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Published: March 28th 2013
Lighthouse in Naidi HillsBeen 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. 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
Where else in the world can you photograph a lighthouse with these jeepneys?
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 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! 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 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
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". 😞
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 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)
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