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The Magic of Batanes Isles (Part 2 of 2)

The Magic of Batanes Isles
La Isla Magazine, July 2010 Cover Story
Written by Anton Diaz
Photos by George Tapan

Read First: The Magic of Batanes Isles (Part 1 of 2)

Sabtang Island

Chamantad Viewpoint, Sabtang Island
Chamantad Viewpoint, Sabtang Island
.  Photo by George Tapan.

Sabtang Island is 30-45 minutes away from Batan Island via a falowa ride. The falowa is a U-haul boat designed with no balancing beam called katig, so that it can freely dance with the waves. Between Batan and Sabtang is the channel where the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea meet. In this channel, you can see the waves flowing in different directions, and this is where most people get seasick with the falowa's rocking motion.

Once you arrive in Sabtang and see the heritage towns of Savidug and Chavayan, you will realize that bearing with the rocky falowa trip was worth it. These two areas are the remaining coastal towns composed predominantly of the stone houses Batanes is known for. The houses have walls that are made from stones bonded with lime and their roofs are made from cogon. These towns are next in line for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List in the Philippines.

Tataya boat in Valugan Bay Boulder Beach
Valugan bay boulder beach, one of the favorite spots around the island
.  Photo by George Tapan.

Chavayan is the most loved heritage town of all, not only because of the intact stone houses but also because of the cute kids with anime eyes, and the vakul (traditional headdress used for planting root crop) weaving community.

In between the towns of Savidug and Chavayan is the Chamantad viewpoint, which can literally take your breath away. Some people remark that the grassland, mountain and seascape view remind them of Ireland. Most just appreciate the view in silence – in awe of the grandeur of Nature’s beauty and God’s creation.

You can end your day trip to Sabtang with an authentic Ivatan fresh seafood lunch along the beach. A simple serving of the fresh catch of the day, together with either lobsters or coconut crabs, will make the meal quite memorable. The beach is now more famous because of the natural arc formation found there (as shown in the movie, Batanes). After lunch, some people lie down for siesta along the beach or take a dip in the waters for a while. It is a bit rocky, though, because of the coral base.

 Itbayat Island

Batanes Hedgerows
Batanes Hedgerows
.  Photo by George Tapan.

Itbayat is the biggest of all the islands. Some say that it was the first to be inhabited and  it was made from corals that were pushed up from the sea. That could explain why there are no beaches there. Instead, Itbayat is home to magnificent cliffs and rock formations.

To get there from Batan, you can ride a bigger falowa (compared to the ones traveling to Sabtang). The trip can take around 3 hours and the waves encountered are much bigger. If you sit on the roof of the falowa, you will literally see the boat swaying almost 95 degrees from side to side. The boatmen give out plastic bags before traveling (so I guess getting seasick on the trip is already normal). The prime seats are those located beside the window so that you can still look out and see the horizon to avoid dizziness – or you can easily throw up into the sea.

Most Ivatans are fisherfolk by occupation. One of the popular ways they fish is they tie a long fish line in the falowa and then put the hook with fake bait into the sea. Consider it an extra treat if you see an actual fish caught using this method during your boat ride. If successful, the entire crew would clean the fish later on and eat it sashimi- or kilawin-style with chili vinegar. J

Small Garlic of Batanes
Small garlic of Batanes
.  Photo by George Tapan.

Docking in Itbayat is an experience in itself, where there are no beaches, bays or harbors. The designated port has a steep ramp where a clever pulley system was devised to lift the goods from the port to the elevated road. There are stairs paved on the sides of the ramp for pedestrians to climb. Modes of transportation going to the central town are a bit rustic, and life on Itbayat is simple and laid-back compared to the other islands.

A hike to the highest viewpoint on the island; caving in Torongan cave – an ancient dwelling place with a burial ground on top; and visiting the old town of Raele are the adventures that await the more daring visitors to the island. The houses in the town center are a bit modern already, but in Raele, you can see the stone houses built with rocks from crushed coral stones (since there is no source of boulder rocks on the island). A 2-3 day trip is ideal when exploring Itbayat.

Yummy Ivatan Food

Flavors of Batanes
Flavors of Batanes.  Photo by George Tapan.

Aside from the natural beauty of the islands, the magic of Batanes can also be found in its organic food.

You’ll discover just how yummy organic food can be when you are served the Ivatan platter with all the fresh vegetables available on the island, such as fern salad, ampalaya, tomatoes, onions, eggplant, and okra with bagoong. The vegetables taste sweeter than usual and are pleasant to eat – even non-vegetable lovers rave about them.

