There is only one place in the Philippine 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 the land of the winds – Batanes.
I go back to blogging with this fitting travelogue of Batanes. Join me and my traveling sneakers (and yes, my wife who is also my travel buddy) as we embark on the soul-nourishing joys of traveling.
Batanes is one of the most fascinating destinations I have ever visited. Because of its location, it is advisable to plan your trip as soon as the summer season starts. This allows you to explore its evergreen landscapes and calming seascapes without worrying about typhoons or heavy rains.
Thanks to alternative airlines, flying in and out to far-flung destinations like Batanes is now possible. We boarded a 24-seater plane from Manila and flew for an hour and a half, landing smoothly in the airport of Basco, the capital of Batanes. While descending Basco, one cannot but be awed by the pristine islets dotting the cerulean waters of the Pacific and the South China 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 ecoutourism – 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 is also a storage room of sorts. 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 more exciting experience.
A 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. Sabtang is a nature trekker’s haven as it offers ruggedly beautiful terrains to be explored, not to mention the cool, white-sand beaches to be conquered. 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 is visible from Y’ami. Y’ami is actually nearer to Taiwan than to the mainland Luzon.
With wind-swept hills and brazenly blue sky towering over rolling hills, one conjures the image of the mighty Thor, the Norse God of Thunder fashioning hill after hill with his thunderbolts to create a masterpiece of grand proportions. It seemed as if I was transported to a land before time. I was communing with the Almighty as I stood still upon a hill one night, the midnight blue sky lit by a thousand stars. They looked so near that 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.
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.
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 and awe-inspiring. 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 a pioneer in renewable energy production.
Rolling Highlands and Lighthouses
Isolated from the rest of the Philippines, Batanes brought the romantic and the adventurous in me. Trekking kilometers of of pasturelands was never tiring. The sun-drenched foliage and landscaped shrubberies will surely catch your fancy. Pleasant surprises would spring from every corner bend like the rainbow that waved its iridescent colors upon 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 coupled with azure skies at sunset. Both have similar topographies and provide the perfect backdrop for an outdoor adventure. 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: FANTASTIC!
The Bounty of the Sea Beckons
There is that dirt road in Sabtang that leads to an untouched beach paradise. It was so rustic that one could almost feel the primal 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 semi-fine 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 area for picnic or a lunch by the beach.
You cannot go to Batanes without sampling their cuisine. Sea food 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 – cooked to perfection, some steamed and some flavored with coconut milk. Our fare was complemented with yellow rice, the Ivatan’s version of Java rice. The Ivatans cook their rice 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 lobsters are ordinary fares in the dining tables in Batanes. 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 in the law that designated Batanes as a protected area. Sea foods are augmented by sweet potatoes, yams and other root crops.
The Most Honest Place in the Country
The warmth of the Ivatan culture and their non-condescending attitude made our visit an unforgettable experience. Rarely do you get this kind of reception from our kababayans in other regions, at least from what I have experienced in my previous travels (except perhaps in Sagada, but let’s save that for the next travelogue). Oh, and did you know that Batanes enjoys zero crime rate? You could say that this is the safest place in the country. Aside from being the safest place, Batanes also boasts as being the most honest place in the country, greatly popularized by the Honesty Café in Radiaw. The café earned its name because it’s usually not staffed, so everyone is expected to leave money for whatever they take. This Batanes Restaurant’s honesty system has made it a sort of novelty among both tourists and locals alike. There’s a clear plastic jar at the left of the counter for customers to pay and get their own change.
If you lost something (such as wallet, bag or other personal belongings) you can go to the radio station to announce it. Likewise, local people who have found something usually bring it to the radio station so that they could be returned to the owners. It is not unusual that lost wallet or even large amount of cash can be safely returned to the rightful owner. Now, if only the rest of the country will rise up to the occasion and imbibe the culture of honesty, then we would have done away with problems of corruption.
Five Star Rating
For a nature lover like me, I will rate Batanes a perfect 5. You get to experience the 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 swathes of fresh air. A little trade-off cannot be that bad. After all, we need to commune with nature every once in a while to tune in with events that matter more, a clarifying effect if you like. And in this bright and pure surroundings, you might just gain that clarity of mind you badly need. So much has been said and so much has been written about Batanes but this is my very own experience and I am proud to share my sojourn with you.