Friday, December 26, 2008

Batanes…Unlocked, What to See, Where to Stay and How to go to and around Batanes



It has been said that once you set foot in Batanes you will never want to leave. I’ve been to Batanes and back and every time it feels like a part of me has chosen to stay there. The tantalizing Islands and the charming grace of the Ivatans (its native folk) are endearing and will surely etch a mark in memory, but don’t just take my word for it. If you can’t leave the daily grind just yet, let me tell you a little something about the remote Islands enough to whet your appetites.


A Foreign Land in Our Very Own 

Batanes has been referred to as little Europe, New Zealand, Greece, and Scotland of the Philippines. It is semi-tropical meaning it also enthralls with its highlands. Movies have been shot on location with hints from “Highlander”, “The Wuthering Heights” and “The Sound of Music”.
Sabtang lighthouse overlooking the sea
I’ve heard people say, “Are we still in the Philippines?”, “it’s like being in another country!” Its unique and strategic location independent from the rest of the archipelago contributes to a foreign feel even if the land is in our very own. Foreign that its weather, topography, culture, people, and language are distinct.

From Top R-L: Rolling hills of Batanes, Ivatans doing a re-enactment of a foreign invasion in the land, Parade of Ivatan kids, A rainbow common to Batanes' cool and rainy topography
Situated within the typhoon belt, it could be gloriously sunny one moment and the next rain on your parade. Weather is as unpredictable as a woman on her time of the month. My tip is to go out there wearing your swimsuit underneath your rugged clothes as you bathe in the sun and its waters but bring a jacket for sudden rainfall and drop in temperature.The cool air painting cheeks pink as the climate can drop to 7° Celsius.

Topography is not solely pegged with tropical characteristics but also having qualities with vivid semblance to cooler and higher terrains. Batanes not only boasts of pristine bodies of water but also haunting mountains, rolling hills and refreshing greens that provide a sense of being in a foreign destination and being in another time.

The Ivatans due to migrations and different colonizations evolved into a beautiful mix of physical features and due to isolation and the constant struggle with elements they developed into a mysterious and resilient breed. The Ivatan language has been said to have originated from “Austronesians” and that by language there is a connection that could be traced from the Easter Islands to Madagascar that worked its way through the migratory wave dating as far back as 3500BC. The language is in a category totally different from any dialect in the mainland, a tongue twister even for a half-Ivatan like me.

Mainland Batan

Basco the main town of Batan is where the commerce is. The hospital never has urgent use for the ER, the police station manned but no prisoners behind bars. School, town hall and plaza in languid atmosphere line the main street. Mini-groceries, sari-sari’s and “cusinas” offer a modest range of goodies. Souvenir shops were some sort of archeological sites where I had to dust off the little treasures on display. An internet place made-out from an old trailer crate is a quaint surprise. Snug in Baluarte Bay not so far away is the Kanyuyan Port where merchandise from Manila is highly anticipated. Sun + sweat = a dip in Niyogan Beach of fine black sands. All these are located in Basco just a stones throw away from one another.

A Unique Beachwalk Experience, A Youthful Spring and Old Church
The Church of Sto.Domingo de Basco built in 1783 with its apparent architectural magnificence silenced me with awe as we passed the Basco airstrip that seemed like a big treadmill as a plane touched down for its landing. Mt. Iraya is a dormant volcano 1,517meters high that last erupted 400 years ago spewing stones and boulders that now line Valugan Beach giving it its unique shore. Racuaydi or the spring of youth is an oasis of serenity, its calm kept me in touch with my thoughts. 

From Top L-R: Jeepney passing a picturesque view, Church of Sto.Domingo de Basco, The unique boulders of Valugan beach, View from Racuaydi - the spring of youth
The Japanese tunnel gave me a blast from the past, man-made caves and steep slippery steps Indy Jones would’ve loved to explore. Yes, all these sights are worth exploring and done in as short or as long as you want your adventure to be.

Payaman or Marlboro Country is a pasture overlooking farm fields, rolling hills and the ocean. The absolute freedom I felt as I spread my arms as if wings, running as if flying with gusts of wind that gave lift was exhilarating. My favorite cap was blown off my head and rolled on by, I ran after it for sentimental reasons and caught up with it and as I picked it up I was face to face with a very anxious, burly carabao and its nasty horns. I could’ve sworn I saw curlies in its eyes just like in cartoons as it motioned for a defense and I never knew until then how fast I could run. 100 meter dash uphill in just seconds, I might consider the tracks next season. Lesson learned, never surprise a bull.

