welcome to batanes!
After getting rained on in Cocoloco Island in Roxas, Palawan, we were expecting part 2 of our honeymoon to be sunnier and warmer. Unfortunately, it was not. But our stay in Batanes was still lovely and as a good friend told me - be thankful for having experienced Batanes on a rainy day. Not bad, Kate [:)]
Unlike most of our travels, I was too busy preparing for our wedding to research for a do-it-yourself trip to Batanes. So I speed-dialed Luz Castana’s number, a Batanes-based travel agent recommended by a friend. Having a travel agent arrange your trip to Batanes (especially during peak season) is very convenient because 1) Asian Spirit allocates a certain number of seats for travel agents so you can get a reservation even when it is supposedly fully-booked already 2) same goes for hotels, particularly for the hotel we wanted (Batanes Seaside) and 3) Batanes, beautiful as it is, is not as advanced in tourism as say Puerto Princesa or Cebu or Bohol. Private transportation and tours in Batanes can be difficult to arrange on your own so most guests rely on tours offered by the few hotels / pension inns and travel agents in
After waiting for almost 2 hours for the weather in Basco to clear, we finally left Manila past 7AM on May 16 via Asian Spirit. Save for intermittent turbulences, we landed in Basco, Batanes a little before 9AM. It was a bit cloudy but no rains so we took that as a good sign.
Basco’s airport is the prettiest we’ve seen in all the places we’ve been to. The arrival area, right outside the welcome area has colorful upturned umbrellas hanging on the ceiling. Passengers are requested to get out / proceed to the arrival area so the airline can unload the luggages in the enclosed welcome area. After the luggages are arranged, people are allowed back in to find their own bags. It’s quite a weird way and I can imagine it can get quite unwieldy if there are more passengers but maybe it works for them. After all, only small planes land in this airport.
After checking-in at Batanes Seaside Resort, we had a quick breakfast, napped for a bit (the flight was scheduled at 5:30 AM!), then we were picked-up by our travel agent Luz for our first-day tour. First stop was the
Basco PAGASA weather station. It had a spectacular 360-degree view of Batanes, which we would discover, is true for most places here. Batanes is a place so open, the view unimpeded by structures, that you can stand in many places and be enveloped by spectacular vistas from all sides. Of course, this also means that in most places, you will be very close to falling over because of the winds hehehe. A quick search in Google lists Batanes as one of the top 5 windiest places on earth [:)]
After taking loads of pictures at the weather station, we proceeded to the Abad home (I lost track which Abad - they are a very popular lot in Basco) which was being constructed. It was lovely -- made of warm wood all around, with vistas of the sea, complete with modern amenities -- and all I could think of while in the house was how fantastic it would be to write there.
On the way back to town, we passed by a WWII Japanese tunnel. It was not maintained as a tourist spot so I was not interested to go in for fear of snakes. We just took a
couple of pictures of course [:)]
Next we proceeded to Naidi Hills where we almost got toppled over by the wind. It was breathtaking! We went next to Valugan “Boulder” Beach. Beautiful, beautiful landscape! Then as a last stop, we went to the iconic Basco lighthouse for some more great views. There are no words to describe the places. Most of the tourist spots in Basco do not bear any great significance in history nor do they permit a lot of activities. They are just there, magnificent and proud - enticing you to bask in the glory of nature and whisper a prayer of thanks for the chance to see it.
For dinner, we asked to be brought to Pension Ivatan where they said the food is good. Given the difficulty of marketing in Batanes (most of their products come from Manila, even their veggies), many items in the menu will not be available on certain days. So in Batanes, it’s more of a hit-and-miss when you order food [:)] That day, the quickest food they could prepare for us was Beef Tapa and Grilled Porkchops. It wasn’t as spectacular as we read but compared to the food
our home in batanes
in our hotel, it was heaven hehehe.
After our early dinner, we walked around town and explored. Not much to do here so the ongoing softball game at the open field was quite an event for the locals. As it was starting to drizzle, we went back to our hotel instead of watching the game.
