Asia / My Travels / Philippines

Batanes: Going Back To My Roots

“Living in Washington, a friend of mine told me that my colors were losing intensity. Right then and there, I knew that it was time to get back to my roots. I have observed over the past twenty years that weather and cultural surroundings have a major impact on one’s outlook.” – Pacita Abad (International artist from Batanes)

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Batanes, Philippines | December 2015

I am Filipino but I do not have any single entry for the places I’ve been to in my own country. I intended to write all my Philippines’ entries after I’ve finished transferring my old travel stories from other countries. Unfortunately, after 5 years I haven’t finished it yet! (Yeah I’m that lazy!). And for my very first entry for Philippines, I am excited to share the wonderful island of BATANES.

Ever since my parents passed away, my sister and I relocated to Singapore, the only reasons we go back to Philippines are either because a friend is getting married or a group of non-Filipino friends wanting to visit and inviting us to join them. Unfortunately, when I moved to Dubai last 2011, I only choose invitations depending also on my budget. It is more expensive for me now to go to Philippines or anywhere in Asia than to go in Europe or Africa.

My husband, Laurie, just turned 40 last May 2015. Since he is not keen of any material presents, it’s always hard for me to think of what to give him, so I thought of giving him a present of visiting my home country! Besides, I needed more time then to save for the trip, so it gave me around 6 months to book our domestic flights and hotels, one at a time, hehe.

My husband and I at Rolling Hills, Basco

My husband and I at Rolling Hills, Basco

Apart from it was about time for Laurie to visit my country already, we were also invited to attend a dear friend’s wedding in Tagaytay, and I will be her “Matron”-of-Honour, a first for me! It would have been my 6th time if it’s Maid-of-Honour, but she told me I am already married so I should be a “matron” now, lol! Check a separate entry for Tagaytay HERE.

Since it’s Laurie’s first time and I’ve never been home for 4 years too, I made sure that I visit some place I’ve never visited yet and some place I can be proud to show my husband. And I chose Batanes and Boracay, the latter being the place my husband was always asked by some of his family and friends if he had been and that I don’t mind going back too. Check a separate entry for Boracay HERE.

The Filipino couple from Canada that we met at the airport and became friends with :)

The Filipino couple from Canada that we met at the airport and became friends with :)

I knew Batanes will be amazing and it exceeded my expectations!

It’s one of my favorite places now in Philippines, but I am not sure if I could still visit it again someday as it is tough to plan if you have limited time, and quite expensive too. Our flight alone is around US$460 already, I waited for promos until October (I started searching for promo flights in May) but was unsuccessful to get one. If you manage to get promo flights, you could actually get a flight for as low as US$40 per pax just like the other lucky bloggers I’ve read during my research.

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Philippine Airlines with propeller :P

Batanes is the northernmost and smallest island in Philippines, it’s closer to Taiwan actually than the mainland of Philippines (Luzon). Being the northernmost island, it is quite visited by typhoons, when I asked our tour guide how often, he told us they welcome and say goodbye to all the typhoons hitting our country, wow!

It’s tough to plan a Batanes trip if you only have limited days to spend in Philippines because there are big chances that your flight might get cancelled because of the unpredictable weather there. And it actually did happen to us! :P
thumb_IMG_5593_1024I was so disappointed when our flights got cancelled because of strong winds in Basco and we rescheduled our flight on the following day, causing us to lose one day from our itinerary and booking one more night at hotel in Manila again. I was so nervous the next day because the weather forecast in Basco was raining! But God is good, our flight was not cancelled and we were happy to arrive in Basco despite the rain and gloomy weather.

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Doing my “rain dance” at a cloudy Tayid Lighthouse :D

We stayed at Amboys Hometel. I was hoping to book an accommodation that is close to a traditional Ivatan house – made of boulder stones/rocks. La Pacita Fundacion is the perfect choice but it’s very expensive for my budget after booking that expensive flight. We can also stay in an authentic Ivatan house at the other island (Sabtang), however we will be far from everywhere but Sabtang. So after researching for other options, I booked at Amboys because of its good reviews, I was also attracted with the private veranda because Laurie smokes, plus beach is just across the road.

Amboys Hometel

Amboys Hometel and the beach by the opposite road.

They forgot to pick us up at the airport because of confusions, so we had to wait for them for around 30mins or more I think. They were very apologetic so it was not a big deal. The room is clean and comes with water heater and AC (which we didn’t need at that time). It is unfortunate that we have not tried dining at their restaurant apart from breakfast, they have good reviews with their restaurant but our guide always take us somewhere else to eat. They have their own tours too but I find it more expensive, but they are cool about it if you take your tours from other tour operators.

