The Hills Are Alive: Breathtaking Batanes (Part 1)

    How does a moment last forever? How does a story never die? Batanes will bring out the emo from the coldest part of your heart. Seriously, how can a place be THIS beautiful?

Batanes has always had various reputations among travel enthusiasts and non-travelers alike – breathtaking but expensive, hard-to-reach, typhoon-beaten, New Zealand-like, unpredictable weather, wild boat rides, etc. Travel bloggers are raving about it. I’ve always written it on my planner as one of my goal destinations, so when I saw Skyjet’s post about a promo fare one Friday afternoon, curiosity was piqued and I tried mock-booking. It was still expensive for my standards, so I let the weekend pass and tried to forget about it, like a real adult.

The lesser known Mahatao Rolling Hills. Can you see the Tayid Lighthouse from afar? and my uncooperative hair?

Monday came, and I casually checked Skyjet again. The promo fare was still there. Before I knew it, I booked a roundtrip flight for 2, a month before the trip. Oopsies, said my spontaneous Sagittarian self.

It’s quite a challenge to DIY things in Batanes, because it’s not a place where you can wait in the street for a taxi, jeep or bus. There, commuting means contacting the TODA so that a tricycle comes to pick you up and bring you wherever you want. It actually made things simpler. I didn’t have to make an itinerary. I just had to find a tricycle driver to tour us around.

Now this is what we call road trip!

Days leading to the trip, I read blogs about Batanes. For the accommodation, there are plenty of options for every budget. Many lodges offer dorm-type accommodation, as well as private rooms for solo, double, or family occupancy, but often they have common bathroom. The price ranges from Php 300-1000 per night for fan room.

I booked Marfel’s Lodge for 4 nights, but they relocated us to Savatan Homestay because I opted for a room with a private restroom. The location didn’t matter because the lodges/homestays in Basco town proper are just within walking distance from each other. Our room originally costs Php1000/night, and it’s more than enough for the 2 of us since the room has 2 solo beds and 1 queen-sized bed. We upgraded from fan to aircon so we added Php 300/night, making it a total of Php 1300/night.

The weather wasn’t very cooperative on our 2nd day in Batanes. Mt. Iraya was almost covered in clouds. This was the view from our room.

For the tour, there are van tours and the cheaper tryke tours, although there are also cars or motorbikes for rent for those who don’t want guided tours. There are many tour providers in Batanes, the most popular being BISUMI and Chanpan Tours, and their rate is at Php 1000/pax for the North Batan tour and Php 2000/pax for the South Batan tour (both are inclusive of lunch).

We availed of the cheaper tryke tour at Php 1000 for North Batan and Php 1500 for South Batan (good for 2-3 pax already but without lunch). I found the contact details of Kuya Eugene Castillo – our tryke driver/tour guide, through this blogΒ (thank you!). Kuya Eugene is quite famous amongst travel bloggers and he doesn’t even know. The humble Ivatan has no Facebook but communicates promptly through calls and texts. He’s a GREAT photographer too!

Uhmm nakapikit lang sya dito πŸ˜€ with kuya Eugene – 0935 965 5317 / 0920 609 0770. Side note – puro sila SMART subscribers sa Batanes. My Globe phone has no LTE/3G signal there, only 2G.

Nov 30, 2017

Day 1 – South Batan Tour

November 30 came, we arrived at 4am in NAIA Terminal 4 and waited for the check-in counter to open. This was the first time we flew Skyjet. We took off at sunrise and landed in Basco Airport at 7am. The trip was a short hour.

Upon arrival in Basco Airport (and after taking loads of obligatory photos with Skyjet and Mt. Iraya behind), we queued to pay for Php 700 environmental fee. We got our baggage and met with our airport pick-up courtesy of Marfel Lodge.

At 8am, after a short 5-minute drive from the airport, we arrived at Savatan Homestay. Tired and hungry and internet-less, we planned to move our tour after lunch to have a bit of a rest, but Kuya Eugene insisted to start the tour early to maximize the good sunny weather. Later that day we realized, boy was he so right. We had a quick breakfast prepared by Ate Janice then at 930am, off we went to start our South Batan tour!

Savatan Homestay is literally just a home away from home.

They sell souvenir T-shirts.

Simple breakfast in Savatan Homestay (Php 150/pax). Hot/cold water dispenser and coffee/milo are always available for free downstairs.

Many thanks to this blog for the list of places to visit in North Batan, South Batan and Sabtang. I chose not to research too much, to have that element of surprise when we get there.

South Batan quick list of places to visit (credits to Lakwatsero, note that we didn’t visit all of these):

  • Chawa View Deck
  • Mahatao Shelter Port
  • Mahatao Town
  • San Carlos Borromeo Church of Mahatao
  • Blank Library
  • Tayid Lighthouse
  • Racuh a Payaman (Marlboro Hills)
  • Diura Fishing Village
  • Fountain of Youth
  • Alapad Hills
  • Sitio Song-song Ruins
  • Uyugan Town
  • National Museum Batanes
  • San Jose de Ivana Church
  • Honesty Coffee Shop
  • House of Dakay
  • Alapad Hills of Uyugan

Kuya Eugene’s creative panoramic shot in Chawa View Deck. That’s South China Sea right there.

There’s a staircase going down the rocky and slippery shore, but we were warned not to go there – a couple of fatal accidents apparently have happened there.

Mahatao Shelter Port overlooking Maydangeb Beach – a.k.a. a cool place to safely park the boats.

