Batanes – A taste of Scottish landscape right in the Philippines

Now Here is the one that top my list on my next escapade next summer , I’ll go go somewhere else in December break and Semester Break. But next summer will be reserve to this place. Maybe elementary kids would tell this as the “Land of Typhoons” , yes that was taught during the elementary days , that the tip of the Northern Philippines is frequently visited by typhoons. I don’t know now maybe Global Warming could change the hot spot areas of typhoons in the Philippines.

Here is article about the Batanes the one that will go on the top of my next summer I mean , that will be next year.

First-timers to Batanes need to know one thing: The weather rules all. “Bring enough clothes for five days, at least,” advised a friend when she learned I was going there for three days. There’s good reason for the warning. Until recently, travel to and from the island has been limited, with storms cutting off access for days at a time. So much so that you’ll find people here have a fatalistic attitude toward life.

On the day we left, Manila was gloomy and there was every chance of rain. I envisioned Basco, the capital city on Batan island, in gloomy gray weather, but it was sweltering when we arrived. In the un-airconditioned arrivals area, which looked like a long barangay hall, people were taking off jackets and coats, no doubt feeling misled about the sunny day that greeted us.

Meanwhile, Basco may still be the size of a small sleepy town, but the city has also marched with the times. A few years back, tourists would be hard-pressed to find decent accommodations here. Today, although you still won’t find a Shangri-La hotel on the island, there are a good number of hotels and pension houses to choose from.

Surprisingly, “…we get a lot of local tourists,” says newly elected mayor, Demy Narag, when we talked to him. “These are the ones who would like to see untouched or unusual places.” And Batanes has these in spades. Again, blame—or maybe credit—the weather and even the province’s inaccessibility from the rest of the country. It makes people curious about life here. And while I don’t think Batanes will get hoards of tourists like Boracay because it’s simply too far away, Mayor Narag hopes that tourism will be one of the province’s major earners.

Being away from it all is part of Batanes’ allure. Jaded city-dwellers who want to recharge would do well to come here. The islands that comprise Batanes have a different topography from the rest of the country. By some geographical quirk, the province feels more like the Orkneys in Northern Scotland, with its craggy cliffs and rolling hills, than the Philippines. Batan, the biggest and most populous, and Sabtang islands have gentle rolling hills and slopes and friendly beaches. Meanwhile Itbayat, the most remote, has no natural shoreline and is full of craggy cliffs, prompting someone in our group to quip, “It’s not a good idea to go to Itbayat when you’re depressed. You just might jump off one of the cliffs!” The island is the least populated of the three, and we were told the sea is much more ferocious there. Batanes also has seasons different from the rest of the country. Batanes has a winter (yes, winter!) and a summer season. Winters here can be quite cold, say the locals, with the cold winds from Siberia and Taiwan making their way into the islands. Taiwan is a near neighbor, separated only by the Bashi Channel. In fact, the Ivatans are close kin to the Tao people of Orchid Island, Taiwan’s southernmost territory.

Batanes' geographical quirks makes it feel more like the Orkneys in Scotland than the Philippines.

The second day, we crossed over to Sabtang Island on a fallowa, an outriggerless boat common in Batanes. While most of us were accustomed to riding outriggers in our travels around the country, it was a bit daunting to be in a small craft in what can be considered the open sea without the slim protection of, well, the actual outriggers to balance our weight. But our guides say fallowas need to ride the waves and outriggers are not ideal for the waters around the island. An hour later, a bit deaf from the loud engine and more than little nauseous from the engine fumes and the swaying of the boat, we hit land. Immediately, cameras were taken out as we spy a picturesque lighthouse on a craggy cliff, one of several such structures dotting the province.