One thing I regret though is Batanes Resort is just at the same area as Amboys. Google maps in Batanes are not quite accurate so I didn’t know. I wanted to book Batanes Resort because of its Ivatan style cottages, but when I read the reviews it says that it is far. But actually Batanes Resort and Amboys are not far if you have means of transportation. Perhaps it is only far for those people who want to walk only around town proper. Oh well, maybe next time then ;)

Simple life of the Ivatans

Simple life of the Ivatans

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Boats going to Sabtang Island

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Goats hanging by the cliff! :O

I booked our tour at Bisumi Tours after a recommendation from one of the most recommended blogs I’ve read (pinoyadventurista). They are not cheap but I only rely on internet for my research and they have the most reasonable price for a compressed 2-day tour for North & South Batan and Sabtang Island.

When Amboys and Bisumi failed to pick us up at the airport, a very nice old woman names Nanay Remy offered help to contact Amboys using her phone without anything in return, something very typical I guess for people in Batanes. She is also a tour guide and her price is half of the price of Bisumi! But of course she doesn’t want us to cancel our agreement with Bisumi despite their failure of meeting us at the airport. We almost joined her group because Bisumi had us waiting for 3 hours in our hotel. Good thing though, apart from their driver was apologetic and nice too, it was almost like an “exclusive” tour because it was just Laurie and I doing the tour where it was supposedly a group tour. Still not bad for US$98 each, compared to other “exclusive” tour. December is a peak season for Batanes, but due to the weather conditions, a lot of visitors I guess cancelled their trips.

You can contact Bisumi at +63 9192795963 or Nanay Remy Santos at +63 9282397629 if you want cheaper than US$98 tour.

Our “Compressed 2-Day Tour” is the best option if you have limited time especially if your flights got messed up because of flight cancellations like ours. I guess, we’ve covered a lot of must-see places in Batanes too because it was just Laurie and I so it wasn’t really difficult to arrange their schedule. We don’t take so much time in taking pictures as much as other people also so it was very easy for our guide to schedule our itinerary. Actually, it was him who always asks us if we want him to take photo of us, he even do multiple shots and direct your angle haha! Very well trained, lol!

He only slowed down a bit when I told him that it’s ok if we only have few photos together as Laurie is not really fond of looking at cameras. I also felt that he was somehow a bit offended that we don’t take much photos, he thought we were not appreciating that much if we don’t, so sometimes even if I don’t feel like taking photos and just enjoying what I am seeing, I just click some shots so as not to offend him more, lol!

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The Chief-of-Police of Batanes approached my husband and shared that since there is NO crime to solve in Batanes, he is just doing feeding programs at kids’ schools :P

 

These are the places we visited:

SOUTH BATAN
Since Bisumi Tours came late to pick us up, we started our tour around mid-day already, so our driver suggested we do the South Batan tour only for that day. It was okay with us because we woke up early that day for our 6am flight, so we didn’t really want to get more shattered if we’ll do a lot for a day. Also, the sun had started to come out already by the time they arrived, yay!

1. Chawa View Deck

2. Mahatao Idjang & Boat Shelter Port (They dock their boats here during typhoons)

3. Mahatao 17th Century Church (San Carlos Borromeo)

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Oldest church in Batanes

4. Batanes Blank Book Archive (You need to pick any blank book and write your message for Batanes, we picked number 22 of course ;)

5. Tayid Lighthouse (Mahatao)
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6. Marlboro Country (This is my favorite in South Batan that we stayed longer here. We had our sumptuous lunch at the only restaurant at this place, the Marconines Canteen)

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Marconines Canteen

7. Imnajbu Chapel (San Lorenzo Ruiz)
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8. Alapad Hill (A hill at Imnajbu village where the movie “Hihintayin Kita sa Langit” was filmed, this movie is the Filipino adaptation of Wuthering Heights)
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The sun is cooperating!

9. Songsong Ruins
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10. Honesty Coffee Shop (One of the unmanned shops in Batanes wherein you just list down what you took and put the payment in the box! A good testimony of how great a people the Ivatans are.)

The shop from outside

Honesty Coffee Shop

11. Ivana Church (San Jose de Obrero)
thumb_IMG_2992_102412. House of Dakay (The oldest Ivatan house in Batan)

13. White Beach (We didn’t stay that much because it was getting cold already, but our guide said that during summer this beach is quie packed.)

