My swelling excitement burst like a bubble when I felt something squishy under my shoe. “Holy shit!” I looked around, acting normally like a tourist who hadn’t clumsily stepped on a bun of fresh cow dung. The rest of the group was too mesmerized by the breathtaking sight to notice. Thank God! After discreetly rubbing off the feces on the pupusud grass, I ran towards a steep slope overlooking the endless waves of rolling hills. The bright skies highlighted the vast greenery.
“Wow! Aaaang ganda!” I gasped in awe, like a child in his favorite toy store. “I’ll charge you a peso everytime you say that.” Jay Ann, our amiable guide, jested. She said she hears the same reaction many times everyday from tourists. The unassuming grandeur before my eyes transcended my expectations.
I gambled on a Batanes trip in July, the start of the stormy season. After booking the cheapest flight I could afford, I called TRavelYoung (09174106099/09153030595) for my tour arrangement. I was given four tour options: North Batan, Sabtang Island, South Batan and Itbayat Island. The last however requires at least an overnight stay in the island and since I only had three whole days, I chose the first three.
After a week of anxiety due to vicious rains and typhoons, I arrived at the diminutive Basco airport to a surprisingly sunny weather. Trekking up the nearest hill to Marfel’s, my lodge, I was greeted by the stunning view of the Basco lighthouse, standing like a dauntless soldier on the lush greens of Naidi Hills. Below it, the water of Baluarte Bay would swell up in foamy rolls before crashing against the ragged cliffs, breaking up into large sprays. That marked the beginning of my love affair with Batanes. Little had I known that the typhoon-battered province would amaze me in more ways than I can imagine.
Any distress caused by the ferocious waves en route to Sabtang Island is guaranteed to dissipate once you reach the Tinyan Viewpoint/Chamantad Cove. If I’d be asked for only one reason to love with Batanes, this is it. Art, our guide for that day, agrees with me. The grass-covered gentle slopes of Tinyan serves as a communal pastureland for cattle. Alighting from our cogon-roofed tricycle, Art classified the vast land into three areas: nice, beautiful and mind-blowing. Indeed, the farthest slope, which offered a view of Chamantad Cove, is mind-blowing. The wind whistled and the waves from the Pacific Ocean crashed onto the rocks below. Euphoric, I was almost in tears while admiring the breathtaking panorama. Tinyan Viewpoint/Chamantad Cove is part of the Sabtang Island Tour. Sabtang Island can be reached through a 45-minute faluwa ride from the Ivana port. Faluwa is a flat-bottomed motorized boat with no outriggers, designed to withstand the rough waves on the area where the Pacific Ocean merges with the South China Sea.
Sitting meditatively on a steep slope, I was hypnotized by the panorama from my vantage point. The seeming infinity of the grass-laden crumpled terrain is backdropped by Mt. Iraya, whose summit was surrounded with white puffy clouds that afternoon. The strong winds howled as they swept through tall hedgerows of grass and reeds, drowning the sound of the waves from the South China Sea once in a while. The goats and cattle, looking like ants from afar, grazed obliviously along the steep slopes. Everything was just so magical and movingly beautiful The Vayang Rolling Hills, also a communal pastureland, is the highlight of the North Batan Tour.
3.) Racuh a Payaman or Marlboro Hills
A traveler friend once said that a Batanes trip is incomplete if you don’t experience a storm. On my last day in the province, all tours were canceled because of Typhoon Henry. Hell-bent, I coerced Art, the tour guide, to take me to South Batan. Waterproofed with helmets and thick raincoats, we braved the piercing rain and the slippery roads on a motorcycle. The Marlboro Hills was worth the risk. Originally called Racuh a Payaman, it was nicknamed “Marlboro Country” by some foreign tourists because the vastitude of the green rolling hills reminded them of the Marlboro Cigarette advertisement. It looks much like Vayang, but has wider and gentler slopes. Mt. Iraya, which stood from afar, hid bashfully behind the dark thick clouds. According to the old Ivatans, whenever clouds circle its apex, somebody in the province is dying. Only one thing proved to be true that moment: Racuh a Payaman is beautiful despite the melancholic skies.
