Maya and Ricky’s calesa driver, Manong Bernie, first took them to the bell tower, in the nearby Bantay town, passing through the Vigan archway, where he stopped for several minutes and took several photos of them in his calesa with the Vigan signage in the background. It was a good thing that there were not much vehicles passing by at that time of the morning. They climbed the bell tower, constructed in the 16th century, with their guide after posing for several pictures with it in the background. Their guide, probably, with all the tourists he had accompanied up, knew the best spots to pose them for photos! He even managed to cajoled them into having the ‘giant’ photo in front of the bell tower. Maya laughed when Ricky did it. She teased him by saying that she wished the employees of Lim Corporation can see their CEO at that moment. Ricky laughed heartily, and joked that they will probably love him all the more, seeing the very human side of him. But he told Maya, grinning, that she can blackmail him with it.
The view from the top of floor of the bell tower, which served as both a belfry and a watch tower of the town in the past, was amazing. At first, Maya refused to climb the wooden stairs to the platform where the different bells are, as she is a bit scared of heights, and she can see that there are slats in the sturdy wooden floors, and when she looks down, she can see the bottom. She felt dizzy, just imagining standing on that platform. Ricky talked her into it, and promised to hold her hand. He told her not to be afraid as he would be with her all throughout. Maya was glad that Ricky talked her into going up. It was incredible to be up there, and she was very happy to be sharing that moment with him. She was also very much aware of hers and Ricky’s intertwined hands and the intense gaze he was giving her. She even forgot her fear of the wooden platform, so conscious of him and what he was making her feel. He looked so happy also, and more, with just the two of them there. For a moment, they forgot that the guide was with them! They only returned back to that reality when their guide started telling the uses of the various bells in the tower.
From the bell tower, they went inside the San Augustine Parish Church and stayed there for several minutes in companionable silence, saying personal prayers. Both of them thanked God for the moment they were sharing and for making them meet, in a place that was unlikely for them to meet. Ricky took hold of Maya’s hand, while inside the church and pressed it, gently while looking at her with a big smile on his face. Before they left the church, they also toured the church grounds. They stayed there for a while as Maya sketched a bit. She also took a lot of photos.
Back in the calesa, amid the clap-clapping of the horse’s hooves, Maya was very much aware of Ricky and the seemingly little space between them in the calesa. They were jostled around a bit and ended up closer to each other as Manong Bernie avoided other calesas and navigated his way in between all the other vehicles and the pedestrians on Vigan’s now busy streets. He took them next to Hidden Garden of Vigan, where they walked through, rested amid the lush foliage, and looked at the different varieties of plants the owner of the place cultivate there. There are also a wide variety of plants and herbs, and also potteries, for sale. After the tour of the gardens, they sampled the coffee and the sweet banana in the garden’s restaurant. It was a very filling merienda. Too bad, it was too early for them to have lunch as the garden’s restaurant also offers delicious specialty Ilocano dishes.
Manong Bernie took them next to a weaving place, as per Maya’s request as she would like to buy some placemats and table runners for the house in Makati and inabel blankets for Manang Fe, and she said a giddy smile, she told Ricky, she would like to try her hand at weaving. She found out, is a long, laborious process, which made her admire the tiyaga and the concentration of the weavers, and appreciate every piece of the products she had bought at that place. In their next stop, which is a burnayan, it was Ricky who tried how to make a small jar at Maya’s dare. The two of them laughed at his dismal effort. His finished product does not resemble a jar at all! Ricky teased Maya that dumarami na ang pang-blackmail niya against him!
In the course of their day, they managed to tour the old provincial jail which has been converted into a regional museum, showcasing the history and artifacts of Ilocos, particularly, the Basi Revolt. The museum also contains President Elpidio Quirino’s memorabilia. He was born in that centuries-old jail as his father used to be the jail warden there. The nearby Burgos Museum, the house of the martyred priest, Father Jose Burgos was closed, they guessed, for renovations. Next in their tour was the ancestral house of the Crisologos, which was turned into a museum.
