Batanes is the northernmost part of the Philippines. As the song goes by the number one longest-running noontime show, Eat Bulaga, “Mula Batanes…hanggang Jolo” which roughly translates to ‘From Batanes to Jolo’, Batanes is really at the very tip of northern Philippines. One of its islands is actually closer to Taiwan than the Philippine mainland. And that when you’re listening to the radio you can actually get signals from Taiwan’s airwaves, too.
It is also the country’s smallest province both in population and land area. And although Batanes Group of Islands consists of 10 islands, only three of those are inhabited: Batan, Itbayat, and Sabtang. Basco, the capital of Batanes is located in Batan. They actually have four seasons here unlike the rest of the country. And because of its geographical location, they are frequently battered by typhoon. Strong winds, hence the name ‘Home of the Winds’, are expected all day long rain or shine, more so when there’s a storm. Lucky us, when we were there, the weather is really good and it only rains during our last day of stay there.
The people here are called ‘Ivatans’ and from what I learned they speak Ivatan (Batan and Sabtang) and Itbayaten (Itbayat), not that I can tell the difference. I love listening to them converse though (well, I guess I love hearing people converse in any language aside from Tagalog and English). Ivatans have distinct facial features quite different from your usual Filipinos. I think it’s like the Igorots in Baguio, you can tell they’re Igorot, the same thing, you can tell if they’re Ivatans.
Ivatans are mild-mannered people. They seem very nice, very warm, and very accommodating. Maybe because they can immediately tell if you’re a tourist so they always have a smile ready for you. But then again they can also just pretend you’re not there. Well, not the Ivatans, they seem to be too willing to stop whatever they’re doing just to accommodate you. And not that we abuse that in any way, we usually just smile back say our casual hellos and let them be. Actually, we’re so cautious about not bothering them we didn’t realize that Kuya Jun is practically saying it’s okay to come and visit for example the old lady, Lola Ida, at the ‘House of Dakay’ or the oldest Ivatan, Lolo Marcelo, whom already appeared in a Nescafe TV commercial.
Oh well, perhaps the next time I visit there. I just thought it’s kinda rude to just show up like that, well I guess not for the Ivatans. I think for them Batanes is their big house, and you are a guest in their house, so you met up with them say on your way up a hill and they would smile and nod at you as if saying ‘welcome to our living room’.
I’m not sure about the exact population here but the town proper where it’s supposed to be the most crowded isn’t exactly what I expected ‘crowded’ to be. Which is of course a good thing, because it still gives you that very laid-back feeling even if you are in the town proper already.
According to Kuya Jun, passenger jeepneys here have some sort of schedule to follow. Unlike in Manila or other provinces where you can see passenger jeepneys on the road almost non-stop, here you can only find them at a particular time. This makes sense since there are only a few people to transport here and there so there’s really no point in having hundreds of jeepneys on the road all at the same time.
You can also see private cars, Government vehicles, a few motorcycles, bicycles, and the old fashioned carabao sleds. I remember there’s one car that happens to pass by ours and honk at us as Kuya Jun honks back at. It turns out the vehicle is carrying the Governor of Batanes! I think it’s really nice that Kuya Jun seems to know the Governor personally, or as Kuya Jun says, ‘he knows this car is for tourist so the governor knows we have guests.’ And also, it’s surprising to see a traveling official in one car like that because you usually expect a convoy of vehicles when there’s a government official onboard, well I guess not here. That was a lone car with an official on board that will be passing some really secluded area. Wow, Batanes is that safe!
Means of transportation are not such a big deal for the Ivatans it seems. They’re all accustomed to walking. Unlike city people or those in other provinces who simply need to take a taxi, a tricycle, or their car just to get somewhere which is sometimes just a block away. Hmmm, no wonder Ivatans are fit people.
I remember we passed by an old woman on our way to a tourist spot, she’s carrying this enormous bundle of twigs on her head (but then again she still managed to throw us a smile). First, we’re like, wow she can carry those as if it’s nothing considering that she may be past 80 years old. And then we realized, wait she’s going all the way the curvy and steep roads we just passed by!
When we were on our way back from Mahatao lighthouse, an old lady just pops out from a wall of cogon grass. And we’re like, where did she come from and how did she get there in the first place? I know how we did, we’re on a freaking car and there’s no other car in the area and no way she’s riding any motorcycle!
She was holding what looks like leaves of some sort in her hands. As she and Kuya Jun converse, we learned that she’s out there looking for those plants/veins for dinner. I forgot what’s it called, turns out it’s edible. It was then that Kuya Jun mentions that in Batanes you can’t go hungry, you just look around you and you’ll find something.
