asia · philippines · travel · video

Bowled Over By Batanes

4-9 Aug 2010, with Kian, Mia, Alvin, Geebee and Chrissy

This trip’s moral lesson: No matter how prepared you think you are, you aren’t.

More photos over here:

I wasn’t 100% keen on what to expect when my friends and I booked this trip for Batanes. Most of the out-of-towns I’ve been to either involved a beach or a mountain (and if we’re lucky, both!). I eventually took to watching the Iza Calzado movie, hoping it would give me a glimpse on what this trip would be like.

To say I was blown away when I finally got to explore Batanes is an understatement. For me, it was like paying a visit to your ancestral province. Yes, you are an outsider, but not exactly a tourist. It isn’t exactly home, although you have this familial vibe that almost gives you an attachment to the homeground.

What struck me the most was that it was probably the most unspoiled destination I’ve been to wherein normal life coexisted. The local Ivatans aren’t exactly backward — Abad St., the town’s main road which we fondly call ‘Edsa’, is lined with net cafes, restos and general merchandise stores. But I did not see the usual decay I’ve witnessed for other must-go spots in the Philippines, wherein the effort to keep up the way we live has chipped away at the natural beauty of the place. In Batanes, the tour operators and locals won’t try to razzle dazzle you with indulgent packages and over-the-top attractions; all they have to offer is their magnificent unadorned paradise, and that is more than enough.

If you want the lengthy version of this post, go ahead and click on More.

Day 1 – Sights of Northern Batan

Armed with my point-and-shoot, I was determined to wake the photoholic within that has been dormant for way too long. I’ve been hearing a lot about how picturesque Batanes is, but still, I had no idea of what to expect.

After our plane touched down at Basco at around 7:10 am, we checked in at Shendal’s Inn, strategically placed at the end of Abad St., the town’s main road. As it was the off-peak season for tourists in Batanes, most of the restos were closed but we were able to seek refuge (and more importantly, breakfast!) at Hiro’s Cafe, which was along Abad St. as well. We spent the time barraging the cafe’s cashier with questions about IVatan words, cuisine and random what-nots, until Our tour guide, Kuya Jack, saved her when he met up with us at around 9.

Our first stop was Tukon Chapel, a small church situated on top of a hill (but then again, most things in Batanes, especially cows, were on top of a hill). Our timing seemed to be perfect for rainy-season tourists, since the sun was shining high and strong, giving us the almost more than enough light for photo-ops. Next stop was the Tukon Radar Station, which gave you a endless view of towering hedges in between the vast meadows. There’s a clear view of the imposing Mt. Iraya as well, which seemed to follow you almost everywhere you go.

We were then off to Fundacion Pacita, which showcased the works of Batanes’ pride, Pacita Abad, who made it possible for Ivatan art to bask in the international limelight. The house itself had a quaint charm as well.

We got a glimpse of history as we braved the dark within the Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel next. After returning into the sunshine, we were off to the Valugan Boulder Beach to get shot after shot of the volcanic rocks that dotted the coast, pounded and smoothened by the Batanes tide.

Our last stops, but certainly not the least were the Naidi Hills and the Basco Lighthouse. Yup, you guessed it — photo op, photo op, photo op. After a quick stop at the Basco church and the infamous SDC canteen, we finally hit the sack at Shendal’s for some quality siesta time.

The day wasn’t quite over yet — I rediscovered the joy of biking (and the pointless paranoia of cars appearing out of nowhere) as Kian and I rented bikes to go back to the Basco lighthouse in time for sunset shots. True enough, I scored some shots of the sunset — or to be more accurate, Kian’s back as he shot the cows in the sunset.

All in all, Day 1 was good day for the shutterbug bursting within to make a comeback. Finding myself basked in Batanes’ subtle beauty was not bad either, not bad at all.


Day 2 – Sights of Sabtang Island

Day 2 was dedicated to exploring Sabtang Island, one of the 3 main islands that made up Batanes. After a 30-minute banca ride, we started the day with breakfast by the beach at the San Vicente (Sabtang’s “Centro”) dock. There were a bunch of kids doing their morning calisthenics at a nearby elementary school, which for me triggered flashbacks of St. Paul flag ceremony days (but I digress =P).

Definitely one must-see in Batanes are the traditional stone houses, bound together by limestone and topped off by cogon grass roofs. Out of the main islands in Batanes, Sabtang has probably preserved the most of these stone house towns. Kuya Jack took us to Savidug, where we happily snapped away at the stone house ruins. One of the best things about having Kuya Jack as a guide is that he’ll fill you in with these back stories about Ivatan history and their way of life. We got to learn that the shape of the cogon roof is indicative of what kind of room it covered (i.e. a 4-sided roof meant that that part of the house is the living area, while a 2-sided roof meant that it was the outhouse). I bet not everyone who saw pictures of these houses noticed that!

We stopped over the lime kiln beach, where the early Ivatans used the holes in the ground as furnaces for the limestone used in building houses. This site also gave a great view of the mountain range resembling a sleeping woman. I just can’t get over it — this by far was the mountain which had the most perfect nose out of all the sleeping-beauty mountain ranges I’ve seen.

Kian, Alvin & I rode topload on the way to our next stop — I couldn’t stop gushing oohs and ahhs as we zigzagged along the pretty Sabtang hills and foliage. We finally arrived at the Chamantad-Tinyan arch, where you could trek around the meadows overlooking the beach. Of course, I eventually found myself at the farthest end of the meadow by the cliff. Believe me, words are not enough to describe how perfect that spot was. Never mind being toasted by the sun — I could literally sit there all day, watching the waves hit the rocks below. It’s as if Batanes can churn inspiration at will just out of one random view, one random spot.

Sadly, I eventually had to leave my favorite seat in the whole of Batanes, as our ride whisked us off to the town of Chavayan next. The Chavayan community has preserved a lot of Ivatan traditions as well. Mia tried her hand at weaving, while Kian scored himself new spiffy coral-trekking sandals. We also got to meet Lolo Marcelo, the oldest citizen of Batanes at 104. Lolo Marcelo could still pass of as 80 or 70 even, given that he was still able to carry decent conversation with our merry band of Tagalogs. His unaided eyes were even able to spot that Kian tied his Ivatan sandals the wrong way. Beat that!

After a day of basking in the sun, we trooped off to cool off at Nakabuang Beach (finally, we got to swim!). Near the beach, we were served our lobster-and-lapu-lapu lunch at a small house with a coral-ridden floor. The beach also had a natural rock arch, the Nakabuang Arch, where we got crazy spending more time on posing & taking pictures as opposed to actually swimming. By around 3 pm, we wrapped up for the day and headed back to San Vicente to ride the boat back to Batan Island.


Days 3-6 – Sights of Southern Batan, the Mt. Iraya Climb, and the Delayed-Flight-Misadventures

The post is still pending (sorry!). Here are the sites we were blessed to have seen:

Chawa View Deck
Fountain of Youth
Mahatao Light House
Homoron Blue Lagoon
House of Dakay (Batanes’ Oldest House)
Honesty Coffee Shop
Lunch at Uyugan
Songsong Ruins
Marlboro Country
San Carlos Borromeo Church @Mahatao

Mt. Iraya

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