Dios Mamajes Batanes!

Stonehouses lay in ruins continuing it's invisible battle with the winds
Stonehouses lay in ruins continuing its invisible battle with the winds.

My 15 year old self had been bugging me about going, there is this thought of “go now or never”. And honestly, I had not listened to her for years now.

So out of spontaneity I packed 3 sets of clothes, basic necessities and took the road. Just the thought of the place, people, scent and stories I’ll encounter made the kid inside me cartwheel in joy.

Travelling solo is always the fear of the unknown, the fear of the known and the fear of being alone. These fears mostly makes anyone bulk at the idea because of the misconception that when you are alone you are lonely.

Loneliness is a sickness that could afflict anyone – either you are sitting or standing, rich or poor. There are many depths to loneliness but it doesn’t really correlate with being alone. It is when you wallow into that emotion that short circuit happens in the mind.

At the Racu a Payaman dubbed as Marlboro Country, a huge pasture of the Ivatans
At the Racuh a Payaman dubbed as Marlboro Hills.

For me travelling solo is healthy, it keeps me in touch with myself, I get by on my own, I get to improvise or device other plans when plan A, B or C fails. For me it’s those solo travels that made me understood my own individualism, made me appreciate my ethnic identity and made me independent. It is me alone that completes me and no one else. As for that special someone, he’s a gift – an add ons to my already exciting journey through life.

It is in going solo that I get to meet angels and that experience is a gift in itself, it brings back my flickering faith in humanity.

Travelling in group or with someone makes you stick with them because they are familiar, it gives off that feeling of security, that a part of your comfort zone is with you and it is. I am all in about travelling with a group mainly for cost cutting reasons. Also, shared experiences deepen friendships and connections but there are places and times when you have to discover things all by yourself. To exprerience walking on dark alleys emerging to a single street lamp shaking in fear or discover roads you never knew existed. You emerge from those experiences a little different from who you were before.

So that streak of spontaneity in me strikes again. There I was travelling to the northern most part of the country as a chance passenger via bus. Lucky as I am, someone cancelled their trip.

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We have read all about Batanes on blogs and travelogues published on our newspaper. We love and hated Drew and envied his job. But we still stop to read or watch a feature story of Batanes.

We ponder on this questions.

How does it feel to be there? How does it look like? Is it really that beautiful as the ads and stories says?

Yes, yes and yes.

The small charter plane landed on the two way strip of a runway. A huge mountain that is Mt. Iraya stood watched as I walked to the departure area to meet Paul.

And from then on I was lost in the charm of Batanes.

Read How To Visit Batanes Cheaply
*****

Batanes is composed of Batan, Ivana, Sabtang, Uyugan, Mahatao and Itbayat (BISUMI) and each has something unique about each other.

But Basco being center of Batanes and a part of North Batan is the busiest place. It is where I saw how the Ivatans had coped with commercialization. Minus the Japanese bikes that ply the narrow streets, it could be just another provincial community one can find anywhere in the country.

A bike parked in front of an arts' place
A bike parked in front of an arts’ place

For me, North Batan is special because of Mt. Iraya. Anywhere in Batanes (not sure in Itbayat), the dormant volacano can be seen. It broodingly looms over Basco protectively with its mist shrouded summit. It stands currently at 1009masl. (Read the Myth of the mountain on my Birthday Special)

When I got around to have a glimpse of its beauty, I was left mesmerized. Yes, the summit was foggy and true to the legend she is moody as a woman, the trail was a bit of a challenge and it was cold up there when the winds from the Pacific blows but the joy of knowing her even for just a few hours was worth the muscle pain.

In Basco, the stone houses had long ago been replaced by concrete and steel, it is where I experienced the comforts and familiarity of modern living. It is also home to Pension Ivatan which serves genuine Ivatan cuisine (seasonal) and Filipino food and other lodges and diners.

*****

On the other hand, South Batan offers a lot more. Old churches, beaches, natural rock formations, honesty’s coffee shop, the famous Marlboro hills, a fountain of youth, the Diura fishing village, Tay Id lighthouse, the house of Dakay, a beautiful sunset at Chawa View Deck and other nooks that would amaze a visitor.

Basco de Ivana just off the Ivana port
Basco de Ivana just off the Ivana port
The famous coffee shop which could challenge a visitor's honesty
The famous coffee shop which could challenge a visitor’s honesty

When talking about Batanes, anyone who visited the place would associate it with Marlboro Hills which to the Ivatans is just a wide pasture for their herd – mostly carabaos, cows and goats. So while dallying on the green pasture, be sure to watch out for fresh dung or you might step on one.

The wide rolling pasture that made Batanes a household name
The wide rolling pasture that made Batanes a household name

The rolling hills of green is impressive indeed. It starts from a higher elevation and ends to the sea. From that perch one can see the Diura fishing village which is mostly active on summers and on the other side the fountain of youth. As legend goes, drink and you’ll be going against gravity. Who doesn’t want to look younger than their actual age?

A resident kid of the Payaman
A resident kid of the Payaman

Still in awe of the Marlboro Hills and view of Mt. Iraya, we had to proceed to the Chawa view deck to catch the sunset but while rounding the sharp curves of South Batan, this particular signage kept appearing on the roadside (<) which meant sharp curve. According to Art, this was introduced by the Americans and had been used by the locals in navigating the seaside road eversince.

And as I stood there watching a cyclist glides successfully on one of the sharp curves, my thoughts went beyond the sea.

