The Magic of Batanes Isles (Part 2 of 2)

The Magic of Batanes Isles
La Isla Magazine, July 2010 Cover Story
Written by Anton Diaz
Photos by George Tapan

Read First: The Magic of Batanes Isles (Part 1 of 2)

Sabtang Island

Chamantad Viewpoint, Sabtang Island
.  Photo by
George Tapan.

Sabtang Island is 30-45 minutes away from Batan Island via a
falowa ride. The falowa is a U-haul boat designed with no balancing beam called
katig, so that it can freely dance with
the waves. Between Batan and Sabtang is the channel where the Pacific Ocean and
the South China Sea meet. In this channel, you can see the waves flowing in
different directions, and this is where most people get seasick with the
falowa’s rocking motion.

Once you arrive in Sabtang and see the heritage towns of
Savidug and Chavayan, you will realize that bearing with the rocky falowa trip
was worth it. These two areas are the remaining coastal towns composed
predominantly of the stone houses Batanes is known for. The houses have walls
that are made from stones bonded with lime and their roofs are made from cogon.
These towns are next in line for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List in
the Philippines.

Valugan bay boulder beach, one of the favorite spots around the island
.  Photo by
George Tapan.

Chavayan is the most loved heritage town of all, not only
because of the intact stone houses but also because of the cute kids with anime
eyes, and the vakul (traditional
headdress used for planting root crop) weaving community.

In between the towns of Savidug and Chavayan is the
Chamantad viewpoint, which can literally take your breath away. Some people
remark that the grassland, mountain and seascape view remind them of Ireland.
Most just appreciate the view in silence – in awe of the grandeur of Nature’s
beauty and God’s creation.

You can end your day trip to Sabtang with an authentic
Ivatan fresh seafood lunch along the beach. A simple serving of the fresh catch
of the day, together with either lobsters or coconut crabs, will make the meal
quite memorable. The beach is now more famous because of the natural arc
formation found there (as shown in the movie, Batanes). After lunch, some people lie down for siesta along
the beach or take a dip in the waters for a while. It is a bit rocky, though,
because of the coral base.

 Itbayat Island

Batanes Hedgerows
.  Photo by
George Tapan.

Itbayat is the biggest of all the islands. Some say that it
was the first to be inhabited and 
it was made from corals that were pushed up from the sea. That could
explain why there are no beaches there. Instead, Itbayat is home to magnificent
cliffs and rock formations.

To get there from Batan, you can ride a bigger falowa (compared
to the ones traveling to Sabtang). The trip can take around 3 hours and the
waves encountered are much bigger. If you sit on the roof of the falowa, you
will literally see the boat swaying almost 95 degrees from side to side. The
boatmen give out plastic bags before traveling (so I guess getting seasick on
the trip is already normal). The prime seats are those located beside the
window so that you can still look out and see the horizon to avoid dizziness –
or you can easily throw up into the sea.

Most Ivatans are fisherfolk by occupation. One of the
popular ways they fish is they tie a long fish line in the falowa and then put
the hook with fake bait into the sea. Consider it an extra treat if you see an
actual fish caught using this method during your boat ride. If successful, the
entire crew would clean the fish later on and eat it sashimi- or kilawin-style with chili vinegar. J

Small garlic of Batanes
.  Photo by
George Tapan.

Docking in Itbayat is an experience in itself, where there
are no beaches, bays or harbors. The designated port has a steep ramp where a
clever pulley system was devised to lift the goods from the port to the
elevated road. There are stairs paved on the sides of the ramp for pedestrians
to climb. Modes of transportation going to the central town are a bit rustic,
and life on Itbayat is simple and laid-back compared to the other islands.

A hike to the highest viewpoint on the island; caving in
Torongan cave – an ancient dwelling place with a burial ground on top; and
visiting the old town of Raele are the adventures that await the more daring
visitors to the island. The houses in the town center are a bit modern already,
but in Raele, you can see the stone houses built with rocks from crushed coral
stones (since there is no source of boulder rocks on the island). A 2-3 day trip
is ideal when exploring Itbayat.

Yummy Ivatan Food

Flavors of Batanes.  Photo by
George Tapan.

Aside from the natural beauty of the islands, the magic of
Batanes can also be found in its organic food.

You’ll discover just how yummy organic food can be when you
are served the Ivatan platter with all the fresh vegetables available on the
island, such as fern salad, ampalaya,
tomatoes, onions, eggplant, and okra with
bagoong. The vegetables taste sweeter than usual and are
pleasant to eat – even non-vegetable lovers rave about them.

