Jul 20, 2014

BATANES : Drizzling NORTH BATAN on Day 3

We had two days of pleasant weather while exploring South Batan and Sabtang Island and a drizzling day 3 going around North Batan. The drizzling wasn't at all a downer, in fact, it made the whole Batanes experience complete. We explored North Batan on foot, on a bike, on a jeep and on a trike and we had a field day.
Biking around North Batan

I've read how some travelers successfully toured Batan Island on foot while others did through pedal power. I'd love to see someone do it on a long-board just like what Walter Mitty (portrayed by Ben Stiller) did from the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty while cruising the road leading to Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced as eya-fiyatla-yokut) in Iceland. That scene is a picture of bliss. Maybe someone can pull that stunt going around North Batan.
 
this scene from the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

We didn't do anything differently, but we have the whole morning to try an activity locals normally do before our scheduled North Batan tour that noon. Lucky for us, right after our Sabtang tour the previous day while having our hearty merienda of camote cue and pancit bihon over a cup of coffee at the restaurant of Batanes Seaside Lodge where we stayed, one kitchen staff overheard our discussion and volunteered to help make our morning plans happen. 

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RENT A BIKE

Bettina, the gracious kitchen staff who volunteered to accompany us that morning already informed the bike rental shop the other day that we will be picking up the bikes ahead of their opening hours, at around 6:30AM. She also acted as our photographer and my aide, positioning herself at my side since I was lagging behind from the group, struggling during the first 20 minutes of pedaling and can't seem to find my balance while navigating the inclined slopes going to Valugan Boulder Beach. 
when pedaling becomes so exhausting ;)
It was such a relief when the downhill road came into view after Basco Airport. I kept my speed at a relaxed pace, fast enough to feel the cold breeze yet slow enough to allow me to appreciate the stunning views around. After 2 hours, and 7 kilometers of biking, our bike rental charge was only 50 pesos for each. Whew, that activity was almost free! Indeed it's true, the best things in life are free. :) Thanks a lot Bettina.
Does it look like a scene in a Korean telenovela? lol  :)

VALUGAN BOULDER BEACH 

It's not your ordinary beach where people flocked to for swimming. The shoreline is filled with smooth boulders that actually came out from Mt Iraya when it erupted in 1454, and with big waves crashing on it. You could go here for some quiet time while communing with nature while photographers won't go wrong taking awesome shots from every angle. Too bad, we didn't make it here before sunrise.

Valugan Boulder Beach, Batanes

Valugan Boulder Beach, Batanes

BASCO TOWN PROPER

The Town Plaza is just a few walks away from where we stayed. From there, you'll see the Basco Cathedral, the Provincial Capitol, restaurants and lodging inns and you'll have a view of Naidi Hills where Basco lighthouse is standing tall.

Basco Town Plaza, Batanes
Basco Town Proper, Batanes
Basco Cathedral, Batanes

Come noon, a bit rested and groomed after the biking and walking activities, our tour guide arrived to fetch us at Batanes Seaside Lodge together with a group of new visitors on board a jeep. Our first stop was Amboy's hometel where we had lunch.

Amboy's Hometel, Batanes
Lunch at Amboy's Hometel with the enthusiastic host Mr Roger Amboy

VAYANG ROLLING HILLS/VAYANG RANCH

The drizzling started to gain strength coupled with strong winds that hindered our plans to go down and explore the place. Photo ops at this beautiful spot became difficult as we have to take cover inside our service jeep and wait until we can visit our next stop.
VAYANG ROLLING HILLS/VAYANG RANCH
Vayang Rolling Hills

TUKON / MT CARMEL CHAPEL

From within distance is the Tukon Chapel or Mt Carmel Chapel resting on top of a hill and offering a panoramic vista of Batan Island. It's built using the same principle in building Ivatan's stone houses.
Tukon / Mt Carmel Chapel, Batanes
Tukon / Mt Carmel Chapel, North Batan

DIPNAYSUPUAN JAPANESE TUNNEL

It's a Japanese-constructed World War 2 tunnel used as a shelter for soldiers.
Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel, Batanes

NAIDI HILLS featuring BASCO LIGHTHOUSE and BUNKER'S CAFE

Just a little more than a kilometer away from Basco town proper, you can get here easily on foot, on a bike or a trike. Best time to be here is before sunset. At Naidi Hills, you can see the Basco Lighthouse, the Bunker's Cafe and some remnants of telegraph facilities used by Americans during World War 2. If you plan to have a dinner at Bunker's Cafe, be sure to have prior reservation to secure a seat. A set meal cost around 300+ pesos.

