Batanes: where everything is good and beautiful

Batanes is one of the things in my bucket list. And now that I was able to fulfill it, I was able to write a blog entry about it in one sitting down. The most detailed, descriptive, and longest piece I’ve ever written yet. Well, that’s why I’m into the field of process documentation. 🙂

 Day 1. Tour of North Batan

As soon as we took off, I had a good feeling this will be a good trip. I felt I needed a break from amidst an emotional roller coaster ride that shocked me during the first quarter of the year. But what I do not know is that, this will be so far the most unforgettable trip I will have. Aside from the jagged cliffs, rolling hills, and a 360o view of picturesque scenery, Batanes boasts a rich endearing culture only the Ivatans can emulate. Everywhere we go, people display courtesy, or exhibit an affable display that you belong. Jessie Jacob, our tour guide, greeted us with a gentle, but warm greeting. He is so soft spoken that I even have to consciously turn down the volume of my voice because I’m afraid to be misinterpreted. Jessie was our tour guide for the whole duration of our stay. Our driver/tour guide led us to a makeshift tour vehicle, a signature feature of our lodging place, Crisan’s Lodge. IMG_2374IMG_2308

Since our room is still being cleaned, we went first to the Basco Lighthouse and from there, my heart grew more excited, because the first stop was already spectacular. I thought to myself, if this is just the beginning, and each day will be better, I think I’ll be lost for words to describe this place. My father (Tatay) and are already grinning from ear to ear, like a happy child about to get his most desired treat for a reward. We chose to stay at Crisan Lodge and Tour as recommended by a friend and they did not disappoint. It even raised the bar of the home stays I’ve been into. The owners, Mon Imperial and his wife, Crisan, are very warm and accommodating. As soon as we arrived, they served us complimentary breakfast, and gave us a brief background about Batanes and the tour package we will get. They also have a grocery store downstairs containing more than the basic essentials. It was so convenient for us, such that, we just go down at any time of the day, sometimes, in our pambahay, to buy a pack of 3-in-1 coffee or a bottle of beer.  We exchanged stories like we have known each other for a long time, and are just picking up where we left off. He suggested that we’ll have a tour of North Batan, day 2 would be Sabtang Island; the third day is for the South of Batan. After briefing and breakfast, he sent us off with Jessie.


The vehicle used by Crisan Lodge for their guests. We learned that Kuya Mon is from Sabtang , which is known for making roof like this in their tricycles.

Banlugan Boulder Beach

Banlugan Boulder Beach

For the North of Batan tour, we went to: Mt. Carmel chapel, PAG-ASA weather station, just across the chapel. We also passed by Fundacion Pacita, Rolling hills, and the Disnapuwan Cave. Jessie told us a brief history about the tunnel. He also took us to the Banlugan boulder beach. Jessie told us that the stones were from the eruption of Mt. Iraga during the 1400s. I gathered these were the stones used in the Ivatan houses. Last stop is the Rolling Hills, where we had the first 360o view of Batanes beauty at its finest. We took our lunch at Pension House where we had the Seafood’s Ivatan Express. The fushion of creamy coconut milk and a hint of shrimp paste created a happy symphony of flavor in your mouth. On our way out of the restaurant, we first laid our eyes on the famous coconut crab. The huge crab is still scraping the coconut meat (endocarp) off the shell, we were at awe looking at this creature. Finally, we retreated back to our “home” and before we called it a day, we decided to bike to the Basco Lighthouse and watched the sunset.  Crisan’s Lodge also offers bike rentals for PhP 20/hr for their guests, and a little extra fee for those who are billeted elsewhere.

 Day 2: Sabtang Island

We woke up at 6 am the second day. We went to Ivana port, where the boat going to Sabtang is waiting. Sir Mon gave me a piece of paper containing the name of our tour guide, Rudy Getcha (Tricycle no. 8). Adjacent to the port is the famous Honesty Store. Since we still had time, we had our cup of warm coffee there and had a quick tour around the port.  We boarded the bus at 7am and had a 20 minute boat ride to Sabtang. The unruly waves made me a little dizzy, that I’m glad it took us less than half an hour.  Locals say it can take longer depending on the waves. A town with a population of almost 2,000 spread across six barangays, Sabtang is another feast in the eye. A combination of green pasture lands, stunning rock formations, and a long, powdery white shoreline, it is another unique beauty that deserves a second round of visit. We went to Morong Beach and Chavayan Village (a nominee of the UNESCO Heritage Site), and the roads going to these places are already worth the treat. I have never, ever trudged a road by the edge of the cliff, overlooking the pacific ocean, in an open vehicle, and yet, feeling safe. In Chavayan Village, we were able to try the best tasting boiled egg form the ative chicken, and the sweetest coconut juice and meat I’ve ever tried.