The famous Ivatan stone houses were out first stop. Young kids and teenagers ran alongside our jeep, shouting cheerful greetings. Barangay Savidu, with its rows of Ivatan stone houses, felt like a place time forgot. Except for occasional reminders of modern living—a sari-sari store sign, and radios in some houses—this must be what the village looked like a century ago. Our guides would later tell us that these limestone houses have at least three variations. One thing they all have in common though is the low-sloped roofs and the meter-thick walls, which provide insulation during the cold season and keeps the coolness in during summer.

Even the locals’ demeanor is old-fashioned. Us urban-dwellers are so used to being suspicious of strangers that it comes as a shock to be told we could just go into any of the houses and be made welcome.

“Are you sure we can do that?” we ask our guide. Such behavior is just not done in the city.

“Yes, they won’t mind. People here don’t lock doors,” says our guide. And thus assured, we’d wander into living rooms and kitchens at will, sometimes surprising homeowners with our presence. No one stopped us, the locals’ sense of ownership being totally different from ours. In one, an old woman sits on her wooden floor and weaves a vakul, the funky-looking traditional headgear Ivatans wear as protection against rain. In another, we examine a local still, with clay jars full of taru, sugarcane vinegar, and a big contraption in the middle of the courtyard for grinding sugarcane to extract its juice for palek, the local wine.

After resting up a bit, we were on our way to Murung Beach for lunch. Most people’s notions about Batanes don’t involve a beach one can actually swim in, but the province has a lot of little white-sand beaches along its coasts. Murung beach is one of them. Most of us didn’t bring swimsuits, but even those who did, didn’t venture into the water. I think just the thought of the rocks underneath those waves was enough to deter even the bravest of us. Along the way on mountain roads, we pass by huge outcrops of rocks in the distance called idjangs, natural stone fortresses common in both Batan and Sabtang islands that Ivatans way back when used as hiding places against invaders.

Later, back in Batan, our guide would tell us that it’s still the practice to leave houses and doors unlocked. And neighbors who need something from an empty house can just go in and borrow it, the owner assured that it will be returned…in time. People here just don’t seem that materialistic. Perhaps confronted with the vagaries of harsh weather, Ivatans just don’t see the sense in holding on to things.

What’s important are the intangibles—the people you love, how you treat others, the simple way of life. There’s a lesson here somewhere for all of us. To be sure, maybe I’m romanticizing, a common pitfall for a travel writer to make. But when we were exploring the islands, these are what mattered: pondering the mystery of cloud-capped Mt. Iraya as it looms over the island, the fun of scampering up boulders on TK beach, reflecting on the tragedy of Sossong village, which was wiped out by a tsunami in the 1950s, the shells of its houses a reminder of how savage nature can be, dipping fried dorado fish in vinegar-and-garlic, the simple pleasure of the bend down the road, paying up even when there’s no one to check if you’ve been honest or not, as we all did at The Honesty Coffee Shop—activities that didn’t have anything to do with moving up the corporate ladder, or making (and spending) money. Here, people hewed to a more traditional—and shall we say, more honorable?—way of doing things. Confronted with distance and harsh weather, everything is reduced to basics. And, hell, maybe they know something we don’t or have lost along the way—a stronger faith in people’s sense of decency, maybe, or a gentler way of doing things.

I seem to have gotten into a reflective mood. Batanes has a way of doing that to people. Later after buying up The Honesty Coffee Shop’s share of garlic and onions for pasalubongs, as me and my friends sit on top of a hill in Marlboro Country or Racuha Payaman, Ivatan for “wild pastureland,” I’d reflect on how perfect this day was. Standing on one of the hills, with the magnificent view of the coastline below and Mt. Iraya in the distance, even a confirmed atheist will find religion. Maybe it was the crisp mountain air or the unfettered 360º views, but we all went crazy up there. We jumped, shouted at the top of our lungs (believe me, it was a good place for catharsis), ran, rolled on the grass—a crazy thing to do given the goats and cows grazing nearby—and generally threw our cares to the four winds. Later, on the way back to Basco via a circuitous route along Batan’s hilly mountain roads, we stop for a group of young students walking home from school. The dearth of public transportation on the island means that it’s a courtesy to stop and offer a ride to people on the road. Despite repeated offers of a ride, the kids shyly refuse, preferring to walk the long route home.