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SABTANG ISLAND

On our second day, we left our hometel as early as 6:30am, we still had time to eat our breakfast because our Amboy’s restaurant is already open at that time! I took some sea-sick pill to prepare myself with the wavy sea journey we were about to take. So far, it wasn’t so wavy as I expected it! The moment we arrive Sabtang we already noticed that it is more sunny and warmer over there compared to Batan. It was a lovely weather when we were there.

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Sabtang island at the horizon from Batan island.

1. Sabtang Church (San Vicente Ferrer)

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2. Morong Beach & Mahayaw Arch (We went here first so that we can avoid the crowd according to our tricycle driver, unfortunately we cannot stay longer here.)

3.Chamantad Cove & Tinyan Viewpoint (This is my favorite spot in Sabtang. The view is so gorgeous we stayed too long. I even experienced wearing the “talugong” which is the cogon head protection used by the Ivatans, and the “kanayi” the cogon vest. This is where we also bought the local wine of Batanes that is made out of…)
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4. Chavayan Village (A quaint village with Ivatan stone houses by the beach. This is also where we met the chief police of Batanes. He was very friendly and boasted that because of zero crime rate in the island, he only does feeding programs for the Ivatan kids at their schools haha!)
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6. Savidug Village (Another quaint village with Ivatan stone houses which is close to where we had our lunch, at Paypanapanayan Restaurant. We loved their home-made bukayo or caramelized coconut!)
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NORTH BATAN
After having our lunch, we went back to Batan island to continue our Batan tour which is the north part. We stayed at our hometel for a quick nap, then our driver picked us up after 2 hours)

1. Tukon Church (Commonly known as the Church at Mount Carmel, this is the most famous church for weddings of non-locals, it was the most beautiful church in Batanes for me.)
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2. Basco PAGASA Weather Station (We went here because Laurie saw the radome from afar and our guide promised us that he will take us there hehe. Laurie does radomes and masts for work ;)

3. La Fundacion Pacita (The only hotel in Batanes built by Pacita Abad, it’s expensive but a percent of the proceeds will go to her foundation/charity)

4. Basco Idjang Fortress
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5. Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel (Laurie enjoyed this too so we stayed longer, he is always fascinated with anything related to World War 1 or 2)

6. Valugan Boulder Beach (Another beach that Laurie enjoyed taking photos because of the Pacific ocean’s strong waves splashing against the huge rock boulders.)

7. Vayang Rolling Hills (My favorite spot for North Batan because of the amazing rolling hills where you can view the South China Sea and Mount Irayat too.)
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8. Basco Lighthouse (The symbol icon of Batanes, we loved this place because we got there just before the sunset, and it was a majestic view!)

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9. Basco Town (We got back in town just in time for dinner, our guide took us to Pension Ivatan Restaurant, that despite pre-ordering our dinner, it still took them half an hour to serve our dinner, and it was cold, so I am not sure what’s the delay all about. I had a platter of Ivatan’s local dishes, and it was good.)

Batanes reminded me so much of the Glens of Northern Ireland when I went there in summer 2013, especially whenever we were at the hills and it was so windy and as cold as the Glens too. Laurie initially didn’t appreciate it because he said he is just like back in the UK only, he was expecting a sunny tropical Philippines, lol! But after a while he did enjoy it already especially the breathtaking views over the hills. He also admired the colour of the sea water which is very turquoise blue and it’s not even summer yet.

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I am glad that I have ticked Batanes off on my travel bucketlist which I made since last 2006, specifically rolling along the hills whilst singing :D

I vowed to myself before that whenever I will go back to Philippines, I need to visit one place that I haven’t been and I’m excited for the future wherever it will be because every time I visit Philippines, I always feel like I am recharged with my being.

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I’ve been away the Philippines for almost a decade now so every time I visit back home, it always gives me new outlook of who I’ve become and how much I’ve grown as a person, and I am grateful for that. However, going back to your roots by seeing familiar faces and familiar places can sometimes rekindle the passion you had once for everything that inspired you to be the person you are now.

Unfortunately, I will not settle back to Philippines for good anymore, because I don’t have my family or any investment there anyway, so I just want to visit it as much as I can. Because going back to my roots once in awhile gives me a comfortable sense of place no matter where I am in this world.

Beautiful sunset at Basco Lighthouse

Beautiful sunset at Basco Lighthouse

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