Payaman or "Marlboro Country" from the a distance and up close with carabaos grazing
Basco Lighthouse gave a fantastic panorama of nature’s colors, the ochre of the land, the deep blue and turquoise of the sea, emerald greens of the hills as the orange sun danced in azure skies. I don’t know why but lighthouses speak to me with romantic inklings. It waits for what seems like an eternity witnessing the changing tides while it bears the countless displays of affection on its deck.

Next stop…Scotland. Huh?! Scotland in Batanes would be up on the hills or the Tukon. Slowly on winding roads I was being transported to a new dimension. Tukon has lush green landscape, an unobstructed view of the mountains and the sea, the hanging cliffs, the waves fiercely splashing on shorelines, stalwart trees, medieval woodworks, adorable stone houses and flourishing flora. Perched on the hill was Fundacion Pacita du Tukon. A gallery inspired by the late great Pacita Abad.

From Top L-R: Fundacion Pacita du Tukon - a majestic house on a hill, National Artist Pacita Abad working on the a famous bridge in Singapore, The Front arch of Pacita's home now a museum of her arts and works, A romantic view of the sea from Pacita du Tukon

I admired this wonderful lady that I aspired to live by the paint and the brush as well. She was truly inspirational and encouraging and what I remember still was her hearty laugh that echoed for seconds. She talks with a passion like no other, always full of life, energy and color which showed in her masterpieces. She has for sure been inspired by the views at Tukon.

Another place called home
Mahatao is my second home. People are as warm and charming as the town. San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao stands in baroque fashion and the high mass provides an opportunity for the people to fashionably dress to the nines. Mahatao dock or view deck has a view to behold, of a love triangle that slowly unfolds dramatic episodes of the sun slowly coming in contact with the sultry sea as it sets down to rest, and the moon gently touching the waves with its glow keeping good company for the night.

From Top L-R: The romantic Mahatao Dock, The Baroque-style San Carlos Borromeo Church, The very popular Texting Hut, San Jose de Ivana Church

Just up the hill from the dock, I spend hours in what they call the “text hut” just enjoying the feast in front of me. It has a perfect view of the dock, the town, the church and the action of fierce waves coming in. The drone sound of waves and the roar of the winds are now music to my ears. Not so far away you can find White Beach, a fine white strip of sand where you can lay to even out the tan lines.

I hitched rides all the way to picturesque Ivana and visited San Jose de Ivana Church that reminded me of Santorini Chapels in Greece specially when the sunlight bounces off its walls. I rented a bike for a few hours to go to the old Loran station. Like a kid playing hooky I pedaled my way to Loran. I underestimated the miles and the hills or overestimated my brute strength that I almost ended up like a lost traveler in a desert dying for water and shade but as I reached Loran all the pain miraculously went away. Loran was every bit more than what I hoped for and it played movies in my head. The sights and the sounds gave me a high, I felt drunk as I indulged in the air. I also reached Song–Song Ruins, a town of roofless stone houses abandoned by its inhabitants after it was hit by a tsunami in the 
1950’s.

A Lighthouse atop Ivana

Romantic Sabtang

Riding the “faluwa” sturdy boats for 30-45 minutes to cross the sea from San Vicente Dock to Sabtang will be a ride to remember in any day. One time I rode in a “faluwa” on what started like a good day and in the middle of the trip the boat was almost tipped over, on another trip a wicked wave suddenly showed which almost engulfed the boat, luckily we had an experienced captain on board and the worst thing that happened was getting soaked. Better soaked than fish bait right? The roll of the waves can be scary sickening but I had to suck it up if I wanted to get to Sabtang.

Like a pop-up in a story book the Light House in Sabtang stood remarkably. The setting was perfect and dreamy, emancipating passion for the things I love. Sabtang is one and if not the most romantic place I’ve ever set foot on, where time is of no regard. It is one of the 12 best destinations in the Philippines.

From Top Clockwise: Sabtang lighthouse overlooking the see, Faluwa's parked on shore, Another view of the lighthouse
The town of Chavayan is known for its stone houses that are 5 generations old. A town that time seemed to have forgotten. I watched as Ivatans brushed leaves until fine as a broom and saw how a “Vakul” was made. Vakul is the local headdress to protect from rain and sun when farmers go to the farmlands to toil. I strutted in the streets wearing my “vakul” and managed to entertain the locals with my odd fashion.