Valugan Boulder Beach
When Mt. Iraya erupted in 1454, it spewed out boulders onto the shore. These volcanic rocks were eventually smoothened by the angry waves of the Pacific Ocean. Valugan Boulder Beach is part of the North Batan Tour.
The beautiful Morong Beach, which has a long stretch of white grainy sand, is located in Brgy. Malakdang in Sabtang Island. It is adorned with a huge natural arc formation called Mayahaw Arc. Beside it is the small Nakabuang Cave.
This roadside beach with white grainy sand is surrounded with towering rock cliffs. White Beach is included in the South Batan Tour.
Chavayan and Savidug Villages
Walking along the drowsy streets of Chavayan Village was like entering a time warp. Backdropped by towering rock cliffs, the centuries-old stone houses line up like weary veterans who survived countless wars. “These walls are made of limestones, dead corals, boulders and firewood. It takes a long time to build one,” Art explained as I ran my fingers through the rough thick walls. The houses are roofed with several layers of Cogon and Vuchid grass, about 1/3 of a meter thick. The Spaniards introduced the limestone technology when they claimed Batanes in 1783. The stone houses were obviously designed to withstand the extreme weather conditions in the islands. The Villages of Chavayan and Savidug in Sabtang Island still abound with these old-fashioned houses.
The House of Dakay is the oldest and most beautifully preserved stone house in Batan Island. It was constructed in 1887 and had survived the magnitude 8.3 earthquake in September 1918. The House of Dakay is part of the South Batan Tour.
Tukon Church or Mt. Carmel Church
Imagine your wedding on a small stone house-inspired hilltop church overlooking the seemingly infinite waves of rolling hills and the stunning view of the Pacific Ocean and West Philippine Sea on both sides. Breathtaking, isn’t it? As if the scenery outside wasn’t enough, the ceiling of the church has beautiful paintings of saints made by the scholars of the late Pacita Abad, an internationally-acclaimed artist. Woodcarvings of the Stations of the Cross, shipped from Paete Laguna, decorate the white walls. Mt. Carmel Church is part of the North Batan Tour.
The church was built in 1783 in honor of Sto. Domingo De Guzman. It burned down in 1860 and was rebuilt in 1863. It survived the Filipino-American War in the late 1800’s and World War II in the 1940s. A large part of it crumbled during the earthquake in 2000 and was restored in 2002. Sto. Domingo Church is included in the North Batan Tour.
Chavayan Chapel or Sta. Rosa De Lima Chapel
The chapel stands among the ancient and weary stone houses in Chavayan Village in Sabtang Island. This is the only remaining church with a cog on roofing.
Church of Ivana
This church was built in 1795 and also crumbled during the earthquake in 2000. It was restored in 2001. The Church of Ivana is usually part of the South Batan Tour.
San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel in Imnajbu
The chapel is young, built only in 2000. The site, however, was where the first mass and the first baptism in the Batanes soil were administered. This is included in the South Batan Tour
7.) Charming Lighthouses
Basco Lighthouse, Naidi Hills
Like a soldier who had just won a battle, the Basco Lighthouse stands boldly on the lush greens of Naidi Hills, facing the crumpled terrain of Batan Island, the billowing waves of the Pacific Ocean and the boulder-fringed Baluarte Bay. In the 1920s during the American regime, the telegraph facilities were installed on this site. The lighthouse during sunset is a sight to behold. Basco Lighthouse is included in the North Batan Tour. Malakdang Lighthouse
The lighthouse calls for attention once you reach Sabtang Island. It stands on a rocky cliff on the left of the port, facing the treacherous waves of the sea.
8.) Stunning Rock Formations and Roadside Views
Alapad Hill and Rock Formations
“Art, i-Dawn Zulueta mo ako!” I was on the brink of asking Art, my guide, to recreate with me the famous scene of Richard Gomez and Dawn Zulueta in the movie “Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit”. But then he would find it weird, so I just silently admired the stunning rock formations surrounding Alapad Hill, the exact location of the scene. Below, the waves broke up into foamy sprays as they crashed against the craggy rocks. The Alapad Hill and Rock Formations are included in the South Batan tour.
The Basco Idjang was the first settlement of the Ivatan people before they lived in tribes. It also served as their fortress.