Their last stop before they had lunch was the Syquia Mansion, the family home of President Elpidio Quirino. The Syquia Mansion is a beautiful and grand old house. Maya was amazed at how big the house is. She could imagine all the sumptuous meals that must have been shared at the long dining table adorned with big cloth fans hanging from the ceiling, and the parties that must have been held there in the big sala of the house, with ladies dressed in their finery. Generations of children growing in that big, beautiful house, she mused. She always does that in all the old houses that she had come to visit, imagining it filled with life, love and laughter. Her favorite part of the house was the central azotea that joins all parts of the house. It was the first time she had seen one like that. Normally, the azotea is located at the back of the house, like a back veranda. This one joins the dining area, the space after the grand staircase and two other parts of the house, with some plants in it. She and Ricky posed for several pictures there and afterwards, left the place after thanking the caretaker.
Manong Bernie, dropped them off their at their favorite place, the restaurant at the ground floor of an inn to eat lunch. They told him to come back for them in three hours, in the coffee shop in Calle Crisologo, that they saw earlier, and would like to try. They decided to rent his calesa for the day as they would like to check the beach he told them about later in the afternoon, when it was not so hot. Yes, Vigan has a beach place nearby, he said. They invited him to eat in the same place but he refused. Ricky just gave him money for lunch. They had a leisurely lunch, chatting, very comfortable now with each other. They even ate from each other’s plate. To onlookers, they looked like a couple, very much in love out for lunch while vacationing on this beautiful place.
Hands intertwined, sort of getting automatic with them by then, they were about to leave the restaurant when someone called Ricky’s name. They saw a pretty lady about Ricky’s age, with a foreigner beside her, waving at them with a big smile from one of the tables by the door. Ricky grinned when he saw who it was. He hugged the lady and told her, she should have told him that she is in the country. Ricky put his hand on Maya’s back and introduced her to Susan and her husband Pierre. He told her, Susan is a friend. The couple also introduced their two kids, a boy and a girl, Marie and Marius.
They chatted with the Susan and Pierre while the kids play with their gadgets. During the course of the conversation, Maya realized that Susan and Pierre had assumed she is Ricky’s girlfriend. He didn’t correct their assumption. She also gathered that they know each other quite well as Susan mentioned that Ricky had stayed with her and Pierre in their house in Nice for several weeks. When they were saying goodbye, Pierre shook Ricky’s hand and told him in French that his girlfriend is beautiful and very charming. Susan joined the conversation and told Ricky that she is glad that Ricky found himself a very nice girl.
Ricky replied in French that yes, Maya is very beautiful and of course, he is a lucky guy. Unknown to him, Maya understood everything. French is one of the two foreign languages she can speak very well. The other one is Spanish. Spanish is her Lolo Jaime’s favorite language. He started teaching her the language since she was a little girl. Eventually, she got interested in French as well due to a guy she was crushing on in the village where they live, the son of a diplomat. It may have started like that, but she realized she likes learning languages and there is a joy in being able to speak several of them.
Susan, Ricky’s classmate saw her smiling, and blushing, and Maya knew that Susan realized that she understood their exchange. She winked at her, then mouthed a sorry. Maya smiled at her, assuring her that it was okay, and that she understood. Sometimes, people just lapsed into the language they are most comfortable with. Maya spoke to her and Pierre in French when they were saying goodbye. It was then that Ricky realized that Maya understood his and his friends conversation. He didn’t mean to leave her out of the conversation, it was just that when Pierre whose English is not very fluent spoke to him in French, he automatically replied in that language as well. He smiled at her and she smiled back, assuring him that everything is okay. Susan and Pierre were also very glad to know that she can speak the language and apologize for talking about her in French earlier. Maya assured them it was okay. They promised to see each other in Manila, before they fly back to France. They waved at the departing family, who were going back to Manila that afternoon, then walked hand in hand again towards the direction of the coffee shop.
