My summer came a little early and extremely rainy when I visited Batanes last February. It was my first time to take a vacation alone, and what better way than to begin in arguably the safest, calmest, and most divine place in the country! Setting foot on the northernmost province of the Philippines, little did I know that I will fall in love with this place. There is so much to know about Batanes, but even more, there is so much to feel about it. After travelling even just for 5 days, I realized what Batanes truly is.
Batanes is a masterpiece.
Do you get those moments when you shed a tear by just staring at a painting or listening to a song? My whole Batanes trip was nothing short of those. Visiting in February when rains are incessant and winds are strong, I thought that the Batanes experience won’t be surreal. Yet, despite not having the “perfect time”, it was still way better than most days anywhere in the world. Batanes is beautiful any time of any day of any month – words and photos cannot give justice to its grandeur. From lush rolling hills to azure beaches, from jaw-dropping cliffs to vast grasslands, every nook is just an artwork on its own. It makes you want to cry, witnessing nature’s beauty and majesty. True beauty reveals itself in moments of no pretense. That’s when Batanes manifests.
Batanes is a nostalgia.
I was taken back in time when I arrived in Batanes. Stone houses aren’t a myth especially in Sabtang Island. Lighthouses stood regal yet welcoming, and the view on top will mesmerize you. Some roads are rocky and some windowsills broken, but all of them speak of tales of simple and harmonious communities. Rich history lies within each house built in corals and stones. Facades may seem old and crumbling, but the culture remains firm. Hidden in those nostalgic houses, woodcrafts, and artifacts are the traditions and values of a powerful tribe. As buildings are preserved, so are lives and legends.
Batanes is a school.
Throughout my tour, I understood why root crops are the usual agricultural produce, and why some parts of their hills are dotted by bamboo fences. I got to distinguish the West Philippine Sea from the Pacific Ocean. I chanced upon various farm animals and fur friends along the way – from carabaos and goats to roosters and rats. I wore the vakul (female head gear) while observing how weavers made them with such hard work. I stayed in the Japanese Hidden Tunnel built back during World War II while it rained; and peeked at the lagoon where once upon a time only Spaniards could take a swim. I immersed in Ivatan geography, biology, and history. It felt like I was in a field trip, but one where I was a student of life. Travelling Batanes is a meaningful journey where learning isn’t boring at all.
Batanes is a feast.
In Batanes, fast food chains and convenience stores aren’t an option. There are no high-end restaurants or fancy cafes. And in one, I even had to list my purchases, pay, and get my change by myself – honesty system. But I still experienced a flavorful feast of the real Batanes. I remember my first lunch was a bounty of fish and meat and rice and noodles, and I was able to try the best-tasting kamote rolls and honey cinnamon tea. Ivatan dishes like uved balls, vunes, and luñis were always a hit that were not to be missed. The assortment of root crops and seafood is also a gastronomic delight – there’s lubho (fern) tea for a hot drink, seaweeds in tinola for lunch, and malunggay chips for snacks. But I warn you, dare not eat coconut crabs for they are already endangered.
Batanes is a retreat.
For almost a week, I didn’t have access to social media. Mobile networks were weak. I couldn’t update my status instantly. My millennial spirit wanted to whine, but disconnection was what I needed after all. For a brief period, I experienced myself, the people around, and the beauty surrounding me. I wrote poems while sitting at a boulder, staring at the sea. I skirted the lighthouse, running like a kid while the wind blew against my face. I stood in silence as I felt a stronger, deeper, and more authentic connection with the world and humanity. It was both solitude and an array of emotions. As my mind, heart, and soul were free from toxic preoccupations, life unfolded before me. The sky, land, and sea set me free. Yes, there was no WiFi, but I got the best connection in those very moments.
Batanes is an adventure.
While Batanes is the place to unwind and heal, it is also the place to free fall and surrender. It will guarantee anyone the escapade to die for. Anchors Away became real when I rode the faluwa (Ivatan’s traditional boat) and braved the seas despite towering high waves. (The boat even stopped in the middle of the sea due to engine malfunction!) I crawled on the ground and held on something for my dear life as I climbed the rolling hills. Otherwise, the wind would topple me down and I might find myself abraded and stuck in carabao manure. I toploaded on the jeepney roof while looking over cliffs and had the best joyride of my life. Screaming at the top of my lungs, there I was with my feet hanging high above the ground, witnessing real beauty, experiencing real thrill. Batanes was buwis-buhay. But everything was worth it.
Batanes is a home.
No one is exaggerating about how honest, caring, and genuine Ivatans are. Everyone felt and feels like family. I walked the streets at night alone and felt completely safe. I got lost once, and a friendly ate accompanied me until I reached my homestay. I could call anyone Auntie or Uncle and they would take pleasure in it. I can flash a smile or make a casual chat with a stranger, and it would always turn out lovely. The effect is contagious that even fellow tourists felt like long-lost friends. Being an introvert has always given me worries when meeting new people, so believe me when I say that Ivatans are an exception. They restore faith in humanity. They are the real beauty. They’ll steal your heart to guide you back home.
With all that’s been said and done, I find the need to pause in my writing. I am here in a four-cornered room facing my laptop, but my heart is in Batanes. Remembering my summer isn’t difficult at all. But I can never relive it. The truth is that Batanes isn’t a place. Experience is what Batanes truly is. Many will attempt to provide descriptions, illustrations, explanations, and narratives of what the place is all about, but all these will never parallel experiencing Batanes as it is.
Now, while I can never relive that experience again, I am certain that I can create new moments, new memories, new summers in the future. I know that one day I will come back. And I know that once again I will say, “Dios Mamajes, Batanes!”
Marian Tarras is a recently-licensed CPA and a graduate of Business Administration and Accountancy at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. She loves to read, write, and sleep but would love to further travel, explore, and enjoy life. She says she’s living life, hopefully.