(Note: this post was written from a trip in May 2008)
There is a place amongst our glorious archipelago where you can witness the majestic meeting of the mountains, the seas and the sky in one breathtaking view. And so, there I went, with the wind under my heel, to sojourn to our very own Paradise Island – Batanes.
Batanes has been referred to as the Land of the Great Wind. Most time of the year, this island group is frequented by strong typhoons. Yet the occurrence of something violent leaves behind something that is naturally enthralling.
Because of its location, it is advisable to plan your trip before the summer season starts. Thanks to alternative airlines, flying in and out to Batanes is now easier to do. We boarded a 24-seater plane from Manila and flew for an hour and a half, landing smoothly in Basco, the capital of Batanes. From my window, I was awed by the pristine islets dotting the cerulean waters of the Pacific and the West Philippine Sea
Upon arrival, we were greeted with the warm smile of our tour guide. A minimal environmental fee was charged. Please be advised that Batanes is a protected area and that any destructive practice is punishable by law.
The Ivatans (collective name of the Batanes people) expect tourists to respect the natural habitat while appreciating its tourist spots. Folks, that is the basic principle of ecotourism: take nothing but pictures and leave the spots as you have found them.
We stayed in one of the seaside resorts and the rate is quite affordable. The one we got cost only PhP4,000 (around USD100-130) per person for 3 nights and 4 days inclusive of meals. Or you can opt to stay at the house of the locales – a traditional Ivatan stone house. The homes usually consist of the main house with its living room and bedroom/s and the outhouse and kitchen, which doubles as a storage room. Limestone walls and hardwood floors of the house ensure that it is cool during the day. The amenities may be far from that of a hotel but this makes for a rustic and more memorable experience.
The Master’s Grand Opus
Batanes is the smallest province of the Philippines, measuring 230 square kilometers only. It is composed of 10 tiny islands and islets located about 162 kilometers north of the Luzon mainland. Itbayat, Batan and Sabtang are the three main islands. Itbayat is the largest but Basco, the capital, is located in Batan.
At the heart of Batan Island is the 1,008-meter Mt. Iraya – the ever-vigilant landmark that has spawned great stories about how the islands were formed. It is a dormant volcano that last erupted some 400 years ago. The sides are heavily forested and it is another great attraction for photo enthusiasts on the way up to the peak.
Sabtang is a nature trekker’s haven as it offers a ruggedly beautiful terrain and cool, white-sand beaches. Farther up north are the five islets of Siayan, Mayudis, Diogo, North Island and Y’ami. The locales say that on a clear day, the southernmost tip of Taiwan can be glimpsed from Y’ami, which is actually nearer to Taiwan than to the mainland Luzon.
Windswept hills and royal blue skies tower over green lands. It felt like I was transported to a land before time. At night, I stood still upon a hill and took in the calmness of the midnight blue sky lit by a thousand stars. They looked so near that I caught myself reaching towards them as if to scoop each twinkling diamond with my bare hands. I felt at peace and just let the soft breeze coming from the nearby beach caress my cheeks blowing away the heat of the day from the pores of my skin. And I uttered a small prayer thanking God for letting me see one of His, if not the best, creations on Earth.
And the winds, oh the great power of the mighty winds! Because of its wind path, Batanes is a potential site for bigger wind farms. The Philippines’, and probably Asia’s, first wind power was constructed in Basco to serve the power needs of PAGASA’s radar station back in 1981. In 2004, a 180-kW power turbine was commissioned making Batanes one of the early users of renewable power.
Rolling Highlands and Lighthouses
Trekking across kilometers of its beauty can never be tiring. The sun-drenched foliage and naturally landscaped greeneries will surely catch your fancy. Pleasant surprises would spring from every corner bend like the rainbow that waved its iridescent colors upon the limestone cliffs.
And then there are the lighthouses, the sentinels that stand witness to the docking and sailing of sea vessels. Lighthouses play a very important role in seaside regions like Batanes’ as they provide beacon and safe haven for fishermen and sailors on stormy nights.
The Rolling Hills and Rakuh-A-Payaman, touted as the Marlboro Country of the Philippines, offer an invigorating experience as well as a visual feast of green expanse, azure skies, and pale amber sunset. The Marlboro is actually a pastureland overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
From the viewdeck, we saw the Mahatao Lighthouse and Mt. Iraya. If you are adventurous enough, you may ride a motorcycle up and down the rolling terrain to pump that sporty energy up your bloodstream. There is only one word to describe that experience: EXHILARATING!
The Bounty of the Sea Beckons
There is a dirt road in Sabtang that leads to an untouched beach paradise. It was so rustic that one could almost feel the ancient marine atmosphere around it; rocks and crevasses jutting from geological formations complemented by the patches of coral reefs along the seashore. The shoreline is dotted with stretches of white sand, a prelude to the Boracay-like white sands created by the minerals of dead sea corals. This natural process takes about thousands of years and in a hundred years or so, these sands will be as fine as that of Boracay’s.
This undiscovered paradise is called Nakabuang Beach by the locales. The main attraction of the beach is the Nakabuang Arch, a rock naturally sculptured by the winds and waters. The astounding panorama provides a perfect setting for a lunch by the beach.
You cannot go to Batanes without sampling their cuisine. Seafood is easy to come by here and we had the gastronomic delight of our time when the cook served us lobsters, coconut crabs, lapu-lapu and flying fish, all cooked to perfection some steamed and some flavored with coconut milk.
Our fare was served with yellow rice, the Ivatan’s version of Java rice. It is cooked with turmeric or yellow ginger. Then instead of plates, we were served on leaves of local bread fruit tree called kabaya.
We were told that the lobsters is a staple on the dining table. But tourists are not allowed to bring more than 250 grams (or more than four pieces) of lobsters out of Batanes. This regulation is part of the conditions set forth by the law that designated Batanes as a protected area. We also had sweet potatoes, yams, and other root crops.
The Most Honest Place in the Country
Aside from enjoying zero crime rate, Batanes is also popular because of its Honesty Café located in Radiwan. The café earned its name because it’s usually not staffed, so everyone is expected to leave money for whatever they take. There’s a clear plastic jar at the left of the counter for customers to pay and get their own change.
If you lost a wallet or other personal belongings, you can go to the radio station to announce it. Likewise, local people who have found a lost item usually bring it to the radio station so that they could be returned to the owners.
Five Star Rating. For a nature lover like me, I will rate Batanes a perfect 5. You get to experience nature at its best. The luxury of hotels and electricity may be scarce, but what you get is a full recharge of the soul, a well-rested mind and lots of fresh air.