Batanes Day 4: Biking from Ivana to Mahatao to Basco – 12/11/09

the Ivana municipal complex

After “lunch” I continued southbound.  The municipal hall was nearby so I barely warmed by bicycle seat before I got off again to explore the area.  Ivana is another one of those Batanes towns that have a modern-looking center with the rest of the town looking traditional.  I’m beginning to think that it’s the rule and Basco is the only exception.  But I haven’t been to Itbayat, so I wouldn’t know.

the San Jose de Ivana Church

A little further was the Church of San Jose de Ivana.  This is the last of the four 200-year old churches that I meant to visit in Batanes.  I actually passed by this church the day before, and this time, I meant to enter it.  In the surreal manner common to many places in Batanes, I seemed to be the only person in the entire church compound.  There was nobody inside nor outside of the church, and I certainly had my way shooting the everywhere in the church compound.  I kept on expecting someone to berate me for not having enough respect for a holy place by taking various shots without genuflecting at the altar, but the admonition never came.  And I left the church in the same deserted state it was in as when I arrived.

a church window

The church used to be the center of the town during Spanish times.  But for a number of historical reasons that are too many to mention here, the town center slowly shifted westwards.  Well, to summarize, a series of resettlements from Sabtang occurred due to a rebellion against the Spanish that happened there.  These resettlements occurred to the west of the town proper, which eventually became the new town center.

posing at the new Ivana port, with the Ivana Church in the background

Exiting the church compound, I crossed the road towards the newly constructed port, funded by Japanese official development assistance.  Although this port is spankingly new, experienced fishermen claim that it was poorly constructed, making it difficult for smaller boats from docking.  (And since I’m no expert in the docking of sea vessels, I guess I’m just going to take their word for it.)  Personally, I find the port’s location to be poorly chosen, as it certainly ruins the view of the church if one is coming from the sea.

“jackstones” lying in the shallow water by the port

Since it was already past lunchtime, I did not want to be stuck on the road at dusk so I quickly pedalled to the farthest point I intended to go, which is the Ivana Cemetery.  Along, the way, I passed by the famous Honesty Coffee Shop, which I intended to visit on the way back.

the entrance to the Ivana Municipal Cemetery

The cemetery was small and very crowded, with some walking paths seemingly used as burial plots due to the lack of space.  A closer inspection of the tombstones would reveal familiar surnames, i.e. surnames that one would see in streets everywhere in Batanes.  Names like Abad, Gaboteros, Castillejos, Cantor, etc. can be found everywhere here.  In addition, the graveyard is a mixture of new and really old tombs, some dating pre-20th century.

an old graveyard cross

It was eerie the way I simply walked in the cemetery and had my way stepping on graves and taking pictures.  I had no choice, in some areas there was simply no way to go from one point to another.  You want to know what’s more eerie than feeling there’s someone behind you and turning to find there’s no one?  It’s this: walking around a place where you’re supposed to feel ghosts walking around and realizing there’s simply none.  Wherever the dearly departed of Ivana go after they die, it’s clear that they go someplace else and don’t linger.

the famous Honesty Coffee Chop

Anyway, after taking a certain number of photos, I started to work my way back northwards towards Basco.  As I was again dehydrated from the sweltering early afternoon heat, it was coincidentally the best time to stop by the Honesty Coffee Shop for refreshments.  It was, however, closed when I arrived.  So I lingered around taking photos.  It seemed as if the proprietress (who was sweeping dry leaves in the distance) noticed me outside so she opened the door for me.

one of the signs inside the coffee shop

Like what a hundred bloggers have already previously said, there was indeed nobody manning the Honesty Coffee Shop.  It works this way: (1) get what you want; (2) log your purchase in the logbook; and (3) leave your payment by dropping it into the drop box.  Like one sign says inside the store, “You give more if you don’t have exact money.  The Lord will give you more later on.”

posing in front of the coffee shop

After setting up my tripod and taking a photo of myself using Olga’s self-timer in front of the coffee shop, I once again pedaled back towards Basco.  Along the way, I came across the House of Dakay, which is the oldest house in all of Batanes.  It was constructed in 1887 and like most old houses in Batanes, the walls are made of coral rock and concrete, while the roof is made of dried cogon grass.  It’s only a bit bigger than the usual traditional Ivatan house, but this otherwise unimpressive structure actually holds a UNESCO Heritage Building title.

the House of Dakay

The House of Dakay is currently owned by Florestida Estrella, or Lola Ida to the locals.  According to unofficial protocol, every visitor should give her a monetary gift for the upkeep of the house.  When I was there however, it seems like she’s asleep so I just contented myself shooting the house from the outside.

House of Dakay doorway lined with cut limestone

I only took a few minutes here before continuing towards Basco.  I stopped for a bit at a store in San Vicente because I forgot to buy an extra mineral water bottle for the trip back.  It was at this point that I discovered my coin bag is missing.  I must have left it in the Honesty Coffee Shop earlier.

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The trip back was certainly tiring.  My mind wanted to continue using the bike but my legs simply refused to pedal against any upward incline greater than, say, 15 degrees.  So as it turned out, I only rode the bike when the road inclined downwards, but I walked the bike when it wasn’t.

Biking in Batan exposed me to a courteous trait that I’ve never seen anywhere else in the Philippines.  Here, whenever people encounter anybody else on the road, they tilt their head upwards as if in recognition, even though they don’t know each other.  I encountered about ten people who gave me this gesture before I started doing it too.  Also, roads in Batanes are narrow.  In some stretches, it’s only wide enough for just one lane.  I’m thinking that any future economic development here would have to take into account the state of this province’s roads.

the San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao

When I finally reached Mahatao, I was pleased to observe that the unsightly scaffolds that were in the church facade in the morning have already been dismantled and cleared – thereby giving me an unobstructed view of what is reputedly the most beautiful church in Batanes, the San Carlos Borromeo Church.  I only stayed here long enough to be able to take photos of the church, before continuing towards Basco.

It was at this point when I realized that this day was the last day that i would be able to see Batanes, so I did not rush getting back to Basco.  I wanted to continue traveling but on a much more leisurely pace this time, admiring the views, breathing the fresh cool air and smiling at the nice people.  On the way back, just after passing the Chanarian Cliffs View Deck, I came across the marker for the Marine Sanctuary.  I seemingly did not see this in the morning so this in effect became my last stop before finally returning to Basco.

Since it was already past 5:30pm when I arrived here, I had a chance to capture the sunset.  Unfortunately, the horizon was cloudy so it won’t be too great a shot.  It didn’t bother me though because I already shot the Batanes sunset as early as Day 1.  What I thought of doing though was to take a picture of the sunset with myself in it.

Dios Mamajes, Batanes

It took around three trials before I got close to the most “perfect” shot I can make of the scene.  After the last shot, I got so excited to see the resulting picture that I actually tripped as I was descending that mound that I was standing on and actually fell elbows first on the road – much to my embarrassment, and a passing motorist’s amusement.  After that, I pedaled for the last stretch of the National Road all the way to back to Basco.

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So I guess this is it.  The end of my Batanes blogs.  I wish I could say something more profound about my experience.  But really, Batanes could mean a lot of things to a lot of people.  Me, I just enjoyed my short stay for as long as I can.  I think Batanes is a great place and that every Filipino should visit it at least once in their lives.  As for me, I’ll definitely go back.


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