Batanes Day 1: Arrival and tour of the northern half of Batan Island – 12/08/09

[So after all the Batanes photos have been uploaded here in Multiply at an excruciatingly slow pace, I’m finally going to start blogging about my trip.  My apologies for the delay to those who might have been expecting this sooner.]

I left home early morning on December 8 to reach the old Manila domestic airport on time for checking into my flight to Batanes.  With the exception of a long delay due to a lot of heavy fishing equipment being lugged around by a group of “fisher dudes” who were in line before me, I found the checking-in procedure to be relatively efficient.

It has been more than 10 years since my last airplane ride and I was a bit nervous especially upon seeing the small Dornier aircraft that was supposed to bring myself and around 20 other people to Batanes.  The nervousness didn’t last though because after the jitters of the first few minutes, the plane ride was smooth.  I even made friends with my seatmate who was also a first-time visitor in Batanes.

It was pretty exciting seeing Batanes for the first time outside the airplane window.  I could already see a number of tourist spots from a distance – places and landmarks that I’ve only previously seen in blogs.  When the plane finally touched down, the first thing I did was to text everyone that I’ve already arrived.

Basco Airport

Upon entering the arrival area, I was surprised that one airport employee approached me and asked me if I was Mr. Rafael Flores.  It turns out that she is the wife of my tour guide, Joaquin, who was waiting outside of the airport and she assisted me to meet him.  As to how she knew what I looked like, I don’t know.

So upon getting my bags, Joaquin immediately brought me to my inn named DDD Habitat, with whom I previously made lodging arrangements.  The room given to me was spacious enough, but the bathroom was a bit too small for comfort (a floor area just a bit larger than 1 square meter – more on this later.)  The arrangement was that I’ll settle in first, have lunch then start touring in the afternoon.

Later in the afternoon, Joaquin arrived with his motorcycle to pick me up and bring me to the first stop, which is the Rolling Hills.  (We were momentarily sidetracked because we passed by the National Food Authority office along the national road.  I had to stop by and take pictures of the building and the staff.  It was an assignment that I had to do for my father, who works for the NFA.)

view of the sea and Mt. Iraya as seen from the Rolling Hills

The Rolling Hills are situated in Batan’s northeastern coast facing the South China Sea.  It’s basically a pastureland that – because it’s in Batanes – just happens to be very picturesque.  It’s a good place for a first stop because it basically introduces the first-time tourist to what Batanes is all about – rough terrain, fresh sea breeze and astonishingly beautiful views (not to mention a lot of animal dung.)

(A brief digression.  This is what I looked like the whole time I was in Batanes when I was touring: cargo shorts, baseball cap, a keffiyeh wrapped around my neck, a sporty top, outdoor shoes, and a large beltbag containing all my camera equipment.)

After consciously not spending too much time on my first stop, we then left for the next top, which is the famous Naidi Lighthouse.  And it’s famous for a good reason.  It’s probably the best-maintained in the province.  For some reason though, I never saw it fulfill it’s primary purpose throughout my stay in Batanes – that of lighting up at night.

The Naidi Lighthouse

The architecture of the lighthouse and it’s adjacent structure is a good blending of modern and indigenous Ivatan styles.  Being already located in an elevated part of the coast, the breeze is already moderately strong at the base of the lighthouse.  But once one gets to the viewdeck near the top, the wind is a lot stronger.  One added benefit of the viewdeck is that it is a nice vantage point where one can view town of Basco.

On the way back to Basco we stopped by the Santo Domingo de Basco Church where I took pictures of the facade.  I was able to go inside, but since it was being renovated at the time, I didn’t take pictures of the interior.

The Santo Domingo de Basco Church

The church is one of Batanes’ four 200 year-old churches.  The upper third of the facade was actually destroyed by an intensity 7.2 earthquake back in 2000 and was probably replicated from old photographs.

After the Basco Church, we passed by the Basco provincial capitol in the town plaza.  Because of it’s brightly-colored paint, I mistakenly thought that it was a relatively new structure that’s why I did not see the need to take pictures of it.  It turns out that it was actually already standing during Spanish times and it was known then as La Casa Real/Capitolio.

From the town plaza, Joaquin drove me to the Valugan Boulder Beach, still on the northern half of Batan, but on the western coast facing the Pacific Ocean.  Getting near the water is a lot harder than one might think because the round large boulders don’t exactly give one a stable footing.

The Valugan Boulder Beach

It was said that when nearby Mt. Iraya errupted in around 500 AD, these half meter-diameter boulders were spewed out by the volcano and found themselves in their present location.  The waves in this side of Batanes are strong, and it is very inadvisable to take a swim here.

From Valugan, the next stop was the central highlands.  Along the way, we passed by the Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel.  Built during the Japanese occupation in World War II, they’re actually three conjoined tunnels that all lead to an inner chamber.  Except for some graffiti on the entrances, they are pretty inconspicuous as they don’t have a sign explaining that they’re there.

The Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnel interior

I didn’t want to go in as Joaquin and I didn’t have flashlights with us.  However, upon inspecting the entrance, we discovered that there are makeshift gas torches lying around so we lit one and explored the interior.  That’s how we discovered that the tunnels are conjoined and all leading towards an inner chamber.

From the tunnels, we proceeded to Fundacion Pacita.  It used to be a kind of museum for the arts and Ivatan culture built in honor of Pacita Abad.  (The Abads are like the elite of Batanes – but to one who has been to Batanes, there really are no elites over there.)  It has since been converted to a hotel and is undoubtedly the most expensive in the province with rooms costing at least P4,000 a night and a minimum of two nights.

Fundacion Pacita

I wasn’t able take nice shots when I was there because of the bad position of the sun so I gave up.  But a long way off on the way to Tukon, I found the perfect spot to shoot the Fundacion, as seen above.  I had to use my 55-250mm lens for the shot because it was already too far away.  Good thing the image did not deteriorate too much – as is the tendency when I use the zoom all the way to it’s narrowest angle.

Tukon is the Ivatan word for “hill”, and this is where the northernmost PAG-ASA weather station is located.  Incidentally, this weather station is also the reason why Batanes has a “stormy” reputation.  The fact is that the frequency of storms in Batanes is just about the same as Manila.  It’s just that the northernmost station is always used as a point of reference to see observe whether any particular storm is finally leaving the Philippine area of responsibility or staying.

weather vane atop the Tukon weather station

Tukon is also the center of the narrowest point of Batan Island.  That, coupled with it’s elevated position, enables one to view both the eastern and western coasts of the island, consequently allowing one to observe the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean while standing on the same spot.

On the way back to Basco, we passed by a small quaint stone chapel near a village school.  I never got its name, and Joaquin did not know it either.  But he claims it’s the place where one of Congressman Abad’s children got married, in a lavish ceremony attended by many politicians.  As the sun was close to setting, I quickly took some pictures of it, carefully modifying the exposure settings to take advantage of the remaining ambient daylight.  It’s a nice chapel and I wish I had the chance to see its interior.

a small stone chapel near Tukon

It was around 5:00 when we reached Basco and Joaquin dropped me off by the inn.  Before having dinner and turning in, I took pictures of Basco in the fading daylight.  I needed to wake up early the next day because Joaquin and I  had to catch a jeep at 5:30 am that would bring us to the port for the boat ride to nearby Sabtang island.

Sunset as seen from the roof deck of my inn
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