Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Batanes, Philippines: Nature's Playground

The last time I heard Batanes was way, way, back in my grade school days (yeah, way, way, back my Social Studies subject,) until my dad brought it up and told us that we will be spending a quick vacation here. I asked what’s there to see and he said that there are “houses made of rocks”.


But I consulted my friends and other random people (I made a way of opening up Batanes as a topic,) and told me that it was one of the most beautiful places they’ve ever seen—or so they’ve heard. I eventually looked up Batanes on the internet and learned that it is situated at the very topmost part of our country (whoa!) and when I clicked to view some pictures…They. Were. Mesmerizing. This got me all excited!
             My sister enjoying the view
     Look at that scene below us!
Batanes Airport
The pictures didn’t lie. We arrived at the airport by 9AM, and we didn’t get to see our hotel room by 5PM, since by the time we landed in Basco, Batanes, we already started to tour the province. That’s freakin’ 9 hours of nature-hopping in only one island. And that was just our first day!

The Landscape
Let me tell you: Batanes is pretty small. Population count: 16,000 people (and probably 500+ cows, goats, and chickens). That’s as equal as the entire student population of my University. What makes Batanes amazing is that despite the small island, it was grand in terms of sceneries and landscapes. So grand it made Quezon City, the largest city in Metro Manila, look like a tiny upscale village. Batanes looks like it was a mini-New Zealand. The surroundings seem like  The Sound of Music was filmed over there! I would want to spin around the hills like what Maria from The Sound of Music did, but there were lots of cow dung everywhere!

My view from the Basco Lighthouse
Tukon Church from afar
Breathtaking view!
Row your boat straight to that horizon then you'll most probably land in Taiwan.
The Sunset and Rolling Hills
The first picture was taken overseeing the ocean and Mt. Iraya. I caught this majestic view from atop a rolling hill, and let me tell you, if you are afraid of heights, then you're up from some challenge. I was holding our tour guide the whole time we trekked up this hill! But I made it. I faced my fear and look where it got me. I earned myself a jaw-dropping scene.

I promise you this is not a postcard. 
The sunset that I caught in the Naidi Hills
The Food 
The food in Batanes is amazing. It was rich in flavor and very tasty. There were some food here that’s already familiar to me (the Filipino classic Tinola, sausages, corned beef,) but we were served with their very own specialty. I got to taste their delicacies like the bukayo, a sweet dessert made coconut. On our last stop on the trip, we get to eat our lunch overlooking an isolated beach, and to add to the whole outside-beach-lunch-palm-trees-chill kind of vibe, we ate in large banana leaves. Oh, and can you say seafood galore? Seafood galore! We were presented with fish, crabs, and lobsters, fresh from the ocean. How can you not drool with that kind of platter served at your table? (I suggest you eat with your hands. It’s way more fun. But don’t forget to wash your hands!) 

Coconut Crabs & Lobsters
My pretty messy plate
Lumpiang Dibang 
Squid Calamares
Dorado Fish or Mahi-Mahi Fish
The People
How do I even begin explaining the people here from Batanes? One word: Nice. Okay, two words—super nice. The locals (called the Ivatans,) were kind and they enjoy greeting you. The fishermen, the kids, the oldies, even the construction workers would do a quick nod to you and say hi. They enjoy smiling too. I didn’t encounter a mean local, (okay there was at least one, but I think she was just shy or probably anti-social). The Ivatans are one of the kindest and most simple people I have ever met.

Local girl from Chavayan, Sabtang, Batanes. She said hi to me!
An old Ivatan woman weaving a vakul, a traditional Ivatan headgear
The Honesty Coffee Shop
What I also love about Batanes is how they value honesty and responsibility. In Batanes lie a simple shop called The Honesty Coffee Shop. Now what is The Honesty Coffee Shop? Basically it’s a self-service store where the shop is left unguarded, so they use an honesty system where you can have the freedom to choose or browse over their items, and if you decide on buying anything, you just write down your purchases on a log book and leave your money in their cash box. It’s a pretty nice, concept, right? I bet this kind of shop won’t last long in the city. If you are planning to go to Batanes, this is a must-stop place that you need to go!

The Houses Made of Rocks
Why yes, my dad was right. We did get to see houses that are made of rocks. Eventually these houses made of rocks are actually traditional Ivatan houses, and they were designed in a way to withstand nature's calamities. We get to hop in a boat and went to another island in Batanes, which is the Sabtang Island, where most of the traditional Ivatan houses were located. Rocky mountains and green pastures were sprawled everywhere. It was way more isolated than Batan Island (where we were really stationed at). Sabtang Island is just a small place, probably with just over 600 residents. Most of the time I was wondering, “Where are all of the residents?” The island was so isolated when we were touring the place, it felt like it was an abandoned Universal Studios studio lot. But I enjoyed the seclusion. It was calm, relaxing, and peaceful. 

The Seascape
If Batanes is rich in landscape, well, they are nowhere behind when it comes to seascapes. Just like pretty much everywhere else in the Philippines, the beaches here are beautiful. Beautiful is an understatement, actually. We just set foot in one of the disconnected-to-civilization beaches here in Batanes, since most of the beaches were too far below the high hills we were situated at, and they were pretty much rocky to descend down to (I was just wearing slippers that time. I was not prepared for this!) Even though we didn’t get to swim (at least we get to wade in the water, the waves were kind of scary!) It was pretty much okay. The panoramic view of the surroundings was already satisfying enough!

I was on the very edge on top of a 100-foot high hill when I took this amazing picture!
My brother having his moment alone
What did I tell you about isolated?
The famous rock arch of Batanes in Morong Beach, Sabtang Island
Pretty shells my sister caught
Nature's Playground
Overall, the trip to Batanes was unforgettable. Its beauty is truly preserved. I hope that tourism will boom in this place soon! This small province made me know more about our country's history and culture, I get to taste their cuisine, and I also get to realize that my country has its own little piece of heaven. If you’re a nature lover, thrill-seeker, would love to escape the city life, enjoys the smell of fresh air (who doesn't?) but wouldn’t mind the smell of cow dung (it’s everywhere,) then I suggest you book a flight to Batanes. It sure is one of the undiscovered gems that you have to see in the Philippines. Batanes truly is nature’s playground!

See you again, Batanes!
Tips and Reminders
1. We didn’t get to see any ATMs around, so make sure to bring cash!
2. Two nights and three days is not enough for a vacation to Batanes (that’s how long our stay was. Or short.) Try making it around a week! (There’s an island that we didn’t get to go to: Itbayat Island. I bet it’s also wonderful over there!)
3.The phone signal in Batanes is uncertain, but they have a pretty strong Wi-Fi over there!
4. Bring medicine if you’re easily nauseated. My mom vomited twice from our island hopping!
5. Be careful! If you’re with children, always keep an eye on them! There are instances where you will be hiking up a hill with narrow pathways. Try not to fall!
6. On our way back home, we had a slight delay (due to wind currents,) so be prepared for any kind of circumstances like that. Their airport really is just small!
7. Bring hiking shoes. Don’t ask, just do!
8.Take lots of pictures! The pictures I have shown to you are just snippets of my adventure in Batanes. I have over 800 shots on my camera!

Shots taken from: Canon EOS 550D | Shots fired by: Me | The Honesty Coffee Shop (via TripAdvisor): Honesty Coffee Shop | Batanes Cultural Travel Agency: Batanes Travel

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