The Quaint Yet Extraordinary Batanes: North Batan

They say that when you travel, you escape from reality; you try to go to a place far from the noise, from the workload, from whatever it is that’s in your life that you want to forget for a while, to be in a place that can give you peace and excitement at the same time. Travelling gives one person the opportunity to expand his knowledge not only about history, geography or culture but more on deeper appreciation of life. And Batanes, the very quaint yet extraordinary group of islands in the northernmost part of the Philippines offers every traveller exactly that – a great escape with a bonus of teaching you a good life lesson or two.

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And here’s our group with my new found buddies super happy and excited to see the beauty of Batanes!

With over 2000 images to choose from, I was not really sure how I would be able to share my Batanes story without leaving something behind but talking about everything will surely make it too dragging and so I decided to just trim it down and boy, it took me weeks or yeah a month just sorting the photos.

This post is the first of a 3-part story that speaks about the summary of our travel with some side notes that I feel are worth telling. I am just going to post some glimpses of the places because it’s true when Coco Martin said it in a local film shown just recently, “Ang Batanes, hindi ginu-google, ine-experience.” (You don’t search Batanes on Google, you should experience it.) And one more thing, I don’t really feel that any lens can justify the beauty of the place, you’ve really got to see it first hand!

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My journey to Batanes was unforeseen. It was my birthday and it was April Fool’s Day, so who would have thought that an instant message asking me if I could free my 3rd week of April for a dream travel that is Batanes could be true? It even came before the birthday greeting and so I could only wish that it’s not a joke. It turned out though to be a really really fantastic birthday present and I can only thank my dearest friend Glaiza Medina for that!

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All flights to Batanes are scheduled early in the morning and upon research that is because that’s the time when the weather is more stable because it can be very rough in an instant. We flew via Skyjet, an 80-seater boutique leisure jet that is surprisingly comfortable despite its size and the only airline in the country that serves sparkling wine FOC in a domestic travel – a privilege that I humbly resisted because I was too busy looking through the window that gave me this very very remarkable view!

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Landing in Batanes, we were greeted by their small airport that still does manual scanning of all the luggage which come and go to/from the province. A sign of true honesty, you are to get your own luggage from a bunch of others. Our guide was already waiting for us when we landed.  If I may say, my companions were the ones who arranged everything and they are really good in finding reasonably priced travel packages, our tour and accomodation was handled by ASL Escapade Travel and Tours who booked us at Brandon Lodge.

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Brandon Lodge is just a 5-minute drive to/from the airport sitting beside the Provincial Hospital, just a block away from the Capitol near the Police Department Office and the Town Plaza. It is strategically founded on an elevated part of the town giving us a great view of the community, the Port of Basco and the Naidi Hills with the Basco Lighthouse atop it.

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You can barely see cars on the streets of Basco, motorcycles and bicycles are the main modes of transportation there.

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A testament of how disciplined Ivatans are, the streets are so clean and very few people smoke. Batanes is known as a very safe community and I can attest that policemen and lawyers here do not really need to work so hard.

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The Province of Batanes

The Province of Batanes is an island province in the region of Cagayan Valley, Philippines. It is the northernmost province of the Philippines and is also the smallest province, both in terms of population and land area. The provincial capital is Basco on Batan Island.

The province comprises ten islands that are located in the Luzon Strait between the Babuyan Islands (belonging to Cagayan Province) and Taiwan. The islands are sparsely populated and subject to frequent typhoons. The three largest islands, Batan, Itbayat, and Sabtang, are the only inhabited islands. The northernmost island of the province, also the northernmost island in the Philippines, is Mavudis Island, also known as Y’ami Island. Other islands in the chain are Misanga, Siayan, Ivuhos, and Dequey. (wikipedia)

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The Provincial Capitol

So on to our itinerary, we had 3 days to explore Batanes and we followed the below schedule:

Day 1 – North Batan Tour

Day 2 – Sabtang Island Tour

Day 3 – South Batan Tour

Since we arrived early in Batanes, we had enough time to take some rest and had lunch before heading to our itinerary which would start at 1:00 PM. Lunch was served at Octagon Bed and Breakfast that gave us these remarkable views.

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A classic sewing machine converted into tables at the restaurant. Very nice!

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This cow knows framing – a view of the street from the restaurant gives you that rural feel.

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Thrilled to explore Batanes, we headed to our first journey – the North Batan Tour wherein we visited the following places:

Mt. Carmel Chapel – a relatively new chapel built made of boulders inspired from the traditional Ivatan house. The Chapel is actually far from the usual Catholic churches of Batanes but this one is special as it is adorned with paintings of each of the province’s Patron Saints featuring Ivatan faces made by the locals themselves.

