BATANES: Getting In The Zone In The Northernmost Island Province of the Philippines

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March 27th 2013
Published: March 28th 2013
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Lighthouse in Naidi HillsLighthouse in Naidi HillsLighthouse in Naidi Hills

Where else in the world can you photograph a lighthouse with these jeepneys?
Been looking forward to this trip for the longest time. More so when my close friends decided to join me on this coveted journey to the northernmost frontier of our county. Never mind that we went on zombie mode to reach the domestic airport at 3:30 am. Nor that expectations were so high that we were afraid we'd get disappointed. But as it turned out, we weren't disappointed one bit. Just quite surprised that Batanes is a lot more than we actually expected.

The Rocky Coast and Verdant Cliffs of Batanes

Mt. Iraya stood majestically as we landed 7-ish that morning. We boarded a jeepney and reached Batanes Seaside Lodge in a few minutes. Breakfast was waiting for us, then some rest in our spartan but clean room. I could have dashed out soon after that heavy breakfast, eager to see what everyone's raving about this nearly isolated island province that's nearer to Taiwan (190 Kms) than to "Mainland Philippines". Brimming with excitement, I could not bring myself to nap to stock up on energy. I should have, knowing in hindsight what lay ahead for the remainder of the day.

From the Chawa viewpoint, we stood
Good Mawnin' Batanes! Good Mawnin' Batanes! Good Mawnin' Batanes!

A very early morning flight via SkyJet, which commenced regular flights to this northernmost island province only 3 months ago.
mesmerized as waves came rushing to crash against the rocky coast. I had to remind myself that this is just the first stopover in our travel itinerary just as I remember a friend telling me that Batanes looks far better than what we saw at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa some months back. Now I know it was no exaggeration. Why did I wait this long to visit this gem of an island?

Instead of finding ostriches, zebras or monkeys, you'd instead find cows, carabaos or goats grazing in the communal pastures. I swear I even saw some sheep in one of those private, fenced fields. The very verdant Vayang Rolling Hills are lined with hedgerows meant to protect crops from fierce winds and sea spray as much as mark property borders. Dotted with cow manure, you'd likely step on one of those sticky, stinky rounds if you're not careful. Be mindful too as you climb up the narrow ridge and restrain yourself from rushing to get that awesome view of the Pacific Ocean and the West Philippine Sea. You won't get disappointed anywhere you look. Miles and miles of the Pacific
A View of the Pacific OceanA View of the Pacific OceanA View of the Pacific Ocean

This was my Canon G12's encore shot before it went pfffft.....
Ocean and the sea which have been the food source of Batanes natives called Ivatans. Certainly a shutterbug's haven!

By the time we reached Boulders Beach in Valugan Bay, we all scrambled to pose for a shot. Yeah, easy to turn into a camwhore here. Not that easy though to accept these lovely boulders, polished by the constant flow of waters rushing in and out, were actually spewed out by Mount Iraya when it erupted in 400 AD. It's been more than half a millennium now since the last volcanic eruption, and somehow I was reminded of Mount Pinatubo which lay dormant for 500 years before deciding to alter the earth's stratosphere. God forbid!

Rock and Roll Crossing To Reach Sabtang Island

Another early start. Well, if we must catch the last boat ride back to Batan Island by 2pm, we certainly needed to leave early to have enough time to see the famous heritage stonehouses of the Ivatans. The boat used crossing the Balintang channel is called a "falowa" or "faluwa", Made of vutalaw wood indigenous to the place, the falowa boat has no outriggers. Rounded bottoms to sway with the waves
Sabtang Island From the BoatSabtang Island From the BoatSabtang Island From the Boat

We were lucky on our way to Sabtang. Sailing back by 2pm, the waters were far from calm.
as they crest and ebb, they're designed to withstand turbulent waters and crosscurrents of the channel where Pacific Ocean meets West Philippine Sea. ALL my friends who have been to Sabtang Island lying southwest of Batan Island warned me of this 45 minute falowa ride. Another expectation. Was I disappointed? Underwhelmed? Let's just say we were in luck on our way to Sabtang. The falowa skipper was a delight to watch. He had an impeccably groomed head matched by a face with rugged features and thoughtful dark gaze. There was a look of deep concentration and quiet competence about him. And he used his feet to maneuver the boat while sticking his head out to catch the breeze. Swell!