IMG_5225 As we entered the charming village, we were instantly smitten and awed (I might use this word a thousand times in this entry) at how the village people was able to preserve the cultural heritage of this place. Mang Rudy said that home stay is available at this village for just PhP 150/night. If we would spend overnight in the place, we will be able to see the six villages. But since, we’ll just be staying for half day, we will only cover four villages. For lunch, we dined in a restaurant near the beach. This is where I’ve tasted the BEST BUKAYO EVER. The coconut meat is still soft, and the sugar is perfectly crystallized, just enough to cover the shredded coconut meat. This is also where I was able to taste Coconut crabs and Seafood Kare Kare that I could not get enough of my Turmeric Rice.  

Day 3: Tour of South Batan

Day 3 was our last tour and we spent until almost 5 pm. Sir Mon had new guests and suggested that we group together. We found new companions in the persona of Anne and Ces from Manila. For the South Batan tour, our eyes were treated to even more beautiful places: Chawa View Deck, Mahatao Shelter Port, San Carlos Borromeo Church with the archive of blank books, Racuh A Payaman (also known as the Marlboro Country), Alapad Pass (where the famous “I-Dawn Zulueta mo ako!” scene from the movie ‘Hihintayin kita sa Langit’ was shot, according to Jessie). This is also where you can have a good view of the Loran Station, where the National Museum of Batanes is currently being built (once built, it will be another must-see in Batanes). We also saw the Alapad Rock Formation and Song Song Ruins (where I was speechless hearing that nobody died from the tsunami that hit Song Song – thus, Song Song Ruins, because the locals had their way of predicting if a tsunami is coming); the House of Dakay (A heritage house that was built in the 1800s), the Spanish Bridge, and the Blue Lagoon.

Alapad Rock formation

Alapad Rock formation

Marlboro country or Racuh A Payaman

Marlboro country or Racuh A Payaman

Song Song Ruins

Visiting the Song Song Ruins is one of my most favorite part of the South Batan tour, upon hearing how the locals rely on nature to predict a natural calamity.  It was through this remarkable indigenous knowledge that they were able to evacuate the place on time, and leaving no casualties, except, the houses.  Jessie told us that the evacuees were relocated in Bukidnon, and after 30 years, were invited to go to Batanes again. But they already found home in Bukidnon (and maybe some places in Mindanao).

One of the highlights of the trip was the San Lorenzo Ruiz church in Imnajbu, where the first baptism and mass in Batanes was conducted. As I sat on one of the pews and prayed, I was lulled by the waves of the sea. It was so calming, refreshing, and overwhelming at the same time. My heart was dancing in joy that I finally found a place in my heart where I could just sit down, reflect, and know that God is here. I know God is everywhere, but this place, somehow found a way to my heart that made me sure that HE is with me and HE hears me.

While we were touring around the famous House of Dakay (the oldest stone house in Batanes), I met THE Mandy Navasero of Inquirer! I was surprised to learn she was from Los Banos (I absent-mindedly wrote “UP Los Banos” as our address in the Dakay guestbook, and not long after, I heard her name calling from the crowd “Who’s from UPLB!?”). She was so kind enough to take a photo of me and Tatay, and even signed off her name on my notebook. She was such a nice person and I told her I wish I could take one of the Photography classes.  She was so nice and accommodating, she asked for my email and she gave her mobile number. What can I say, I felt starstruck!

 The places we visited in the South Batan was so overwhelmingly beautiful, I decided to leave some details off this blog, to entice more people to go and see Batanes. But one thing I can tell: My Batanes trip was simply meant to be, it happened at the right time and we were rewarded with the perfect weather, a happy company, and met new interesting people.

 Day 4: Downtime with more treasure finds

We didn’t have any arranged tour for this day, so Tatay and I decided to bike around town. We went back to Basco Lighthouse, and tried to take more photos (we can never have enough photos!). On our way back, we decided to stop by a three week old coffee place, called Phil’s Brew. Phil’s Brew is owned by Ms. Imee Amboy. The place is her tribute to her late father, who is an Ivatan. Imee moved to Minadanao in the 90s, but went back to Batanes recently, as her father wanted to refurbish their ancestral house. She points at me a water tank that still has the foundation from 1800s. “My father just refurbished some areas, but, the big stones found at the bottom of the water tank have been preserved,” she says proudly.