From Top L-R: An old Chavayan stone house, Another view of a stone house, A typhoon-proof church in Chavayan, Natural arch formation along Nakabuang beach
Bewitching Nakabuang

Nakabuang Beach what have you done to me? It bewitched me with its arch formed by time and the waves that ate through it. I stayed there overnight with borrowed sheets and a lighter. My chances for surviving the night got slimmer when it started to drizzle and the breeze got colder. I was able to build myself a bonfire, but I tell you I never prayed so hard for something to work on my side. It was short of the gut-wrenching scenes from “Lord of the Flies”. I end up belly laughing every time I remember because had I been another person passing by I would’ve been scared stiff because in retrospect, I appeared like a crazy witch chanting evil spells and incantations while I fed and danced around the fire.

From Top-Bottom: Arch formation in Nakabuang beach, the much talked about Honesty Cafe
Nakabuang seemed to have conspired with the universe to romance this sentimental fool. Celestial bodies blinked as La Luna cast shadows that created the mood. The wind hummed softly in my ears in tune with the sound of the sea and the crackle of the burning wood. I watched the heavens as I posed questions and asked for a clear sign and if a falling star isn’t sign enough then what is? A falling star, what are the odds?! From then on the rest of the world ceased and magic took over, spell-bound I fell in-love with Nakabuang.

Other Worthy Adventures

Go to the House of Dakay built in 1887 now a UNESCO heritage building, Dakay’s daughter Kamnan Florestida lives there now old and frail but still up for visitors, Burial Caves and sites specially the Nakamaya Boat Shaped Burials of Vikings, Torongan Cave, Chawa Cave with natural salt beds and a mouth that opens to the sea, Itbayat surrounded by massive boulders and cliffs rising 20-70 feet above sea level, Mayudis Island where you can find an abundance of those elusive but delectably succulent coconut crabs that are worth its weight in gold in Manila, Mt. Matarem an extinct volcano measuring to 495meters at its summit, Radar Tukon which used to be a US weather station that sits on top of a hill in full view of Batan Island and the China Sea, Mt.Iraya and the town of Basco. Go Cuyab Bird Watching as migratory birds from China flock adding to the already rich landscape. Admire the thick walls of stone houses that are capped with cogon tress for roofs that is distinctly Ivatan. The famous Honesty Coffee Shop, Beaches Galore take your pick and still an endless list of worthy adventures for another telling.

The beauty that is Batanes was molded by time, separated by sea, weathered by storms and nurtured by the seasons. These relentless struggles have never been an excuse for the islands and its people but more so added to their character that served as inspiration. Here the figments of my imagination were rekindled. Here my flights of fancy were reinspired. Here I experienced a rebirth of a life forgiving, enlightenment for purpose, fire for my passions that evoked new beginnings. Batanes is not just a destination but a gracious host to my quixotic adventures and brave heart moments. Batanes is a mystery that made me come back for more and there parts of me stayed. The only way for you to find out if these in fact were true is to set foot in Batanes. Batanes was an experience of a lifetime, it could be yours too. So don’t wait any longer, take that step. Ichadao kuy mu Batanes! Dios Mamajes.




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Where to stay in Batanes

Pension Ivatan, Basco
Tel.:+ 63 920 281 1278
www.pensionivatan.com

Batanes Resort, Basco
Tel.:+ 63 927 582 9078
Brandon's Lodge - 11 tastefully decorated rooms each with TV, aircon and toilet & bath.
Tel.:+63 919 366 2158 for reservations contact Madeleine Siazon

Batanes Resort
Tel.: 02 922 9621 loc. 327 (Ivatan Center, Q.C.)

Batanes Seaside Lodge
Tel.: +63 0981993613

Ivatan Lodge 
ivatanlodge@yahoo.com

Shanedel's Inn
Tel.: +63 920 447 0737

Troy Lodge
Tel.: +63 920 447 0726


How to go to Batanes

By Air

SEAIR
Tel: +632 849 0100

By Sea

MV Ivatan Princess operated by the Batanes Multi-Purpose Cooperative
Tel.: +63 917-793-0102

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3 comments:

  1. Tell us what you thinkof this article.

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    Replies
    1. Informative. It's my dream destination.

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    2. Thanks for leaving a comment Slim Jadey. IMHO, it's worth every peso to be there and just enjoy the view, the breeze and the local culture. Cheers!

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