Beyond San Juan the towns spread out and gave way to small villages. A typical village had a dozen grass roofed
huts surrounded by a sea of tobacco plants. The tobacco plants, with leaves like broad spinach, were growing up to
five feet tall watched over by square sectioned silos with open A-frame roofs.
Along the coastal plain the hills melted away and tobacco fields gave way to rice paddies. By the roadside a water
buffalo dragged a wooden sled - an irrigation pump moving to a new paddy field. But farther north, in Ilocos Sur
province, the tobacco fields and silos returned.
Tobacco in this region has a history going back to 1782 when the Spanish established the Tobacco Monopoly of the
Philippines. Under that monopoly each farmer was given 40,000 plants to raise - quota shortages were penalized;
surpluses were burnt. This monopoly lasted 100 years until abolished in 1882, but tobacco remains an important
We sped past the towns of Bangar, Santa Cruz, and Candon - all carbon copies: the same schools built parallel to
the road with white painted statues in the playground, the bamboo tree-houses in the town square, tricycle bedlam
in the town markets, and of course the churches - the gleaming Iglesia ni Christo churches all built to the same
design, and the older traditional churches with domed roofs and crumbling, vine covered masonry.