Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Experienced the mystique and charm of the northern most province in the Philippines. The Batanes Islands are so hard to get to and so isolated, yet so unique and beautiful that I couldn't believe I was still in the Philippines.

The first part of this blog post is where the journey begins from entry into Basco, Batanes, exploring the unique hedgerow farms, seeing our first stone houses, Fundacion Pacita, the famous light houses, boulder beach, the signature rolling hills, waves crashing on jagged cliffs, and catching an elusive rainy sunset at the pier.

Description of each place to follow on the photo itself.

The second part of this post is all about getting to Sabtang Island. This includes the crazy, stomach turning 45 minute boat ride with killer waves 30 feet tall (hello seasickness), but it was all worth it because of the even more pristine landscapes that dotted this little island that time forgot. From the natural stone arch at Morong Beach, to the rows upon rows of sturdy stone houses that lined the streets of Savidug Village, to the breath taking views of Chamantad-Tinayan Viewpoint whose outlooks could rival that of Scotland, and to munching on some coconut crab (the local delicacy)

After exploring Sabtang Island, we spent the last few days some new and old spots in Basco. We explored a hidden spring which locals called 'The Spring of Youth', we played a load of board games during down time, and we visited the lighthouses and beaches of Batanes one last time before heading home. A good way to end the trip was a ride on some of the many Japanese style bicycles the locals are so used to. It was a poignant affair riding our bikes into the Ivatan sunset.

I don't know if I'll ever be back in Batanes (partly because its so hard to get there), but I do know that these beautifully proud little islands that could have now calcified and become a part of my heart.

Our journey begins by taking a turbo prop Bombadier Q400 PAL plane from Manila to Basco Airport in Batanes.

Premonitions of the adventures to come manifest early when the pilot unexpectedly announces that he 'will have to keep on circling around the run way' because he can't see the landing strip due to zero visibility.

The Basco shoreline is rocky and jagged, hinting at what cliffs and crags await us furthur inland.

We set off on foot to climb a small hill, and we stumble upon our first stone house.

The houses here are made from the sturdiest of materials like stones hewed from the hard island itself in order to be able to weather the strongest of storms that frequent this tiny island archipelago

We make our way up the hill and our greeted with the sight of tidy hedgerow farms that the Ivatan farmers set up in order to protect their crops from the gale force winds so common to these islands

We soon discover that the roads in Batanes are carved straight out of the rocky mountains that house them. Way cool.

Next stop is the famed Fundacion Pacita, home of the proudly Ivatan artist Pacita Abad (sister of the current Budget Secretary Butch Abad)

The place is now a high-end hotel, restaurant and art gallery

Having a bite at Fundacion Pacita while overlookind the undulating hills of Basco

Next stop: the famous Valugan boulder beach.

Our guide told us that when the nearby active volcano called Mt. Iraya erupted, it spewed out all these boulders you see before you.

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We ended the day some time later and retired early due to having been up at dawn for our flight.

The next day, we climbed the famed Basco Lighthouse to catch a glimpse of the city of Basco with Mt. Iraya shrouded in clouds as the backdrop

Basco Lighthouse

The remains of the old American radar station. 

A sister moment on one of the many trademark white washed walls and blue wooden doors that adorned the well built structures around Batanes

After having our fill of the light house, it was time to enjoy the signature view of Batanes from the rolling hills for which it is so famous for.

This shot was completed by our tour guide (in the red jacket, to the lower right portion of the picture) chasing the wind swept hat of one of our companions. The wind was extremely strong. One could stand at an angle and lean in towards the wind and he would not fall down.

And this... is the beggining of some of the many#lightfies that we had in Batanes. Just couldn't resist lighting ourselves with the use of my hand held flash.

The path to the view deck

Next we moved to a view deck (Chawa View Deck) where huge waves from the Luzon Strait dashed themselves against the sharp edges of the cliff side.

Fun fact: That very same day, 2 laborers imported from Manila were taking pictures from the very same viewdeck, a huge wave hit them and sucked them out to the ocean. When we left 3 days later, we learned that one of the laborers bodies was recovered. The other is still missing as to date!

Anyway, just be safe! On to the next photo

Descending to the view deck

The waves were crazy strong and huge!

That perfect moment when your flash goes off and the waves crash against the rocks in the background.

Next on the tour, another of one of the three light houes dotting the Batanes landscape.

Next, we explored the southern part of Batan island which led us to the oldest stone house in Batanes.

This place is called the house of Dakay and was built in 1887. It was one of the only structures to still be standing after a strong earthquake levelled the town in the early 1900s.

At the Imnajbu Point, another great viewdeck perfect for some photos!

The wind was crazy strong here too!

Now on to Marlboro Country! Too bad the weather was getting dark and a bit rainy at that time

Before setting out for home, we chanced upon the ever elusive Batanes sunset (since it was raining on and off the whole day), we rushed to the pier to take the shot with the sunset and light house as a backdrop.

After taking the shot, a split second later, a huge wave hit the breakwater and almost drenched us! We were lucky the wave didnt drag us out to sea! Phew!

Feasting on some local delicacies after a long day of touring!

The next day began by the group waking up at dawn to head to the port. As we await our little boat to take us to Sabtang Island (45 mins away in rough [very rough] sea), we decide to loiter and eat breakfast at the Honesty Coffee Shop.

The Honesty Coffee shop is famous for the first part of its name rather than the latter. This humble yet iconic establishment was set up by a teacher who was herself very busy. She decided to simply set up a table with hot water and coffee and leave it by the portside unattended where customers waiting for the early boat to Sabtang could just get what they wanted, when they wanted and leave their pay in a little box on the table.

Honesty plays a big part in the culture of the Ivatans/

Our little wide berthed boat that would take us to Sabtang Island. It is wide for stability in the very very very rough seas that we traversed to get to Sabtang Island. The trip was 45 minutes of roller coaster waves. Some waves were as high as 20-30 feet in my opinion. A lot of passengers got sea sick but thankfully I took some bonamine beforehand.

We finally arrive in Sabtang Island and one of the first things we do is head for Morong beach where we have a customary group photo by the natural limestone arch that was formed by the passage of waves over time.

We next head to the seaside village of Savidug where we get our fill of stone houses. The entire town looks like it could laugh in the face of gale force winds.

The stone (sometimes coral) walls and the reed roofs (which are only changed every 30 years) form a signature Ivatan house.

The stone backdrop triggered an automatic portrait session lol

The next feast for the eyes is Chamantad Viewpoint. Probably one of the most beautiful landscapes I've been to. It was so hard NOT to take a good picture.

Coconut crab!!! These critters are akin to huge hermit crabs that climb coconut trees, break open the fruit with their huge claws, and make their way into happy stomachs of travelers.

The next day saw us making a short trek in the rain to the Fountain of Youth. This fountain is a fresh water spring next to the sea which is said to have powers to conserve the youth of people who bathe there. Well, we didnt get any younger than we already are, but it was a nice little spring pool next to the beach.

People say that this spring is what provided some of the very first inhabitants of Batanes with fresh water all those hundreds of years ago.

And finally riding our bikes off into the Ivatan sunset. You were magical Batanes. I'll see you when I see you.


Ligaya Storey said...

Again, What can I say, Andreo! Simply breathtaking! You make me want to go up north to see these scenery! What a beautiful country we have!

Andreo Bongco said...

@Ligaya Storey
Thank you! Glad you like the photos. Yes you should definitely see Batanes one of these days. It is one of the places in the Philippines that you HAVE to see.