Bunker's Cafe and Basco Lighthouse at Naidi Hills
Bunker's Cafe and Basco Lighthouse at Naidi Hills
Bunker's Cafe, Naidi Hills
view from Basco Lighthouse
Dinner at Bunker's Cafe
while waiting for dinner to be served

FUNDACION PACITA

I had the chance to stay here but opted not to for practical reasons. Batanes is all about the outdoors and since our scheduled tours would only allow us to spend the night here to sleep, shelling out that much for accommodation is unwise even if someone offered to pay for it. But then, it's also a must to make it a point to visit this iconic lodging nestled on a hilltop.

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Fundacion Pacita
It's not a part of the North Batan tour package and your guide will only show Fundacion Pacita from afar. To get inside, we reserved a 7pm dinner that night and arrived there 2 hours earlier to better appreciate the views while there's still light.
Fundacion Pacita
Despite the overcast skies posing threats of an oncoming rain, the scenery remains beautiful and serene, quiet and cool.
Fundacion Pacita, Batanes
Inside Fundacion Pacita, the lovely countryside interior put us all in a cozy mood. My eyes travel over the ceiling, down to the floors, then drawn to the walls where the colorful works of Pacita Abad are displayed.

Dinner Set Meal at 700+ per pax
The meal was lovely, but getting back to our place on a rainy night posed a little challenge. It took us an hour to convince a trike ride to pick us up. Fog, rain and almost zero road visibility made the trip a little bit unnerving but nonetheless fun.

North Batan tour got us all worked up. Thank you Batanes for the surreal experience.

Jun 26, 2014

BATANES : FALUWA and SABTANG TOUR on Day 2

If I need to mention the highlight of our Sabtang tour, it must be the thrilling experience of riding a Faluwa boat going to Sabtang Island. Faluwa is a sturdy traditional Ivatan boat built without outriggers to withstand the often rough and turbulent waters of the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea. It is no ordinary boat ride. Back then, the thought of riding a Faluwa scares me hence the thought of skipping Sabtang Island from our itinerary always crossed my mind. But on second thought, the stomach turning boat experience is one I have to endure, to claim the bragging rights: I've indeed experienced BATANES.
FALUWA BOAT RIDE, BATANES

Our day started really early; We're done with breakfast by 5:30 AM and on the road by 6am. Sitting at the back, I opened the window on my side and turn my face into the cold, chilly wind as our van travel along narrow coastal roads, while occasionally extending my hands outside, holding a GoPro to capture the stunning vistas in almost every direction. Blowing of horns is a matter of necessity here due to several blind corners that may conceal oncoming traffic.

I envy those motorbike riders behind us for the reason that I feel it's the best way to see Batanes without obstruction. Next time, I'll be in one, but with an experienced driver in tow, so I can concentrate on filming the scenic views. :)

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At Ivana Port going to Sabtang Island, Batanes

At the Ivana port, townsfolk and tourists alike were readying to board the Faluwa.You can easily distinguish which is which. Those donning neon orange vests like us, hurriedly look for seats at the back while the locals prefer to stand in front and enjoy the stomach turning ride that includes the occasional splashes of waves thrown their way. Our group took the front seats and seeing how calm the faces of the locals while the Faluwa gyrated to the waves gave me a good sense of security. It's like them saying "this is nothing but normal my dear". 

Faluwa Ride to Sabtang Island, Batanes


After 30 minutes, Sabtang island came into full view with this lighthouse prominently standing to welcome us. 
Sabtang Lighthouse, Batanes

On Sabtang Island, population is even smaller than on Batan Island but stone houses are still in abundance. The island also boasts of spectacular rolling hills, white sand beaches, beautiful coastal roads and rock cliffs. We also saw from a distance a 3000 yr old fortress carved into the mountain used by warring tribes in the island.
Tricycle at Sabtang Island

Although we didn't have to utilize a tricycle during our Sabtang tour (although I feel it will be a lot of fun riding one), it's interesting to see how they use indigenous materials to build its side car.
Coastal road at Sabtang Island, Batanes

Instead, we found ourselves cruising along the coastal roads of Sabtang Island on board a van with the doors open (upon our request) to fully enjoy the scenic views that surround us, as we hop from one place to the other.

