Back in my elementary school days, in Grade 4 to be exact, one of my favorite lessons in Social Studies is Philippine Geography. For the said topic we discussed the different regions that comprise our astonishing archipelago. One of the provinces that caught my attention, at the tender age of 10, is Batanes located in Region II (Cagayan Valley Region which is located at the northeastern part of the Philippines). Our textbook described the province as a small group of islands at the northern most part of our country. It is where the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) merges with the vast Pacific Ocean. I saw illustrations of the vernacular houses of the Ivatans (the indigenous inhabitants of Batanes), the head gear called vacul, their main produce like garlic and root crops. I can relate to the experience of the Ivatans being visited by Typhoons (I spent early years of my childhood in Bicol where typhoons are familiar acquaintances), I was intrigued on how is the weather there, what does the view of the seascape up north looks like? That lesson in Grade 4 started my curiosity with the province, a wish was formed: that someday I’ll get to go there and see for my self the northern most province described in my text book.
Years went by and I got to see various photos of the province, read about it in the broadsheets, watched documentaries, got a glimpse of it in one of the local movies, read about more of its geography and the interesting culture of its people in books specially in college. I kept a copy of an article by Dr. Florentino Hornedo, a well known with regards to Ivatan studies (an insular himself), describing in narrative his hometown of Sabtang which is one of the municipalities of Batanes. That article is very detailed even if it is not that long, reading it I felt that I was with the author in his visit to his hometown. Batanes is one of the places on the top of my list when it comes to travel destinations.
An opportunity came during my third year in college. We can choose between doing a summer coursework in Metro Manila or in Batanes up north. I was so happy learning about this opportunity. I silently prayed, hoping that I’ll get to go to the smallest and farthest northern province that summer of 2010. The expenses of joining the trip to Batanes is quite hefty specially the airfare.
I was in Manila, one cloudy afternoon, when I received a text message that made me so happy. It was a go signal from my mother that I can join the group that was going to Batanes that summer! An answered prayer! Another blessing came when we learned about the Batanes airfare promo of SEAir for the Travel Tour Expo! Our batch got a huge discount (half of the regular all-in fare expenses) with regards to airfare. Excitement goes higher as the days before our departure gets near! I counted the days and read more about the province.
We got a very early morning flight to Basco, Batanes on the 22nd of April, 2010. I ensured that I will be on that flight to one of my dream destinations: I left our home the night before (April 21). I joined some of my also excited classmates in a mini camp out at the Old Domestic Airport that evening. We spent the time waiting eating, playing games, chit chat, a perfect bonding moment before the most awaited trip that summer.
At last the time came for us to board the plane after waiting for nearly 8 hours (because of our excitement). The morning was perfect and we all hoped for good weather up north in Basco. This flight is also special for me because for another reason: it’s my first air travel much more I am on my way to one of the places in my wish list way back in elementary!
|Basco Light House|
The flight to Basco, Batanes is an interesting one. I am lucky that I got a window seat. The vistas that I saw reminded me of our different geography lessons in school. It showed the beauty the parts of our country that I saw from above 20,000 feet. The approach to Basco was a bit bumpy, the aircraft entered a sea of clouds, and emerging from the spotless white in the sky we gained our first glimpse of Batanes. I can still remember the stunning cliffs that surround the lighthouse in Basco and the verdant foothills of the majestic Mount Iraya. All of us were happy and thankful that at long last we are in Batanes.
We spent more than 2 weeks in Batanes. Even for a while we experienced being insulars of the far north. Basco, the capital of the province, became our hometown during our stay. The days we lived in Batanes gave us an opportunity to be independent: it is also the first time for me (and for most of my classmates) to be away from our loved ones that long. I gained lessons on budgeting the money that I have, being responsible with the house chores that we agreed upon to share. Its fun being on your own and living with your classmates, it’s a great way to know each other.