The Malunggay Cookie from Phil's Brew goes well with its signature brewed coffee. In the afternoon, I had camote fritters, locally known as "Diko"

The Malunggay Cookie from Phil’s Brew goes well with its signature brewed coffee. In the afternoon, I had camote fritters, locally known as “Diko”

Phil’s Brew offers a unique concept of embodying the Ivatan endearing culture, while patronizing the local products. Her delectable Malunggay cookies (3pcs for 25 pesos) are so delicious which goes best with her signature blend coffee. She has a lot of stories to tell, and speaks so eloquently about Ivatan culture as if she has lived here all her life.  As you enter the store, there’s a signage that explains that this is an almost “Do-it-yourself” coffee shop: a One-woman-show, that’s Imee who prepares and serves coffee. She rings the bell on the counter when it’s ready for pick – up and she expects the customer to buzz the table. “So far, I’m happy how the guests are being participative of this rule,” she says. I told her, that it’s not hard to follow, since it follows the principle of the famous Honesty Coffee Shop at the Ivana Port.


The charming facade of Phil’s Brew makes you feel you’re in for a treat.

The unique set up of the coffee shop is reminiscent of the Honesty Store, one of the famous tourist sites that leverages the unique Ivatan trait

The unique set up of the coffee shop is reminiscent of the Honesty Store, one of the famous tourist sites that leverages the unique Ivatan trait

Her principle is to patronize the local products, leveraging the underrated talent of her neighborhood. Asked where she got the Malunggay cookies, she told me, “from my neighbor who bakes it so well, I wanted her products to get famous.” The basket that contains her home made sardines are made by a group of elderly women who weaves baskets “I would like to give them another potential source of income,” she said. Putting up a coffee shop was one of the new things she ventured out, to recuperate from the loss of her father. She feels hopeful about her new adventure, after taking a hiatus from her  work in the development field. She admits she’s new in the business, but remains hopeful that eventually, beautiful things will take shape. I remain hopeful that this coffee shop would add more value to the already known Ivatan culture, which I admire. We exchanged more stories and opinions, and I told her about my new found appreciation about the people in Batanes. She proudly says that the children are brought up to be courteous, they even do the “Mano” to the elders, regardless if they are a relative or not.  She was like a long lost mentor, another find where I could just open up my heart, to a friend, and carry a conversation like we’re just catching up on our lives.

Tatay and I are just so happy to be here. We hope to bring the rest of the family here next time

Tatay and I are just so happy to be here. We hope to bring the rest of the family here next time

Batanes does not only boast about the pristine beaches, stunning mountain views, and rolling hills. It simply overflows with sincere beauty – not just in places, but in people. My 4 nights, 5 days stay is not enough, because other than the place, you can have a chat with the locals as if you’ve known them for a long time. Even the strangers I met from Manila are very pleasant, that it strips off the typical Manila vibe (busy, rushing, impatient, dirty, which I know masks a lot of beautiful good people, but never came across because the place intimidates me a lot) that I associated with, for the longest time. There are instances that I associate a place with the kind of people I meet, and vice versa, sometimes mutually exclusive, but seldom inclusive. But, visiting Batanes opened up my eyes, that it is part of reality to have such a place where beauty in people and the place coexists, and sometimes, they do not also come in mutually inclusive package.

I realized that we are all just the same. We share the principle of having simple joys, hopes, and aspirations. We just needed a place to converge, a meeting place to strip off a bit of our soul, and exchange stories. Batanes provided a platform for us to converge and realize that we all aim for a hopeful, vibrant, and refreshing “restart.”

Going to Batanes is like a opening a Pandora box, a wonder within a wonder within a wonder. Each time you open, you seem to like more what you discover. As we set off back to Manila, we could not contain our gratefulness to Sir Mon, Ma’am Crisan, and Jessie. To top it all, he gave us a copy of Ivatan Cultural Studies Journal. What more can you ask for? And yes, I’m going back to Batanes, to search for more words to describe it. For one trip is never enough. After all, my father promised to bring our gracious host a box of buko pie next time.


Bagan: the culture of unassuming beauty

I love traveling for work and leisure. It has always been a dream to traverse unchartered territories. Bagan is one of them.

I’ve heard so much about Bagan since I came to Myanmar for work last year. It was not until this year that I saved up for time and money to be able to go to this place.

The journey

Burmese people are talented. The Bojouk Market in Yangon boasts a plethora of paintings. And there's more in Bagan. Like this painter who doodles out an intricate figure out of whim. We bought a piece of his artwork.

