Our first attempt to see Batanes was unluckily canceled due to bad weather condition in the northernmost Philippine frontier. We had to stay for two days in Manila and rather pampered ourselves with window shoppings, night life, and eating until our finances were enough to pay for our airfare back home. Late January of following year I was fortunate to accompany an OFW friend in a vacation who dared not the thrilling faluwa ride because then, he imagined how rough the sea waves were although the reliability of the skillful Ivatan boatmen are ever notable. Instead we acquired a ticket of SEAIR’s flight because they do regular trips to one among the breathtaking islands of Batanes.
I only had read a scant column of Batanes of a Civics textbook at grade school. After that, nothing, as if my whole life isn’t drawn there for an instance later. By chance I picked up a leaflet about the islands of Batanes at the airport (as we boarded the plane) however left it within the pages of my thesaurus inside my handcarry item. True, it didn’t occur to me once after those elementary days that the rustic pasturage view from the (32 seater Dornier) window would easily impress me: mazy patchwork of greenery framed by tall hedgerows or grass, reeds, formed stones and trees that canopied the crops from impassioned monsoon winds and waves that crash into the spectacular cliffs and rocks that is of likeness to English Moors and Scottish Highlands, only I’d traveled not that far.
Arriving at Basco Airport, the province’s capital, I sensed it would be unlike from the rest of my excursions. With a sub-tropical climate, that January was colder for us and Gil, my OFW friend informed me it could drop 7 degrees Celsius. There are no malls in the islands of Batanes, if I were to describe it I’d rather state that it’s more of a creative writer’s refuge, where landscape and seascape blend in all but a quiescent respite for a young man who had witnessed a city grow clamorous for most of his life.
We stayed at the Batanes Seaside Lodge and Restaurant in Basco, a place perfect for groups that’s well maintained by the owner named Ms. Lydia Roberto. For several times she admitted that her cordial reception earned good reputation among filmmakers who choose to shoot in the islands of Batanes. At the balcony we perfectly enjoyed a bottle of Premio my buddy brought, we ate various root crops there as Ivatans love storing them in case rainy seasons held them long inside their stone houses. Then we hit the road in bicycles with a helpful Ivatan guide who started telling us its history. Shortly we saw some stone houses in a village. Most Ivatans tended their farm and it was silent in the village. There were cows at the windswept hills freely wandering and goats too were likened to a cow as we paced farther a distance.
“See our roads suited as a Bicycle Capital of the Philippines,” our guide said, then turned a sharp curve to a descent where a panorama of South China Sea and Pacific Ocean mingled. “Over there, Taiwan,” he continued, fingering on a tiny patch some 190 miles away.
“What drink can heaten us up,” I asked, almost bothered of the cold.
“Later, I’ll see to it you guys take meals first.”
“What other things can we do aside from sightseeing?” asked Gil.
“Faluwa. You tried? No? I see,” the guide smiled while below us the steep cliff and waves murmured echoes to the rugged coast, then we moved fast, pedaled back to the lodge to get drunk.
The sun was high up at Basco, the islands of Batanes we can see as we pulled our shots of strong drinks and tried some standard melodies at a videoke neighborhood, we later agreed to switch the mic off and listen to each other. Their palek is more of Ilocos’ basi. Someone handed us a shot of Minyuvaheng too, an aged palek with a darker color and also of the truly dark Mavaheng; we got drunk and slumbered early but was awakened by coldness. I got up to see the horizon from the window, a stellar sky greeted me. I stood there amazed, the shivers all retreated.
The following morning we hiked the trail and we were like transported to another world. It was cloudy and windy and at times the clouds fleeted, adding fervor to fantasy. We saw more of the old stone houses and a bridge made of limestone, but we headed back for our grand seafood meal, which by the way, was de luxe. Closer to afternoon we rented a motorbike and tripped to the Basco Lighthouse on Naidi Hills. The sunset was picturesque there and the other islands of Batanes was gradually covered by mist as the sky turned lilac. We were later told of the historic significance of the place, also that other lighthouses offer spectacular views but we needed to board the faluwa or the tataya (a smaller one with two oars) to cross other islands. We declined. I also observed a lot of boat-like landmarks which were actually ancient burial sites for the Ivatans who had a unique seafaring culture. It is no wonder why a number of places in the islands of Batanes are among the UNESCO world heritage list.
Spanish influences are visibly seen too of the old architectures that are well preserved. The Sto. Domingo Cathedral in Basco is the oldest and was built around 18th century. A number of notable churches still stands today, San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao, Sta. Maria Immaculada in Itbayat, or the pink church of Itbud, to name a few.
I read the leaflet about Batanes, only with brief nostalgia while we were headed home but the experience deserves another chance. I later knew that among the eleven islands, only four is inhabited and some things belonging to history caught my interest. Entirely, it was like a short cut to solace as we covered our noses beside the airport in Manila. And whether or not my friend liked it that way (short), I knew we would be back there again sometime in the future to enjoy glasses of palek and put our busy lives behind.