The Awesomeness that is Batanes

Funny how Filipinos remark, “It’s like you’re not in the Philippines!” when referring to beautiful places. Like Batanes which is compared to New Zealand because of its rolling hills, and some areas are even dubbed Marlboro Country by foreigners. I’d say it’s the Bhutan of the Philippines, not because it looks like Bhutan but because this could be how it feels like being in Bhutan considering their environmental conservation efforts and how its people seem to live a simple, peaceful, happy life. Pretty much like how the Ivatan people of Batanes are.

Batanes is a protected area in its entirety which helped preserve the natural beauty of the place. It is also an organic zone, has high literacy rate, with low poverty incidence, and almost zero crime rate. Now who wouldn’t want to visit a place like that?

Last week, I was able to enjoy what the province has to offer. The weather was sunny and nice with occasional cloudy skies and rain showers. This used to be the typical path of typhoons but it’s been storm free for the past 10 years now.

A lot of Filipinos have Batanes included in their dream destinations. It is part of my list and sometimes I wonder what the hype is all about. It could be any other landscape or seascape but Batanes gives that feeling which I can’t really fully explain – a mix of happiness, serenity, gratitude, and nostalgia. One thing’s for sure. It’s a perfect marriage of the land, the sky, and the sea. It’s where couples plan their future, solo travelers reflect or meditate, and photographers take the best pictures.

Batanes is made up of 10 islands and we were able to explore the three inhabited ones – Batan, Sabtang, and Itbayat. Touring the north and south parts of Batan provided an overabundance of picturesque views of hills and lighthouses. You can’t help but snap away with your camera so as not to waste the photo-worthy opportunities. I had to remind myself to just take it all in.

Walking around the centuries old village of Savidug in Sabtang made us appreciate traditional houses that survived time and countless typhoons from the past.

Itbayat is the least visited island. I’m thinking it’s because of its reputation of having to go through a two to three-hour boat ride in the treacherous, open sea. And the possibility of being stranded in the island due to bad weather.

It felt like a million hands were trying to tip the vessel over. Getting on and off the boat was also a challenge. Even while docked on the port, the boat was not steady. We had to move quickly as the porters and boat men expertly guided us, carrying us, almost, to get both our feet on solid ground. I’d say this makes the Itbayat experience more memorable and special. But a warning to people who easily get motion sickness, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

As a mountain person, I enjoyed the hike at Itbayat especially the early morning trek, and I mean early, as in 3 AM early, for us to catch the sunrise.

Truly, Batanes is an amazing place made even better by its friendly, honest people. Honesty shops abound, smiles and greetings from the locals is a welcome surprise, cows and goats and horses roam about, and there are just so many spots to visit. Oh and you can even ride the bike on the Basco Airport runway. How cool is that? Definitely one of the best places I’ve been to and yes, it’s in the Philippines!

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