Ivatans are proud of their food, which are usually home-cooked and prepared by the Ivatans themselves. Their authentic dishes are often enjoyed with a big fruit-tree leaf called Kabaya and are scooped up using the hands.

The turmeric rice made with fresh yellow ginger (sometimes, turmeric powder is used already) is always a treat to eat in every meal in Batanes. My favorite Ivatan dishes are the steamed Uvud balls made from banana heart mixed with meat; Lunez, their crispy and dried adobo version; and Venus, which is made from gabi stalks.

Dried Dorado @ Diura Fishing Village
Dried dorado at Diura Fishing Village
.  Photo by George Tapan.

For special occasions, the Ivatans prepare kinilaw (raw fish meat from the fresh catch of the day), uni (sea urchins) and snails. Lobsters are also served to special guests and, occasionally, the tasty meat of coconut crabs. These crabs, called tatus, are already on the endangered list and are only allowed to be consumed locally.

Most of the Ivatan meals are served with freshly harvested root crops, like kamote, cassava or gabi. One particular root crop called dukay, which is white in color, is used as the main ingredient for Dukay Salad (which is fresh fruit and dukay, mixed with cream). If you visit Batanes, you should not miss trying their kamote – it's very sweet.

The beef in Batanes, when cooked, is very soft and tasty. It is ideal for dishes like Tapa, Bulalo, and my favorite Inihaw na Crispy Tadyang ng Baka. Tes of Pension Ivatan prepares the best beef dishes on the island, and you can take some beef home as pasalubong. Only pork and chicken are allowed to be imported from Manila, while the beef is 100% sourced from Batanes. You can see the cows grazing freely and happily around the vast grasslands, only eating natural and organic grass and vegetables.

 Fundacion Pacita Abad

Blue Chairs @ Fundacion Pacita Terrace View
Blue chairs at Fundacion Pacita terrace look out peacefully towards the sea
.  Photo by George Tapan.

In recent years, Fundacion Pacita added its own magic to the overall Batanes experience. It is one of the best boutique hotels in the Philippines with a "Wuthering Heights” ambiance as it is located on top of a cliff with a 270-degree view of the sea, mountains and the sky. In December, this is one of the only places where you can feel it's "winter" in a tropical paradise like the Philippines.

This Batanes resort on top of a rolling hill was once the home studio of internationally acclaimed artist Pacita Abad. She's known for her larger-than-life, colorful mural paintings. One of her latest works was painting a modern pedestrian bridge called The Alkaff Bridge (it crosses the Singapore River at Robertson Quay) with playful colors.

The Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge has a country-style charm in a lush garden setting. Its signature terrace rooms with blue chairs look out peacefully towards the sea. Each room was designed to resemble a gallery with works from well-known and up-and-coming artists.

Fundacion Pacita Idawud Room View
Its signature Idawud room view at Fundacion Pacita.  Photo by George Tapan.

The foundation supports the education of young Ivatan artists and the heritage conservation projects in Batanes. Among its artist beneficiaries are:

  • Olan Gonzales, who is the lead painter in the Tukon Chapel ceiling project;
  • Mahatao-born Jaypee Portez;
  • Xavier Abelador, a representational and surrealist painter; and
  • Itbatyat artist Javier Ponce.

The artworks of these young Ivatan artists are appreciated locally and recognized internationally by art collectors and enthusiasts. Some of their works are sold on Ebay and they have a couple of major commissioned projects also. You can see the tribute painting they created at the entrance of the Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge. Pacita Abad’s insignia is located in the center, and each quadrant is painted with the young Ivatan artists’ own interpretation and tribute to the master artist who inspired them.


The Proud Ivatans

Vakul Headress
A woman wearing Vakul, a traditional headress used for planting root crops.  Photo by George Tapan.

The core essence of the magic of Batanes is the first-hand encounter with the Ivatans. They are proud of their culture and heritage – never arrogant and never apologetic about who they are. They lead simple and happy lives, and they are always willing to help and go out of their way to assist you. The true spirit of Bayanihan – where people help each other out (ex. for building houses or preparing for a special occasion) – is still alive in their communities. They celebrate life to the fullest and they generously share this positive energy with the people they meet.

Through the years, Batanes has been able to successfully preserve its magical beauty.  Now, it's just waiting for you to discover it.

 

Live an Awesome Life,


anton 
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batanes is really a beautiful place. I had a chance to visit it last year and i fell in love with the place. I hope to visit it again. Hindi nakakasawa ang Batanes puntahan.

Hi Anton, great article! I particularly like what you said about the Ivatans, "They are proud of their culture and heritage – never arrogant and never apologetic about who they are."

I'm just wondering where do you eat there besides the hotel? Where can you try native cuisines? and how much does it cost?

