Traveling to Elyu
Experience a new kind of exploration in La Union.
BY NOVIE ROSE NUÑEZ
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROMEO PERALTA JR.
The coastal town of San Juan, the hub of Luzon’s west coast surfing, is the reason La Union is so widely known. In addition to its lovely waves, this relaxing province offers breathtaking natural landmarks, historical attractions, and a lively culinary scene.
BALUARTE WATCH TOWER A 5.6-meter-tall, reddish-brick tower dating back to the Spanish era, the watchtower is a 400-year-old structure that faces the West Philippine Sea and is situated in Barangay Victoria in the Municipality of Luna. The Spaniards built the tower to serve as a lookout point for incoming Japanese, Chinese, and Moro pirates as well as other conquerors in the coastal cities of La Union. The Luna residents were forewarned by the guards to secure and defend their properties against looters. During World War II, the baluarte also served as a communication tower.
Due to the damaged base and foundation, the watchtower is in disarray and is split vertically in half. With concrete post supports on each side, its two parts stand upright. The tower was recently completely split in half after being struck by large waves and powerful winds brought on by a typhoon. The Philippine government was able to restore the tower while preserving its materials and architectural style of the tower. However, the repaired Baluarte is still a historical site in the province that symbolizes Luna’s stability and unity. Its appearance today resembles a combination of historic and contemporary architecture.
LOMBOY GRAPE FARM Agri-tourism, grape production, and post-harvest processing are the main activities of the family-run company Lomboy Farms. After working for a while in a small-town bank, Avelino Lomboy founded Lomboy Farms in 1972.
It is located in Barangay Urayong, Bauang, La Union, and is credited with being a pioneer in local winemaking. While researching how to boost grape output given the country’s environment, they have created the necessary technologies for maximum yield.
Lomboy first discovered grape farming when he went to Cebu and brought home some seedlings of grapes and tried which soil would the seedlings grow well in. When the experiment was done and got the perfect soil for grapes, he then taught the locals in La Union how to plant and grow grapes. And most grape farms that you will see around La Union are actually owned by the former employees of Lomboy.
Agri-tourism in La Union was made popular in 2016, when the host-actress Kris Aquino featured the Lomboy Farms on her morning talk show called KrisTV.
As part of the grape picking experience, they give baskets and scissors to the tourists and let them choose their own grapes for more involvement. There are plenty of guides in the area if the tourists have any questions on how to cut the stem and which grapes are best for picking. Each basket would carry around two kilos of grapes which cost Php350 per kilo.
Aside from agri-tourism, Lomboy Farms also established Uvas Café managed by Avelino’s daughter, Gracia Lomboy. When the older Lomboy passed away in 2017, Gracia took over her father’s business. From the cultivation of grapes, they expanded into making products such as wines, jams, jelly, and juice.
MA-CHO TEMPLE Searching for a peaceful respite in the province? Consider going to the Ma-Cho Temple, the country’s first and largest Taoist temples outside China. It is well situated for the so-called “Goddess of the Sea” and “Queen of Heaven,” as it is perched on a hill overlooking the South China Sea in the heart of San Fernando, La Union. It was constructed by the Philippines’ Chinese minority with the help of the country’s former tourism minister Jose D. Aspiras, and stands imposingly on an area measuring more than one hectare. It is seven stories tall and sits at an altitude of 70 feet above sea level.
One of the temple’s highlights is the Majestic Five Door Gate, which is extremely uncommon because Chinese temples normally only have three archways that serve as the main gate. Large stone statues of the 18 Chinese saints in various attitudes line the entrance wall. There are also two circular ponds with Koi fish and water lilies. A modest building where incense can be burned and offerings left for the Gods is located next to the middle pond. On the other side are statues of animals that the Chinese consider to be good luck charms. A bell tower, a drum bamboo garden, a golden dragon emblem, and a tower housing the Liang Thing Pagoda are also present. Ma-Cho Temple has a circular pattern on its spiderstyle dome ceiling and is decorated with antique Chinese decorations. A medicinal room with a majestic staircase and scarlet kneelers is also included. Ma-Cho’s visage is enhanced with a vibrantly colored robe and traditional Chinese headdress. Our Lady of Caysasa, who is venerated at the Basilica of Saint Martin in Taal, Batangas, is most likely represented by the woman with closed, oriental eyes and clasped hands at the center of her chest.
RIVER FARM SEAFOOD RESTAURANT River Farm seafood restaurant started two decades ago. As per Cesar Ocampo Jr., the owner of the restaurant, the restaurant only started as a fish pen. He mentioned that his father initially built it until it grew into a successful establishment in Bacnotan, La Union.
In River Farm, you can enjoy and savor not only the food they offer but also the view of Baroro River facing the restaurant. They offer a river cruise as well for those who want an intimate experience for an hour, with their balsas large enough to accommodate up to 20 people.
The majority of the fresh fish served at the restaurant was harvested from their own seafood farm. The Golden Tilapia that River Farm produces and generates in suspended nets is their pride and joy. While the process of producing golden tilapias is more cumbersome than if they were producing regular ones, Ocampo reveals that the difference in taste and quality more than makes up for the challenge.
If you’re planning to visit La Union, you must try River Farm’s specialties, which include various dishes made from their golden tilapia—steamed golden tilapia, a tilapia dish covered in a rich sauce; grilled golden tilapia which Ocampo shares that balikbayans like the most; and sinigang golden tilapia.
Aside from golden tilapia, River Farm also serves grilled and steamed seafood like shrimp and crabs, and Hot Pot, a mixed seafood sinigang (sour soup).
Ocampo reveals that their famous golden tilapias are freshly harvested from their fish pen. He says that their fresh and healthy tilapias are all maintained by the staff of less than a dozen people. Their yearly production of golden tilapias ranges from 80,000-100,000 pieces annually which Ocampo says that they also sell outside the restaurant when they have excess production.
Two years after the lockdown, Ocampo says that their business has already recovered from the huge loss of profits due to the pandemic. He proudly says that this year, River Farm had more arrivals than before especially during summer season.
Fun fact: the restaurant is pet-friendly and they also sometimes offer fishing activities!