Stunning Roadside Scenery
“We haven’t reached our destination yet pero busog na ang mga mata ko.” I found myself saying this over and over as we passed by the roadside cliffs going to South Batan, the breathtakingly creepy seascape in Sabtang Island and the waves of rolling hills in North Batan. Previous visitors weren’t exaggerating when they said that Batanes is beautiful in every angle. 9.) The Ivatans’ Integrity
The Honesty Coffee Shop
There’s nothing atypical about this store, until you realize that nobody is manning it. You get what you need, write the item and its corresponding amount on the logbook and leave the payment in the milk can. This tiny store in Ivana, which thrives on faith, says something big about the Ivatans’ integrity and attitude towards others. I remember a scenario when I visited the stone houses in Brgy. Savidug. While the villagers were probably tending their cattle or crops in the mountains, their houses were either open or unlocked. “Why are the Ivatans too trusting?” I asked Art. “Because everyone here is trustworthy,” He quickly replied. In a country governed by thieves, it is amazing to find a population who seems incapable of ill thoughts and distrust.
10.) The Ivatans’ Simplicity and Charm
One afternoon, I asked our genial innkeeper if she secretly wished for big commercial establishments in Batanes. Unblinkingly, she answered, “No, we value our heritage and modernization would change that.” Looking around, I was convinced of her assertion. Tarpaulins condemning the selling of Ivatan lands to outside investors hung on fences of homes and restaurants. The Ivatans seem happy and content with the humble things they have. Strolling around Basco, I was greeted by elderly men on their bicycles, nodding at me as if we were acquainted. The aged women, sitting idly on wooden benches outside their homes, were always ready with their warm smiles and good mornings. “Wala ka bang payong? Mainit eh.” One asked upon noticing the beads of sweat trickling down my face. Smiling back, I shook my head. “I have one here. Sira nga lang. Pero pwede mo nang pagtiyagaan.” She offered. The umbrella was quickly dismantled by the strong wind when I trekked up the hill, and so was my apprehension for traveling alone. That night, I slept soundly as if I was in my room back home. Batanes felt like home.
************ HOW TO GET THERE
Philippine Airlines and SkyJet have flights to Basco, Batanes from Manila.
WHERE TO STAY
Budget-conscious travelers, like me, should stay at Marfel’s. I felt like I never left home. Guests can watch TV in the living room and cook their meals in the kitchen. They also have a sari-sari store, which operates Honesty Store-style. I paid a measly Php 350 per night for my cozy fan-room. For reservations, call Ate Fe 09178833249/ 09209764966
EXPENSES for my 4D/3N Batanes Getaway
Airfare (Philippine Airlines)RT Php 7,100
3-day tour through TRavelYoung (lunch included) Php 4,800
Food Php 2,000
Pasalubong Php 2,000
3-day accommodation (Marfel’s) Php 1,050
Total Php 16,950
Ryan Cordona and TRavelYoung took care of my tours. They have the most affordable rates so far. You may reach them at 09174106099/09153030595. Below is the typical itinerary.
A.) North Batan Tour Mt. Carmel Chapel, Pag-asa Radar Station, Fundacion Pacita Nature Lodge, Basco Idjang Viewing, WWII Japanese Hideout/Tunnel, Boulder Beach in Valugan, Sto.Domingo Cathedra,l Vayang Rolling Hills, Basco Lighthouse in Naidi Hills
B.) Sabtang Island Tour San Vicenter Ferrer Church, Malakdang Lighthouse, Savidug Village Stone houses, Sto. Tomas Chapel, Savidug Idjang Viewing, Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint, Chavayan Village Stone Houses, Sabtang Weavers Association, Nakabuang Cave/Morong Beach/Mayahaw Arc
C.) South Batan Tour Paderes Point and Cliff Road Chawa Viewing Deck, Mahatao Boat Shelter Port, Mahatao Town Tour, San Carlos Borromeo Church, Mahatao Spanish Lighthouse, Mahatao Sumbao Windmill, Mahatao Tayid Lighthouse, Marlboro Hills Alapad Hills and Rock Formation, Lo-Ran Old Naval Base, San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel, Our Lady of Miraculous Medal Chapel, Song-song Ruins, San Antonio De Florencia Church, Honesty Store, House of Dakay and Old Spanish Bridge, Malapad Rock Formation White Beach and Hohmoron Lagoon