Batan and Sabtang are 2 of only 3 inhabited islands (out of 10) of the tiniest and northernmost province of the Philippines. The 3rd island is Itbayat Island further north, nearer Taiwan. No trip to Batanes is ever complete without a visit to the Ivatan Stonehouses of the villages in Savidug and Chavayan. We braved the nearly hour-long seasickness-inducing boat ride expecting to see these village houses "frozen in time". We came. We saw. And we

This village showcases pre-Hispanic settlements which have been preserved through the centuries.
saw more than what we expected. Our jeepney navigated through winding roads and offloaded us to appreciate a cliff side view of the Pacific Ocean. "Home of the Winds" is another apt description of this island province. You won't doubt it as you feel the wind slapping your face repeatedly here. Bad hair day, sunburned, facial muscles numbed by fierce winds. Who cares?

Lunch was a feast of lobsters, coconut crabs, flying fish and more. Plus it was served by the shores of Morong Beach near the Nakabuang Rock Arch Formation. Yes, there's actually a beach here! Just when I thought Batanes couldn't possibly have a decent beach for swimming, we find this. It was a chore deciding between lingering over your seafood lunch, or hopping off to the beach.

By the time we took the falowa back to Batan Island, the waters were far from calm. The mind-numbing "boredom" of this return trip was only broken by unplanned interludes of panic as the swells rose and fell. It felt like the skipper had to "zigzag" across the waters, while some of us couldn't keep IN the
Edge of Vayang Rolling HillsEdge of Vayang Rolling HillsEdge of Vayang Rolling Hills

Mind your steps here.....
sumptuous hour-old seafood lunch. With the wind blowing more violently, it's anyone's luck where those lunch remnants would land on their way to "feed the fish". 😞

Of Steppes, Hedgerows, Cliffs, Hills and Lighthouses

Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff. Those thoughts crossed my mind. But this isn't Yorkshire's Brontë country. I walked along the narrow ridge towards the edge till I felt the strong winds almost take my hat and shades off. I sat down. And stayed there, baking under the afternoon sun. Soothing to the nerves. Lets you empty your mind of all clutter and really get into the zone while imagining a melody in the waves slapping the limestone rocks. When it was time to board the jeepney for yet another destination within the island, I hesitantly lifted my childbearing hips which have grown so attached to the grass to walk the same narrow ridge. All's well until I met Mr. Carabao almost blocking the path, busy making his mound. There's quite a way around him, but I didn't want to walk too near the edge. He gave me a look. Fierce. Scared the sh** out of me. I had to ask someone to stand between me
Hedgerows on Rolling HillsHedgerows on Rolling HillsHedgerows on Rolling Hills

The hedgerows mark the properties while protecting the crops from sea spray, fierce winds and too much sun. Perfect!
and the beast. As if that would prevent him from charging, if he so decided. 😞

But there was time to get back into the zone again before heading back to the hotel. Lighthouses do that to you. And there's quite a few here in this island province. One of those early evenings, we spent time waiting for sunset in Naidi Hills. We watched the sun turn from golden to orange to red orange to deep red. All that as backdrop to the Basco Lighthouse. There's something very romantic about lighthouses and the faint murmur of the sea, don't you think? Scene so intimate you want to chastise anyone speaking above a whisper. It helped too that we brought some Chardonnay and Merlot as aperitif before another Ivatan dinner. If there's something I learned from this trip, it's that I should bring more bottles in my next trip. Maybe then, I can do better jump shots!