STONE HOUSES AT SAVIDUG AND CHAVAYAN VILLAGE

BATANES and stone houses have become synonymous with each other and it's here on Sabtang Island where you'll see them in abundance. Ivatan stone houses are designed to withstand harsh elements and are made of limestones and corals with roofing made of cogon grass.
Savidug Stone Houses, Sabtang Island, Batanes
Stone Houses at SAVIDUG
Old Beaterio at Savidug, Sabtang, Batanes
OLD BEATERIO AT SAVIDUG

Stone Houses at Chavayan Village, Sabtang, Batanes
STONE HOUSES AT CHAVAYAN VILLAGE



Chavayan Village CHURCH, SABTANG, BATANES
CHAVAYAN VILLAGE CHURCH


If you're intrigued how the traditional Ivatan headgear called VAKUL is made and how you'd look like wearing one, visit the Sabtang Weavers Association here in Chavayan Village.
VAKUL HEADGEAR, BATANES


CHAMANTAD-TINYAN VIEWPOINT

If Batan Island has Racuh-A-Payaman aka Marlboro Hills, Sabtang Island on one hand has Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint to show off.  

CHAMANTAD TINYAN VIEWPOINT, SABTANG ISLAND, BATANES
CHAMANTAD TINYAN VIEWPOINT

You need to follow the foot trails to get to the viewing area where a beach cove is hidden between rolling hills or you can choose to frolic around and then reenact one of the famous scenes of the Sound of Music. :)
BEACH COVE BETWEEN ROLLING HILLS




Rocky cliff coupled with strong wind prevented us to go down a bit further, but that didn't stop us from admiring the place any less.

MORONG BEACH/NAKABUANG BEACH

You've probably seen this natural rocky formation called Nakabuang arch on travel magazines that is widely associated with Batanes. This iconic beach is located in Sabtang Island. The white sand is fine and the waves are tolerable enough for a swim.  

MORONG BEACH / NAKABUANG ARCH, SABTANG ISLANG, BATANES

There's also a restaurant in this area where we had a filling Ivatan lunch as part of the tour.
Morong Beach Restaurant, Sabtang, Batanes
lone resto at Morong Beach
After a satisfying lunch and an awe-inspiring experience despite the short stay, everyone needed to be at the port by 1pm to catch the Faluwa ride going back to Batan Island. It's possible to book a home stay at one of the stone houses at the Chavayan Village. Immersing oneself to the charm of spartan living is probably the most ideal way to experience Batanes and I'll do that next time I have the chance to visit this place again.

Stay tuned for more Batanes posts to come. If you visit Batanes, don't skip Sabtang Island for fear of riding a Faluwa otherwise you'll blow your chances of catching a glimpse of Batanes in it's most unadulterated form.

Jun 3, 2014

BATANES : Stunning SOUTH BATAN on Day 1

A tour of South Batan marked our Day 1 in Batanes. By 9am, after checking in at Batanes Seaside Lodge, a knock on the door signaled that our tour guide has arrived and ready to pick us up. Wearing a welcoming smile and a pleasant vibe, he introduced himself as Mr. Ryan Lara Cardona, our pointman while in Batanes. I knew then, we're in good hands. We hop in the van and met the rest of the group, a friendly duo and a newly wed couple, who we'll be spending our time with while exploring Batanes.

The weather was perfect, the location dreamy and at every turn, our eyes feasted on the stunning panoramic vistas of the ocean and the hills while navigating the rugged cliff roads of Batan Island. Suddenly, fresh crisp cold air filled our lungs, and a feeling of exhilaration became everyone's mood during the entire tour.

Follow my narratives as I chronicle the stunning sights of South Batan that put us all in awe of BATANES.

CHAWA VIEWDECK

Also known as Mahatao Viewdeck, this spot offers the perfect vantage point to have a spectacular view of Batan Island facing the South China Sea. You can go down the cliff using the concrete stairs, dip your feet in the waters or you can try fishing. They also said, you can witness a beautiful sunset while on this viewdeck.
Chawa Viewdeck, South Batan, Batanes

MAHATAO BOAT SHELTER PORT

From the road, I peek down into this interesting port seemingly hiding from the whole scene. We learned that this port is where inter-island motorboats and fishing vessels dock to escape from inclement weather.
Mahatao Boat Shelter Port, South Batan, Batanes

TAYID LIGHTHOUSE (a.k.a. Mahatao Lighthouse)

This hexagonal lighthouse perfectly resting on top of a hill was built in 2000 but is still not functional due to incomplete facilities. However, it has become a popular tourist attraction in the area, a perfect addition to complement the stunning view of the rugged mountain cliffs facing the South China Sea with grazing cows around, a sweeping panorama of the Pacific Ocean and a beautiful landscape of labyrinth-like hedgerows when you turn your gaze around.
Tayid Lighthouse, South Batan

MAHATAO TOWN PROPER

At Mahatao Town Proper, we saw the San Carlos Borromeo Church, declared a National Cultural Heritage Site that was first built in 1787 and had endured several renovations. There lies as well the oldest Spanish lighthouse (the uppermost photo of the collage) that we could've missed if not pointed out by our guide.
Mahatao Town Proper, San Carlos Borromeo Church, Spanish Lighthouse

HOMORON WHITE BEACH and BLUE LAGOON

It's a short strip of white sand beach on one side and a concealed blue lagoon on the other side where locals and tourists alike can enjoy a dip. Just be mindful that although it may look calm at the moment, the waters can turn rough, without warning.

