Batanes is a top scorer for Filipinos’ bucket lists. God’s beautiful creation is on majestic display around this archipelago province and the Ivatans (the term used to refer to the people of Batanes)’ unique heritage represents an important aspect of Philippine culture. Batanes is on the World Heritage Convention UNESCO Tentative List for the ff. reasons:
*Characterized by a complex of terrestrial, wetland, and marine ecosystem
*It is one of the last remaining areas in the Philippines having unique natural physiographic features (wave-cut cliffs, cave-like outcrops, secluded white sand beaches) resulting from its position where strong winds and fast currents have etched out its distinct morphology.
*It is an important flyway for many migratory bird species, and the deeper portions of the marine environment are the few remaining sites where pink and red corals are found.
*The site is the only area in the Philippines where traditional architecture is of stone in response to the wind and monsoon stresses rather than of the more typical tropical, impermanent materials (wood, bamboo, thatch) commonly used in village architecture.
*Due to its isolation from the rest of the country, the traditional culture of the area has likewise remained intact. [Source]
I had an opportunity to visit this Philippine paradise destination but last week while preparing for the trip, I found only snippets of lists here and there. Thought of sharing with you the one consolidated list I would have loved to find before taking the trip. Please share your thoughts and other things you think should be added:)
Batanes has a population of 17,000 people where, as our tour guide Kuya Art said, “everyone will know if you sneeze.”
Provincial Environment and Natural Resources Officer (PENRO) and Protected Area Superintendent (PASU) of the Batanes Protected Landscape and Seascape (BPLS), Mr. George Reyes, said that the province was envisioned to be “a model protected area with high biodiversity, abundant resources, well preserved landscapes, seascapes, and architectural and cultural values… including unique architectural, religious and historical sites.” Batanes brings together the best of many worlds with its diverse ecology of grasslands, cliff vegetation, beach forest, rainforest, sea grass beds, and coral reefs. This diversity accounts for the abundance and variety of fauna and flora found on its islands. To protect the wildlife and preserve endangered species found on the islands, the DENR has taken firm measures such imposing regulation that prohibits hunting, destroying, disturbing or removing from the BPLS any wild plants or animal products without permit from the Protected Area Management Board (PAMB). [Source]
Best time to go and how long to stay: January to early March when the weather is cool and less rainy. For a minimum of 3 night/4 day stay with early morning departure from Clark, Pampanga.
Local Culture: The Ivatans are a peace-loving, non-confrontational, disciplined, hardworking, highly literate, highly resilient, independent people who are very kind to tourists.
Don’t be surprised if children approach to make “Mano po” (your hand to their forehead) as a sign of respect and welcome.
Don’t be surprised also if your mild-mannered, quiet tour driver finished his university degree in Finance and formerly worked as a Manila glass plant manager but happens to love the simple life in Batanes and has been instrumental to the healing of “no less than seven hundred” persons in the name of Jesus Christ.
Safety. Batanes used to have zero crime rate but in recent years since labor (for construction, domestic helpers) has been “imported” from other regions, the recording of petty crimes (such as construction workers fighting) changed the official record for crime rate in general but maintains a zero rate in terms of heinous crimes. It is still considered as very safe for even solo women travelers. But a local suggested the common rule of appropriate dressing (avoid provocative, flesh-bearing attire) when traveling to lands of cultural minorities and religious sites. “This is not a big city but a remote community which just recently opened its doors to the outside world.”
Connectivity. Wifi is patchy even with a purchased P100 internet code at the Harbour Cafe in town. My phone indicated linking to my Smartbro mobile wifi but no data could go through. For emergencies, the Fundacion Pacita allows guests to use its office computer. My Globe phone was able to get intermittent signal. Once a text comes in, stay in that spot to send out your messages.
