The kalesa, a horse-drawn contraption that we used for a guided tour through different locations in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, seemed like a time machine, transporting us back in time. Turning a corner is like turning a page of our history book, except that the mental photo is littered with fastfood restaurants and other items of the present.
[See also: VisitPinas Itinerary for a 3-day Ilocos Trip]
When we think of Vigan, we think of the cobblestones in Calle Crisologo, that postcard-perfect stretch of old houses. The cobblestones, the stone houses, the yellowish laminated photos hanging on the walls are some of the relics that remind us of what Vigan looked like even before we were born. Some places go beyond showing photos of how the past look like — some places still practice how things are done in the past.
Take the burnayan, for instance.
We were told by the kalesa driver, who also served as the tour guide, that our next stop is the burnayan. We were told that it’s a place were earthen pots and other clay products are made. Nothing exciting in that, I thought. I once saw how a vase is made in the film “Ghost“, and the vase-making process was interesting only because Demi Moore made it so sexy. No Demi Moore here and not much to see, I suppose.
I thought everything I need to know about the burnayan is summarized in the marker at the entrance: “The “Burnay” industry preseded the arrival of the Spanish colonizers in the Philippines. Introduced by early Chinese settlers, the “Burnay” served as an all weather container of loca products for shipment to China and other Asian kingdoms in pre-colonial times. “Burnay” is also used in the fermentation of fish sauce, vinegar and “Basi”, the Ilocano wine from sugarcane juice.”
I planned to stay in the kalesa and simply wait for the group to finish the Burnayan leg of the tour. As fate would have it, something made me change my mind (and, fortunately, reminded me that it was supposed to be a trip of discovery): while I was happily inhaling the summer-crisp fresh air of Vigan, the horse took a pee in front of me. Discovering how the burnayan works suddenly became interesting, considering the options.
They still do it the old-fashioned way in the burnayan and it’s impressive that they took pains in maintaining it. A carabao goes round and round a shallow hole full of red clay and god-knows what else (the horse peeing flashed in my mind). It’s supposed to produce a clay with a fine consistency, perfect for shaping into works of art.
Once the right consistency is reached, one man takes a lump of clay and smacks it into the turntable, which runs on human power. A worker kicks the bottom of the circular stone contraption sideways, spinning the entire thing. Another worker shapes the clay to the desired configuration. All muscle-power.
The hand-molded figures are dried, then transported to the brick-and-clay kiln, where the pieces are “cooked” for some time. The kiln stretches to around ten meters, with its back resembling the scales of a crocodile baking under the sun.
The trip to the burnayan turned out well. A trip to Vigan is basically a way of taking a glimpse of the past. The burnayan is a small portion of that.