It’s Holy Week 2013 here in the Philippines. Since work left me with too little time to book an airline ticket and hotel accommodation for travel during the long holiday, I decided to stay home and write about my Holy Week travel last year. I have been wanting to go to Batanes (the northernmost part of the Philippines and is also the smallest province in terms of population and land area) for the longest time and it has been in my bucket list since the stone age. And the dream became a reality a year ago. The trip was initially planned for two persons but something came up with my companion and it left me with no choice but to travel alone since nobody wants to go with me. Ha! Ha! Hotel accommodation was booked a year earlier and the airline ticket was bought 6 months before I flew to my shangri-la.
Holy Wednesday, 4th of April 2012, the day of my flight to Batanes. I overslept! I arrived at the airport to find the counter closed 30 minutes before the scheduled take off time at 5:15am. I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to do. One year of preparation and there I was feeling numb and about to cry. The ground crew of Seair told me to go to their office next door and have my flight re-booked the following day. And so, that’s what I did. Luckily, there was still a vacant seat for the flight the following day and they were able to accommodate me for no extra charge. I went home, had lunch with a friend and slept the whole afternoon till early evening to make sure I will stay awake hours before my flight. Arrived at the airport at 3am the following day. The flight was slow but it was smooth.
Maundy Thursday, 5th of April 2012. Touchdown Batanes! The airport looks new but it has an old-fashioned attractiveness and charm because of its stone walls, which is peculiar to the island for it is frequented by typhoons. I didn’t know a single soul, but I spotted a few familiar faces in the crowd in the arrival area. They were a group of celebrities from Manila. The moment I went out, I immediately saw my name on a small board being held by a middle-aged man. He’s the driver from Fundacion Pacita, the hotel I was billeted for the next three days. The van ride to the hotel was nothing but magnificent. Hills and ocean as far as your eyes can see. There are occasional cows, too. No high rise buildings, no wide roads, no traffic, no pollution. “This is going to be a very good Holy Week”, I said to myself.
My jaw dropped when I alighted from the van upon arriving at the hotel. The hotel’s exterior is so beautiful. It’s on top of rolling hills and sits at the edge of a cliff almost kissing the ocean below. This used to be the studio of internationally-acclaimed artist Pacita Abad. The hotel is full of her artworks. I was mesmerized! So, I picked up my jaw from the ground only to drop it again when I entered my room. The room I reserved is called the Idawud Room. It is the corner room in the far end of the main building and the private viewing deck is facing the vast ocean. The room has large glass windows that offered a good view of the blue sea. I asked the attendant, ” Is this viewing deck mine alone?” She replied, “Yes Sir, all yours until you leave on Sunday. By the way Sir, your breakfast is now ready in the main dining hall. But you have a choice if you want your meals served here in your room or in your view deck.” A tear fell on my cheek when she left and closed the door behind her. This is so surreal! My dream is now starting to unfold. I started to unpack my things and started taking pictures of my room. It’s a good thing that I have complimentary bottles of water, coffee and tea complete with a boiling pot. The phone rang and I was informed that my tour guide is now ready and waiting for me outside. Adventure awaits. . . .
We started off by visiting DOST’s PAGASA Station where they used to monitor the weather of the islands. I think this is no longer operational because there were no people inside the building. Not far from the station is the Tukon Church which was built by the Abads. The ceiling was painted by local artists. These artists are supported by the hotel’s foundation because art is very close to Pacita’s heart. The Japanese tunnel is next on the list. They said that a lot of Japanese tunnels were constructed in World War II. The one we went to had some type of bunkers where the soldiers slept and they also kept their food. When we were navigating the interior of this tunnel, the walls were moist and there was a 90 degree drop. When we emerged from the tunnel, another view of rolling hills greeted us. We then proceeded to the lighthouses of Basco and Mahatao. These lighthouses are open and you can actually go inside and take pictures from its viewdeck. When you’re up there, you can just close your eyes for a moment and thank God for all these wonderful creations. We had to stop for lunch at Ms. Lydia Roberto’s restaurant. It was sumptuous, complete with uvud balls, calamari, soup and fried fish dish. The rest of the afternoon was devoted to the Chapa view deck where there is a small grotto and it offers a great view of the ocean and the hills. The Valugan Boulder beach was mind-blowing. You can’t help but wonder, where did all those boulders come from? They said that the boulders were once spewed by Mt. Iraya when it erupted decades ago. However, the Ivatans started quarrying these stones and boulders to build the walls of their houses. It is now prohibited to quarry these stones. Here now comes the Honesty Coffee shop. A lot have been said about this store. There is nobody in this store, just the goods. If you need something, by all means, get it and drop your payment in the box. I have read that the owner felt that she would be wasting her time if she would stay in the store the whole day. She might as well do her farming. Batanes, if I am not mistaken, has zero crime rate. Maybe she was banking on this that’s why she trusts all the people coming to her store. Last stop for the day was the House of Dakay. This is the oldest stone house in Batanes and the current occupant is Frestilda Dakay. In other blogs and write ups, she is named as Florestida Estrella or Lola Ida. She’s a bubbly, fine lady who speaks impeccable English. She talked about her growing up years and their life during the war. It was a very nice experience to talk to Lola Ida as the sun was setting on the horizon. I was smiling during the drive back to my hotel. Just a day in this beautiful island and a lot has happened. The sight of my room refreshed me. I took a long bath and got ready for dinner at Lydia Roberto’s again.
