Monday, March 02, 2020

Northern Paradise

Early morning of February 26, 2020, my wife, her friend, Lezlie and I were at the airport on our way to the northernmost part of the country in Batanes. It is a group of islands just south of Taiwan.  Comprising of a total of 10 islands, only three islands, Itbayat, Batan and Sabtang, are inhabited. Without any preconceived ideas of what laid ahead, the three of us, only armed with enthusiasm and excitement set foot on Basco airport for the first time. We were greeted by Edna who drove a trike which shall be our vehicle for the duration of the trip.  To my amazement, the trike was far different from the usual trikes we have in the Philippines.  These trikes were custom made for touring with a thatched roofing that is reminiscent of an Ivatan traditional house. Very clever, I should add.

 As was stated, we were greeted by Edna, a government employee, who was tasked by our host to take us to the house where we shall be staying.  Yes, we stayed in a house, a home stay as the locals call it. As it turned out, Batanes is filled with these kind of lodgings which is actually a  welcome treat for we shall be living with a local   and none of those hotel-trying-hard-fancies that most hotels in the provinces try to live up to but mostly fall short. It was like going on a vacation to a far away land and living with a close relative .

The house in Castillejos St. was about a five-minute drive by tricycle. There, we were welcomed by Richmond,  the son of the owners, who was as accommodating and friendly as his parents, Richard and Leny.  As we got up to our rooms, the table was already prepared with rice, eggs and sword fish for breakfast. The rooms were clean and very comfortable.

 After breakfast, I took off to visit a small art gallery to check out what the local artists are like in this part of the country while my companions rested.  I was impressed by the artistry of some twenty or so artists in the area. Believing I owe it to at least make a purchase in support of the artists there, I bought a t shirt designed by no other than the owner of the gallery.  At lunchtime, our ride for the tour of Day 1 arrived with our tour guide/driver, Jaycee. We were taken to Beehan, a local restaurant for lunch. After which, we were taken to a view deck which officially welcomed us to  Basco, Batanes.  There we were fascinated by the view not knowing that the rest of our stay will be nothing but be amazed by the scenery that the place has to offer.

                       Welcome to Basco Batanes

Firs View deck from among many

Rolling hills

            Valugan Boulder  Beach                                      Naidi Lighthouse

From among the scenic spots that we went to, notable was the rolling hills which is like no other . So, too were the hills divided by the grass called biawo (sp?) which are also being used as wind breakers as the winds blow strong continuously at the wide expanse of spacious, mountainous land which is also carpeted by a sprawling lawn of bermuda and other equally beautiful grass.  Another highlight was the boulder beach, a shoreline that is lined up with nothing but rocks that are constantly beaten by the swelling sea that forms waves upon waves that crush into the rocks that stand their ground refusing to budge even an inch from where they stand.  

Second Day

We had to srart early as we were to ride a boat going to the island of Sabtang, the island closest to Cagauyan.  After a thirty minute ride going to  the port, we were prepared for another thrity minute boat ride.  As usual, we were asked to wear life vests for precautionary measures. 

Upon entry to the island, we were greeted by our tour guide driver, Joel!  The first stop was a beach with a fantastic land formation perfect for picture taking. The beach was equally beautiful but it is not one where beach goers bathe in.  After all, it was just one of the stops among many.  Not wanting to be a spoiler, trust me when I say that Sabtang has plenty of adorable things to offer.  Nevertheless, allow me to jump to what I consider to be the highlight of our visit.  The traditional houses in a community of about two hundred Ivatans.  The pictures will do the talking for me. 

Day 3

Day three was a tour south of Batan Island.  First stop was the Mahatao church , where a library with volumes of books, all blank, is numbered and where one can write whatever one pleases about Batanes. Be it a prayer for the place, the expression of awe, etc. can be written and be reviewed on the next visit provided one remembers the volume number one wrote in.  

Next stop was  a light house called Tayid. Once again, it is located in a spot that has a wonderful view of the ocean and the magnificent Mt. Iraya with its head wearing a cloud on its head making it look mysterious as its ubiquitous cloud formation hides the top of the mountain making one wonder how it looks like.  

After being in awe at the scenery at Tayid Lighthouse, we were taken to yet another location with a fantastic view called Rakuh-a-Payaman or what is commonly known as Marlboro Country. This is a gated paradise to keep the grazing carabaos and cows from straying off the vicinity.  In order to enter the place, one has to open the gate by himself and  enter.  A few meters thereafter, one enters another expanse of land where a sprawling landmass of greenery carpeted to perfection by the grazing animals who seem to be in paradise with nothing to do but munch on their favorite delight.  

There are at least ten stops one takes on this tour.  One of which was the only surviving stone house built in 1877 making it the oldest surviving edifice in the whole of Batanes. A relative, probably a third generation descendant with her offspring, takes care of  the place. Worth mentioning, too, is the honesty store  This is a famous store unmanned by any vendor as the owners have placed their trust in the goodness in people which they believe only a very minor motivation could spark the goodness inherent with each visitor. . Signs like "This place is too small for people who cheat!"   True enough, the store has endured the years of its existence from the very day it was perceived and ironically seem to even be growing as it now houses not only meager trade  but even big souvenir items as well.  Realizing  at the store's accomplishment, one realizes there is hope for the Filipino people.  

In conclusion, I am bewildered by Batanes not only because of its beautiful scenery but most of all the system it has learned to adopt.  The tourism industry will continue to thrive just because the Ivatans seem to know what the common goal is. This is a possible because of their  egalitarian way of life.">The prime motivator of the cultural values of the Ivatans are imbibed in their  pre-colonial belief systems of respecting nature and all people. The Ivatans, both  the older and younger generations, have one of the highest incidences of social acceptance to minority groups in the country. The Ivatans also have a high respect for the elderly and the prowess of natural phenomena such as waves, sea breeze, lightning, thunders, earthquakes, and wildlife congregations.  Discriminating someone based on skin color, ethnic origin, sexual orientation,gender identity, age, and traditions on nature is unacceptable in Ivatan values.Land grabbing is also a grave crime in Ivatan societies, making ancestral domain certification an important part of Ivatan jurisprudence since the enactment of the IPRA Law

Everywhere I went during my visit, the people showed respect for one another, the community spirit of oneness, the eagerness to please outsiders as a way of showing their warm hospitality and more.  What makes Batanes work is because it has not been corrupted by greed or is being run by power hungry politicians. The place is small, with a population of only 18000 with the three inhabited islands combined.  Everywhere I went, the streets are immaculately clean, with toilets in strategic locations replete with water and even soap.  The people are very industrious and have learned how to live given the circumstances they are in. Knowing how windy their area is, they plant root crops and grow food, raise animals only by organic means.  The animals we saw grazing are not usually owned by a certain individual but is owned by everyone just like a cooperative.  

Going to traditional houses make me travel  back in time and see for my self how these people thrived in spite of typhoons and other weather hindrances. They have learned to tame the winds and the rain by their creativity as shown by their head gears not seen anywhere else in the country.  Given a chance to come back, I will have no second thoughts provided I have the money and the time.