HOMORON WHITE BEACH, Batanes

RACUH-A-PAYAMAN (Marlboro Hills)

This is probably the best spot to have a breathtaking panoramic view of the Tayid Lighthouse on your left, Mt Iraya on your right and the Diura Beach below. I can just lie here all day and marvel at the beauty of nature at its finest. It's also a communal pastureland where livestock come to graze.
Racuh A Payaman (Marlboro Hills)

IMNAJBU POINT/ALAPAD HILLS/ALAPAD PASS

They refer to this spot as Imnajubu point or Alapad Pass. The road cuts through a small hill forming what they call Alapad Pass and revealing a rugged sculpture along the roadside and a beautiful seascape when you pass through the winding road. It's an interesting attraction you shouldn't miss.
Alapad Hills/Pass, Batanes

HONESTY COFFEE SHOP

It's been featured countless times in local magazine shows and to be actually here sipping the instant coffee I made and bought seemed surreal. It's actually a sari sari store, but without a shopkeep. You take whatever you want and drop your payment in the designated payment box. Honesty is the norm in this quaint province and that admirable trait goes beyond this cafe. It's the same way everywhere in Batanes.
Honesty Coffee Shop, Batanes

HOUSE OF DAKAY

House of Dakay or Vahay ni Dakay is the oldest surviving stone house in the Batan Island of Batanes. Built in 1887 and remained standing even after an 8.3 magnitude earthquake leveled the town of Ivana in 1918. It has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Building. That's Lolo Francisco in the photo below, the current occupant of the House of Dakay.
House of Dakay, Batanes

We're done with South Batan by 5pm. Our Day 2 itinerary involved SABTANG Island and you can expect more stunning sights to come on my next post. Cliche as it may sound, South Batan tour of Batanes took our breath away.

Day 2 Itinerary : FALUWA RIDE and SABTANG TOUR

May 25, 2014

BATANES : Entranced by the Battered Islands

When friends would ask me what's my ultimate Philippine destination, my quick answer is always BATANES. I often received a quizzed look with that choice as if I need to expound further for them to understand and once I did, they'd refer to the place as the typhoon capital of the Philippines or even more confusing for some, they thought Bataan and Batanes are just the same. 

Where is Batanes?

To address the misconception, Batanes isn't hit by typhoon as often as they regard, in fact the place enjoys four seasons as opposed to the rest of the country's wet and dry season. However, precipitation occurs almost everyday throughout the year in different parts of the province. BATANES is located in the northernmost part of the country and as a result they've always been used as a reference point for all typhoons that enter the Philippine area.  Batanes is much nearer to Taiwan than to the northern tip of the Philippines. The smallest province in the country, both in terms of land area and population and a part of the region of Cagayan Valley. It has 10 islands, but only 3 are inhabited, Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat.


BATANES

Getting to Batanes is a dream come true and with all expenses paid by someone who just happened to come across this blog and read the stuffs I wrote is like the heavens conspiring with him to have my wishes fulfilled (you're right, Mr Paulo Coelho! ). To my generous sponsor, I can't say thank you enough.

How that happened? Check it here.

And why BATANES?

I was completely mesmerized when I saw photos of picturesque rolling hills with livestock freely roaming around, breathtaking stretches of seascapes at every turn, stone houses that were built to defy the strongest typhoons, existence of the winter season, that unsinkable spirit of the Ivatans and the culture of honesty among its people speak volume why BATANES is my ultimate Philippine destination and why you should consider it in your travel bucket list too. The isolation from the main Philippine archipelago, separated by an endless stretch of surging water where the Pacific Ocean meets with the China Sea must have produced such admirable characteristics of the Ivatans who've successfully lived around the harsh conditions and limitations of an isolated province.

Also Related : My Bucket List

In BATANES finally!

It took me five years to finally tick off my Top 5 Must Visit Philippine Destination but the wait was well rewarded. A sudden jolt welcomed us, as we finally landed on the soils of Basco, Batanes on board a PAL EXPRESS turbo-prop aircraft as if waking my senses to remind me that this is no longer a dream, this is reality and making every moment count to savor and experience the beauty of this special place is now in order.
Batanes

Kindly stay tuned for my next post.The details of my 4-day Batanes adventure and some helpful tips for those planning a visit to this special place will follow very soon. 

Next > BATANES : Stunning South Batan on Day 1

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