Editor’s note: In this edition of Blogger Exchange, Abigail Felix-Plaza talks about their 2016 trip to Batanes, the smallest province in the Philippines.
I remember asking my parents about this sprawling landscape that was plastered on our calendar. When I learned that the place was called ‘Batanes’ and that it sits on top of the Philippines, I wondered if we can ever go there. “It is too far,” they said. Not to mention, the trip would be very expensive because budget airlines were nonexistent back then.
But somehow, the dream to visit this postcard of a place has always been in my heart. So years later, when my would-be-husband asked where we wanted to go for our honeymoon, I quickly said, “Batanes!” hoping that it will finally come true.
Long story short, we hopped on a plane and spent a few days there. Our jaws already dropped while our plane was still descending to land. Batanes is true to their tagline: Breathtaking. The airport boasts of untampered mountains and the air had a distinct smell that made me think, “Maybe this is what fresh smells like.”
Although the airport was not much with a short strip for landing and the wooden luggage ‘carousel’ does not actually dispense bags (they were manually pushed, if not carried by the porters to its owners), you can let it pass since it somehow comes along with Batanes’ untouched nature.
We were fetched by our very knowledgeable tour guide, Mel. He is a fisherman and farmer and offered an interesting economic view on Batanes when he guided us around the place.
On our first day of the tour, Mel told us that there are only two kinds of people in Batanes: the Ivatans (natives) and Ipulas (foreigner). Because of the Ivatan’s distinct facial characteristics and dialect, it is very easy for them to spot Ipulas like us. This is an interesting fact because while Ivatans are also Filipinos like us, they are geographically closer to Taiwan and have a very distinct culture from the rest of the archipelago.
Interestingly, we visited Batanes three months after typhoon Ferdie (International name: Meranti) shattered some of the cell towers and broke down some walls. According to our tour guide, the Ivatans have a strong community culture where everyone is eager to help. After the rains subsided, the people already took the restoration in their own hands rather than to wait for government aid. According to him, the media arrived too late so there weren’t “enough damages” to be broadcasted or sensationalized.
Since Batanes is mostly inhabited by Ivatans, they live in a high trust society. On most days, Ivatans will just leave their house without locking the doors when they go farming or run some errands. They leave some of their belongings like bicycles just outside their houses and won’t worry about being stolen in broad daylight or night time. That is why, Batanes is also famous for their Honesty Store, where you get any items you want, write them down on a logbook and drop your payment in a box provided.
Food-wise, they are fond of sweet potatoes. Geographically, rice does not grow well and was even considered as a high economic status if you ate them. But they are great in producing root crops and so their food usually consists of that. In fact, Ivatans fondly call their fellow Ivatans ‘wakay’ which means sweet potato.
This is their version of meatballs, which is a combination of ground meat and banana heart (or corm). Its soup is a mixture of tomatoes, chilies and ginger. Just like the Philippine adobo, the uved (some call it uvud) has also evolved over time. It has some variations across different restaurants based on heirloom recipes or culinary improvisations.
Vayang Rolling Hills
Among the many tourist spots in Batanes, the Vayang Rolling Hills is our favorite. We went there during sunset and the view was just breathtaking. It is one of those unassuming spots where you can see the sprawling green grass and the ocean as it meets the sky in the horizon.
- Visit Batanes during summer. We went there a few days before Christmas day. We had good weather for the first two days but rain poured down on our last day. We did not enjoy some of the sites as a result. On top of that, Typhoon Nina (international name: Nock-Ten) was strongly felt across Basco the night before our flight back to Manila. Our families were worried sick if we’d be home by Christmas eve.
- Batanes is a group of islands with Basco as the provincial capitol Town. Composed of six municipalities and ten islands, there are other tourist destinations outside Basco. For our trip, we only went to Sabtang Island. The other inhabited island is Itbayat which is famous for its rocky cliffs and stone houses.
- Going to Sabtang Island from Basco, we hopped on their faluas or U-shaped boats. This is a new experience for us since we are accustomed to riding on a lantsa (wooden-hulled passenger ships or ferry boats) when we go island hopping in the Philippines. We wouldn’t say it was a smooth ride, the waves were crashing against the ship and we were starting to think we might throw-up. But when we saw the locals’ ‘it’s-just-another-day-at-sea’ expression, we thought that, well, this may not be out of the ordinary for them. We safely arrived on the island and went on to see the famous stone houses in one of their villages.
- With the growing number of airlines that fly to Batanes now, more and more tourists are coming to this ‘nature’s playground.’ Our hope is that the province will not become too ‘commercialized’ and that Ipulas like us will honor and respect the simple and slow living of the Ivatans.
The quickest way to Batanes is via a flight from Manila to Basco Airport (IATA: BSO). As of this posting, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the province is still closed to tourists.
Blogger Exchange is The Weekend Dispatch’s platform that will feature stories from other bloggers, travelers and every one else in between. All the photos used in this post are courtesy of Mark and Abigail Plaza.
Abi is half of the duo behind Mark x Abi, a very influential millennial parenting blog. The other is Mark, my good friend from university.
She is a parenting advocate, lifestyle content creator, digital marketer and the CEOs of Serioso Chili Garlic and Nowly Social Media Consulting.