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Most of my companions are puking inside the faluwa boat as we made our way to Sabtang Island that day; it was an overcast sky with a little drizzle as our boat rocked back and forth amidst the towering waves of the South China Sea meet the currents of the Pacific Ocean in the most ‘intense’ experience of the entire trip. Loaded with us on the boat are motorbikes, local produce, live animals consist of chickens and goats as we toke the 45 minutes ride from San Vicente port in Batan. It took a while upon landing to got my composure back, by that time, the weather was changing for the best with the moody landscape transformed into a majestic vista.
The Batanes group of islands is situated some 640km North of Manila, comprising a total of ten islands for which only Batan, Sabtang, and Itbayat are inhabited. Geographically nearer to Taiwan than Manila, Batanes enjoys the four season climate as that of the countries in the northern hemisphere.
The landscape is predominantly rocky with hills and mountains, very few plains, with gazing animals spread out in the rolling terrains. It is not unusual to see cattle perched high above your head mooing in Batanes. Mt. Iraya, now considered being an active volcano, rises 1000 feet above the main island of Batan.
Ivatans, the native people of Batanes are called; share the same linguistic and cultural history as those from the Babuyan Islands in the south and the Tao people of Orchid Island, part of Taiwan in the north.
Being situated in an area of high wind and rapid weather changes, the Ivatan houses are mostly made of stones held together with lime. They can withstand fierce storms as well as occasional tremors.
An often misconception about Batanes is that it is frequented by typhoons as mentioned in most weather reports. The truth being the capital Basco holds the last weather station in the north and is only a reference point for atmospheric disturbances that enters or exits the Philippine area of responsibilities.
Picturesque Batanes is a favorite place of photographic enthusiasts. Among the attractions are the lighthouses (2 in Batan, 1 in Sabtang), heritage churches (San Carlos Borromeo, San Jose Obrero, Sto. Domingo, etc.), beaches (Valugan, Nakabuang, White Beach, etc.), Radar Tukon, Naidi Hills, “Marlboro Country”, the many idyangs or fortified old settlements, Diura fishing village, honesty café, Sumhao wind turbines, the “Spring of Youth”, Chawa viewdeck, WWII Japanese tunnels (Batanes was occupied by Japanese forces from December 1941 to early 1945), Nakamaya (Site of the boat-shaped burial markers of the ancient Ivatans), and many others.
My fondest memory of Batanes was the culinary experience, most especially its seafood. For here you can taste the freshest catch in abundance and savor rice cooked the native way with turmeric, the powder of organic yellow ginger. The lobsters are heavenly as their sour dips melted in your mouth and gave up the sweetness of their meat in a lingering moment of indulgence. But the most delectable of all, the one thing that I failed to taste, is the native coconut crabs – that desire that will keep Batanes on my mind until it is quenched.
PS: The Batanes group of islands was submitted for consideration to the UNESCO World Heritage Center by Arch. Augusto Villalon/PAWB as protected landscapes and seascapes to be inscribed in the World Heritage List in August 15, 1993. Currently, only Seair flies from Manila to Basco and vice versa.
VRs taken on April 2007. Source: wikipedia.org and purocastillejos.com. The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org