We made our way out of the Dornier 328, eager to set foot in Basco. We marveled at the fine weather, a stark contrast to the thunderstorms CNN.com has forecasted. The sun was shining brightly and the sky a beautiful shade of blue, dotted with white fluffy clouds. We went through the small terminal building, which looked more like a resort villa than an airport.
There we met with Tita Remy, the caretaker of Novita House, our home for the next four days. The province of Batanes is a protected zone, and each tourist are required to pay environmental protection fees as they arrive and depart in Basco. The fee upon arrival is Php 50, while the fee when you leave is Php15. Up until recently, flights to Basco are few and far between, so locals who are flying in from Manila usually bring home a lot of goods for resale or for the family’s own stock (much like Filipinos flying to the US with balikbayan boxes full of Lucky Me instant pancit canton and Purefoods corned beef). Unloading the baggages took longer than usual, which is pretty absurd considering that it’s a pretty small aircraft. Soon enough our bags are out and we made our way to Novita House.
Tita Remy assured us that the house was within walking distance from the airport, and we sighed with relief when we came unto the house. It WAS within walking distance!* We settled into our rooms and prepared for the day ahead. Through Tita Remy, we were able to rent a multicab** that would take us to several sites around Batan Island. With our cameras and water bottle, we set off to explore Batanes.
Our first stop was one of Batanes’ landmarks: the Basco Lighthouse. Set on the Naidi hill just on the outskirts of town, the lighthouse has a spectacular view of the sea, the dramatic cliffs and Mt. Irayat. The place was practically deserted, save for some cattle grazing. The lighthouse is no longer operating, but the building was open and you can climb all the way up. Though not in use, the structure was in surprisingly good condition. The view from high up shows us the town of Basco sprawled below, and the sights of more hills and mountains in the distance.
After some serious camwhoring (mainly us taking photos of a certain travel blogger who we shall hide under the pseudonym Byahilo), we hopped back into the multicab and drove towards the eastern coast of Batan island. Valugan beach, as it says in the sign that welcomes us, “manifests the volcanic effusions from Mt. Iraya that is an important geologic formation in the archipelago. The geomorphic resource provided by Valugan beach provides rich information in the land formation of Batanes.” The shore was covered by smooth rocks of different sizes, which hosts different shellfish and mollusks, providing food for the Ivatans.
Next in the day’s itinerary was the Tukon Radar. An abandoned weather station, the hill offers magnificent 360 degrees views of Batan Island, South China Sea and the Pacific ocean. Mt. Iraya is seen in the North, while in the south you can see the rolling hills leading up to Mt. Matarem.
It was almost noon, so we started driving down to Mahatao, where our lunch awaits. We drove through the hills and on the side of the mountains, dropping every so often to take photos of the spectacular sceneries. We arrive at Monica Fadullo’s Cottage in Sitio Diura, Mahatao, where Tita Remy arranged for our lunch. For only Php 150, we had a very filling lunch of Ivatan Laoya Baka (Nilagang Baka or Beef cooked in broth with vegetables), Ivatan Pork Lonyes (Crispy Fried Pork) and Fried Idek (Fried Blue Sea Chub fish). We had a gorgeous view of the sea and the cloud-shrouded Mt. Iraya in the distance.
There were more to see in Basco, so right after lunch, we headed off to Racuh A Payaman, more popularly known as Marlboro Country. Named because its resemblance to the setting of the cigarette ad, the ranch is a series of rolling hills where cattle graze freely. Visitors are advised to stay on the trail, as the animals in the ranch are undomesticated. Marlboro Country is easily one of my favorite places in Batanes. There’s this feeling of calm that you get when you enter the ranch, and you feel one with the environment. Though we wanted to stay longer and take in the view, we had to pry ourselves off the ground and get back to the multicab to explore more of Batan.
En route to Ivana, we passed through the ghost town of Songsong, a tiny seaside community that got hit by a tsunami in 1953. Though there weren’t any casualties, the town is now deserted, as the residents abandoned the community, and was evacuated to Mindanao. We also passed the abandoned US Coast Guard Station, where low, squat buildings still stand.
The town of Ivana is where the boats leave for Sabtang, and it’s also where the famed Honesty Cafe is. You’d have to wonder why a simple sari-sari store would get such a publicity, but once you step inside, you’ll realize that there’s no one minding the shop! Prices for all the items in the shop are marked in several signs, and whoever gets anything from the store must list down the things they bought in the logbook, along with the amount they put inside the box. There’s no way for you to get change, so be sure to have the exact amount prepared! Just short walk from the Honesty Cafe is the San Jose de Ivana Church. Like the most churches in Batanes, the church has an interesting Baroque facade, made with lime and stone.
The sun was going down and we were running low on energy, so we made a hasty retreat to the multicab and headed to the House of Dakay. This stone house built in 1887 has survived earthquakes and typhoons, and it’s still home to Florestida Estrella, who inherited the house from her great grandfather. Like most Ivatan houses, the house had meter-thick walls made of coral and lime to withstand the harsh winds and rains, and cogon-thatched roof that’s almost a foot-thick. The house and its occupant are readily the most photographed structure and personality in Batanes. Lola Ida’s face has graced numerous magazines, and she sighs that she hardly see any of them. She has welcomed a lot of tourists to her house through the years, and she has her script down to pat. I kinda feel for her though — to have all those people knocking on your door, asking a million questions and taking countless photos.
We ended the Batan island tour at the Mahatao view deck. We were an hour away till sundown, and we wiled away the time, resting on the many benches that line the deck. Sunset photos taken, and we headed back to Novita House, stopping at the public market to buy ingredients for our dinner. As Melo was preparing dinner, Tita Remy arrived, carrying three kilos of lobster. At only Php 300 per kilo, these lobster was a great bargain, not to mention the perfect way to cap a wonderful day.
* People from the provinces are used to walking long distances, and from experience, their concept of “within walking distance” is greatly different from our perception.
** Basically a tiny flat bed truck with seats along the side.
Seair flies five times a week to Basco from Manila. Flights out of Manila leaves at 5:50 am, and flights back departs Basco at 7:55 am. For reservations call 8490100 or 8437308 to inquire about SEAIR Leisure Escape Packages. You can also book online at www.flyseair.com.