Due to the lack of public transportation, cycling is the most preferred mode of travel in Batanes.

That evening, we met a famous resident of Batanes during dinner at Mayor Demy’s house—the fearsome-looking tatus or coconut crab. A live specimen was brought to our dining area where we were all busy cracking shells and stuffing ourselves with the delicious coconut-flavored meat of its more unfortunate cousins. A local delicacy, the coconut crab lives on land among rocks, prompting speculations among us amateur zoologists that it was in fact more a spider than a crustacean. The debate went unresolved as we dipped the crabmeat in vinegar-with-garlic and drank beer and palek. The general consensus was, whatever it is, it’s delicious.

Our last evening was spent talking and drinking. While we laughed and relived our adventures, the houses around us are dark, its occupants settling in for the night. But don’t be fooled, said the mayor, the houses may be dark, but he doubts if they’re asleep. Ivatans do know how to live it up. Socializing is done in backyards, with friends coming over for a simple meal and a drink or two. And that, in essence, is the magic of Batanes. Everything is a postcard, but in the end, what matters are the small things—like good company and lots of laughter over beer and tatus—and this, you have to discover on your own.
Need to Know
The Ivatan stone houses are made of pulverized limestone rock. The limestone is quarried and burned at high temperatures then pulverized. The resulting powder is then mixed with cogon grass and used to plaster the walls of houses.

How to Get There
Asian Spirit flies to Basco four times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The boat ride from Batan island to Sabtang costs P80/roundtrip.

When to Go
After winter but before the monsoon season hits, around April-June.

What to Bring
• Enough clothes for two extra days. The weather is unpredictable so this is the one place where overpacking is actually sensible. Include a jacket, shorts, swimming gear

• Sturdy footgear—sandals and hiking shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking.

• A camera, batteries, charger, several memory cards/sticks. Almost every nook and cranny is worth taking a picture

• Cash. I don’t remember seeing ATM machines in the capital.

• A first-aid kit, stocked with anti-dizziness tablets. Boat rides and even jeepney rides along winding roads may leave you reeling

• A hat

• A mountain bike. Batanes’ rolling hills and winding roads are perfect for mountain-biking. In fact, the province’s terrain is perfect for aficionados of extreme sports, be it mountain biking, spelunking, or mountain-climbing.

What to Do
1. Take lots of pictures. Either on your own or join photographer Mandy Navasero’s
Photo Safari.

2. Get interested in history and archeology. There’s an ongoing joint archeological dig by the University of the Philippines, the National Museum, and Australian National University on Sabtang island. While this isn’t really part of the island’s attractions, the archeologists are more than happy to chat with passing travelers about their findings into early Ivatan culture, if you happen upon them during breaks. Visit the remains of the village of Songsong, which was wiped out by a tsunami in the 1950s.

3. Bone up on local art and architecture. Visit the Ivatan houses on Sabtang island. Check out Fundacion Pacita, the late artist Pacita Abad’s residence-turned-museum in barangay Tukon, Batan island. Fundacion Pacita has reproductions of the artist’s works on display and the house itself is interesting. In fact, we thought it would be a good idea to establish a writers/artists’ colony on the property. Maybe a foundation can set it up? A few meters away on the next hill amid lush gardens is the residence of former education secretary Butch Abad. Caretakers will gladly allow you to tour the gardens and the surrounding property.

4. Go beachcombing. On Batan island, visit Boulders beach, so-called because its beach is strewn with huge boulders said to have rolled down or thrown when Mt. Iraya erupted. On Sabtang island, check out Murung beach, with its white sand, and eat your packed lunch under the naturally formed from limestone Murung arch.

5. Go on a road trip. The winding roads and nearly empty roads makes this the perfect place to drive around. You won’t be making quick time though as every corner is a perfect excuse to stop and take pictures or simply take in the view.

