If one were to ask for the secret of Ilocos Norte’s newest resort hotel, we would quickly answer Rolando Lawas, its resident manager who everyone calls LanLan. Small wonder his boss Danny Jacinto quickly left us in his care to spend four days at his hotel.
Upon landing at Laoag’s airport, an hour’s flight on Airphil from Manila, we were whisked off to the Plaza del Norte Hotel & Convention Center in the midst of desert and hills, and after breakfast we were given a service vehicle to take in everything we could on the first day and to be able to relax on the other days.
Our companion and friend Adolfo Timuat was only interested in the Juan Luna Museum. Aside from being a renowned Flamenco guitarist and Luthier (builders of guitars) in Spain, Adolfo was also a collector of Luna drawings.
Juan Luna is decidedly the country’s greatest painter, instrumental for placing Philippine arts and culture on the world map. His most famous works were the Spoliarium, La Batalla de Lepanto, The Blood Compact, People and Kings and Ecce Homo among many others. We found students lined up for a visit at his Shrine in Badoc, Ilocos Norte, a reconstruction of the original house that burned down in 1861. Juan Luna was a co-worker of Jose Rizal, Graciano Lopez-Jaena, Marcelo H. Del Pilar and other Filipino reformers in Europe. All over the city are popular eateries purportedly put up by current Gov. Imee Marcos. Called the Johnny Moon cafeterias, it is said to be Imee’s way of honoring Juan Luna. Luna’s remains are at the San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila.
Next stop was the Paoay Church celebrated in T-shirts, postcards and magnets as the symbol of Ilocos Norte, chosen for its striking beauty. Built of coral blocks and stucco-plastered bricks, a unique combination of Baroque and Oriental architecture, it has huge buttresses flanking the sides and rear in a garden setting. Its bell tower is said to have been used as an observation post by Katipuneros during the Philippine Revolution and by guerillas during the Japanese occupation.
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Next was the Cathedral of St. William’s and its sinking bell tower built by the Augustinian friars in 1580. Then the Museo Ilocos Norte, housed in the restored historical Tabacalera warehouse, and which today showcases the multi-faceted cultural heritage of the Ilocano people. Our last stop was Paoay Lake which has seduced many an Ilocano, principally former Pres. Ferdinand Marcos. Sadly, when we got there, the boat owners who would have ferried us along the waters were taking their siesta.
The rest of our stay was spent luxuriating in the offerings of Plaza del Norte Hotel & Convention Center. Apparently, it was the Convention Center part that brought in huge groups which had been reserved months before. It was a particularly crowded season when we arrived, LanLan told us. We met Evelyn, Aida and Corazon swimming in the grand pool who said they got to eat and use all facilities while staying at another hotel LanLan had provided. We ourselves had to spend a night at a lovely pension house before being given a room fronting the pool at Plaza del Norte. We ask LanLan if it wasn’t mind wracking and he simply smiled through his red sleepless eyes.
Throughout our stay, we would catch LanLan chatting with a new arrival, giving instructions to servers, berating a room cleaner, enjoying beer and band music with new clients at the outdoor bar fronting a private chapel drenched in multi-colored lighting. How could he manage all this alone, without an assistant manager? On one occasion at the lobby, we managed to get him to sit down for a chat which gave us an idea behind this workaholic of a man.
Rolando is a self-made man working as a waiter in Cebu, then Manila and now Laoag. He had known the leasor of Plaza del Norte, Danny Jacinto, for a long time and when the government property became available, it was only natural for LanLan to be named manager. The hotel had opened March of 2010, and since then, Danny’s company 88 Green ran the place in consonance with government operations. They absorbed 80 percent of people hired by the province, including people in the garden operations. The original concept put together by The Palafox Architectural firm/Urban Planner was a handsome package of 48 beds in two higher end main buildings, 96 beds in two dormitory buildings, a bar, a pool, a private chapel that could be rented for special occasions and the enchanting garden.
We never got to meet Danny who had invited us for this go-see, but LanLan and his staff were more than accommodating that we have no choice but to give Five Stars to the Ilocos Plaza del Norte & Convention Center.
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