Ivatans are proud of their food, which are usually
home-cooked and prepared by the Ivatans themselves. Their authentic dishes are
often enjoyed with a big fruit-tree leaf called Kabaya and are scooped up using
the hands.

The turmeric rice made with fresh yellow ginger (sometimes,
turmeric powder is used already) is always a treat to eat in every meal in
Batanes. My favorite Ivatan dishes are the steamed Uvud balls made from banana
heart mixed with meat; Lunez, their crispy and dried adobo version; and Venus,
which is made from gabi stalks.

Dried dorado at Diura Fishing Village
.  Photo by
George Tapan.

For special occasions, the Ivatans prepare kinilaw (raw fish meat from the fresh catch of the day), uni (sea urchins) and snails. Lobsters are also served
to special guests and, occasionally, the tasty meat of coconut crabs. These crabs,
tatus, are already on the
endangered list and are only allowed to be consumed locally.

Most of the Ivatan meals are served with freshly harvested
root crops, like kamote, cassava or gabi. One particular root crop called dukay, which is white in color, is used as the main
ingredient for Dukay Salad (which is fresh fruit and
dukay, mixed with cream). If you visit Batanes, you should
not miss trying their
it’s very sweet.

The beef in Batanes, when cooked, is very soft and tasty. It
is ideal for dishes like Tapa, Bulalo, and my favorite Inihaw na Crispy Tadyang
ng Baka. Tes of Pension Ivatan prepares
the best beef dishes on the island, and you can take some beef home as
pasalubong. Only pork and chicken are allowed to be imported
from Manila, while the beef is 100% sourced from Batanes. You can see the cows
grazing freely and happily around the vast grasslands, only eating natural and
organic grass and vegetables.

 Fundacion Pacita Abad

Blue chairs at Fundacion Pacita terrace look out peacefully towards the sea
.  Photo by
George Tapan.

In recent years, Fundacion Pacita added its own magic to the
overall Batanes experience. It is one of the best boutique hotels in the
Philippines with a “Wuthering Heights” ambiance as it is located on top of
a cliff with a 270-degree view of the sea, mountains and the sky. In December,
this is one of the only places where you can feel it’s “winter” in a
tropical paradise like the Philippines.

Batanes resort on top of a rolling hill was once the home studio of
internationally acclaimed artist Pacita Abad. She’s known for her
larger-than-life, colorful mural paintings. One of her latest works was
painting a modern pedestrian bridge called The Alkaff Bridge (it crosses the
Singapore River at Robertson Quay) with playful colors.

The Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge has a
country-style charm in a lush garden setting. Its signature terrace rooms with
blue chairs look out peacefully towards the sea. Each room was designed to
resemble a gallery with works from well-known and up-and-coming artists.

Its signature Idawud room view at Fundacion Pacita.  Photo by George Tapan.

The foundation supports the education of young Ivatan artists
and the heritage conservation projects in Batanes. Among its artist
beneficiaries are:

  • Olan
    Gonzales, who is the lead painter in the Tukon Chapel ceiling project;
  • Mahatao-born
    Jaypee Portez;
  • Xavier
    Abelador, a representational and surrealist painter; and
  • Itbatyat
    artist Javier Ponce.

The artworks of these young Ivatan artists are appreciated
locally and recognized internationally by art collectors and enthusiasts. Some
of their works are sold on Ebay and they have a couple of major commissioned
projects also. You can see the tribute painting they created at the entrance of
the Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge. Pacita Abad’s insignia is located in
the center, and each quadrant is painted with the young Ivatan artists’ own
interpretation and tribute to the master artist who inspired them.

The Proud Ivatans

A woman wearing Vakul, a traditional headress used for planting root crops.  Photo by George Tapan.

The core essence of the magic of Batanes is the first-hand
encounter with the Ivatans. They are proud of their culture and heritage –
never arrogant and never apologetic about who they are. They lead simple and
happy lives, and they are always willing to help and go out of their way to
assist you. The true spirit of Bayanihan
– where people help each other out (ex. for building houses or preparing for a
special occasion) – is still alive in their communities. They celebrate life to
the fullest and they generously share this positive energy with the people they

Through the years, Batanes has been able to successfully
preserve its magical beauty.  Now,
it’s just waiting for you to discover it.


an Awesome Life,

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25 thoughts on “The Magic of Batanes Isles (Part 2 of 2)

  1. batanes is really a beautiful place. I had a chance to visit it last year and i fell in love with the place. I hope to visit it again. Hindi nakakasawa ang Batanes puntahan.