6 WAYS TO LOVE THE IVATANS:
1. Respect their culture. Be courteous to everyone.
2. Support the local small entrepreneurs. When airline tickets get pegged at high prices, we respect those prices. Since Ivatans all grow or fish their own food for their own subsistence, local folk who go into business to create crafts for souvenirs, serve food, or provide a service give up time from tending their own family’s provision.
3. Care for the environment and nature is very important to them. Be mindful of not leaving trash anywhere but in designated bins.
4. Take an interest in them and their culture.
5. Do not take corals as souvenirs.
6. Due to its geographical isolation, resources are limited and are usually sourced within. There isn’t enough supply of everything for the locals and tourists. Fundacion Pacita, for example, has posted the law in alignment with Republic of the Philippines Republic Act No. 8550 as an appeal for tourists not to purchase or eat Coco Crabs.
The first part of the post below sounds like it could be sung to Smoky Mountain‘s “The Coconut Nut” song.
HOTEL BOOKING AND TOUR
There is a whole range of budgets for a Batanes trip. The one I went on was planned a year earlier by my sister-in-law (I wouldn’t have gone if she hadn’t invited me except by some unexpected circumstance, she couldn’t make the trip). Our booking was for Fundacion Pacita and I must say that I was absolutely delighted with this hotel. But you need to book at least a year in advance online or through your travel agency.
The one who seamlessly and courteously made all our arrangements for flight, tour, and accommodations was Pio Luistro of Pacific Bound Travel and Tours (email@example.com; (632) 525-28-91 / 525-28-93)—even the short notice cancellation for four out of ten original participants.
If you want, once you make a booking, already discuss with your family and friends who might be willing to take over at least your transferable reservations if by chance an emergency comes up because they might actually be only too happy to go but can not plan too far in advance.
The tour Pio arranged for us was from Chanpan Tours (www.chanpantours.com) with Kuya Art Castillejos. I highly recommend Kuya Art. A former welder, Kuya Art is good at explaining the history of sites, he exerted every effort to take souvenir photos of every participant, even going around steep mountains to take 360 degree videos, we were the ones getting nervous for him and asking him to stop. “Laking bundok po ako. Baby winds pa lang yan (I grew up in the mountains. Those are just baby winds),” he would assure us. He is accommodating to customize to our preferences to go to a souvenir shop, to stay longer or shorter at a certain place, and very alert to attend to our needs such as for the life vests, for drinking water, to take us to a cleaner bathroom option. He has good relationships with the locals and is very pleasant to deal with. When one of us needed to go the organic way to answer the call of nature, he made it a point to ensure that the person was safe before he proceeded with the rest of the group.
We took the 1hour, 20 minute Philippine Airlines Flight route from Clark (Pampanga) to Basco (Batanes). Originally, our flight origin was Manila but PAL informed us that the flight route was changed to originate from Clark. It was actually very easy and pleasant to depart from this airport, you could get spoiled. We were going against the traffic both ways so the commute was easy. The restrooms and floors are clean. They took the time to put art on the walls. No business class seats on these flights for now. Check for award ticket availability for your desired travel dates.
The plane from Clark, Pampanga to Basco, Batanes only has Economy Class with 10kg (22 lbs) check-in baggage allowance. Due to small plane size and weight restrictions, weigh your luggage to avoid needing to unload your stuff at the airport. Philippine Airlines didn’t accept my request to handcarry my cabin trolley so I checked it in. Request FRAGILE stickers on both sides if yours is fragile (but be ready with Goo-Gone upon return).
A multi-pocket backpack for flight handcarry (and day treks) is handy.
•Weather forecast plotted on your Tour Itinerary (if you have one) to equip you for the day’s activities. I should know. If I had paid attention to the word “windy” on this list,
I wouldn’t have frozen at the Rakuj a Payaman (Please avoid telling an Ivatan that it is “Marlboro Country” unless you like someone calling you “Hey Joe.”)