Wow. This is the second time La Isla's featured Batanes if I'm not mistaken. I'm gonna do this one day and, hopefully, that magazine can accommodate still. LOL! Thanks for sharing. :D

The best place to eat real Ivatan cuisine is to eat with the families specially if there is a special occasion. Usually, in our tours, we would ask an Ivatan cook to cater for a small group to really taste what Ivatan food is all about.


Anton

Went to Batanes last May 2010 and fell in love with the place. The locals were very nice and accommodating and the food was great. Lobsters there are CHEAP. We saw dolphins on our way to Sabtang Island, major BONUS sa trip. Too bad we didn't have time to visit Itbayat Island but am hoping I could go back.

For those who find Fundacion Pacita a bit pricey (like me), you can stay at the Batanes Resort. It has a very nice view of the beach. I prefer it over other inns because of its set-up and the view.

Let us hope Mr. Albert Lim of the DOT will do a great job for the tourism industry. As much as Batanes is an amazing place, it is not yet ready for the influx of thousands of tourists. Good to hear that Mr. Lim is not only concerned about how to attract tourists but also how to protect our natural resources. We have to find a way to encourage people to visit Batanes and at the same time improve the infrastructure there without ruining the natural beauty of Batanes.

wow. i have heard great things about the place but i have never seen pictures. again, wow.

i will put this on my local places to travel, basta not during the rainy season :D

Thank you very much Anton, for featuring Batanes once more. Its always a pleasure to hear from an ipula how they come to love the place I called home. Spartan living at its best!!

Hey Anton!

Loved the article!

Quick question: how much should I save up so I can also travel to Batanes? Thanks!

About P25,000 should be a comfortable number. If the airfare goes down mga P20,000 na lang...

i have a copy of that mag.nice article sir anton and nice shots mr george tapan(btw, isaw another work of art in kinabuch pps,palawan).ive been following your blog since god knows when and i would really love to go to batanes someday its on my list.i've been saving up for a nice camera to capture the beauty of batanes.

Weng,


Thanks for following OAP! Next year is the best time to go since we expect the air fares to go down :)


Anton

Would really love to try this too!

Lovely article! Thank you for sharing the beauty of Batanes to your readers. :)

Ooooh. Air fares will go down? Really?! Hehe. I'd really love to go to Batanes, but I gotta save up first. :)

Hi Anton,

The first time I posted a comment here (this is my second) was when I told you to go see Batanes. I still visit your blog whenever I can and I am so just glad you and Rachel have fallen in love with the place. Last May, I went back to Batanes. I stayed there longer and I even spent 3 nights in Sabtang. It was the coolest experience! No electicity from 12 midnight to 6 the following morning. You can sleep with the door and windows wide open at the Heritage House for 300 pesos a night! You can also leave your room unlocked with valuables in it during the day and come back finding them untouched and still there. Cool huh?

Hope next time you go back to Batanes you can spend at least 2 days in Sabtang. Day tours to Sabtang are somewhat rushed. I love the whole Sabtang, but I particularly fell in love with the otherside where tourists do not normally go. Tourists go straight to Savidug and Chavayan. After that, they proceed to Malakdang on the opposite side for lunch. If you go farther Nakabuang Beach, you'll see the best roadside sceneries in the Philippines! Yup, try to visit Nakanmuan and Sumnanga next time. A couple told me a story that they were clueless of who Ayala was until he broke a motorbike he borrowed from a local to go there and paid him the value of a new one.

And hey, hope you can check out Vuhus Island and please please tell me about it. I haven't been there.

Do you have a number of the Heritage house? YEs, next summer I will visit the other side of Sabtang. Thanks for the encouragement!

I know the numbers of the Mayor and the staff working there. They are all accommodating and can help you make reservations.

So, vakul is the name for the headdress. That's the headdress that really had the impression on me. I remember saying, "What a strange hairdo!" Then the son of the governor said, "That's a headdress, not a hairdo."

hi, sir anton! me and my husband are planning to go to batanes on dec. hope you could give us some tips on where to stay?

forgot to mention that we are on a budget. thanks.

It looks like heaven! I wish I could go there soon. :D I'll definitely go there some time next year. :D

Hi. This was a great article about batanes. I would like to know if you already have a schedule planned for 2011 for any batanes trips? we are a group of 10 people and are interested to go to batanes and sabtang island. thanks!


Hi Emily, yes our schedule is April 8-10 and May 7-9

Sent from Mobile

HI Anton,

Do you already have schedule planned for 2012 for Batanes trips?

I am interested in joining if there is one.

Thanks

Do you think it is a good idea to visit Batanes on July?

Not really, weather is unpredictable.

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