead, what we got in return was kindness (probably a little curiosity too), and a Filipino Smile 🙂
I was invited by the Tourism Promotions Board of Philippines to be part of the Ilocos World Heritage Tour. Opinions expressed in this post, if any, as always, are my own.
*Linking to #CityTripping, #FarawayFiles and #TheWeeklyPostcard.