Rest of Batan: Mahatao

When I think of Mahatao, this simple church is the first thing that comes to mind – not the lighthouse,

Photo taken in 2006.

and certainly not the boat shelter,

An island detached from the main island provides shelter for inter-island vessels.

both constructed sometime around the mid-2000 only.  The church, however, has been a fixture in this old sleepy town since the days of yore and every time I am in Batanes, I get to visit it.

It is, after all, the biggest structure in Mahatao.

San Carlos Borromeo Church is one of the oldest existing church in Northern Luzon that still keep its centuries old features making it a National Cultural Heritage Treasure.

Also part of Mahatao is the Chanarian View Deck.

Another personal favorite, it has breathtaking views of Batan and the rugged cliffs.

Concrete stairs lead down the cliff if one cares to explore the water below.  I prefer the view from the road.

Last May while enjoying the view, I chatted with our guide Mang Rudy about life in Manila.  Life in the capital, as he describe it, is hard enough as a single, sometimes holding 2 jobs just to make ends meet.  When he got married, he knew that it would be difficult to raise a family if he stayed.  So they went back and now that they are settled and has called Batanes home once more, he is happy.  A guide before he left, he picked up where he left off citing that the influx of tourism provides a steadier income.  He is also enjoying the support he gets from his family, friends and neighbors, bayanihan still very much a part of their culture.  Their geographical isolation has a lot to do with this spirit.  He is proud to be an Ivatan, and I can feel his passion.  As a guide he aims to promote his homeland because it is indeed a place so unique and beautiful to be in.

Thor and Anton, taken in 2006 in Diura Fishing Village.  A small village facing the Pacific Ocean and where fishermen perform a ritual to signify the start of another season of fishing.

In 2006, a guy who is not from Batanes, nor is he Filipino brought us around.  Thor, a volunteer is American.  It amused me that a foreigner was showing us around the island, our very own country.   He was then helping the Tourism Office in various projects, one of which is training guides.  I never got to ask Mang Rudy if Thor ever trained him but regardless, I think he will make Thor proud.

And this ends my series on Batanes.  Want a summary of where and what to eat in Batanes?  Check out Batanes Eats at Storm In My Kitchen for some of the island’s gastronomic delights.

Rest of Batan: Ivana

Credits: Template by Jen Caputo; Papers by Scrapmatters by Becca

At the Honesty Coffee Shop, we waited for the boat that plies the Batan-Sabtang route from the port off Ivana.

It was late.  The waves were strong, delaying its arrival and so its departure.  We spent the entire morning waiting to leave for Sabtang.  Having hitched a ride from Basco, we can’t go too far so we stayed put exploring the church across.  We eventually left for Sabtang after lunch.  That was 6 years ago.

San Jose Church in Ivana looks more like a castle to me because of the crenellated walls of the bell tower.

Well preserved, the church is photogenic inside and out.

Today, the church is just as pretty though the recently built port is an eyesore.

Shot in 2006 while waiting to leave for Sabtang.

What used to be a beautiful view of Sabtang and the sea is now partly blocked by the port.

She is perhaps the most visited and the most photographed woman in the island.  Floresitida Estrella, fondly known as Lola Ida, lives in a house known as the House of Dakay – one of the oldest stone house in the island.

Me at the House of Dakay sans Lola Ida.  She was probably not around hence the solo shot.

An earthquake in 1918 earthquake hit the island and leveled most of the town to the ground, this house survived.  We did not visit her this time.

Instead, we headed to Vatang Grill and Restaurant for lunch.

Just along the main road, close to the shore.

Six years ago while waiting for the boat, we had sweet Filipino-style spaghetti for lunch in a small and perhaps the only eatery in Ivana then.

Finally, a good restaurant serving rather good local Ivatan cuisine in this side of the island.

Rest of Batan: Imnajbu Point

I have taken a photo of this same spot every time I come to Batanes.

Taken in 2006

It is, after all, one of my favorite spot in Batanes because of how the road cuts through the low-lying hill leaving a rugged sculpture by the roadside. I also love the reveal at the turn – beautiful seascape,  winding road, rugged hillside.

It always makes me sigh with wonder and amazement.  Am I being over the top? Probably, but this remains to be a favorite spot in my books.

This is Imnajbu Point; some call it the Alapad Pass.  Imnajbu is one of the 2 major settlements of the municipality of Uyugan along the Pacific seaboard.  The other one is Itbud.

The land is varied and has rocky hills along the coastline that faces the Pacific

and the interior boasts of grassy hills.

Both settlements is said to have the most intact of stone houses in Batanes.

On our way from Mahatao, we met some bump on the road – landslide from heavy rains in the morning, perhaps even from the night before.  It didn’t take long to clear up, just long enough to take photos of the old Loran Station and my favorite spot.