Reminds me of someone; bikes parked unattended near the Chawa View Deck
Japanese bikes parked unattended near the Chawa View Deck, making me think of another bike that had endeard itself to me.

The sunset view did not disappoint. We were left nostalgic by the panorama of the sun turning to a yellow-orange ball slowly sinking on the sea signaling an end to a very beautiful, interesting and fulfilling day and yet promising a tommorow.

A ball of yellow and orange being swallowed by the sea
A ball of yellow and orange being swallowed by the sea

A day has to come to an end for a new one to begin.

******

Ever made a paper boat when you were in elementary? Well that materialized in reality as the falluwa.

It is the sole mode of transportation from Batan to Sabtang Island. The boat is specially designed for rough waters without the katig and could sit 50 people, a few motorbikes and supplies.

Better down a Bonamine or anti dizziness med before taking the boat ride to Sabtang for you to be able to enjoy the roller coaster ride.

It is in Sabtang where I had a glimpse of the rich and preserved culture of the Ivatans because most of the inhabitants are still living on stone houses and like our Ifugao native homes, it uses reed and cogon as roofing material. They still depict the unique way of life their ancestors had passed on to them through the years maybe just a version of it but it is still unique, simple and rich. I felt really lucky to be a witness before it totally vanish.

The stonehouses in Sabtang Island
The stonehouses in Sabtang Island

Sadly, UNESCO hadn’t recognized the area as a heritage site because most of the stone houses are now ruined and unhinhabited. They had stood against the strong winds of the Pacific and the South China Sea for more than a hundred years and now lay defeated, their lime plaster peeling off, the stone and corals tumbling down. As I lay my hand on the corals, one could feel the spirit of the sea from more than a hundred years ago.

I feel there are two main reasons why UNESCO is having a hard time declaring it as a world heritage.

One, modernization is slowly catching up. The Ivatans are adopting the facade and designs of houses which the modernized society consider as normal. Not fully realizing that theirs is a unique dwelling that is in complete sync with the forces of nature. This is a common problem all ethnic groups including mine faces and there seems no stopping the effect of modernization.

Two, the coral reef around the island are now protected and since coral is one of the major building material, substituting it with stones might not yield the original look. But what the heck, that’s the specialty of restorers and I’m sure they’ll find a way. Lime? We live in an era with an advanced material engineering.

It's corals and stones that makes up the stonehouses.
It’s corals and stones that makes up the stonehouses.

Restoring the ruined stonehouses to its original would be hard work and would cost a lot of money but if it would mean passing the UNESCO criteria as a world heritage then it’s worth it. If it would mean introducing and showing the world a beautiful, unique and rich culture then all efforts are worth it. UNESCO has 10 criterion and a site just need to pass one criteria. I feel Batanes could easily pass it, all it needs is a mind dedicated to the project.

Nevertheless, the lime manufacturing site had long ago been abandoned and is now a pasture littered with carabaos. The crater-like basin is now overgrown with plants.

It is on that site that several human bones were discovered believed to be of locals and Japanese soldiers during the war that brought more casualties and heartaches than progress.

Before the arrival of the Spaniards and introduction of the stonehouses, Ivatans had already established this form of dwelling.
Before the arrival of the Spaniards and introduction of the stonehouses, Ivatans had already established this form of dwelling.

Art told us that the stone houses are categorized based on the number of sides on its roof, the four and two sided ones. The four-sided are owned by someone in who people looks up to within the community.

The theory, pratice and construction of the stonehouses was introduced by the Spaniards replacinv the original Ivatan house which is made of cogon and is very simple.

One can also find in Sabtang the stone arch or ahaw in Ivatan dialect. An arch carved by the sea.

Tubhò tea from a certain type of dried plant. It could last up to 5x use.
Tubhò tea from a certain type of dried plant. It could last up to 5x use.

I experienced the strong winds of Batanes in Sabtang. Per our jovial tour guide, the wind coming at us is around 75km per hour and is the normal strength on that part of the archipelago. It felt like there’s this big industrial fan spewing winds on the island. During super typhoons, he said the wind can blow up to 350km per hour. In the city, it would have obliterated everything on its path.

Back on that roller coaster ride after a sumptous lunch, out of the sounds of the motor and the waves came a clapping sound. Voila! dolphins are leaping out of the sea. They were too fast for a point and shoot technique and all I did was stare in awe at the reality unfolding before my eyes. The dolphins leapt some more and slowly disappeared into the deep.

Stones smoothed by years of harsh waves.
Stones smoothed by years of harsh waves.

*****

As I walked on the beach, he sat on the sand watching the waves. When I watched the sunset, we stood side by side and admired it together. When I climed the mountain, he walked infront of me. When I lay my head on the pillow, he watched me sleep. When I walked beside the road he trudged along with me. He stayed with me but never said a word. We travelled in silence not knowing where that connection would lead us. I was never alone because he was always with me, inside a mind and heart longing for his touch

My experience of Batanes would always light my eyes for years to come. It was a place that one can fall in love with for a lifetime. It was indeed extra special as it marks my turning 29.

Batanes is Amazing. Picturisque. Untamed. Warm.

Dios mamajes Batanes!

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Salute to Paul and Art of BISUMI thru Ryan Cardona; Marfel’s Lodge for being so accomodating; the wonderful group (IT pipz and their partners) I’ve met and bonded with. You all were great!

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