Breathtaking Batanes, 2

You could count probably two movies that were filmed in Batanes, one being “Hihintayin Kita sa Langit”, the Filipino adaptation of Wuthering Heights that was released in 1991. Being just born at the time, I had no idea that the movie even existed, but it was interesting to note that some of the movie’s iconic scenes were filmed in the Alapad Rock Formations.

Alapad Rock Formations

The rock formations are a combination of hills, sea, and surfaced corals in one view. The rocks help break the waves as they enter the bay, and they also make for good markers to navigate one’s location.

(1) The so-called rock formations, (2) View on the left. A resort is being constructed to take advantage of this view, (3) Me trying to avoid poop as I sit on the edge of a cliff, (4) Probably where the poop came from.

San Carlos Borromeo Church

Built in 1873, this church is an official National Cultural Heritage Treasure because of the state of its preservation. The church is made of limestone, not an unusual feature for some of our oldest churches, but I think what makes this church one of a kind is its Blank Book Archive.

A library of blank books — such a thing exists. The library is open to the public (after a small donation) and encourages visitors to choose a book and write a message. Visitors can leave greeting, rants, doodles, heartfelt confessions, and other such drivel. There wasn’t exactly a poster of instructions to tell people what they should do, but everyone in that library just seemed to know it inherently.

I don’t see how this could be related to the church other than as a way to nab a few donations, but I do appreciate it as some form of performance art. Batanes is a very difficult place to get to, so I guess people would want to leave some form of mark for the next adventurer to see, or something they could revisit after a few years.

I suppose we all want to leave evidence that we walked this world. The concrete in the church steps gives way to the limestone within.
The actual church and its interior

Racuh-a-Idi Spring of Youth

The Spring of Youth is a man-made freshwater pool with a view of the Pacific Ocean and Mt. Iraya. It’s a bit out of way so we had to go there at a different day, and we only really went there since we had some free time in our hands. We had to pay an entrance fee of Php200 or so, and after that, it was a 15-minute walk to get to the actual spring.

The pathway there is no easy trail. We had to pass through cemented road, small rocks, big rocks, mud, and outright boulders.

This was one of the easier trails.

I would recommend wearing footwear with good traction as some of the rocks are loose and slippery. The road is winding and goes uphill and downhill at every turn, but it would be difficult to get lost as there is only one path.

The pool itself is four feet deep with a rocky bed. The water comes fresh from the mountain we trekked on. It was raining by the time we got into the pool, and with the cold mountain wind, it was a struggle to really let loose and have fun. But it was nice to wade over to the edge of the pool and look across the ocean.

Racuh a Payaman

Meaning communal land, or to the tourists, Marlboro Country. It’s easy to figure out why the place was christened Marlboro Country when you see the endless green hills and the small moving figures in the distance of cows, horses, and goats.

That is a lot of land mass, and it has stayed that way through no small efforts by the government and the people. Ivatans, as I slowly came to realize while I was there, are very protective of their natural resources. Our guide told us that they preferred that flights to Batanes be kept expensive, even though it would be difficult for their own people to go to Manila to study. The travel agencies are afraid that that there may not be enough of them to service the onslaught of tourists should that happen, but a more compelling reason, as our guide said, was that they did not want to end up like Boracay.

Boracay used to be a high-end tourist destination because of the expensive flights, but when the air fare got more and more affordable, tourists flocked, more hotels opened, locals were displaced, the stress to the environment increased, and Boracay ceased to be the pristine beach that it was known for. Our guide Rommy said that they didn’t want Ivatans to eventually pay rent to foreigners for their residences, and that is why Batanes has a very strict, almost “Batanes-first” policy.

We had to slowly but surely trek down this hill to get to the edge of the land.

I mentioned in my previous post that it’s best to wear sturdy shoes for the South Batan leg of the tour. It’s because one has to trek endless hills to properly appreciate Marlboro Country. Endless here is no exaggeration — as soon as we thought we had reached the very bottom of the hills, we realized that we were only at the peak of another. It was like a game of follow-the-cattle-trail-but-avoid-the-poop. We stepped on relatively flat surfaces that were tread on by animals and deviated from them when there was a pile of manure on the way. As I really got into it, my mind entered this calm state of counting my steps while making sure I didn’t step on anything I would regret. Down and down we went, and we didn’t realize how far we’d gone until we glanced behind us.

We came from there?

The view at the end was worth it, of course. Mount Iraya showed its peak once again as thick clouds cast their shadows on the mountain. We found a bit of rock jutting from the grass that was perilously close to the edge of the hills, and I decided that I should stand there to capture the beach below.

(1) Me and the family against Mt. Iraya, (2) Me making very poor life choices.

After that, it was another battle entirely as we trudged our way up. We were hoping for some secret trail that transported us to where our van was but there was no such miracle. There was a slightly more horizontal trail that was easier on the knees, but apart from less manure, it was hardly an improvement. When we reached the peak, we looked back at what we had achieved and spent a good 30 minutes catching our breath.