Close to the Alapad pass is Loran Station – a navigation station built by the Americans in the 50s – can be seen from this road.  As satellite communications made Loran System redundant, the Americans left in the 70s.  In its heyday, locals call it “Little America”.

Rest of Batan: Rakuh A Payaman

Where wild cattle and carabaos (water buffalos) roam in endless rolling hills – a communal pastureland offering picturesque scenes of farm fields and the Pacific Ocean.

There is also the Mahatao lighthouse and Mt. Iraya in the distance, adding to the already breathtaking view.

Rakuh A Payaman translates to “big pastureland” and as with the rolling hills of Vayang, one becomes just a speck in the midst of the sweeping landscape, the vastness unimaginable.

While horses are a rare sight these days, tourists know it more as Marlboro Country, perhaps resembling the backdrop of a long running cigarette campaign,

Basco Jaunts: Quaint Little Café in Naidi Hills

Heard one of the bunkers in Naidi Hills is now a café.  Open only after office hours because the owners have day jobs.  So I noted to self: to have dinner there tonight.

Naidi Hills used to just be a nice spot to chill and to watch the sunset, nothing there really except for the old bunkers.

These bunkers, forever a fixture and leaves much to be desired, sits atop stunning rolling hills with equally stunning views of the town, Mt. Iraya and the bay.

They couldn’t have picked a better site for the café, finally making good use of the old bunkers.

When I returned in 2007, a 6-storey lighthouse with a viewing deck on the 5th level was a new addition to the vicinity, adding to the Naidi Hills charm.

Built next to it is an Ivatan inspired house that was a guesthouse then, a souvenir shop now.  Guess the guesthouse didn’t pan out so well.

Rows of flowers grown near the house brightens up the already pretty site.
Mt. Iraya peeking out of the clouds as seen from the plaza.

Just a short hike from the town plaza, we walked to dinner passing Sto. Domingo de Basco Church along the way.

Established in 1783, making it the oldest church in Batanes, and perhaps one of the oldest in the Philippines.

Having had our share of coconut crabs in Itbayat already, lobsters were next on our list.

Kinilaw na isda (fish cooked in vinegar), a pako (fiddlehead fern) dish, and inihaw na baboy (grilled pork) complemented the sweet lobsters, steamed to perfection.

When evening came, the mood changed.  The spotlights puts focus on the dinner tables outside and the lighthouse dramatically provides the backdrop, bringing al fresco dining into a whole new level.

Setting ambience aside, Bunker Café is a delight in the food department.  Put pack ambience and the café is definitely a winner.

A must visit when in Batanes.

Basco Jaunts: Vayang Rolling Hills

Credits: Red overlay by Kari Holts or iKari Design.

It is perhaps the most visited in Basco.  This place somewhat epitomizes Batanes in the minds of many… endless rolling hills, blue skies and magnificent views of the sea, the South China Sea.

The first time I made it here, I was mesmerized by the unfathomable vastness, how small one can feel within its green expanse.  In 1998, one has to walk up hills upon hills, no vans, no tricycles, and no paved roads.  You get there by walking on unpaved trail.

A trip to Batanes then needs at least 5 days for a complete walk through of Batan and Sabtang.  Those were the days – though I still get goosebumps, I think I like it better then. I can’t deny though that the comforts of today made it a pleasant revisit, especially on a hot summer’s day in May.

The scenery of Vayang is so immense no photo can capture exactly the true essence of the place.  Having said that, here’s an attempt on capturing even just a bit of its flavor and spirit.

Basco Jaunts: Valugan Bay

Credits:  Quickpage by Antonia Krajicek using the “4Ever” kit, a collaborative kit created by Jessica; Suede Alpha by Miss Behaving 2011.

From where we got off, I could hear the splash of the waves; the boulders hardly visible.

The sea is calmer in May.

The rambling of the rocks that hits the ocean floor becomes clearer when you are closer.

With picture-perfect spots scattered all over the islands, Batanes is easy to love.  To pinpoint one specific spot that I love the most is a tall order and perhaps impossible.

Valugan Bay though is so different from any beach I’ve seen, it has left indelible memories and has landed on my top 10 lists of favorites.

I’ve never come across any beach as dramatic as Valugan Bay.

Spewed out by Mt. Iraya and polished through time by powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean, large multi colored rocks covers a kilometer stretch of beach

Taken February 2006 when the waves were larger.

and made more mystical by the ocean mist when waves are strong.

The rambling of the rocks soothes my senses every time I’m here.

The troubles of my world easily fades into a renewed spirit as God whispers through those ramblings that everything will be as polished as those beautiful rocks.   I could sit here forever.

Basco Jaunts: Radar Tukon and its Surroundings

Basco, despite being the smallest province of the Philippines, offers some of the best scenic and cultural landscapes in the country.

