One such happy event is we finally got to tick Batanes off our bucket list. I've always known Batanes to be such a beautiful island, and a lot of my friends have been urging us to visit. So we did -- and spent 5 memorable days there, too! First things first, we got our tickets from the famous Travel Expo held every February at SMX. I suggest planning and blocking off your travel dates as early as January so you can easily purchase tickets. The line is always long but no pain, no gain: we got our tickets for about Php 5,000 roundtrip (regular rates are Php 16,000 roundtrip).
We arrived in Batanes early Saturday morning after an hour and 45 minutes in the air via Philippine Airlines. Having lived in Agusan del Norte I was not shocked with how provincial Basco is, in fact I was very impressed with how preserved the city is, their sense of community, and the simplicity of their lifestyle.
DDD Habitat was to be our home for the next 5 days. It's a very simple lodge (think Kahea's in Baler) but with a private bathroom, aircon, and warm shower. It was only 5 minutes away from the airport and in the middle of the city.
|the Siayan Room can accommodate 4 people|
|this is where we have breakfast|
There's a bike shop next door where you can rent bikes, buy bike spare parts and pasalubong. I was giddy as soon as I saw the shop, I couldn't wait to go biking around town!
The first order of business was to nest and have lunch. We chose to eat at Hiro's Cuisine, a small carenderia-type place that was walking distance from DDD. The meals were Php150 per pax.
|Fish Lumpia with rice|
|Octopus Sisig with rice|
|we hope to explore the whole of Batanes soon|
The tour commenced at 2pm and we were to explore the major tourist spots in Batan Island, main island of Batanes.
MT. CARMEL CHAPEL
Batanes was heavily influenced by the Spanish hence Catholicism is the most dominant religion here. It's further emphasized by the numerous churches that were built even in the most far-flung municipalities.
I loved all the churches and chapels we visited but in hindsight, I think Mt. Carmel Chapel is my favorite with its stonewalls, carved wooden doors, and stained glass windows.
Here's a view of the famous Fundacion Pacita, owned by the most influential family in Batanes, the Abads. We were supposed to stay here but it was fully booked and the price range was beyond our budget (about Php 12,000 per night for 4 pax). Tourists are not allowed to wander too near though.
DIPNAYSUPUAN JAPANESE TUNNEL
Built during the height of World War II, the Japanese Tunnels were constructed by the enslaved Ivatans (the tour guide shared that the Japanese chose young Ivatans because they would fit within the small holes) on the hills of Tukon. The tunnels served as sleeping quarters and a lookout post for the Japanese.
There are 5 entrance and exit points, and there were even steep stairs headed downwards into the sleeping chambers. It was noticeably creepy while exploring the tunnels (of course, so many Ivatans died here) coupled with so much history. How did they dig through the limestone? What were the working conditions back then? Were they even allowed to rest in between? Furthermore, I was imagining that a zombie might lunge at us all of a sudden. Good thing the whole tour took less than 30 minutes.
VALUGAN BOULDER BEACH
Another popular destination is the Boulder Beach where instead of white sand, hundreds of boulders are littered along the shoreline. The boulders were once jagged rocks coughed up by Mt. Iraya, a nearby active volcano, these rocks were later polished by the tides and waves.
The beach bum in me was screaming "Let's go swimming!" but of course it's not possible here because of the rocks/boulders, plus the waves here are very aggressive. You can wear hiking shoes but sneakers will do just fine. Our parents didn't attempt to go down to the beach because boulders can be slippery.
Normally not part of the tour but our guide, Dennix, wanted to show us their Rizal Park, the plaza, and their municipal headquarters.
I biked around this place on the 3rd day and had so much fun doing so! It really reminds me of my hometown, Cabadbaran City.
SIMBAHAN NG BASCO
Another beautiful Church built in 1783. It is commemorated by a cast-iron plaque which mean it is included in the list of historical markers in the Philippines.
Outside the Church is the town plaza where locals play sports such as basketball, volleyball, and soccer. I could hear the majorettes also practicing just in time for Batanes Day on June 26.
VAYANG ROLLING HILLS
Oh my, we had so much fun in Rolling Hills because this was the first time we'd be hiking up the many hills in Basco. And, the first thing that came into mind? Julie Andrews' song "The Hills Are Alive", look how gorgeous the view is:
|jump shots are required here! :P|
|the look of fear on my face, haha|
NAIDI HILLS AND BASCO LIGHTHOUSE
Batanes is also known for their lighthouses and this is the first on the itinerary. You climb 50 steps (5 floors) in order to get a panoramic view of Basco.
We also rented these Ivatan Vakul (weaved headgear) used by farmers to protect themselves from the heat of the sun. These are Php 20/rental just for photo purposes only. You can buy them for approximately Php 600-700 (depending on where you're buying them, it's typically cheaper outside town).
After a long day (and long treks), we headed back to DDD to rest and prepare for dinner.
The food at Pension Ivatan came highly recommended by friends so my parents and sister took the tricycle while I rode Christa's bike. Christa is DDD's receptionist and all-around superwoman, she rides the bike to work every day and I borrowed it that night (and later borrowed it every single day, hehe).
If you must know, there is a designated hotline for tricycles and you have to contact them for pick-up (or ask your tour guide to do it for you). Unlike in Manila where tricycles have terminals at basically every corner and roam around freely, fuel is precious in Batanes and tricycles only travel when needed. They can only accommodate 3 passengers max and charge Php 30 per trip (if within the vicinity).
Crime is pretty much non-existent in Batanes, locals just leave their bikes by the roadside and they are confident that no one will attempt to steal them. With a total population of only 16,000, everyone in the community knows each other, and what's surprising is most close their stores and go to bed by 8pm. But since I borrowed Christa's bike, my Dad just wanted to be extra sure so we secured it.
Want to try all of Basco's local fare all in one go? Then order the Ivatan Platter (Php1,800) which offers a delish medley of steamed lobster, coconut crab, beef tadyang, luñis (similar to adobo), vunes (dried gabi stalks), uved balls, yellow rice (with turmeric), fried flying fish, grilled pusit, and salsa.
With coconut crabs being one of their prized delicacies, the kusinero had this fabulous idea of bringing out a live one after I've eaten mine. Now, I have hermit crabs at home but a coconut crab is way scarier and more aggressive:
While taking photos the crab scurried away which made me shriek so many times. My sister said, "Ate, isang sigaw pa magtatawag na sila ng pulis!" Hahaha, it's really very quiet in Basco and my shrieks would've stirred some controversy :P
So that's for our Day 1 in Basco, specifically North Batan. Stay tuned for more of our escapades in the following days.
*Our exclusive tours were booked through DDD Habitat.
Rates: Php 25,000~ for 4 pax inclusive of:
- Siayan Room (good for 4)
- duration: 5 days 4 nights
- package tour (guide + driver)
- lunch during the tours
To get in touch with our tour guide, contact:
Dennix Cantor: 0948-2048358 / 0916-3214303