They live a simple life, to survive is not really a struggle contrary to what they would see on TV. He said they wonder why people were all flooding the city (Manila) and have to try so hard to survive when you can live a simple life in provinces. Well, I guess that’s one of the problems, not all people are contented with a simple life.
He also says that Batanes’ life may be plain and boringly simple but he believes they’re doing well, in fact, they don’t have beggars. Which is amazingly true! You don’t see people or children here begging for food or money. He said, as long as your neighbor is eating so will you. Now that’s beyond simplicity. That’s good-hearted people looking after each other.
I’m not sure if the record still holds the same, but I used to hear that Batanes has a zero crime rate. I’m not so surprised really. If you can leave your motorcycle (we also saw a small bulldozer sitting at the middle of the road, but let’s not count that since it’s too heavy really to steal ;-)), and leave your house with just a long stick for lock (in Sabtang) that pretty much says you are in a really safe place.
I mean who leaves their livestock in the middle of nowhere and expect to come back in the afternoon (sometimes even after a week) and still find it there? Funny thing is that Kuya Jun said, you can also choose to put a stick on the ground with a cloth or something to signify that you are forbidding others to take it or steal it, like mind your own business leave this goat alone, haha! I mean as if a stick on the ground could stop anyone who’d want to steal it. I guess that’s the thing, no one will dare steal it.
Same with the cows in Rakuh a Payaman, owners would leave their cows there for months and then come back when it’s, well too bad for the cows, when it’s time to sell them. He said each owner has unique markings on their cows so they would know which is theirs. I remember asking Kuya Jun if the cows ever slipped from the hills because they’re grazing on the grass reaching even those on a very steep place. I can’t quite remember what his reply was. I’m not really sure, but crazy part of my brain is saying he did say maybe a couple of times for as long as he remembers. That I even thought to myself, how did they know for sure that the cow slipped if they don’t really check on them every day? Which of course, I didn’t ask out loud.
Oh well, maybe that’s how this cattle business is in Batanes. They pride of course in having delicious cow’s meat, since it’s all organic, no artificial fattening and stuff, just plain green, green, grass. Same thing with hogs and other livestock. Actually, when we had a taste of their version of Adobo here, which is pork, it actually tastes different. You can actually eat the ‘taba’ (fat) without cringing, which you usually do when eating something too fatty. Well, I guess organic does taste better!
When we were there, road construction is undergoing. It’s just weird to see cemented roads extending as far as in the middle of nowhere. Kuya Jun said it’s still part of their efforts to encouraged tourists. Part of me is saying, let them come and let them hike, you don’t have to literally pave the way for them, but then again, I just kept it to myself.
You’ll be surprised as well to find toilets in places you would least expect it. There’s one in Rakuh a Payaman and another one in the Fountain of Youth. I guess they’re thinking just in case nature calls and someone is not that comfortable with nature, haha!
I can also say that the Ivatans are honest, responsible, and kind-hearted people. I would notice Kuya Jun picking up trash (like plastic bottles, left by other tourists I supposed), he always makes sure that we left each tourist spot the way we found it. That is we’ll bring our trash with us and he’ll always make sure to put the lock back (not exactly a padlock or something, it’s usually just a big piece of wood put across the door or big ropes.
Passenger jeepney will wait for you, not that you don’t need to hurry up, but it’s like we’ll not really going to leave you just because you’re not there at the exact precise time I’m passing. I guess because basically here, everybody kind of knows each other.
Kuya Jun said that when it rains too hard up to a point where certain roads get ruined, no need to call the authorities. Some random Ivatans will simply patch the road or cut whatever trees that are blocking it. And it’s not like because he lives nearby or across the street or something. These are roads in the middle of nowhere, and still, it’s no big deal for them to take time to carry dirt to patch it or take time to chop off trees just to clear the road. Ivatans are definitely good citizens. :-)
I guess the people and nature here make Batanes the perfect getaway from your so-busy so-complicated life. (And I’m not saying you can’t enjoy it here if you’re neither, it’s just that the place is simply enigmatic that way). It’s like this is a sanctuary for worn-out souls. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic about it, but life here couldn’t get any simpler that you don’t have to feel less of yourself. Not because you may have more than they do (materially) but basically because those things simply don’t matter here. But hey, maybe I’m an old soul and I dig things like that. It’s really up to you to see and find out for yourself.
*Especial thanks to my sister who more than willingly pose for these photos ;-)