I have a confession to make: I went to Batanes as an atheist. I was cynical, bitter, and disillusioned, and I felt like nothing in the world will inspire me anymore. But three days into our trip in Batanes, I had a change of heart. Surrounded by too much beauty, meeting fascinating people every day — I saw the hand of God everywhere, and it was incredible. 🙂
Consider, for example, the photos below:
After we had got back in Batan Island, we had dinner at Pension Ivatan, partly because we didn’t want to cook at home and partly because my dear friend Grace read about the place somewhere. A stone’s throw away from Basco Airport, Pension Ivatan has one of the most affordable meals in Basco, as far as I remember. We tried the Seafood kare-kare and sinigang na luñis, which are a few of their specialties. The kare-kare was too buttery for my taste, but the ingredients were as fresh as it can get.
We began our fourth day with a visit to the Boat Shelter Port, a construction project implemented under the leadership of Gov. Vicente Gato (so that’s who he is! Kuya Lito, our tricycle driver, has mentioned him a few times). I don’t exactly know what this area is for because I didn’t listen to Kuya’s stories. I was savoring the moment when I was spending a sunny morning by the clear blue sea. The small ferry on the right transports people to and from Tuguegarao every summer (if memory serves me right).
Next, we visited the town of Mahatao, which is a few kilometers south of Basco. I heard that ‘Mahatao’ may mean ‘crazy person’ and ‘of the sea’ in Ivatan (as far as I can recall). Most of the houses here are blue, and I can only guess why (they probably like the color). Beside the beautiful church is a little one-storey building that houses the Maywang a Libro Du Vatan, or the Batanes Blank Book Archive. It’s a library filled with books of different hues and shades of blue containing… nothing! The pages are all blank (except for some with doodles and graffiti). We didn’t know that visitors were encouraged to write, but if I had known, I would’ve probably just scribbled “Janis was here <3.”
After this, we entered the common pastures of Batan where anybody can leave their cows and goats. Volunteers look after the animals and make sure that the carabaos and goats are safe and dry when it starts to rain. Never mind the cows; they have thick hides, said our driver. We passed by a few gates that we had to close after us to prevent the cows from wandering along the road haha. I have nothing but respect for the Ivatans. They understand the value of the earth and the seas. Even the governors and the mayors know how to cultivate the soil for growing crops and vegetables. Anyway, here’s a picture of the lighthouse in Mahatao.
After we had taken hundreds of pictures of this beautiful tower, we rode to Racuh Apayaman, or what is more commonly known as the Marlboro Country. It’s one of the most breathtaking spots on the island of Batan, where I saw green rolling hills to the west, the shimmering Pacific Ocean to the east, and Mt. Iraya to the north. I cannot explain the otherworldly joy that welled in my heart as I beheld the horizon. I think, more or less, this picture illustrates how I felt:
After this, we went to a bunch of other places, stopping at every chapel and beautiful beach. On our way back to the main road (I think), I saw the museum being built in Uyugan, and I feel so sorry I didn’t get to see it after its opening day. We stopped by Alapad to marvel at the rock formations and take jump shots after gazing at the Pacific Ocean. We also dropped by the Song-song Ruins in Sitio Song-song, Uyugan, which was a small settlement ravaged by a tsunami in the 1950s.
Back in Ivana, we paid a visit to one of the oldest traditional houses on the island, the House of Dakay, which was built in 1877. The structure has retained its original form, except for the roof, which is replaced every 20 to 40 years.
By the time we arrived at Vatang Grill and Restaurant, we were already starving. I can’t remember what we ordered, and I don’t think we were able to take photographs before lunch. While we were eating, we felt slight tremors that probably registered 4.something on the Richter scale. My friends’ eyes widened in shock. I was alarmed, too, but nobody else seemed to care aside from us, so we just assumed that it was part of the daily life in Batanes. After lunch, we stopped by a few more spots that Kuya Lito thought we shouldn’t miss, like some white sand beaches and the Chawa view deck.
This trip showed me the truth in Benedict Anderson’s ‘shared community.’ Here, more than 500 kilometers away from Manila, I found people who cared about Napoles, Malacañang, Andres Bonifacio, and street urchins in Manila. I realized how important local governments are in far-flung barrios such as Diura, which depend on the dusty roads that connect them to the rest of the world. More importantly, I discovered how it is possible for Filipinos to have a genuine sense of kapwa-tao. I hope that I will live to see the day when my fellow Manileños will be capable of empathizing with others as the Ivatans do.