Since I knew that I will be travelling alone, I made arrangements before I left Manila with the famous photographer, that I will be joining her photo safari group for two days. And they will be arriving on Good Friday.
Good Friday, 6th of April 2012. Slept for the 8 straight hours. The sound of the waves the night before slowly dozed me to sleep. It’s a new day, new adventure! I was informed that I will picked up at around 9:30am. The photographer’s group will be arriving from Manila early. I heard a soft knock on my door. It was the hotel’s attendant. He’ll be bringing in my breakfast and he suggested that he set it up in my view deck. According to him, nothing beats enjoying an early breakfast in the view deck because everything is so serene. His words were true. The brewed coffee was really good as well as the beef tapa. They always include sweet potato in their set breakfast. Somehow the sweet potato in Batanes seem to taste differently, much sweeter. After breakfast, the photo safari group arrived on time. from here on all my meals and transportation has all been paid for from the fee I paid to join the group. We were taught all about photography the whole day while transferring from one spot to another. Fashion photography with the group members as models, portraiture, landscape photography as well. We were also taught how to use ambient light, how to diffuse our lighting and all. This day was a rewarding day for me because I was able to learn a lot from a very accomplished photographer.
Black Saturday, 7th of April 2012. We had to be up early today because we are going to cross the West Philippine Sea going to Sabtang. As I have read, the waves in the ocean can really go crazy. I informed the hotel’s kitchen that I need to have my breakfast very early on this day. I had it set up inside my room because it was still a bit dark outside. The staff were very efficient and well-mannered. Anyway, quick breakfast, quick bath and off we go to Ivana port to ride the falowa boat going to Sabtang island. When we got to the port at 8am, there were already tourists and locals queuing for the boat ride to the next island. The waters look calm but we still needed to wait for the approval of the coast guard if we can cross or not. We set sail at around 8:45am. The boat ride was quiet, just a few big waves and it took us 40 minutes to reach Sabtang Island. When we docked, the mayor of Sabtang was there to greet us. After the necessary paper works about registration, we went straight to the Sabtang Church. This church was built by the Dominicans in 1785. It was left behind in 1791 when the people in Sabtang were forced to transfer to Ivana. It was rebuilt in 1844 under the supervision of Fr. Antonio Vicente, O.P. The belfry was reconstructed by Fr. Gumersindo Hernandez, O.P. after it was detroyed by a typhoon in 1956. After talking to the current parish priest, we boarded our jeep and proceeded with our long and bumpy ride to Savidug. Savidug is the town in Sabtang where you can see the old stones houses in Batanes. We also went to Chamantad-Tinyan Sitio where the view is just awesome. Last stop is the Nakabuang Beach where we had a really tummy-filling lunch. This beach is the one with a natural arch of stone and moss and has white sand. And now, it’s time to sail back to Batan island. It was already 4pm. The boat ride back to Batan was nowhere near calm. Ha! Ha! For a first time tourist, it was kind of scary. The locals however, can still afford to talk and laugh. We arrived safely after the looooong ride. After dinner, it was already time to pack my things for my flight back to Manila the following day. Batanes is quite expensive. But everything was all worth the money. It was sad that this adventure had to end. Memories were made and these will last a lifetime. But reality is kicking back in. I need to work and save for another adventure in the future.