The raging sea beats the island of Batanes' as if to say I am King.
The waves violently slap the rocks with enviable freedom. Its stammering power heeds no remorse.
The island however doesn't back down, doesn't fold-up or disintegrates. It takes a proud beating with a 'Hah', I am Batanes.
Batanes should indeed be proud of its coffers. It offers an amazing landscape that is as complex as a Roger Dean art work. The twisting spiraling mountains roll for miles and miles carpeted with green pastures. Atop its numerous cliffs one can get a front seat view of the feisty merging waters of the China Sea with the Pacific Ocean.
There is also something incredibly charming about the island's unique stone houses. Around 3 meters thick, these rock abodes crafted by the ancestors have stood against torturous rain and bullying winds. The roofs are made of cogon providing water proof shade. From afar the houses create an amazing texture of color and form that is bucolic and unlike anything that I've ever been in the provinces I've visited.
In spite the amazing scenery the island's greatest strength is its people - the Ivatans. Storm warriors by birth they still pose a gentle demeanor, friendly disposition and an unbelievable sense of trustworthiness. Crime is said to be non-existent in Batanes and people find no need to lock their doors. There is even a sign posted in the city treasury that reads "LOST AND FOUND - MONEY. Please claim inside".
As most travel junkies know Batanes is the northernmost province of the Philippines and its smallest island both in terms of land area and population. Among its ten petite islands only three are inhabited - Batan, Itbayat and Sabtang. Sandwiched by Babuyan Island and Taiwan, the province is closer to Taipei than Manila. In fact an urban legend states that on a clear day one can see Taiwan and hear Chinese roosters crow.
Growth in Batanes' tourism has been spurred by airlines such as Asian Spirit that conveniently jets weekly flights (for a P10,000 round trip ticket price). Surprisingly posh, the main airport is located in Basco, the province's capital (found in Batan island). Albeit the flight being a bit choppy, I land safely in Batanes and seek my adventure.
DAY 1 - Going around Basco
A refreshing contrast to other city centers, Basco has neither a mall nor a Starbucks coffee shop - yet. The pseudo-commercial center is a small lane filled with tiny groceries, supplies stores and ukay-ukay shops. Zero tricycles explain the quiet streets and only a couple of jeeps and automobiles exist here.
Shanedel's, a family managed inn is a great place to bunk. The place has a killer view of the Batan Bay and is right beside the busy Basco port. An old lighthouse perched on a hill can also be seen. Languid cows graze the pasture. The bovines stood so still I almost doubted they were real.
Conveniently, the lighthouse is just a 20 minute walk from my place. The sky was turning crimson as the sun prepared to rest when the moon decided to drop by. I can't tell you how amazing it is to see the sun set and the moon reveal itself simultaneously.
Fried flying fish, was my first Batanes dinner. The meat was okay. Nothing fantastic.
DAY 2 Exploring Batan Island
Batan, is Batanes' second largest island that serve as the center of commerce and houses the seat of the provincial government. Travelers can arrange tour rides that will explore Batan's municipalities which include Basco, Ivana, Uyugan and Mahatao.
The 'jeepney topload' is the best seat to take when viewing Batan's landscape. The ride snakes through the island's rolling terrain. Above me are spectacular mountain formations that resemble stoic hunched-back giants. The white sand beach below me boasts pristine waters that splash against massive rocks.
Occasionally the driver parks his vehicle and allows my group to go down to absorb the scenery. There is nothing more lovely than sitting at edge of a cliff to stare at the horizon. No skyscraper, no boats, not a single living person litter my view, just clear blue skies. I pretend this really is the edge of the world.
12:30 pm - Honesty Store in the town of Ivana
Lunch takes place in an unmanned small canteen stocked with goodies (mami, chips, sodas, biscuits). Owners put their faith in customers' honesty...hence the store moniker.
2:10 pm - Marlboro Country
After a belly filling lunch I head Payaman town dubbed as Marlboro Country. The tour guide boasts 'Makikita mo parang wala ka sa Pilipinas'. The town does have a different feel to it. The pasture, from a far, is a mixture of deep green and brown hues. The guide explained the brown color is actually thin bamboo wood that cordons an Ivantan family's land from his neighbor. This village is Batanes' version of Tagaytay Highlands but instead of golf courses it is actually cattle pasture. Fantastic!
DAY 3- Sabtang Island
Sabtang is considered one of the 12 best destinations by the Department of Tourism in 1994. Compared to Batan, the island is less affluent but is more charming (in my opinion). Batan's modern influences has converted its precious stone houses to concrete walls and thatched roofs. Meanwhile Sabtang still has their cobble stoned streets and stone houses intact. Albeit the Sabtang is also beginning to deteriorate as people there are starting to modernize their houses. The danger of spoilage of Batanes is an issue the government must pay attention but that's another article altogether.
Sabtang's landscape is also more breathtaking than Batan's. Steep mountains, deep cannons and a seemingly endless strip of white beach is amazing. Sheer limestone cliffs that plunge into cerulean waters below make it so surreal. I was able to swim in Batanes waters!
P.S. Oh and by the way I saw an independent movie production shooting a scene in the island (these guys did the indie film called Donsol). I heard Angel Aquino was the star. Interesting...
8 pm - Dinner Time
A birthday party thrown by a fellow adventure seeker spiced up the night. A belly popping feast includes fresh tuna sashimi, lobsters and lechon. We washed it down with a Pinoy ubiquitous drink - Tanduay. Yum.
Other memorable dishes I had in Batanes were fresh blue marlin tuna steak, green pepper filled lapu-lapu fillet, beef steak (lemme tell you they have lots of cows here), cuttle fish and pizza. Yes pizza...there is a pizza maker in Basco named Ivan, my favorite flavors are pepperoni, garlic and cheese and anchovies pizza. You have to order in advance to be able to enjoy its yumminess.
DAY 4 - Going Home
Flights from Batanes to Manila always take off at around 10 am. There was a certain melancholic feeling that washed over me as I left the quaint island. Probably because I'll be going back to the circus I call my life. I guess one thing I have in common with Batanes is that just like its islands I always try to win over life's metaphoric raging waves.
Batanes will definitely see me again. There are also so many stuff I wasn't able to do.
Here is my list:
1. Fly to Itbaya which is Batanes third inhabited island. I was supposed to go but unfortunately the only light aircraft that flies to the island was broken. For those who wish to go to Batanes I suggest you go explore Itbaya first before doing the other island as it is much harder to access.
2. Climb Mount Iraya
3. Visit Mavudis island which is the northernmost island of Batanes. Coconut crabs litter the rich marine life filled island.
4. Explore Nakabuwang Cave in Sabtang and the Chawa cave which is said to be enchanted. It has a natural salt bed and a mouth that opens to South China Sea.