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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Photo Essay : Breathtaking Batanes



Chawa View Deck, Batanes, Philippines

Our van continued to turn sharp curves and narrow one-way roads until we reached the foot of Vayang Rolling Hills. We got off the van and immediately felt the strong wind pushing against us. It was just a few meters to go to the edge of the hill where an amazing view awaits us; at least our guide reassured us this. Two of my friends had fear of heights with one a petite size that I immediately thought that the strong wind can literally push her. I attempted to take a video of that short walk to the edge, but I couldn’t hold my phone steady and my eyes stung from the strong wind.



Vayang Rolling Hills, Batanes, Philippines
Vayang Rolling Hills

That supposedly short walk included a few stops as we fought against the wind. Up ahead is our guide, Kuya Rogers, holding the hand of the older lady who joined our group. I can’t hear a thing he’s saying but I’m pretty sure he was assuring her that the view was going to be worth it. And it was – a breathtaking panoramic view of the coastline.

Vayang Rolling Hills, Batanes, Philippines
 Vayang Rolling Hills

Vayang Rolling Hills, Batanes, Philippines
Vayang Rolling Hills

We spent four whole days with gloomy, rainy, windy, and cold weather – and this wasn’t because of a typhoon, they say it’s just normal during that season. And we were not able to go Sabtang Island since the coast guard didn’t allow us to cross the rough waters.

Alapad Hill and Rock Formation, Batanes, Philippines
Alapad Hill and Rock Formations

Valugan Boulder Beach, Batanes, Philippines
Valugan Boulder Beach

They say Batanes is different when it’s sunny. But I loved how green, rugged and wild it was with the weather we had.


PRE-TRIP: SUPERTYPHOON COMING IN

I don’t own a tv. I rarely read the news, at least those that aren’t related to my work. So I had no idea that there was a supertyphoon coming into the Philippines on the supposed day of our flight to Batanes. For almost a week, my friends monitored the news on the typhoon and weather forecasts in Batanes on a daily basis.

Manila was sunny the day we left as the typhoon was still making its way into the country. An hour and a half later, we woke up to the announcement that we will be landing soon. We looked out the plane’s window, grey skies and very cloudy. But down below is Batan’s coastline, wild waves of blue waters crashing into it.



ISOLATION

Batanes is a group of islands located at the northernmost tip of the Philippines, where the Pacific Ocean meets the West Philippines Sea. It’s isolated from the rest of the country. It was only recently that more and more travellers have access to Batanes especially when flights are on sale, as normal fares would cost as much as going out of the country. But despite this, Batanes is still considered as one of the least visited places in the Philippines. And I like it that way.

Vayang Rolling Hills, Batanes, Philippines
Vayang Rolling Hills

SIMPLE AND SLOW-PACED LIFE

Batanes doesn’t have any commercial establishment – no fast food chains, shopping centers, or malls. Some of Batanes’ hostels and lodges have wifi, but they can also be unreliable. The isles only have a few cars and jeepneys, the primary modes of transportation are tricycles, motorcyles, and bicycles. As you walk around Basco town, you’ll see a lot of bicycles parked outside each house. These make the air fresh and roads free of traffic.

San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel, Batanes, Philippines
San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel



Tukon Chapel, Batanes, Philippines
Tukon Chapel

Ivana, Batanes, Philippines
House of Dakay, Ivana

Ivana, Batanes, Philippines
Old houses, Uyugan

Life in Batanes is simple; I didn’t see any form of extravagance. There is Fundacion Pacita, a relatively upscale hotel in Batan, but that’s it. The houses are small, but are nice and well-maintained. The Ivatans pride themselves of their adaptability and resilience to the isle’s harsh climate especially during the rainy and winter season. This can be observed in the old limestone houses, with narrow windows and doors, which still stand.

Ivana, Batanes, Philippines
Old houses, Ivana

Ivana, Batanes, Philippines
Old houses, Ivana

Ivana, Batanes, Philippines
Old houses, Ivana

Ivana, Batanes, Philippines
Old houses, Ivana


IVATAN PRIDE AND HOSPITALITY

The Ivatans are hard workers - either out in the field tending to their cattle and produce, or fishing, or renovating the old churches, working in hotels, or attending to their small shops and grocery stores. Our wonderful guide, Kuya Rogers, said that you can never go hungry in Batanes as long as you know the value of hardwork. The children (after school), on the other hand, are always on their bikes, or hanging out in the plaza playing sports or climbing up trees.


