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Archive for February 14th, 2016

Batanes, finally 1

Posted on February 14, 2016 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated February 14, 2016 – 12:00am

Screen Shot 2016-02-14 at 3.00.54 PM />Fundacion is the best place to stay in Basco, Batanes. It was made by the late Pacita Abad.

We had been thinking of going to Batanes since the early ‘80s. Lydia and I had put this trip on our “Someday” list. It was going to happen someday, but there were still other places to visit in the meantime.

That someday finally arrived on Feb 3. Together with six others, we flew to Basco, the capital of Batanes, on an early morning flight for a three-night stay.

Immediately after we checked in at the Amboy Hotel, we hopped on a van and began our sightseeing tour.

Batanes is generously endowed with striking ruggedness and beauty everywhere. The beaches along the coastline are great to look at but are not for swimming. The waters are very rough and the shores are rocky. It is quite a sight watching big waves splashing on rocky peaks all over the islands.

The winds were almost always very strong. I swear, they seemed like category 4 or 5 typhoon winds sometimes. They blew our head covers away as we concentrated on navigating on cliffs, making sure we were sure-footed with every step. When in Batanes, be ready to have bad hair selfies.

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Valuga beach is very rocky.

There are rolling hills, valleys, mountains, everywhere. There are many lighthouse structures, churches, chapels, and really old houses that are part of the tourists’ must-see sights.

The natives (Ivatans) are very friendly; there is still a touch of innocence about them. It was refreshing to be greeted with “Good afternoon, visitors” by children in the streets. Some of them went up to us to make “mano.” I saw three children walking home from school merrily singing Pamulinawen which brought a smile to my face.

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The Ivatan can get very shy, though, and even move away when you talk to them. I was told by our tour guide that when Kris Aquino went there, no one went up to her to ask for an autograph or to have photos taken with her. It wasn’t because they did not know her. They were just too shy to ask.

Aside from Basco Island, we also went to Sabtang, a 25-minute boat ride from Basco on the roughest sea we have ever encountered. The waves tossed our boat around every which way but were respectful enough not to overturn it. But what Sabtang had to offer made our dangerous sea passage well worth it.

We saw dramatic peaks, vistas that took our breath away. Tinian is a must-see. It reminded me of Wuthering Heights. We also visited neighborhoods where old, quaint Ivatan houses with their thick walls and thatched roofs dominate the landscape.

People have compared Batanes to Scotland because of the terrain, the extreme winds and its lighthouses. I often got the feeling that it is the most different part of the Philippines. The Ivatan dialect is a mixture of Ilocano and other dialects but has a lot of the “V” sound. The plant they use to make their head and roof covers is called “Vuyavuy.”

The food in Batanes is composed mostly of root crops like camote. They are also big on seaweed. The meat and fish dishes are tough since they like to dry them under the sun. Batanes cuisine is even more spartan than Ilocano.

Batanes has been relatively isolated for the longest time. It is only in recent years that airlines have begun flying there daily. When the weather is rough, flights are cancelled and supplies from the outside world are delayed. We went to the café in the beautiful and picturesque Fundacion Hotel, looking for dessert. Unfortunately, they did not have pastries since the flights were canceled for two days while we were there due to rains and their supplies had not come in.

The population of Batanes is around 16,000. The tourist arrivals last year reached 17,000. Batanes prelate Bishop Camilo Gregorio, whom we met on the plane and was kind enough to invite us for dinner on our last night, lamented that Batanes is already over-advertised. There are not enough facilities to house the growing number of tourists. The Bishop said he had to take 14 people into his house because they needed board and lodging when their flights were canceled.

I was particularly impressed by two businesses I saw in Batanes. The first is the Honesty Café, which serves snacks, coffee and souvenir items where one simply writes down in a logbook what one has bought and leaves the money in a box. The other is the Conscience Shop near a church that sells religious items and souvenirs to help pay for the education of scholars. It also has no shopkeeper. You simply leave the money for payment in a box.

With the world discovering quickly what our country has to offer, it is best to visit places like Batanes now before they become too commercialized and lose some of their wonderfully wild and rugged charm.

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Now is the time to go, discover and enjoy our country.

Lydia and I are happy that, finally, our “someday” visit to Batanes has happened. And yes, we plan to go back someday soon — maybe in the next two years.

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