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Tukon Radar Station – It is located on a hilltop 2.75 kilometers away from Basco, Tukon Radar Station was once a lighthouse and was also used as a US Weather Station. Its location offers a breathtaking and magnificent 360-degree view of Batan Island, the South China Sea, Mt. Iraya and Basco proper on one side and boulder-lined cliffs and the Pacific Ocean on the other side.

This viewpoint also gives you an overwhelming view of the vast farmland of Batanes with hedgerows creating maze patterns that are aesthetically pleasing and amusing at the same time. These hedgerows are used by the Ivatans to protect their crops from the changing weather of Batanes.

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Fundacion Pacita – Once a home studio of the National Artist Pacita Abad, the cottage is one of the most sought after places to stay in Batanes due to its picturesque architecture and location. If from the oustide Fundacion is breathtaking, wait until you get in and see Pacita Abad’s works displayed on the walls of the cottage. Her colorful works will surely add up to your already colorful Batanes journey.

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Idjang in Basco – Idjangs are ancient hilltop fortresses used by the Ivatans as dwelling places and centers of communal life. Taking advantage of the pre-existing topography, they were built, shaped and fortified to fit the local population’s purposes.  It’s hypothesized that in times of conflict, access to the Idjang would only be possible through a rope ladder that was lowered from above, thus ensuring a very defensible position. liquidruid.wordpress.com

Dipnaysupuan/Japanese Tunnel – Sitting below the Idjang of Basco is the Dipnaysupuan Tunnel or commonly known as the Japanese tunnel which was built during the Wolrd War II to provide shelter and lookout post for Japanese soldiers.

I honestly don’t know how to capture these two the proper way because I was too pre-occupied by the trek and the scenic nature around me and so let me just give you the beauty of Iraya from this location.

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Iraya is Basco’s only source of fresh water; a female volcano, this beauty rarely grants its spectators the view of its summit but we are lucky to see it on our third day in Batanes, photo of which I will share on my third post 🙂

Valugan Boulder Beach

Speaking of Iraya, she has her way of creating a masterpiece. In 400 AD, Mt. Iraya erupted and scattered andesite rocks around the northern half of Batan. Winds from the Pacific pushed the waves and smoothen the rocks polishing it in the process that resulted to a boulder beach that is Valugan.

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Sto. Domingo Cathedral

The history of Sto. Domingo Cathedral can be traced back as early as 1783 when the evangelical mission headed by Dominican Fathers Bartholome Artiguez and Baltazar Calderon came with the establishment of the town of Basco. The first church was made of cogon and wood but due to frequent fires, typhoons and even earthquakes, it was reconstructed and finally completed in 2011. It was rather surprising to see Basco Cathedral this modern looking, actually most of the churches in Batan are made of stone already. The interior is nice as well! 

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Vayang Ranch – also known as the Vayang Rolling Hills, this serves as one of the many places where cows and goats can freely roam. For their eyes, the hills are just their home, for tourists like me, the group of seemingly flowing hills is a masterpiece that I want to take home, preserve and protect. The winds atop the hills are raging but I’m not complaining!

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Naidi Hills (Old Settlement / Light House)

A huge fan of sunsets, we spent our first in Batanes at the very popular Basco Lighthouse. It was also the site of the American period telegraph facilities that connected Batanes with the central government until it was destroyed by the Japanese Imperial Army bombings at the start of World War II. A few of the buildings survived and some have been converted into businesses like a café – resulting from the area becoming popular because of the lighthouse.

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The Coconut Crab

Since all of fats were blown away by the strong winds at Vayang ranch, we had to have a sumptuous meal right? Okay, we’re excused, haha! So to cap of the day, we tried the very popular coconut crab of Batanes. Also known as the hermit crab, it is also considered as the largest land-living arthropod in the world, and is probably at the upper size limit for terrestrial animals with exoskeletons in recent Earth atmosphere, with a weight of up to 4.1 kg (9.0 lb), right, enough of that.

Coconut crabs are considered endangered already; in fact you can’t bring it outside Batanes, cooked or alive. We were just lucky that we’re able to try it. It was tender and tastes as if it’s cooked with coconut milk, I like it! My friends tried the aligue and per them it has an earthly taste to it so maybe you can forego that when you eat this crab soon.

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I have been to various places and the town of Basco feels like a home  with the very heartwarming welcome of Ivatans. The humble aura of the place complimented by its flora and fauna would make you want to stay and come back.

Relaxing on the terrace overlooking Basco with the night backdrop glittered with stars before we went to bed, I asked my friend Glaiza, “So when someone asks you how do you find Batanes, what will you say?”, she said, “Iba siya,” (it’s one of a kind). And I can only agree.

Our adventure continues on the next post. 🙂

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