Often touted as the Ireland of Asia, this so-called last frontier is blessed with endless rolling hills, rugged terrain and spectacular views of both the China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  Perhaps due to its isolation, tradition and culture remain pretty much intact.

Our hired tricycle meandered through the streets of Basco, taking us to some uphill climb through scenic pastureland, the sea and many hills.

We arrived at Radar Tukon where even the locals still love to hang.

What used to be a weather station in the American era houses Basco’s radar station today.

Up in a hill, the 360° view is awesome, perhaps one of the best in the island.

Not only is it a lovely sight and contributes much to the beauty and uniqueness of Batanes,

these hedgerows are there with a few more purposes.

They are there as a windbreaker, for land delineation, it prevents soil erosion, and sometimes serves as nesting ground for migratory birds.

The Tukon Church can be seen from the Radar Station.  Although we didn’t get to see it up close, much less enter it, I believe that the interior is as lovely as the exterior.

Inspired by the Ivatan stone house, this church was a recent project of the Abads, not only to give the communities nearby a church where they won’t have to walk far, but a wedding gift as well to his daughter who got married there recently.  The church, I read, have beautiful stained-glass windows, a ceiling of angels painted by the students of the late Pacita Abad and the best thing about this church is the spectacular view of both the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean wherever one is seated.

Not far from Tukon church is a house sitting on top of a hill, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

It was once the home-studio of the late Pacita Abad, an internationally acclaimed artist and sister to current Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, now turned nature lodge.  Refurbished by Butch in her memory, the lodge is not only a pretty sight from afar.

It was in 2006 that I was there, it was still the art and culture center of the Jorge, Aurora and Pacita Abad Foundation.

Her works hanged on the walls and the design of the house, I suspect, characterizes that of the owner.  Today, I read that works of famous Filipino artists and emerging young Ivatan artists grace the walls of the rooms.

The view from the balcony in 2006.

Nature lodge aside, Fundacion Pacita is also the headquarters of the Pacita Abad Center for Arts.  The proceeds earned from the operations supports various projects, one of them is the restoration of Ivantan houses.

More of Basco in upcoming posts.  Stay tuned.

Birding in Basco

“Wanna tag along?”, invites my birder friend, Christian.  “Why not?”, I’ve never seen an owl before.  Not that I’d see it up close, I realized when we were trekking in the woods… at night, obviously, they’re nocturnal creatures.  Duh.  I’ll need binoculars and a strong light, which I am hoping Christian has.  Turns out we didn’t need them because it started to rain.  We took shelter in a house nearby and when it didn’t let up, we decided to call it a night.  Owl watching, day 1 – fail.

Basco is best known for its rolling hills.  It also is the capital of Batanes and where the airport is located.

Aside from the beautiful aerial view of its landscape, the first thing that greets you is its airport.  Small and unassuming but tastefully designed.  It has a charm of its own.  Given that the province is somewhat isolated from the mainland, making use of whatever is available has made the Ivatans quite resourceful.  They have, and I dare say, an eye for beauty… but who wouldn’t if you are surrounded with natural beauty all your life?

These ordinary bucket seats, made attractive with the play of colors, left a lasting impression.

Many accommodations are in Basco, to be close to the airport perhaps.  We stayed at Shanedel’s Inn and Café.  A simple family run inn named after its owner, Dely and her late husband Shane.  Its location plays a big factor in its popularity, particularly among regular visitors.  Even after Shane’s passing, Dely takes the role of excellent host, helping out however she can.

Shanedel’s, albeit on the tired side, still possesses captivating views.

From the veranda, on the right is Naidi Hills with the lighthouse standing tall from a distance.

On the left is the beach where locals play in the waves.

So used to it, the kids seemed unfazed but rather enjoyed the big waves.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher.  That is what C hopes to see on this trip (outside of that owl).  We woke up early to join him on another birding expedition.

The guide brought us to a private lot just 10 minutes away from Shanedel’s.  We had our sights on a bird’s nest perched on a tree, hoping it is our bird’s nest.

Birding is not for me… there was a lot of waiting and this kept me company.

Patience is a virtue.  After an hour or so there they were, first the female and not too long after, the male appeared.

Credits:  Photo courtesy of A. Carag.
My shot sans the bird.  This was a different nest — closer for a shot in my camera.
I didn’t have this.  A preferred lens for birding.

Bird watching, day 2 – success.

And with that, we celebrated with the best organic burgers in Basco. Zantan’s is a small eatery right beside Shanedel’s.

And with the burgers, I had sweet potato fries on the side and finally, halo-halo for dessert.  Stunning landscapes and sceneries up next. Stay tuned.

Useful Info:

Shanedel’s Inn & Cafe
Mobile: +63 920-4470737 
Contact: Dely Millan