My Typhoon Lawin Experience

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.

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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.

Historic town of Vigan
Historic town of Vigan

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!

vigan ilocos sur night

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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.

typhoon lawin experience swollen river turned into massive brown lake and debris

typhoon lawin experience dark skies flooding toppled trees debris

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.

typhoon lawin experience our mini bus driver high water levels

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.

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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.

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my typhoon lawin experience katpegimana

*Linking to #CityTripping and #FarawayFiles

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20 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your typhoon story with us Kat. I think it’s very easy to be comfortable and ignorant of what some people endure on a regular basis yet still manage so much kindness. Sounds like your guide was fantastic too! #farawayfiles

  2. Wow Kat, what an experience! Thank goodness you were all okay. As you say, it’s quite a story to tell when you get home and not something that most people will be able to say that they’ve experienced. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    1. Our typhoon experience wasn’t as bad as the devastating effects of other typhoons which were much worse. However, we are glad that we were safe and OK, thanks to our experienced guides and driver who knew the best way to help us get out of harm’s way. It’s an experience that our group will always remember 🙂

  3. The mini bus journey certainly looked hairy with the rising flood water. Well done to your driver Chris and the lovely people for getting you on the public bus. Really interesting to see what it is like to be in the middle of a typhoon. A travel experience which I sure was quite scary at the time but one you’ll never forget. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    1. We do get heavy rains and occasional flash floods especially in the low-lying areas of Malaysia but we never get typhoons. So I didn’t know what to expect in Philippines when we heard that a typhoon was coming our way because I often read about its devastating effects in the news. Thankfully, it was not a super typhoon but it was a hairy situation indeed being stranded while waiting out. Our guides and driver were simply amazing!

  4. Wow quite an unexpected adventure- oysters sounds like your guides were great, especially in the circumstances and it’s also great you got to see the highlights still. #citytripping

    1. Yeah we owe it to our guides who knew what to do and took good care of us. All in all, our group still remember this experience fondly, and I reckon that will be something all of us will remember for a very, very long time 🙂

  5. I’m glad you enjoyed Ilocos despite the bad weather, Kat! Thank God all of you went safely back in Manila. And yes, no matter what kind of typhoon hits the Philippines, the Filipino smile will always be there. 🙂

    1. Yeah, glad that we saw the main highlights of Ilocos before leaving the province. I think we only missed the last day itinerary. Thanks for your comment Arrianne, so good to hear from you 🙂

    1. Thanks Divya. Yeah, at one point when our mini bus was stationary, we could feel the vehicle swayed a little due to strong winds. But we were in good hands 🙂 It was a good experience and learning too.

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