• Government ID (for flight boarding and Department of Tourism registration upon arrival at Basco airport)
• Cash. And please don’t forget mid and small denominations (for tipping, bill-splitting, and purchasing souvenirs). Credit cards are not accepted throughout Batanes and stores do not always have ready change. For emergencies, ATM card (Bancnet/Megalink & Expressnet cards are accepted at Landbank and PNB ATMs in Basco).
• Journal to record your memories or devotions. Small hard copy bible if you usually use a wifi-enabled one (Thank you, Malu, for this suggestion).
• Prescription and first aid medicines, Vitamin C (Thank you, Joanne, for your supply!)
• Insect/Mosquito repellant
• Compact healthy snack bars, nuts, or other on-the-go non-perishable food in case tour schedule bypasses your hunger schedule
• Sun Protection: sunblock, sunglasses, lip balm, hat(s) (See “How to Choose a Travel Hat” below)
• Windbreaker or shawls in case it gets cooler than you expect
• Phone and camera with chargers and/or accessories. Power bank please.
• Music Playlist
• Large sealable plastic bags to waterproof your valuables and gadgets when doing inter-island travel or to separate dirty shoes from the rest of your luggage
• Travel Packs of folded toilet tissues for public toilets (Thank you, Joanne for thinking of this).
• Colorful accessories for souvenir photos (Shawls, Hats with Chin Cord if possible , Sunglasses, etc.)
• Well broken-in shoes with good traction soles. If you haven’t worn your shoes for a while, have them checked up by shoe repair shops like Heel Sew Quik Megamall. Boulder-hiking can take its toll on your sole.
*Some packing lists said, “bring your own life vest” but our tour guide, Kuya Art, assured me that each passenger is assigned a life vest and that was true. Please double check that all the clasps work. Mine didn’t.
CHOOSING A TRAVEL HAT:
1. Packable. Folds flat without destroying its shape. Leave behind any hat that almost requires a cylindrical storage box.
2. Brim is wide enough to shield your chin (or neck if senstive) from the sun from all angles (at least 6″). Narrow brimmed headgear like berets will not protect you from sun spots and sun burn from half a day’s exposure.
3. Easy Care. Washable if possible. If not washable, treat with a stain repellant like Scotchguard.
4. Sturdy chin guard (the string under your chin that keeps your hat on your head). The winds in Batanes can get fierce even in March. You will not be fast enough to tumble over mountains running after a flying hat.
WHAT TO WEAR SUGGESTIONS:
For activities when you want to commune with nature such as birdwatching, getting close to the free-grazing animals, you can go for safari camouflage colors.
For attractive photo souvenirs, try thinking of the colors of nature… they include the spectrum of the rainbow and make a lovely contrast against the blue sky, green grass, and earth-colored rocks!
Malu wore a cranberry-colored hat and it always perked up every picture she was in and it earned compliments where we went:Comfortable dresses or accessories in colors that contrast with nature that flowed with the breeze photographed/videographed well.
Trekking shoes are specially helpful when you have to go through rugged terrain, which is pretty much everywhere. Make sure that you have tried running all-day errands in the shoes you bring and check that their soles are stable.
Inwardly, you can also pray that your souls are stable for whatever adventure comes your way. Ask God for the best scenarios but know that imperfection is a given.
Our strengthening exercises in this regard: spend quiet times with God; read/ review the Word; keep short accounts with Him by confessing when you recognise thoughts, words, and actions not aligned with His Spirit. Be thankful in all circumstances. Pray for a (Holy) Spirit- controlled heart.
And the most important thing to put on? Love.
Col 3:14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
When you suddenly spend long hours over several days with people you normally didn’t spend that much time with, love for everyone goes a long way for you as well as for everyone else to enjoy the trip.
Emy’s love for everyone, including lovely Manang Sweet Potato Donut in Sabtang Island, can be felt by all 🙂
This is all of us loving one another at Madangay, Barangay Itbud, a.k.a. I-Dawn-Zulueta-Mo-Ako [sweep-me-off-my-feet] Hill (where the movie, Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit was filmed).