Beautiful, Blissful, Breathtaking Batanes

I realize that this is my first blog post in over three months, so let’s backtrack a bit, shall we?

2015 started in a truly happy manner for Edge and I.  Remember that, half a year ago, we got lucky and got ourselves a couple of tickets to Batanes, one of the most elusive provinces in the Philippines. It’s the big one situated right there, at the top of my bucket list, so I was just dying to cross it out.

Well, it’s been two months since we’ve been to that wonderful place and I must admit I’m still not over it.  A word of caution: this blog post will be chock full of photos of our faces.  For the Batanes itinerary, check out our other blog, The Backpack Couple.  [Check here, here, and here!]

The trip began in a frightening note for us when the flight was momentarily delayed.  Turns out, the weather in Batanes in January is as unpredictable as it gets. We were told that it was extremely cloudy in the province that morning causing visibility issues. I was waiting with bated breath and finally, after what seemed like forever, we were told to board the aircraft.

I rarely fly up north and I really enjoyed looking at the vast plains and mountain ranges of Luzon. But that was nothing compared to the rocky landing apparently experienced by all Batanes-bound flyers.  Due to its short landing strip, the proximity to mountains and the strong winds blowing from both the Pacific and the West Philippine Sea, it’s always challenging for pilots to steady the plane as it lands. Thankfully, we landed safe and sound.

What greeted us was the tiny and sleepy town of Basco, with its interlaced narrow streets and smiling residents up and about, tending to their daily businesses. The weather was amazingly cold; we had to don our jackets and scarves to keep ourselves warm.

After a few hours of sleep at the lodging house, we were fetched by our guide, Sir Art from the BISUMI Tours and Services, to begin the North Batan Tour.  Comparing the trip to a full-course meal, then the North Batan tour is just the appetizer.  The northern part of Batan Island, the largest in the province, is beautiful and breathtaking, especially for those who are not familiar with this type of scenery.

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The ocean view from the Vayang Rolling Hills.

The ocean view from the Vayang Rolling Hills with the partially clouded Mt. Isarog in the background.

The surreal coastline of the Valugan Boulder Beach.

The surreal coastline of the Valugan Boulder Beach.

A new talent discovered in Valugan Beach, balancing stones!

A new talent discovered in Valugan Beach, balancing stones!

Apart from its nature spots, North Batan is also rife with famous man-made structures.

The famous Tukon Chapel or Mt. Carmel Church.

The famous Tukon Chapel or Mt. Carmel Church.

Naidi Lighthouse, just one of the many lighthouses in the island.

Naidi Lighthouse, just one of the many lighthouses in the island.

The reason why I compared North Batan to an appetizer is because it excites you, gets your senses going and asking for more.  And that’s what happened to us; after our first day of touring, we wanted to see more. For our second day, we ventured to the opposite side of the island for the South Batan Tour.  This took us an entire day well worth the exhaustion because of the breathtaking scenery. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

That impressive cliff-face absolutely dwarfs me.

That impressive cliff absolutely dwarfs me.

Go down the hundred or so steps from the Chawa Viewdeck to get closer to the sea.

Go down the hundred or so steps from the Chawa Viewdeck to get closer to the sea.

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The view from Alapad Hill.

Look at that coastline! The locals call this Little Hawaii.

Look at that coastline! The locals call this Little Hawaii.

The pebbly sand and cold waters of Batanes' White Beach.

The pebbly sand and cold waters of Batanes’ White Beach.

The most famous home in Batanes: The House of Dakay.

The most famous home in Batanes: The House of Dakay.

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Do not even attempt to leave Batanes without visiting its famous Honesty Store!

Do not even attempt to leave Batanes without visiting its famous Honesty Store!

The most photogenic place of the lot, Racuh a Payaman a.k.a. Marlboro Hills.

The most photogenic place of the lot, Racuh a Payaman a.k.a. Marlboro Hills.

Another great thing to love about Batanes is its food.  For three days, we had our fill of delicious Ivatan dishes like lunyis (pork cooked in its own fat and a little bit of salt), pako (salad made from fiddlehead fern), and my personal favorite, uvud (savory balls made from banana trunk, fish and meat).

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The third day was hands down the most exciting part of our trip.  For this tour, we headed to the nearby Sabtang Island, which means that we had to ride the Batanes flat-bottomed fishing vessel called faluwa.  If you’ve ever had the chance of riding those ships that rock back and forth in amusement parks, kind of like Enchanted Kingdom’s Anchors Away, then consider that as training because you’re in for one very rocky ride.  At least you know that the park ride is safer because you’ll never know when the faluwa will hurl you into the violent point where the waters of the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea meet.  The waves are so high that the horizon and the island ahead completely disappear from view.  I kid you not when I say that this is not for those of weak stomachs; a lot of other tourists threw up in the boat.  Alas, we just rested our worries to the highly experienced Ivatan fishermen (and closed our eyes for most of the ride) and in just 40 minutes, we arrived at the island of Sabtang.

Sabtang is less-developed than its cousin Batan.  Here, the stone houses are practically untouched by time and the population is noticeably low.  The community, dotted by stone houses, even narrower streets, and hugged by massive forested mountains, will transport you into a different world.

Wearing the traditional vakul (for the ladies) and kanayi (for the men).

Wearing the traditional vakul (for the ladies) and kanayi (for the men).

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#kaartehan

#kaartehan

Another famous rock formation in Sabtang, the Nakabuang Arch.

Another famous rock formation in Sabtang, the Nakabuang Arch.

Sabtang is also home to my most favorite destination in Batanes, the one our guide repeatedly described as the Filipino version of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, called the Tinyan Viewpoint.  Reaching this place is somehow challenging because it involves quite a bit of hiking, but the views are absolutely spectacular.  Everywhere you look, it’s very, very surreal and out of this world.

To this day, I still shiver whenever I think of this view.

To this day, I still shiver whenever I think of this view.

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We toured Sabtang for half a day and then it was time to return to Batan via the heart stopping faluwa ride.  The waves were even stronger in the afternoon because of the high tide.  We were soaked from head to foot when we arrived in Batan.

Looking back on all of our local trips, I would probably consider Batanes as the most beautiful place I’ve been to.  It certainly is the most photogenic — point your camera anywhere and you’re sure to get a good shot.  It’s also the place with the kindest residents I’ve ever met.  The locals sport genuine smiling faces and polite attitudes certainly missing from the big city.  Interestingly, the province of Batanes has an astounding 0% heinous crime rate; the only crimes that occasionally happen here, we were told, are petty ones like stealing fruits from your neighbor.  A pretty forgivable offense if you ask me.

That’s how I began my year, by crossing out one of the biggest items from my bucket list.  I wouldn’t even think twice about putting it back on the list again and again, just to give me an excuse to return to this wonderful paradise.

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