March 2014 – I’ve always been fascinated by the Ivatan way of life after I heard from a friend that their philosophy resembles that of Heidegger. Since I was in high school, Batanes has been one of my dream destinations. So when my then-roommate asked me to come with her to Batanes three days before her flight, I did not hesitate to say yes. (Kidding! I did. The airfare is too much for me, but I tagged along anyway.) Much has been said about the beauty of Batanes. What I found was that words and photos do not give justice to the breathtaking magnificence of the islands.

Basco Lighthouse

After a stressful plane ride that involved changing planes twice, we arrived at Basco on a cloudy Saturday afternoon, hungry and exhausted. I was overwhelmed by the undulating hills and the magnificent Mt. Iraya that served as the backdrop of the Basco Airport. But I was more surprised by the warm welcome we received from random strangers at the airport, as well as our sundo from Marfel’s Lodge.

After we had left our bags at the inn, we went to a school canteen to have our lunch. We then walked around the town of Basco and experienced the famed hospitality of the Ivatans. It was the first time I felt welcome in any place, ever. The locals were more than willing to answer any questions we had, and they did so in a very kind manner.

I was then convinced that Ivatans are Filipinos who got it right: they have a healthy sense of kapwa, are proud of their culture and heritage, hardworking, and honest. (Yes, I may be assuming too much haha)

Before the day ended, we were able to see the picture-perfect Basco Lighthouse, the bunkers used by Americans during the Second World War, the local shops, the marketplace, the schools, and Yaru nu Artes Ivatan. We also met Kuya Jolito, who served as our tricycle driver/guide for the rest of our stay in Batan Island. (Contact him at 0918-2167440/0916-2291080. He’s not a certified guide, though, and he was clear about that. Still, his stories about Ivatans, local politics, and his stay in different parts of Luzon are fascinating and informative).

On our second day, we started early to visit the island of Sabtang, which is the closest we can get to experience the old Batanes (according to our map). First, we went to the Radiwan Port in Ivana, where we had a cup of coffee at the famous Honesty Coffee Shop, a cozy and quaint little store where customers leave their payments in a box. It was founded by a retired schoolteacher who wanted to provide refreshments for the people in the nearby port.

Honesty Coffee Shop, Ivana, Batan Island

Then we went on a 30-min boat ride to Sabtang Island (P75 one-way, plus P2000 if you plan to bring a cow with you) and met Kuya Gilly, our tricycle driver and guide for the day. Kuya Gilly allowed us to stop the tricycle for the weirdest things, like when he wanted to show us where they get apog or limestone, which they use in making houses and cooking rice (he couldn’t explain why they used it in rice).  We visited Barrio Savidug, the Savidug Idjang (a precolonial Ivatan settlement on top of a hill that served as a fortress), and Barrio Chavayan.

In every barrio that we visited, Kuya Gilly would say hi to kids on the street, who turns out to be the sons of his cousin or his godchild or the daughter of so-and-so. Everybody on the island knew everybody. In Chavayan, Kuya Gilly’s hometown, we found the Sabtang Weavers’ Association where local weavers showcase their craft. Do you see the nylon string they’re using in making the vakul? They only found that on the beach, along with other stuff that the sea washes to the shore (such as styrofoam balls and other floaters), probably from Taiwan. Ingenious!

In the next entry, I’ll post some pictures of North Batan and Diura fishing village.