NLEX Humans Of The North: Celebrating the Northern Culture and Spirit

“Let’s go to the beach!” my cousins would blurt out. As the youngest male cousin of our brood, I was thrilled. Childhood summers were spent in Bauang, La Union. Bauang was the Boracay of the ’70s. It was so famous that the swimsuit competition of the Miss Universe was held there.

In the ’80s, Bauang retained its popularity with the young set by getting into the latest sport craze at that time — windsurfing. Bauang lost some of its luster to Boracay, Palawan, and Cebu in the next decades but regained it with a new sport — surfing.

If windsurfing was wind-propelled, surfing was wave-propelled. It brought back memories of my childhood when we, cousins, would jump whenever a big wave would smash us. We would also visit our cousins in Agoo and San Fernando, La Union.

Organic farming in La Union

At present in San Fernando, La Union, is Ibit’s Farm. Manuel Acosta, a retired engineer, introduced organic farming to the farmers of San Fernando who were reluctant, at first, but learned to embrace the new farming method when they saw positive results.

Manuel Acosta

Manuel gave away fruit trees to several families and the successful planter was amply rewarded. The farmers then underwent a week-long training on organic farming. With the success of this program, agri-tourism was introduced where guests would pick and pay whatever farm produce they would gather.

Manuel wants to leave a legacy of bayanihan among the farmers. He also wants to involve the children in planting and harvesting. When one of the children expressed his intention to become an agricultural engineer, Manuel was elated and felt that his mission will be replicated in the future. With the tagline, “The farm where love is planted in La Union,” Acosta wants La Union to be the heart of agri-tourism by 2025. He believes that when you sow love, you reap love.

After our beach holiday, we would drive up to Baguio to breathe mountain air amid the pine trees. To escape the Baguio crowd, we drove farther to Sagada. It was quaint, quiet, and had fewer tourists, mostly backpackers. We explored the caves, waterfalls, and the mountain villages.

Traditional Sagada weaving

In Sagada town, we took photos of the picturesque church and bought bags and accessories from Sagada Weaving. Sagada Weaving has been around since the ’70s. It was started by Andrea Bondad, and is now being run by her son, Ezra Aranduque. It has its roots in a weaving business in Lepanto Crafts in the ’60s.

Sagada Weaving is one of the biggest employers in Sagada. The weavers use backstrap looms and use intricate Cordilleran design to make backpacks, purses, slippers, belt bags, wallets, place mats, table runners, and other souvenirs. I was glad to know that they are still thriving after a decades-long existence.

Going down from the mountains, our family would visit another cousin in Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur. We didn’t miss a church designated as a World Heritage Site in Santa Maria and, of course, Vigan, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. My first time in Vigan was surreal. I thought I was in a time warp with all those ancestral houses. Nowadays, there are more tourist establishments to cater to visitors.

The ‘kutsera’ of Vigan

The people of Vigan are friendly and accommodating. A fine example of Vigan hospitality is Ditas Gonzalo. She is one of the few kutseras (coachwoman) who plies the tourist trail in Vigan. She doubles as a tour guide since she is also a native of Vigan.

Ditas tried her luck in Manila as a cashier in a restaurant, but went back to Vigan to follow the tradition of her lolo who was a kutsero. Widowed, she is happy and proud of her job.

Ditas Gonzalo


Manuel, Ezra, and Ditas are all Humans of the North. They are proud and determined to continue their missions and visions: Manuel Acosta for Organic Farming; Ezra Aranduque for Traditional Cordilleran Weaving; and Ditas Gonzalo for Continuing Kutsera Tradition. They are exemplars of culture, heritage, and tradition. Let NLEX (North Luzon Expressway) bring you to the North. Let NLEX bring you to the Humans of the North.

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JP Ordoña (Manilakad) leads Manilakad Walks in Intramuros, Binondo, Quiapo and more. In between, he writes, climbs, dives and more. Let him guide you to several walking destinations in Manila.

Manilakad (JP Ordoña) can be reached on Facebook Messenger or through text at 0916-3597888.