We Found a Random Hiking Trail Near Vigan!

"Here. Just stop here," he said. The trike slowed, wobbling slightly. 

"Here, sir?" The driver asked Jason. He affirmed. 

The driver coasted into a small paved area that formed a notch into what was otherwise jungle by the side of the road. We were roughly opposite Gabriela Silang Memorial Park, which was opposite the Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park, south of Vigan.

That was the place we wanted to check out, hoping for a hike. 

The Vigan Plan A: Do the Touristy Things

Since the detour to Vigan was my idea, I asked around beforehand for what we could do as a day trip from Vigan on our second day. We felt we would exhaust the things to see within Vigan itself on the first day. 

All the recommendations suggested that we make a day trip north, along the coastline of Ilocos Norte. Play with the dune buggies on the sand dunes, check out interesting rock formations, see the wind turbines of Bangui. I had read this on a couple of Filipino blogs as well. It sounded promising. 

Charming abandoned house with overgrown vegetation overhang along a street in Vigan old city, Ilocos Sur, the Philippines

Well, to me, anyway. 

"You mean you want us to go back to Laoag, and past it?" Jason was not impressed.

We had arrived in Ilocos via Laoag airport, and had just taken a bus south to Vigan. "We could have stayed in Laoag, and did Vigan as the day trip." 

True. But I reminded him that originally Mayshelle and I had landed on Vigan, because it was a Philippine UNESCO Site that she herself hadn't visited yet. He was grumbly for a bit, but did not press further. 

So, while we went around to explore the old city, we recce'd options for executing the plans for Day 2. It's Asia, after all. Surely there would be tourism providers tripping over their feet to give us brochures. 

Hello, is there any tourism here?

Except there wasn't. We asked the front desk, some tourism offices we found, and even tried to check out car rentals. Nobody sells a tour. 

You could hire a vehicle and driver for the day - which was surprisingly expensive. That's because the vehicle is invariably a large, air-conditioned MPV sort, which is way overkill for two people, and totally not the style of either of us. But we just wanted a local guide, someone who could take us to the sights, and tell us something about it. Somehow, nobody could do that. 

Yellow and red trike with Duterte sticker | default transportation in Vigan

The default transportation choice in Vigan - not really a day trip vehicle though...

A UNESCO Heritage Site in Asia, that was not overwhelmed with tour companies? Where random people not officially in the tourism industry were not coming out of the woodwork to offer independent guiding services?

We were baffled. 

But we were already in Ilocos - surely we ought to make the best of it! So we asked anyway, what the road trip would entail for the places we were interested in, if we did hire the driver and the massive car. 

A very early start, and a return to Vigan in the evening. This is the itinerary that people normally do from here?? That's crazy talk! 

Plan B: Go the opposite direction

Still, just like in Sibu Island, I wanted to make a go for it. We can do it! 

But again, just like in Sibu, Jason went lateral, and vetoed the plan.

'We Randomly Found a Hiking Trail Near Vigan!' | Travel story on Teja on the Horizon sustainable travel blog | Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park | hiking trail in Ilocos Sur | jungle hike near Santa

He suggested a hike instead. Hike where? 

We pored over Google Maps, searching for clues. There really didn't seem to be a hiking trail near Vigan. 

So we looked further. There was a large green spot to the south of Vigan, across the estuary, and past a town marked 'Santa'. Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park. 

"There must be hiking there." I can't remember which one of us said it, but the other agreed. 

Nobody we asked in Vigan seemed to know how to go for a hike in Heroes Hill, though. It was almost like it's not a place 'to go to'. In fact, nobody seemed to know of any other hiking trail near Vigan either. The closest that we could get was a trike driver who thought that perhaps we meant the memorial park. 

Close enough. 

The Hiking Trail Near Vigan

Back at the roadside where the trike dropped us off, we contemplated our situation.

Possibly a trail into Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park near Santa, Ilocos Sur | jungle hiking trail near Vigan in the Philippines

I guess this is a trail

There was the jungle before us, all right. And the paved area might have been intended as parking. Off to the side and up some steps there was a kind of small, generic whitewashed building that looked abandoned. 