God help us all.

Tayid Lighthouse

After that strenuous workout, the Tayid Lighthouse was the perfect chill stop to end our day. Erected in year 2000, the Tayid Lighthouse offers a view for the Pacific Ocean as well as other parts of Batan Island. The muddy pathway to the lighthouse is surrounded by patches of tall grass and the smell of — no surprise — manure pervades in the air.

We spent a bit of time in the lighthouse as our guide told us about the worth of land in Batanes. One square meter in an urban area is worth Php5,000. A square meter of good farm land is worth Php3,000, while a bad one is Php2,000. This all went over my head until someone in our group mentioned that a square meter in Cavite is only worth Php400. I looked back at the pathway we took to get to the lighthouse. If each full stride was approximately one meter, exactly how many pesos did I just walk on?

Our guide asked us to look to the left and said that all the land we saw had private owners.
And all the land to our right, like Marlboro Country, was communal.

“Landed Ivatans are very rich,” our guide said. “Your neighbor could be eating ginger and salt for dinner while owning three ranches with ten cattle each. They use most of the money to send their children to college in Manila.”

Sabtang is roughly half the size of Basco and has six municipalities. As of 2015, it has a population of 1,600.

To get to Sabtang, one must ride faluwah boats. These boats are specially made with the engine above the deck. The engine is surrounded by a wall of concrete to keep it from getting wet in case waves enter the deck. The ride from Batan to Sabtang takes half an hour in good weather. Passengers sit in rows of wooden benches, and it’s advised to brace against something so as not to fly off one’s seat when the boat rides large waves (Take it from me). The ride is a bit queasy for those with motion sickness, so it’s best to bring candy or take medicine before the trip.The hull of faluwah boats are made of fiber glass as they are often subjected to abuse when the boats dock against rocks.

Savidug Stone Houses

Savidug Barrio is a village abound with the traditional stone houses. These stone houses are not solely built for aesthetic reasons. Building takes almost a year since the availability of materials is subject to the weather. Stone houses are built from limestone and corals that wash up ashore after a typhoon. These materials are cooked for a whole day to strengthen their durability.

If a crack appears in a stone house, the house is more than likely to be abandoned than repaired. Since the house has no reinforcements, the walls are two feet thick to support the roof. To repair the house, the whole thing must be demolished, and the process would take too long and cost too much when compared to building something new with cheaper, more technologically advanced, methods.

My mom poses in the midst of an abandoned stone house.

Past meets present as stone houses with cogon roofs are interspersed with cords for electricity meters. Electricity came to Batanes in the 1980s when President Cory Aquino ordered NAPOCOR to service the area after having visited. I suppose Ivatans have supported the liberal party ever since.

View from the streets

Morong Beach

After seeing so much stone and grass and trees, I was eager for the feel of sand beneath my feet. We came to Morong Beach at the convenient time of lunch. My mom said that when she came here six years ago, there were still no canteens and comfort rooms. Luckily, these amenities had already been set in place when we got there.

Morong Beach is a wide stretch of white sand in between mountains. The sand is fine enough, but there are some parts where the corals haven’t completely weathered. On the left side of the beach, huge chunks of rock make for great platforms to pose in.

Morong Beach is home to Ahaw, the natural stone arch created by wind and water. It’s a huge arch, with the pillars about three meters apart, and leads to the other side of the beach.

We didn’t wade in the water anymore so I can’t tell if the sand bed feels good beneath one’s toes, but I can say that Morong Beach is a good enough spot for general bumming about. I do feel the need to warn that when strong winds hit the beach, it displaces the sand, which can be painful when it hits the skin.

(1–3) Morong Beach from various sides, (4) The natural stone arch

Sumnanga Village

The village of Sumnanga is not exactly a tourist spot, but our guide had us go there — I suspect — so that we could see how locals lived in case we tourists were forming well-meaning but misguided opinions from the limited opportunities we had to interact with the community.

Sumnanga is a small fishing village. Because we were there in the middle of a weekday, most of the villagers were at work or at school, but our guide did walk us around the houses and to the school, often pausing to greet people he knew as they went about their daily tasks.

Pieces of an espada fish hang to dry in Sumnanga.

All municipalities in Batanes have schools until the secondary level. For college, the student must go to Basco to attend the Batanes State College, while some are able to go to Manila to attend university.

Apart from farming, fishing, and working for a travel agency, there are few other jobs in Batanes. Our guide told us that since there are no jobs in Batanes that fit their learned skills, only 20% of Ivatans who study in Manila ever go back permanently.

Our guide Rommy

After resting on a public bench near the village basketball court, Rommy took us through more streets. Despite being near the sea, the houses in Sumnanga have given way to concrete and yero instead of the traditional stone house. Practicality has given way to tradition as Sumnanga lets the vines of modernization wriggle through its cracks.

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