Burmese people are talented. The Bojouk Market in Yangon boasts a plethora of paintings. And there’s more in Bagan. Like this painter who doodles out an intricate figure out of whim. We bought a piece of his artwork.

The initial plan was to take a plane ride going in (tickets costs from $112-125 per way depending on the airlines) take the bus going out. But because of time constraint to book our preferred flights, we opted to take the bus instead. We booked through the Elite Bus Line ($30 for a roundtrip ticket).

Elite Bus departs Yangon at 9:00 PM. It has two stops. Since it was night time, I had a hard time figuring out where we are. The first stop was two hours after we departed from Yangon. The second and final stop was two hours before we arrived Bagan (around 4 am).

The first time I noticed upon entering the bus was its spacious seats. There were blankets on our seats. And just like in an economy class, regular fare airline, coffee and cake were served. We also had a toiletry pack handed over to us in our last stop so we can freshen up. Talk about quality service! To top it all, each seat has its own entertainment system. It was enough (or even more than enough!) to keep us entertained throughout the trip. Most of the movies on board were English movies, so I happily stowed my gadgets away.

Going around Bagan

Balloons over Bagan. As sun peeks through the sky, the hot air balloons started to take off.

Balloons over Bagan. As sun peeks through the sky, the hot air balloons started to take off.

The first thing we did once we arrived was to see the sun rise. Our guide, Kyaw Kyaw Win (mobile no. 09-431-7309) took us to a temple where all the tourists flock to see the sunrise. It was a brave climb up the temple–no steel railings, or handles to guide you as you hike up. It’s just you and your guts to see the top that will take you to the top, in barefoot. We all waited with bated breath as the sun slowly peeked through the vast horizon, and we all watched in awe as the golden rays enveloped the whole place with a new beginning.

After the sunrise watching, we checked in at New Wave Guest House. We decided to walk around, and saw wood carvings that the locals made themselves. Some were carved out of sandal wood, a base scent used for men’s perfume. Rica bought a piece of sandal wood carving.

Wood carvings made of sandal wood.

Wood carvings made of sandal wood. I never knew how it smells until I smelled one.

Also within the walking distance is a lacquerware shop where a factory is also located. I used to see these lacquerwares, but, it’s only in Bagan that I finally understood how it’s made.

Next stop is the peanut oil processing area located along our way to Mt. Popa. We learned that Central Dry Zone/Central Myanmar grows lots of peanuts, sesame seeds, and palm trees.

Next stop is Mt. Popa. It’s a temple that sits on a mountain. It was a thousand steps to meet the spirit guides they locally call as Nan. Women often marry a Nan, to guide their lives, as part of the tradition. Tour guides are available to help you get acquainted with Nans, but mostly, it’s in Burmese. We have not encountered a guide that speaks English. There are also monkeys playing around the temple, but does not cause harm to people. They just eagerly await for a treat from the visitors.

We ended our first day with some more temple visits, souvenir shopping, and finally, sunset watching. Bidding the day goodbye brings another nostalgic feeling. We closed the day with a dinner at a nearby restaurant and promised a more adventurous day after.

Braving things for the first time

Trying ebike for the first time is not so difficult.

Trying ebike for the first time is not so difficult.

The next day, we decided to go around using an ebike ($1/day) because it way much cheaper than the car rental (which costs $50). There are rental places everywhere. We rented one just beside our hotel. We decided to go slowly to the Sulamani Temple. It had floors made of marble stones which keeps the steps cold under the scorching heat.

Because it was our first time to ride an ebike, which, functioned as a motorbike for us, it didn’t take us far. We found the drive towards the temples a little difficulty because most of the side roads (we didn’t take the main road) were sandy. And as first time riders, we were afraid to take the concrete route, which is the main road with cars passing by.

We capped the day with a nice dinner. The hotel charged us an additional $10 since we extended our check in. The bus ride going back to Yangon is at 8:30 PM that night.

As I settled in my seat and left a mental note of goodbye, I said a prayer of thanks for guiding me and my travel buddy throughout our journey.

An unassuming temple where we left our bikes and found them at the same spot

An unassuming temple where we left our bikes and found them at the same spot

Bagan is an unassuming piece of rich history, culture, and warm people that Myanmar is very much known for. As I traversed through the temples (struggled in my ebike, actually), I am just in awe how God showered talent among people to be able to create beautiful things.

Bagan also reminds me of this quote from the movie, the Secret Life of Walter Mitty: “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”

More photos about my adventures are found in my Flickr page.