(Thank you Ryan Cruz for the video)

Additional photos below
Photos: 47, Displayed: 27



Never too old for a jumpshot ;-)
Mesmerizing VistaMesmerizing Vista
Mesmerizing Vista

I have similar shots taken of similar vistas in South Africa, Indonesia, UK, etc.
Mother and ChildMother and Child
Mother and Child

..... Right by the only 5 star boutique hotel here in Batanes: Fundacion Pacita
First View of Sabtang IslandFirst View of Sabtang Island
First View of Sabtang Island

Just 45 minutes away via a falowa ride. Lies southwest of the bigger Batan Island where the airport is.
Better than in Itbayat! But we didn't go there.Better than in Itbayat! But we didn't go there.
Better than in Itbayat! But we didn't go there.

The other inhabited island is Itbayat where the ride is longer (3-4 hours) and no pier. Jumping here is peanuts.
Oh Captain, My CaptainOh Captain, My Captain
Oh Captain, My Captain

Isolation is both a curse and a blessing. These Ivatans know self-reliance and have studied, respected Nature more than any other Filipino. They're innately smart, and you trust them instantly.
Natural SeafarersNatural Seafarers
Natural Seafarers

The best of the lot!
Thick Walls. Centuries-Old.Thick Walls. Centuries-Old.
Thick Walls. Centuries-Old.

Designed to withstand typhoons, the Ivatan Stonehouses have meter thick walls.
A very Catholic village....A very Catholic village....
A very Catholic village....

The natives have come to respect Nature and rely on God's mercy, 2 elements which characterize their strong faith in God.

Sorry, can't help it. :))
Seafood Lunch By the BeachSeafood Lunch By the Beach
Seafood Lunch By the Beach

No ordinary lunch. The coconut crabs are indigenous to the place. You can't bring them out of Batanes. You just eat them here. Those.... And some lobsters!
Nakabuang Rock ArchNakabuang Rock Arch
Nakabuang Rock Arch

I can only imagine how it used to look before the waves and winds eroded this limestone rock to form this arch in Morong Beach.
Honesty CafeHonesty Cafe
Honesty Cafe

Look Ma.... No one tends this coffee shop. Just take what you want and leave your payment in the box.
The Philippine JeepneyThe Philippine Jeepney
The Philippine Jeepney

They have it here too in this nearly isolated island nearer to Taiwan (190kms) than to the rest of the Philippines.

28th March 2013

The last frontier
I remember a while back you told me you hadn't been everywhere in the Philippines, and Batanes was the place you gave as an example. Glad you finally made it. It seems as uncharacteristic as the rest of the islands to make it a worthwhile journey, I'm sure. But I digress..."camwhore!" Never heard that expression before! love it. Details please.
28th March 2013

Oh, how I indulge myself. Camwhoring is a very Filipino (Asian?) trait -- how many of us love taking photos of ourselves :-) I'm not as bad as the others, believe me!
28th March 2013

Inspiring entry! Looks like you really enjoyed your stay there. We'll be going there in July, by the way.
28th March 2013

In July?
Jay, I hope weather's fine when you go in July. But haven't you been there?
28th March 2013
Good Mawnin' Batanes!

Love this picture
What an incredible shot of the clouds, sun and wing.
29th March 2013
Good Mawnin' Batanes!

Thanks, Brendan.
29th March 2013

Yeah it's the typhoon season but we purchased the plane tickets through a promo. Since it's the offseason, we really bought them cheap. Hopefully the trip ends well. :) And yes, it will be my first time there.
3rd April 2013

Some scenes in the movie Hihintayin Kita sa Langit (Dawn Zulueta and Richard Gomez) was shot in Alapad. Now i'm missing my province :(
3rd April 2013
Alapad Rock Formation

Hihintayin Kita sa Langit was it :)
3rd April 2013
Alapad Rock Formation

I remember the movie starring Dawn Zulueta and Richard Gomez. ;-)
3rd July 2013

Thank you!
We are greatly encourage to book our Batanes trip. You are a very good writer, Tita Lilli! Very picturesque.

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