We slept early because our tour the next day to Sabtang Island will start at 6AM! After a quick and very early breakfast, we were picked up by Luz and brought by tricycle to the wharf going to Sabtang. On the way to the wharf, it started to pour and I was quite nervous having to cross the Pacific Ocean in this weather. My nervousness turned into quite a bit of a fright when I saw what we were about to board. The Ivatan boats are shaped like a deep, rounded V and have no katigs (those bamboo “arms” Philippine boats normally use to balance). They just sway from side to side and seem to dance like cork on water. They are “wave-cutters” and are meant for waters such as the ones we were about to cross (i.e., merging waters of the Pacific
our view from our balcony
Ocean and South China Sea).
Ivatan boatmen are called “pilots” by the locals. I thought initially it was just a sign of respect or to make them feel proud. But after our hour-long boat ride in churning waters, with swells big enough to splash round the sides of our boat, I knew why they were called such. It takes careful calculation and expert maneuvering to drive those boats. The boat was swayed by one big wave to the next and it indeed takes pilot-level skills to keep the boat from toppling over on either side. Even with the life jackets and Luz’s parting words that ours was the best pilot in Batanes, I still did not feel safe. But curiosity got the better of me so I remained awake and alert the whole ride [:)]
In Sabtang Island, we were turned over to a driver and a tour guide. It is in Sabtang that you will find the stone houses Batanes is famous for. These stone houses have walls 1-meter thick to survive the fierce typhoons that used to hit Batanes. The cogon roofs are the same thickness. In Sabtang Island, most of the houses are still made
our view from our balcony
in the same style. In the mainland, many of the houses have become a hybrid of stone walls and the rest of the house done the modern way.
We went to Chavayan, the farthest and most isolated town in Sabtang. Chavayan is a very quiet town, with only 1 main street. All the houses are made of stone. We saw a couple of old-style houses, made of nipa and cogon. We also dropped by the store where they sell vaculs, the famous Ivatan headgear. They say everyone in Batanes either farms or shepherds and it is especially true here in Sabtang where there is no office, no retail, no commercial activity to speak of. Most of them grow their vegetables in their backyards and shepherd their own cattles. Supplies, including dry goods, are very expensive here, mainly because of the transportation cost. What they don’t lack though is basic social institutions - in each town, just like in mainland Basco, there would be a grade school and a high school, a church, and a police station. Chavayan even has its own theater [:)] It is surprising though, that many of the locals have traveled to Manila and in fact,
our view from our balcony
many go to Manila for their college education!
Then we proceeded to a white-sand beach the name of which escapes me. It started to rain here so we were not able to stay long. Kim was able to go for a quick dip though and wound up shivering because of the cold water and the winds hehehe. For lunch, we went to a small canteen right at the wharf where we were served a mean lunch of lobsters, pork adobo (the best food we had in Batanes!), sweet and sour fish, veggies, buko in shell and fruit salad. As with most things in Batanes, this ramshackled canteen was deceiving.
It was raining hard when we left Sabtang and surprise surprise, I slept through the boat ride going back to Basco [:)] At the wharf, we were picked up by Luz and deposited back in our hotel by around 3PM. We napped (again) and in the late afternoon decided to walk around looking for a store. We passed by a place that looked like it was bigger than a sari-sari store on the way back the previous day and when we found it, I was ecstastic! Apparently, it was
our view from our balcony
a grocery. We stocked up on junk food, chocolates and cup noodles (yes, the food in our hotel was that bad) [:)]
On the third day, we looked for the local INC church and found it tucked in a quiet street. We attended the service and chatted up with the Pastor for a bit until our friendly tricycle driver arrived to pick us up. At the hotel, we had breakfast and then Anton, our driver, picked us up for our Day 3 Tour. This time, we would go to the Southern towns of Basco.