At first we were on a mild state of home sickness, we suddenly missed the fast food chains we are so accustomed to while in Manila, television, the giant malls, and the comforts of the metro. As the day went on we adjusted quick and established a rhythm in synq with our new home for that part of summer. Once we felt at home we got to know more Batanes through the different visits that we made, the stories hared to us by the kind Ivatans, and our own observations.
|Mount Iraya and the Town of Basco, Batanes (2010)|
Along with my classmates we got to know about Basco with the help of our Ivatan friends, We spent one cloudy afternoon exploring in a relaxed manner the WWII Japanese Tunnels in the highlands of Basco, a stroll on the road in Tukon offered a great view of Mount Iraya plus the West Philippine Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean at the other. A chapel in Tukon has interesting murals on its ceilings depicting the different patron saints of Basco, Itbayat, Ivana, Mahatao, Sabtang, and Uyugan. We also saw the hedgerows that serve as property markers, an idjang which is an ancient fort used during pre-colonial times, a free hitch got us dipping our feet and having a feel of the waves at the black sand beach of Basco. Nearly every place in Basco is of walking distance. I attended mass at the Cathedral in Basco which is just less than 10 minutes of slow walk from our place. It is perfectly safe to wander about and I found a hang out place to relax and think and that is the Light House of Basco in Naidi Hills. At the top of the light house you can see deep blue sea, have a glimpse of the 3 islands that makes up the municipality of Sabtang, the outlines of Itbayat on clear days. Its relaxing to hear the bowing wind while at the top and savor a rare view of Mount Iraya without its cloak of clouds. A bag of dried locally made camote chips as snack makes the light house trip great. It was in Basco that I first saw and had an opportunity to get inside a real example of the vernacular Ivatan house and a woman wearing a vacul one cloudy day during the campaign rally of then Presidential candidate Noynoy Aquino.
I came to know more Batanes in our trips to the southern towns of Mahatao, Ivana, Uyugan and the Island Municipality of Sabtang.In Mahatao we got a glimpse of the Spanish era built Catholic church near the national highway. Also in the same municipality is the Diura Fishing Village from which one can trek across the verdant paths or the surreal beach side facing the Pacific Ocean to the “Fountain of Youth”. We swam to our hearts content at the said fountain, I think it’s the joy that company gives and the stunning views that makes visitors feel young. Also it is in Mahatao that the famous view deck of Chawa is located, one can go down a series of stone steps to see up close the waves of different proportions it is also a great place to watch the sun set.
|A store that values honesty. Ivana, Batanes.|
In Ivana, the oldest municipality of the province, one can buy snacks and souvenir items at the Honesty Coffee Shop, no one is inside the store to watch over the items for sale. One must drop payments inside a wooden box. Its my first time to see such kind of store. I bought some biscuits as breakfast while waiting at the Port of Ivana. Nearby the port is the Church of Saint Joseph, one can pray inside for a safe passage to Sabtang.
|To Chavayan. Sabtang, Batanes.|
One must experience the falowa (boat) ride from Ivana to Sabtang while in Batanes. Its just 30 to 45 minutes across a strait with clean deep blue waters and strong currents. The waves were quite huge when we took the falowa ride, making the trip more exciting. Memorable was our top loading at a jeepney enroute to the village of Chavayan in Sabtang, one gets a stunning view of the sea as it meets the horizon and the verdant hills. Its a rare sight in this fast phased modern world. Chavayan in Sabtang is a place wherein the vernacular houses are abundant complete with the traditional roofing of dried grass. The isolated beach is just a short walk from the main street. In Savidug we got a chance to stroll by a street of well preserved Ivatan stone houses, these are the ones mentioned in the article of Dr. Hornedo.
In Uyugan we visited the small church painted in pink, the interior was under renovation during our visit. We got a glimpse of a hill with what seems to be Stations of the Cross, old stone bridges, twin stone vernacular houses, and a short climb to the grotto.
The weather in Batanes is quite fickle, one day it is sunny, the other it is cold, a drizzle and at times the typhoon like storms. The temperature is thankfully cold/ mild compared to the metro. But there are things that are constant: the beauty of the province and the kindness of its people. I have gained many good memories were during my stay in Batanes. Forever etched in my memory are: the moon-lit dinner by the sea in Sabtang, morning spent biking up to Tukon, the stars studded sky in Chanarian, the stunning sunsets in Basco, and many more. I am really thankful that my wish to visit Batanes was granted. It is truly a blessing from God.
I did not get to visit the northernmost island municipality of Itbayat in 2010. It is a good reason for me and my classmates to go back and admire Batanes more. May the sights and the interesting culture of Batanes be preserved, so that the future generations of Filipinos will still have a rare gem of a place to admire and dream of visiting in the far northern part of the Philippines.
This is post is special for me, it is my first entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ (PTB) Blog Carnival. The theme for the month of April is "My Ultimate Dream Destination and my pledge to turn it into a Reality" hosted by Robx Bautista of The Travelling Dork. For the previous blog PTB’s Blog Carnival posts kindly visit Estan Cabigas' Langyaw.