It took some 30 -minute hilly tryke drive to the other side of Mahatao. You gotta give DPWH-Batanes the credit for well-paved roads! Somewhere in Mahatao Rolling Hills, you can see the Tayid Lighthouse from afar

On the way to Tayid Lighthouse. And that’s Marlboro Country from afar! The little bump right there is “Rean’s Rock” πŸ˜€

Definitely not trying to be seductive here. It’s just my OOTD won’t friggin cooperate with the wind! πŸ˜€

Now we’re talking! The first jaw-dropping place we visited that day – the back of Tayid Lighthouse. This is simply one of my top 3 favorite places in Batanes. So serene, so pretty, so unassuming from the entrance. We went back here on our 4th day.

We spent probably a short 20 minutes in Tayid Lighthouse. We caught up with some visitors there, taking insta-worthy photos, feeling the damp wind coming from the approaching rain clouds, and admiring the view of the Pacific Ocean and the distant Diura Fishing Village below. I was so adamant not to leave. Yes, that was THAT pretty.

It seemed like forever since the tour started, but only 2 hours had just passed since leaving our homestay. We headed to Racuh a Payaman (the most coveted and most famous place in Batanes among tourists – Marlboro Country) before lunchtime.

There was a little store (selling expensive chips – understood), a restaurant, a roofed “tambayan” and restrooms at the side of the road leading to Marlboro Country. When we entered, our jaws dropped for the second time.

The struggle with the wind is real! This is in Racuh a Payaman (Marlboro Country) at the other side of Mahatao! The Tayid Lighthouse is still in the picture for reference.

We got so excited to literally roll down the hills but there were plenty of raisins (a.k.a. goat poop) and some cold cakes (a.k.a. cow poops) around. Nah, we’re good. It was a struggle to walk though, the wind was so strong I was afraid for my phone and my 49-kilo self to be blown off. I looked like a fool occasionally holding the ground for dear life, good thing there were only less than 10 other people around, including Kuya Eugene who seemed to be amused by the idiot tourist in me.

The colors of the surrounding depend on the sun’s presence. The ocean is bluer and the grass is greener when the sun is out. Unfortunately we can see the rain clouds approaching us.

We continued walking to reach “Rean’s Rock”. He claims the rock was his and says it was the highlight of his Batanes trip. Weird guy right there.

Rean: Bato ko yan

It’s a good idea to hang out here except that you won’t have any cover from the rain or sun.

We got so overjoyed going downhill, that we found ourselves panting as we went back uphill to the entrance. Off to the next destination, Alapad Hills and Rock Formation/Alapad Pass, where “i-Dawn Zulueta mo ako” happened:

Posing with the popular road sign that is symbolic of Batanes. I even bought a t-shirt with that print. Tourist hits.

Me whispering to Rean “i-Dawn Zulueta mo ako” but he refused. Bro can u even lift

I guess what sets Batanes apart is that there is beauty around, like literally 360deg around.

 

 

Next stop: okay I totally forgot what place this was.

We were halfway through our South Batan trip and to recap: we came from Basco then went to Mahatao, crossed the island to reach Tayid Lighthouse, went south for Racuh a Payaman and souther for Alapad Hills in Uyugan (not in map). At this point, we started heading northwards to Ivana.

Map of South Batan courtesy of http://www.victoriaabadkerblat.com/updates.htm

The famous Honesty Coffee Shop is actually a humble sari-sari store where you can prepare your own 3-in-1 coffee and munch on cookies.

San Jose de Ivana Church

Port of Ivana, a.k.a. terminal for the boats from/to Sabtang Island.

House of Dakay – oldest stone house in Batanes.

Old Spanish Bridge – still operational.

And then we were back in Mahatao – this is in Homoron White Beach.

We had late lunch in Paulvana’s Canteen. Lunch set for 2 costs Php 600.

San Carlos Borromeo Church of Mahatao

The Blank Library inside the church – where you can pick any book and write anything you want on it.

Because 12th of September is special for us

It started to rain at past 3pm – Kuya Eugene took us back to our homestay. Boy was he ever right about starting the tour early.

Key Take-aways:

  1. Flight.Β This is the only expensive part in any Batanes trip, so you’re off to a good start if you scored promo fares. There are daily flights from/to Manila – Basco offered by Skyjet and PAL. Some travelers manage to snag cheap roundtrip flights for Php 2000 (the extremely determined ones), some for Php 6000, but regular roundtrip flights cost a whooping Php 15000-ish (even more expensive than flights to Singapore, Hong Kong or Taiwan). We got ours from Skyjet’s year-end promo at Php 18346 for 2, roundtrip (so Php 9173 each, roundtrip).
  2. Hotel. Lodges range from Php 300-1000/night for fan rooms and up to Php1500/night for aircon rooms. There are midrange and luxury hotels, too (Fundacion Pacita) at Php 18000-ish/night. We stayed in Savatan Homestay (Php 1300/night) for 4 nights, hence a total of Php 5200.
  3. Tours. Tryke tours are good for 2-3 pax and cost only Php 1000 for North Batan tour, Php 1500 for South Batan tour and Php 1000 for Sabtang Island tour, a total of only Php 3500 which you can split. So if you’re a party of 3, these 3 tours (which you can compress in 2 days or maximize for 3 days) cost only less than Php 1200/pax.
  4. Food. Food is generally inexpensive. Pension Ivatan wins this category because they offer large servings of delicious Ivatan food for a cheap price (like Php 160-ish per meal).
  5. Weather. It’s true – the weather could be really unpredictable. I didn’t understand why it rained (very hard) on our 2nd day, given that there was no nearby clouds as per the weather forecast maps that I monitored daily prior to the trip. Also, it could be extremely windy in some days.
  6. People. Due to limited daily flights, the influx of tourists is also very limited, making it very easy toΒ take photos in Batanes without the photobombers.

 

Woah, South Batan, that was hard to beat! Stay tuned for Part 2!

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