Batanes. If you live in the Philippines, chances are that name can evoke beautiful, unspoiled pastoral images of rolling hills, rugged mountains, an unobstructed expanse of sky and water, and an idyllic way of life. It’s the northernmost island province of the Philippines, separated from the rest of Luzon where the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea meet. Because of its location, Batanes gets a ceaseless beating from the strong winds and typhoons during monsoon season. It’s one of the more remote spots in the country and like most fellow Filipinos, it’s a place I’ve always want to see.
Early this March, I found the perfect excuse to go. We launched in Batanes Asa Ka Awan du Vatan (A Year in Batanes) under Firetree Press, the small book publishing house I am a part of. The book can be a travel journal of sorts, but it’s really more of a precious collection of watercolor paintings by Victoria Abad-Kerblat and different Ivatan artists with a month by month guide on the rich heritage and traditions of Batanes.
The day before the book launch, my colleagues and I got to make our way around Batan, the main island of Batanes, where the provincial capital of Basco is located.
We were staying in Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge (thanks to the book’s author), the former home studio of acclaimed international artist Pacita Abad turned into a really lovely bed and breakfast. It sits atop a hill with a fantastic view of the island that I think I spent a good amount of my phone and camera memory shooting around the place in my first few hours in Batanes.
When I finally got over how beautiful Fundacion Pacita was and how stunning the view, we walked up toward the Radar Station of PAGASA, the country’s northernmost weather station. It affords you a higher vantage point of Basco compared to Fundacion Pacita. There’s also a hold-on-to-your-hat kind of windy weather on the hill, where you can expect to see a number of cows and goats grazing. Further up, we reached Tukon Chapel. Its exterior is designed like the traditional stone houses of Batanes. Say a little prayer, drop a donation, or just take a breather and sit on its grassy lawn.
When we headed down to to the capital of Batan, we walked around the quiet plaza. It was a bright and warm Tuesday afternoon. The kids were still inside the school. A long row of bikes were parked by the street, none of them chained to any fence, which wasn’t a surprise as Batanes is one of the few places in the country where crime is almost non-existent.
We walked to Simbahan ng Batan (Batan Church), also known as Katedral ng Immaculada Concepcion. It was first built in 1783 though it has been refurbished after the second World War and the earthquake in 1950. Afterward, we strolled to the small gallery of Yaru nu Artes Ivatan, an association of artists from Batanes, most of whom created artwork for the book. Batanes is such a picturesque place, picking up a paint brush or creating art seems almost second nature to the Ivatans.
From the church, you can also take a 15-minute bike ride up to Naidi Hills to see its lighthouse (and catch the sunset), go up Vayang Rolling Hills, and then go down, heading east to Valugan Beach. The beach, which faces the Pacific Ocean, is covered in boulders and rocks that were from the eruption of nearby Mt. Iraya many centuries ago. Polished by the powerful waves of the Pacific, the smooth boulders spread across a stretch of Batan’s north eastern coast now make one of the many distinct and beloved Batanes backdrops.
The following day, we launched the book at the Naidi Hills Lighthouse. The morning though was happily spent in Sabtang Island, which appears to mostly capture the Batanes of our imagination. I hope to post about it soon.
How to get to Batanes: Philippine Airlines and Skyjet fly to Basco, Batanes. We were advised by locals to take PAL primarily because they have more flights
Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge: Brgy. Chanarian, Tukon, Basco, Batanes; contact no. (0939) 901-6353 or (0917) 855-9364; email: firstname.lastname@example.org