First stop was Marlboro Country. Marlboro Country, as it is fondly called by the locals, is actually a communal pastureland. People can register as members and they can bring a maximum of 6 cattle heads here. Goats, cows, carabaos and horses can roam freely in the open fields and munch on grass all day-long [:)] It was raining when we got there and it took quite a lot of patience (particularly on my end) to wait for the rain to stop. When it did stop, the fog set in. Another test of my patience and in the end (thanks to my persevering and patient
our view from our balcony
husband who was begging me to wait), it was all rewarded by spectacular views of everything that’s special about Batanes - mountains, seas, plains. (Lots of cattle poop though [:)])
After Marlboro Country, we were invited to lunch in Luz’s house in Mahatao. The food was made special by the hospitality and the kind of great conversation you only have with locals. Luz and Anton spoke of times when Batanes would be hit by typhoons so hard, tidal waves would come in where we were seated having lunch (now they don’t have them anymore they say and we say “global warming”), of times locals would hitch a ride with the Naval boat to and from Manila (that’s why a lot of them got to travel for free!), of the plans to allow PAL and Cebu Pacific to have flights here.
After lunch, we proceeded on a driving tour (it was still raining cats and dogs!) of the towns of Batanes, starting with Mahatao where Luz and Anton lives. We passed by the main highway that literally hugs the mountain and drops off at the other side to the Batanes coastline - it was so narrow and was blind
our view from our balcony
in most corners that signs saying “Blow your Horn” appear at frequent intervals. It was dangerous driving I can imagine, especially at night, but the locals are used to it. Apparently, what’s scary to them is being blown off the road literally when there is a storm. Grabe!!!
The view though is (gosh, these adjectives are so used in this blog) breathtaking and spectacular. At any time, you can close your eyes and say stop to the driver, go down the car and you will find a great patch of beach or shoreline. Unfortunately for us, there was no swimming in Batanes because of the rains!
We had a brief stop at one of the oldest stone houses in the whole of Batanes and chatted up with the 82-year-old Lola who lives in it. The house was built by her grandmother and stands as one of the historic spots in Batanes. She complains that she wants to have the roof replaced with GI sheets but people tell her to retain the cogon roof for the sake of history [:)] Outside the house is a high pile of cogon, ready to replace her existing roof. But Lola says people in
they stayed in the same hotel :)
Batanes no longer help the elders - you have to pay them to do work for you. (Related to this, on our last dinner in Batanes, I read a short book in Pension Ivatan. It was a thesis on the disappearing customs of the Ivatans. The 1st chapter describes the work organizations of Ivatans in the olden days - it spoke of “clubs” that do what we know as Bayanihan work. They work for each member of the club. This is what Lola misses.)
After our interesting chat with Lola, we drove through Ivana and stopped at the landmark Honesty Coffeeshop. No one mans the store. Customers get what they need and leave the payment [:)] We bought bucayo here (candied coconut meat) and ate it the rest of the drive and it was so good we had to order more! It’s good that the store is owned by Luz’s aunt so we ordered 100 pieces from them (at P5 each) and it was delivered to us at the airport the next day.
After Honesty, there were no other stops. We just drove by the Ruins of Songsong, a town right at the coastline obliterated by a tidal
wave. Now, it is just a sad place with haunting ruins of the stone houses that used to house the residents of that coastal barrio. There are a handful of residents occupying some of the ruins - Anton says most likely relatives of the original residents. We also drove by the former American base which Anton reminisces with longing - he says life was easier and more convenient for the locals when the Americans were there. They had goods, medicines and access to services they would only normally be able to get in Manila and definitely not for free.
After our rainy tour, Anton deposited us back at the hotel. We napped again (there’s nothing else to do!) and at about 6PM, walked to town again. We had bulalo at Pension Ivatan and came back to the hotel just in time for the cultural show at the dining hall. The show was nothing fancy but it sure was a welcome activity [:)]
Flight to Manila the next day was at 7:15AM. We almost got left behind because the hotel staff forgot to inform us that the shuttle was leaving already! The sun was shining when we left Batanes
and while it was goading us to regret the 4 rainy days (my bikini was almost jumping out of my bag in frustration!), Kate’s words kept on reminding me: Be thankful for having experienced Batanes when it’s raining. It’s a different way of looking at it. Still in the end, no worries, Kate. We ARE thankful for having seen Batanes, rains and all. It is a lifelong privilege.
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