  2. Hi Anton, great article! I particularly like what you said about the Ivatans, “They are proud of their culture and heritage – never arrogant and never apologetic about who they are.”
    I’m just wondering where do you eat there besides the hotel? Where can you try native cuisines? and how much does it cost?

  3. The best place to eat real Ivatan cuisine is to eat with the families specially if there is a special occasion. Usually, in our tours, we would ask an Ivatan cook to cater for a small group to really taste what Ivatan food is all about.

  4. Went to Batanes last May 2010 and fell in love with the place. The locals were very nice and accommodating and the food was great. Lobsters there are CHEAP. We saw dolphins on our way to Sabtang Island, major BONUS sa trip. Too bad we didn’t have time to visit Itbayat Island but am hoping I could go back.
    For those who find Fundacion Pacita a bit pricey (like me), you can stay at the Batanes Resort. It has a very nice view of the beach. I prefer it over other inns because of its set-up and the view.
    Let us hope Mr. Albert Lim of the DOT will do a great job for the tourism industry. As much as Batanes is an amazing place, it is not yet ready for the influx of thousands of tourists. Good to hear that Mr. Lim is not only concerned about how to attract tourists but also how to protect our natural resources. We have to find a way to encourage people to visit Batanes and at the same time improve the infrastructure there without ruining the natural beauty of Batanes.

  5. wow. i have heard great things about the place but i have never seen pictures. again, wow.
    i will put this on my local places to travel, basta not during the rainy season 😀

  6. Thank you very much Anton, for featuring Batanes once more. Its always a pleasure to hear from an ipula how they come to love the place I called home. Spartan living at its best!!

  7. Hey Anton!
    Loved the article!
    Quick question: how much should I save up so I can also travel to Batanes? Thanks!

  8. i have a copy of that mag.nice article sir anton and nice shots mr george tapan(btw, isaw another work of art in kinabuch pps,palawan).ive been following your blog since god knows when and i would really love to go to batanes someday its on my list.i’ve been saving up for a nice camera to capture the beauty of batanes.

  9. Lovely article! Thank you for sharing the beauty of Batanes to your readers. 🙂
    Ooooh. Air fares will go down? Really?! Hehe. I’d really love to go to Batanes, but I gotta save up first. 🙂

  10. Hi Anton,
    The first time I posted a comment here (this is my second) was when I told you to go see Batanes. I still visit your blog whenever I can and I am so just glad you and Rachel have fallen in love with the place. Last May, I went back to Batanes. I stayed there longer and I even spent 3 nights in Sabtang. It was the coolest experience! No electicity from 12 midnight to 6 the following morning. You can sleep with the door and windows wide open at the Heritage House for 300 pesos a night! You can also leave your room unlocked with valuables in it during the day and come back finding them untouched and still there. Cool huh?
    Hope next time you go back to Batanes you can spend at least 2 days in Sabtang. Day tours to Sabtang are somewhat rushed. I love the whole Sabtang, but I particularly fell in love with the otherside where tourists do not normally go. Tourists go straight to Savidug and Chavayan. After that, they proceed to Malakdang on the opposite side for lunch. If you go farther Nakabuang Beach, you’ll see the best roadside sceneries in the Philippines! Yup, try to visit Nakanmuan and Sumnanga next time. A couple told me a story that they were clueless of who Ayala was until he broke a motorbike he borrowed from a local to go there and paid him the value of a new one.
    And hey, hope you can check out Vuhus Island and please please tell me about it. I haven’t been there.

  11. Do you have a number of the Heritage house? YEs, next summer I will visit the other side of Sabtang. Thanks for the encouragement!

  12. I know the numbers of the Mayor and the staff working there. They are all accommodating and can help you make reservations.

  13. So, vakul is the name for the headdress. That’s the headdress that really had the impression on me. I remember saying, “What a strange hairdo!” Then the son of the governor said, “That’s a headdress, not a hairdo.”

  14. It looks like heaven! I wish I could go there soon. 😀 I’ll definitely go there some time next year. 😀

  15. Hi. This was a great article about batanes. I would like to know if you already have a schedule planned for 2011 for any batanes trips? we are a group of 10 people and are interested to go to batanes and sabtang island. thanks!

  16. HI Anton,
    Do you already have schedule planned for 2012 for Batanes trips?
    I am interested in joining if there is one.

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