But that was it. There was no sign of anyone, nor some kind of entry system.

I tried to decide whether this was, or was not, the start of a trail. 

Jason did not try. He went right in. There was an opening in the vegetation, and apparently that was good enough.

I followed. 

Follow along the stream

Slightly further in, it becomes more passable.

I could not decide whether there was in fact a trail that had become a bit overgrown through lack of passage, or if it was more passable simply because we were following the stream bed. 

Well, at least followed by the stream bed, where it was an easier ramble. On either side, the forested ground sloped upward and was more difficult to traverse, causing Jason to have to return to the stream every so often to circumvent obstacles. 

But his difficulty and backtracking suited me just fine. It slowed him down, so I could look around almost at leisure as I hiked. For me, hiking is about the things you might encounter during the hike. Although I prefer the ocean, spiders and insects and fungus and butterflies and all sorts of things in the jungle still fascinate me. 

Brown polypore fungus on the forest floor of Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park near Santa

Lovely russet brown polypores

Spiders on the hiking trail in Heroes Hill National Park

Spiders were relatively easy for me to find - at least the web-spinning ones. Because you'd either accidentally run into a web, and know that there's more around, or you'd actually see a web glinting against the sunlight.

This trail had spiders. 

A few were particularly interesting. One had a black and white patterned abdomen, with a red back. Another was a translucent white, and hung against the sunlight on a single strand of silk. 

I might have seen more, if Jason had not been so enthusiastic in clearing the path of spiderwebs. (Not that I didn't appreciate it.) 

Collage of three spider images seen on a hike in Ilocos Sur | Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park

From bottom left, clockwise: Translucent spider | Spider on a twig with patterned abdomen | Spider spinning in its web

But I remember the one in the middle of its labyrinthine web half within a hollow in the ground. Because when I came upon it, it was spinning! And I don't mean in the sense of, making a web. I mean, literally spinning. 

The spin was so fast, it was a blur.

At first I didn't know what it was, as I had never seen a spider spin like that before. But then it stopped, and I could see what it was. Then it spun again, and I tried to take a photo. Too late, it occurred to me to take a video instead - but as I fumbled with my phone, it stopped. 

And it just hung there, motionless. Didn't spin again. I found a YouTube video that shows what the spider was doing, though.  

The COOLEST thing I have ever seen on a hike (without a guide)

But this particular hike was exceptional to me because of one little guy.

I noticed it creeping up a rock as I continued along the river bed. It was the weirdest-looking insect I had ever seen - and I've personally seen stick insects in the wild. Once, a leaf insect even came into my room on Sibu Island

The head extends out, pulling part of its body out of a kind of sheath that looked like it was made of twigs somehow glued together. Then, like a caterpillar, the rest of it pulls up - but including its twig sheath - and the sheath pulls up to cover its body again, leaving just the head and front legs sticking out. And it does it again, to creep up a bit of rock. 

What is it?? Are the twigs part of it, and just stupendously good camouflage? Did it make the twig house? Then, why is it stuck on so well? So many questions. 

This time, I had the presence of mind to record it. Enjoy!

Video is slowed down, to better appreciate the movements. 

What is this thing?

My entomology is basic at best. I shared this video around, and on a blogging forum someone told me that it is a common insect in Pakistan. But she didn't know its name, or anything else about it. So I haven't got anything to go on, to Google it with. 'Insect with a stick house' doesn't cut it. I might send this to an entomologist and see what I find out. 

Because it is there. Or even if it isn't. 

While I was happily being a naturalist down on the stream bed, my companion seemed to be doing battle with the jungle itself. He would not come down to walk along the stream bed. 


"Why? How would you find the top if you just stay down there?"

There it was again. This fixation with conquering summits. I remember this from a different hike, earlier in the year. 