The Ivatans are some of the warmest, most helpful, and honest people. The crime rate in Batanes is practically zero. The famous Honesty Store is a testament to this. An unattended store where anyone can come in and buy food/souvenirs/drinks and leave their payment in a box.

Honesty Store, Batanes, Philippines

Batanes reminds you to slow things down. It finds a way to bring out the best in you – the courteous, simple, relaxed side of you. It’s what a person who’s lived so much in the busy and crowded city needs to see and experience.

Ivana, Batanes, Philippines

It’s the Ivatans who never fail to smile and acknowledge you whether you’re walking in the small town of Basco; or riding a bike in the island’s narrow roads and blind curves. It’s the fisherman you see down the cliff while striking a pose for the camera. Back in the city, you wouldn’t even think of disturbing a man at work, but in Batanes you thought why not. So you waved, and he waved back. You do this a couple of times more, and still he waved back. It’s the tour guide and driver who make you laugh and sincerely welcome you into their island.

Fisherman, Batanes, Philippines
traditional fishing

BREATHTAKING LANDSCAPE

But it’s the gorgeous and picturesque landscape that pulls you in. The green rolling hills and valleys, dotted with cows, goats, and horses.


Batanes, Philippines
view near the PAGASA Radar Station

Rakuh a Payaman (Marlboro Hills), Batanes, Philippines
Rakuh A Payaman (Marlboro Hills)

Rakuh a Payaman (Marlboro Hills), Batanes, Philippines
Rakuh A Payaman (Marlboro Hills)

Rakuh a Payaman (Marlboro Hills), Batanes, Philippines
Rakuh A Payaman (Marlboro Hills)

Rakuh a Payaman (Marlboro Hills), Batanes, Philippines
Rakuh A Payaman (Marlboro Hills)

Rakuh a Payaman (Marlboro Hills), Batanes, Philippines
Rakuh A Payaman (Marlboro Hills)

The towering cliffs overlooking rock formations and unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean and the West Philippine Sea. The jagged rock and soil formations you’ll pass by around the island, that you can’t help but stop and take lots of photos.

Rakuh a Payaman (Marlboro Hills), Batanes, Philippines
Rakuh A Payaman (Marlboro Hills)

Alapad Hill and Rock Formation, Batanes, Philippines
Alapad Hill and Rock Formations

Alapad Hill and Rock Formation, Batanes, Philippines
Alapad Hill and Rock Formations

Alapad Hill and Rock Formation, Batanes, Philippines
Alapad Hill and Rock Formations

Alapad Hill and Rock Formation, Batanes, Philippines
Alapad Hill and Rock Formations

The best way to see and experience all of these is to rent a bike or a motorbike. Spend the first few days on a tour in a van or a tricycle to cover those that are hard to get to and to learn history from a guide. But allot one free day for biking.

Batanes, Philippines
just a few minutes outside Basco Town

Batanes, Philippines
near Chawa Viewing Deck

Batanes, Philippines
near Chawa Viewing Deck

Batanes, Philippines


Mahatao Shelter Port, Batanes, Philippines
Mahatao Shelter Port
Batanes, Philippines

You don’t have to bike the whole island, but just get out there and explore the island. It was hard and tiring, as the roads were hilly and involved sharp blind curves over high cliffs. But you’ll have the freedom to stop whenever there’s a view worth taking in. And there will be a lot, trust me.

Batanes, Philippines

Batanes, Philippines

Batanes, Philippines

Batanes, Philippines

Batanes, Philippines

It’s not hard to fall for Batanes, especially for those seeking adventure and those that enjoy being outdoors. It's one of the few places where you can just enjoy slow and simple life at its best. Where you can ride a bike and pick one of the many spots where you can take in the view of the ocean, or the rolling hills overlooking the crashing blue waves.

Batanes, Philippines

We missed a lot due to the bad weather, but we experienced and saw enough to make us want to go back as soon as time and good weather would allow us again.