6. Make like Maria von Trapp. Batanes’ rolling hills, most especially the spectacular Marlboro Country will make you want to belt out The Sound of Music’s classic theme song. Guaranteed.

7. Contribute to the local economy—shop! The locally grown garlic and onions are smaller and more pungent than those sold in Manila. Bring home some palek, and tasty dried flying fish and dorado, and taru (vinegar). The Honesty Coffee Shop in Ivana town, Batan island has provisions to tide you over as you explore the islands. It also sells garlic and onions for pasalubongs.

8. Sample the local delicacies. Some dishes to try: tatus steamed in its own fat and dipped in taru with garlic, venes a vegetable dish made from gabi (yam) leaves. Put your food on kavaya (breadfruit) leaves, which are used as plates, much the same way we use banana leaves. And wash everything down with palek or beer.

Where to Stay
Batanes Seaside Lodge & Restaurant (single regular room, P450/night to P2,200/night for suites). National Road, Kaychanarianan, Basco. Tel: (+63921) 229-0120, (+63915) 940-4823; e-mail:

Pension Ivatan (From P980/night for a matrimonial to P2,500/night for a family suite). National Road, Kayvaluganan, Basco. Tel: (+63920) 281-1278, (+63921) 442-8841, (+63926) 957-6223.

The high school on barangay Sinakan on Sabtang island can also put up tourists for the night at P100/night.

You can also stay at the lighthouse on Batan island. Perfect for honeymooners.

Explore Batanes on your own or get some help from the locals. For tour guides, get in touch with Juliet Catalunya of the Batanes Eco-Cultural Tourism Cooperative. Her tel: (+63919) 455-9015, (+63919) 369-5341; or Chris Catalunya, (+63915) 373-8152

TRAVELIFE MAGAZINE is the Philippines’ leading travel & lifestyle publication.

    • jigs
    • September 12th, 2010

    for the record madame/messeuir, people from batanes are NOT fatalistic. we just know how to deal with our environs and have a good positive outlook in life. heheheh! and oh, batan island is not the biggest island in batanes it’s itbayat, albeit batan is still the most populated island. you got that part correct. Oh Madame/Messeuir i’d like to thank you so much for loving my homeland and many more thanks for sharing your lovely experience. please pray with me that our province will have more responsible tourist like you to visit us. we do not wish to become the next boracay and get our culture destroyed forever. the people in the island is what makes those island charming. albeit the lovely scenic views are really enticing. from what i know the provincial government and the airline companies that are plying the manila to basco route are actually coniving to keep the airfare high (even more expensive than going to HongKong or Singapore when you don’t have promos) to make tourism under control and on a desirable level only. just imagine if our province will be deluded with tourist. sure as hell, they won’t have the same experience as what you had on Racua Payaman (Marlboro Counry). or the people from sabtang might start closing their doors. pray with me so that we can keep our culture intact and for visitors like you to enjoy the unspoilt beauty of batanes. Ichaddao ka pan apu ta dios, as kappa kappia mus kapayvidividi muaya. (may god love you and have a good journey). thanks a lot madame/messueir… i am sorry for using those french words, i don’t know if you are a lady or a gentleman. i can’t see it on your blog eh. thanks. please email me if otherwise you agree or disagree with me. thanks.

    • rody silva
    • October 16th, 2010

    i visited from june 16 to 19 this year, with my wife. it was our first travel anywhere without the kids, and after 27 years of “living happily ever after”, i fell in love again!! with the enchanting, captivating Batanes Isles. indulge me with my use of the word ENSORCELLED….so bewithched am i with the province and its people. aside from memories to last a lifetime, loads of pictures, etc., i even brought back some rocks from Sabtang and a pice of barok wood from Diura fishing village (now carved into a mallet and various knife handles). the rocks will be used as a base for arius bonsai. hopefully, december will be my next visit.

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