On Batan: Gray skies and green days

We got off to a shaky start, literally, as the turboprop plane trembled minutes before landing on Basco airport. And for the next three days, our eyes frequently stared at a disappointing saturated powder blue sky, instead of an azure blue that most photographs of the region promised. It wasn’t love at first sight, I tell you that.

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My best attempt at Julie Andrews. The hills were very much alive.

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Basco Lighthouse, one of the three that can be found in Batanes.

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Biking in and out of the airport. After 3:00 pm the runway is open to the public. Neat!

It was on the radio, during a warning for an incoming monsoon, when I first heard about Batanes and since then I have associated the place with terrible weather. That and upon finding out that the regular airfare costs more than my monthly salary back then, I had written out the possibility of stepping foot on the country’s northernmost islands. It wasn’t even on my bucket list anyway. I didn’t even have any idea that it’s one of the most sought-after destinations in the Philippines until fellow traveler friends raved about it.

But once we alighted from the tiny aircraft and had our first deep inhale of country air, I couldn’t help but feel like I was in the pages of someone else’s book. I never imagined I would be there that soon. In Batanes. IN FUCKING BATANES! I felt ecstatic and wanted to experience first hand if the province would give justice to its reputation. Continue reading

Subdued: 24 hours in Sabtang

“Spend a night in Chavayan!” said Christian, who had just arrived in Manila that day after spending several ones in Batanes. I was bugging him for a few insider tips, but secretly hoped he would leave out the part about crossing the Balintang Channel to reach the island where the little village of Chavayan is located. You see, stories of Sabtang and the infamous waves faced during the 30-minute boat ride getting there frightened me.

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With a vakul on my head and a kanayi wrapped around my body

I winced when he mentioned Sabtang. Since I cannot swim to save my life, one of my biggest fears (see also: big wave capsizes boat, passengers drown in the ocean) was playing on loop in my brilliant, paranoid head. But my friend insisted, adding that if I wanted to immerse myself in an authentic Ivatan environment, that is where I needed to go.

On our second day, Kuya Jun picked us up from our guesthouse at an ungodly hour and drove us to Ivana Port where we waited, inside Honesty Coffee Shop, for the faluwa to arrive. 30 minutes later, I found myself about to hop on the medium-sized boat that would transport us to the smallest inhabited island in the Batanes Group of Islands.

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He who maneuvers the boat on top of the faluwa. I wonder how he does it in rough seas.

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Hi kuya, I can trace through your butt crack but carry on.

The open sea was waiting for me. “Bring it on.”, I whispered to myself, before remembering how Pi challenged the storm that eventually led to their ship sinking down Marianas Trench. Luckily, the waters were subdued that morning I even got the balls to climb up the faluwa’s roof and ride the rest of the trip without holding on to anything. I’m so hardcore. Continue reading

Dios Mamajes: Batanes photo diary

My trusted camera, a two-year old Canon G12, made a gut-wrenching sound as it made collision with the cold, hard pavement 30 minutes after we landed in Basco Airport. Of all places, the tragedy had to happen in Batanes, one of the most photogenic places in the archipelago. It was a malfunctioning mess for a good 60% of the seven days I was there, but in the few moments that the device cooperated I managed to capture bits and pieces of this beautiful province.

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‘Dios Mamajes’ is a phrase to express gratitude in Ivatan language and literally translates to ‘God bless you’

Its green fields and hills are filled with groups of goats…

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… or cows which are left alone for days tied to wooden pegs.

Continue reading

Alone in Bantayan Island

My feet treaded the beach, my black flip flops standing out in contrast to the white sand that covered the entire stretch of Santa Fe’s shore. It was a familiar place, having spent a day frolicking on the exact strip with a bunch of crazy people a couple of years before, but this time I was standing there alone. I was back in Bantayan.

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Santa Fe’s white sand bar stretched for several meters

When I think about it now, the old me would’ve never considered coming to this place all by myself. After all, when one thinks about going to the beach, it usually involves a party involving at least three heads, unless you’re with a significant other. But a lot has changed in the span of two years and the thought of traveling for hours and getting to this place by plane, bus, and boat no longer bothered me.

After the ferry docked at the port of Santa Fe, I immediately looked for a pedicab/padyak farthest from the pier that would take me to a resort, snubbing the habal-habal drivers who were touting everyone. You see, I hate touts and will make an effort to avoid any contact with them. Eventually, I found a nice man, Kuya Rowell, who also offered a personal tour of Bantayan for the following morning. It was a bit scary, and a breath of fresh air, to interact with total strangers who knew nothing about me except for the fact that I came from the city. In a way, it was sort of liberating.

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Bantayan’s main mode of transportation for the traveler who wants to save some cash and time.

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Pedicab drivers can be at the market near the port of Santa Fe. They can take you directly to the resort.

Even though I initially set a small budget for an overnight stay in Bantayan, I had no other choice but to shell out P1,700 for a room good for two people. The rate is pretty much the same at other decent resorts anyway. At first I thought it was a bit steep for my initial plan of spending less than a thousand pesos for a room, but after the trip was over I realised it was a small price to pay for having a wonderful time at that island. Comfort now beats the budget. That or I’m just getting old. Continue reading

Friends in high places

According to a stranger’s calculations (which I overheard at camp) it reached a freezing -2 degrees during the night we were attempting to sleep as comfortably as we can at one of Mt. Pulag’s peaks. Even with a proper mountain tent, a sleeping bag, and what initially seemed to be sufficient layers of clothing, the cold still crept it’s way to my skin. Unlike Elsa, the cold bothered me pretty damn much.

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Party of five with our Trail Adventours guide, Brennan

Growing up in a tropical country where I spent most of my life getting toasted under the sun, my body was not built for temperatures dropping below freezing point. Unlike the privileged teenage girls near our tents who ewwwed at the sight of the public latrines at the campsite, 24-hour air-conditioning was never part of my lifestyle.

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Tiny silhouettes of climbers enjoying the clouds on a closer peak. #jealous

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Anna checking for battery life. For some reason, the cold drains the power swiftly than usual.

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Some people opted not to climb the highest peak in exchange for a closer look at the vapor nomads

So it’s no surprise that one of my most horrific travel moments was the first twenty minutes after stepping out of our tent at 3:00 in the morning. My extremities trembled involuntarily. But despite that traumatic night, I had good enough reasons for returning to Pulag. Continue reading

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