Flowing jungle stream in Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park

Time to leave the riverbed

I had taken him to a neighbourhood forest park that was close to Kuala Lumpur, Bukit Gasing. It was a rambling sort of park, and the trails criss-cross each other. 

We had explored a trail or two, before he realised the Bukit Gasing trails don't really have a 'peak', per se. And he was disappointed!

Jason is not an exception. 

Later that year, I shared an Airbnb with a Frenchman on Easter Island. He, too, had insisted on ascending Easter Island's highest point, Maunga Terevaka - even though the island is quite barren, and you really could see much of it from other (driveable!) points.

Personally, I would have spent the time he took to cycle up the trails to the top of Terevaka, to see more moai and learn about Rapa Nui culture. 

But then, I'm not a guy. 

Jason could not really explain it when I asked him why. "It's high ground!" You must take the high ground. Because. 


The ascent

I wasn't sure what he had in mind, but apparently he had sighted a nearby electricity pylon. He would consider the hike successful, if we reached that point. 

Liana handrail going up a slope in Heroes Hill National Park, near Santa, Ilocos Sur

Liana handrail

I had already found a weird supercool insect. For me, the hike was already successful, so I was in an agreeable mood. We left the stream and picked a likely path that led upward. Jason picked his way through the jungle, and I simply followed.

Eventually the way did seem to resemble a trail, hugging a hillside. At a particularly steep part of the narrow trail slope, a twisted strand of liana was strung out from the top. I wondered if it was by intention, or was just serendipitous. 

We climbed up the slope with the help of the liana, and eventually met a wall of hill. A bit of slope had crumbled away. The pylon's base was not far beyond, and looked reachable if we could haul ourselves up. 

Flowering shrubs growing thick at the base of a power transmission tower in Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park

View at the 'top'

It was certainly not a climb that I could have made alone - I was too short to reach the upper tree roots for leverage. Even with help, I had to leave my sling bag at the base of the earth wall, to make the climb. 

But we did make it to the 'top'. It was covered in flowering shrub though, so the view was not really amazing. 

Nonetheless, we took our obligatory victory photos! 

Now, we have to go back down. 

Me trying to lower myself down a vertical earth slope on a hike inside Northern Luzon Heroes Hill National Park in the Philippines

Undignified scrabbling

Even if I might have figured out how to climb or bypass the vertical slope earlier, I still wouldn't have done the climb had I been alone. Because, I might not be able to safely come back down. 

It was not terrible. But it was a bit tricky. It took undignified scrabbling about to lower myself down - again, because I'm short. I had to drop down onto a ledge that was itself slightly sloping. Hard to do without looking at it. 

But all was good. And the rest of the way was just traipsing from rock to rock, boulder to boulder, down the sides of the stream. Just like in Malaysia. 

The end of the trail

We emerged back out to the paved area by the roadside. To our surprise, there were now people there, sitting and resting in the area. Perhaps they were likewise surprised to see us emerge from the jungle.

They seemed like they belonged there - perhaps there were people posted to watch over the place. Perhaps they were rangers. I couldn't work it out, from their conversation with Jason. In any case, I was busy trying to cut off the sole of my shoe that had come partially off during the hike. 

It was a decent hike though! By both our measures. And I think, a much better day than if we had tried to force a long road trip hitting the sights along the Ilocos coastline. 

I keep telling people - often your best trips happen when you bin the plan.

And it helps, when you travel with someone else who understands this too. 

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8 Responses

  1. neha says:

    It’s really great that you guys chose to go on this hiking trail instead of doing the regular touristy thing that everyone suggested. The trail looks interesting. And I love the fact that the place was not even crowded!

  2. sue davies says:

    Enjoyed your post. This is literally off-the-beaten path. And, the stick insect video was cool.

  3. Josie says:

    Definitely sounds like a better day than hours in a car! I have no idea what that insect is either, haven’t seen anything else like that around before.

  4. Claire says:

    Woah that insect looks insane! So cool! Reminds me of a weird grasshopper we found while hiking near Ohrid, Macedonia…Never learned its name but it was the largest insect I’ve ever seen!

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