While they were having coffee after exchanging pleasantries with the friendly barista, Ricky asked Maya how many languages does she speaks, and she told him, that aside from English and Filipino, she can speak okay French and fluent Spanish. She told him about her Lolo Jaime’s love of anything Spanish, as he was half-Spanish himself. His mother was born and raised in Madrid. Her great-grandmother Paquita, met her great-grandfather Luis while studying in Europe. Then, Maya told him with a sheepish smile that she decided to study French, initially because of a teenage crush. She realized she enjoyed learning another language. She even teased him that she is looking for another language to study. He suggested Mandarin, and Maya told him, it maybe be a very difficult language to learn, as you also need to learn how to write it. Ricky said, he can coach her aside from taking lessons. They can meet after each class and review. Maya thanked him for the offer and at the same time, her heart skipped several beats, as his statement means, they would be seeing each other on a regular basis in the future. The way he was looking at her, plus his statement to his friend’s husband, is making her feel giddy, very, very giddy!
Maya also asked Ricky what other languages he knows aside from French, and of course, English, Filipino and Mandarin. Ricky told her, that’s the sum of it. He learned French because for several years now Lim Corporation is in partnership with a French company in one of their businesses. He said, it is best to speak to their partners in the language they are comfortable with. It was while negotiating this partnership that he had stayed with Susan and Pierre.
The two of them chatted about travels abroad, enjoying their quiet afternoon in the normally busy historical street. But that day, there were not much tourists as it was a weekday, and probably because it was still considered as off-season for tourists. They laughed and enjoyed each other’s company very much, not noticing the passing of the hours. They were in their second cup of coffee when Manong Bernie returned. They said goodbye to Jean, their very nice barista, and thanked her. They promised to come back, later in the afternoon, and if not, the next time they found themselves in Vigan. She told them that she would be glad to see them again and that she wish she will have the kind of relationship they have, na parang enjoy na enjoy lang in each other company’s and so in love. Ricky and Maya, just shared a look and smiled at each other, silently agreeing not to correct Jean.
Ricky guided into the calesa once more, then he seated close to her. More than 30 minutes after, Manong Bernie dropped them off at the beach he was telling them about. He was right! It was very nice to be there, and worth the trip. They walked along the shores of the mostly black-sanded beach, watching the waves and the breathtaking view before them. They also watched the fishermen hauling their catch for the day. When the sun was about to set, they sat on a boulder that they found. Ricky felt very much contented at that time. He took hold of Maya’s hand. They stayed like that until the sun faded into the horizon. A silent understanding between them! They may have not said the words, but it was obvious to both of them that there was already something going on between them. Ricky has resolved then that he would talk to Maya about it, and so much more, when they get to Pagudpud. Maya, on the other hand, decided that wherever this wonderful feeling would lead her, she will go along. She has not felt this way ever in her whole life!
Manong Bernie waved at them when he saw them walking, holding hands, towards him. These two really look good together, he thought.
Ricky guided back Maya to the calesa. Maya assisted him as well, when it was his turn to hop in. They returned to Vigan with Maya sitting closer than they did that morning, and the two of them sharing smiles. Their happiness to be in other’s company was also evident when they were having dinner. They can’t seemed to help themselves. Then there’s that moment, a lovely quiet time, enjoying each other’s company, amid all these beautiful, centuries-old houses!
“You are smiling! Bakit?” Ricky asked softly, seeing that Maya had this big smile on her face while looking up.
Maya looked at him. “Ikaw din kaya.” She said softly.
“Well, naalala ko lang ang buong araw natin. I feel very happy. Sobrang saya lang.”
“Me too. Iyon din ang dahilan kung bakit ako naka-smile. This is the best vacation ever.”
“For me too, Maya, and that is thanks to you.”
“Thanks to you also, Ricky.”
Gusto mo na bang bumalik sa hotel?”
I guess, we should at baka wala na tayong maitulog pa nito, hahahaha! Hindi ba sabi mo maaga pa tayo bukas. Saan nga pala ang destination natin bukas?”
“Paoay, Laoag, Burgos and a surprise place for you. Basta pack na this evening kasi we will be traveling further North bukas.”
“Hmmm, a surprise!!! I’m intrigue and I’m looking forward to finding out what your surprise is!” Maya gave Ricky a smile that lit up her face. “Tara lets”…..
“Tara”…. ” Ricky said softly, gazing at Maya intently, and giving her one of his bone-melting lopsided smile.
Hand and hand, they returned to try to sleep for the night, both looking forward to continuing their adventure together the following day. Checking his phone was the farthest thing from Ricky’s mind that night. He completely forgot about it.