Sunday, April 24, 2005

Oh Batanes! - Basco Arrival

Welcome to a different Philippines”!

If I were from Batanes, that phrase above would be my welcome greeting to anyone who sets foot on this group of islands. Batanes is one paradise that even Filipinos themselves will have a hard time believing there is such a beautiful place in their country.

To be in Batanes quickly, best option is by air! Easiest would be to fly from Manila to Basco (capital town of Batanes) via at least 2 airliners that ply the route – CHEMTRAD and Asian Spirit. A third, Laoag International Airways we have to check if at all it is still being allowed to fly its planes. It uses aircraft about as big as those of Asian Spirit’s but definitely older, and dirtier – probably even scarier since they are the last known airliner with an aircraft that dove into the Manila Bay shortly after take-off! CHEMTRAD uses small aircraft that passes via Laoag or Tuguegarao where maximum number of passengers is just about 8 or 10.

You can actually go by boat. But for tourists, it is not such a bright option. First you drive or take a bus up to Curimao town in Ilocos Norte, then hop on to the M/V Ivatan Princess – the one and only boat that plies the route to Basco in Batanes! It takes only about a hundred plus passengers and loads a lot of cargoes! But it takes too much of your precious time.

Anyway, so much for the “how to’s”. You can get these from many travel books or travel websites everywhere. I feel it would be nicer to cover those that are not often written anywhere else. Let us get on with my stories, shall we?!

The funny misconceptions!
Being known to many as the “land of the howling winds” or the “storm capital” one would actually assume that people there are grim or harried and concerned only of their own business or their own safety. I was surprised to have seen exactly the opposite.

While waiting for our flight at the Airport, up until the time we boarded the aircraft, we noticed that our co-passengers were rather “noisy”. Not that they were boisterous but everyone just seemed to be engaging every other person in lively conversations – at such an early time of day where the sun was just inching up! The visitors (that’s us and some other tourists) were easy to spot. We were the quieter ones! Perhaps because we were either thinking on how we would be in Batanes or perhaps because we were strangers. But soon as we were seated inside the aircraft, people were already talking to us!

“Your first time in Batanes?”; “Where are you staying?”; “Do you have relatives there?”; “You know, that lady over there up front with the cute little baby, she left Batanes when she was just 17 years old, and its her first time to come back since then!”; “You must see this, that, this, that and so on..”; “Oh, don’t hesitate to drop by our place if you need anything, just tell the tricycle driver sa bahay ni Mrs. XXX”; “You will enjoy your visit, I’m sure of that”.

Those were just a few of the lively conversations we had with the local folks during the flight. And by the time we landed, it felt like we knew everyone. It was like we had a quick round of introductions to and about Batanes. These people are just so friendly they think everyone they meet is a neighbor and the smiles are genuine. I never heard of anyone offering us the services of their businesses. It was just casual friendly talk. No pretensions nor calculated decorum nor business introductions like the way you would experience on your travels down to the southern places like Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Bacolod, Tacloban or Cagayan De Oro. When we arrived, we felt we never had to use any map or travel book! We already knew a lot about the place and people. Our co-passengers were eager to tell us what we wanted to know – and they were speaking in fine Tagalog but seemed to be more at ease talking with visitors in English even if the visitors were Filipinos. We shall hear more of their friendliness later.

Storm capital, dry-season, wet-season, gusty-winds – those are words that a traveler to Batanes must not take too seriously. I swear! Together with five of my “adventurous” friends, I went to Batanes on a November. As our families and friends were mightily against it, we did have some doubts if this was a fine idea. A week prior to that, we constantly checked the weather websites to see if at all we would have a “life” in Batanes. We even started to doubt some of these websites since the forecasts were always “clear” while in Manila it was intermittently raining. But we did “prepare for the worst” just in case it really was a place of storms. To our amazement, the whole of our stay in Batanes were sunny days and clear skies with only about 20 minutes of a very light drizzle one early morning. And this was November.

We came prepared – and somehow, we are ashamed of it until now! All of us brought our things in sturdy backpacks (mine even with the metal framing) like what I use on camping and hiking trips to Makiling or Makulot. All our packs were lined with plastic sheets to make them truly waterproof! The lightest footwear that I saw amongst the six of us, were a pair of high-cut non-skid rubber shoes. But all of us came loaded with our heavy hiking gears. My hiking boots is over half a kilo per shoe! And we loaded up on thermals, jackets and thick socks to ward off the cold! In some of our packs, we had corned beef, sausage, meat loaf, century tuna and other “eatables”. All we needed really were tents and you could have dropped us into Mt. Apo for three days! We came to know later that almost all of those were NOT NEEDED! What a shame, really! No wonder people at the airport were always talking to us about the hills and the single mountain that the island has. They probably thought from the looks of our bags, that we were there to climb mountains.

We were booked at the Batanes Resort which (from some travel magazine pictures) is nestled on the hills fronting the sea. The resort arranged for our airport-resort-airport transfers. So on arrival, a fairly new Sarao jeep and two resort-crews plus the driver were already waiting for us. Three of us asked permission to ride on top of the jeep so we could see the place with a better view! And after some hesitation, the resort crew allowed us. In the town of Basco, the drive had to be slow since aside from the fact that their streets are narrow, the driver was quick to spot that some trees or electric wires were hanging low that could have easily swept those of us who rode on top of the jeep! And just as we thought we were going for a fun countryside ride, there we were, inside the Batanes resort – which did not even take 10 minutes from the airport!

Even before we entered the reception area of the resort, we knew we brought the wrong gears! The resort is a fine commune of 8 tastefully made bungalows that they call cottages. Well, from the word “cottage” inside a resort, our common assumption was that these would be nipa huts like at the many resorts in Batangas, Boracay and everywhere else in the country. WE WERE WRONG!

The cottages are made of stone and concrete with maroon colored roofs as you would commonly see in most villages all over Metro Manila! Each cottage is like a duplex where there are always two separate rooms each with its own everything. The windows are very wide, almost wall to wall and from about 1 foot off the floor to just about a foot from the ceiling. The window and door frames are made of wood fitted with wire screens (also commonly used in suburban village houses). Windows are all glass that gives a very good view to the rolling fields below, the beach and the sea! And, there is air-conditioning! But if we preferred to let the fresh air in, we could open all windows. The lampshades are continental styled brass, the curtains are commonly seen in hotels and the beds are also of the usual hotel material. Each room had two beds – a king size and a single. The floors are of fine wood parquet and the comfort rooms tiled all over! And we had a choice of hot or cold showers! Thus, as we were all laughing, we asked everyone: “who the hell told us that we should pack like we were off to a camping trip in Sagada?”

Either we did not do our research well or we overdid everything!

The resort has a spacious restaurant inside the main building that houses the front desk, a tiny little shop for souvenirs, their offices and of course their spacious kitchen! The restaurant is wide enough to probably sit fifty or more diners. From its west side entrance, there is a commanding view of the fields and the sea. On the east side, doors lead to the front yard. When we asked for the restaurant’s menu as we prepared for lunch, it was promptly shown to us but the two waitresses just as promptly asked us if we would have lunch served in the restaurant or at our rooms. We wondered a bit how lunch for six would be served in any of our two rooms (one room for the 3 girls, another room for the 3 boys) but realizing that there were tables just upon entry to any room and before the beds, we imagined our food will be served there. Next we were asked on which of the two rooms our food would be served. We answered: at the girls’ room! The boys cleverly thought cleaning up the mess after lunch would be the girls’ chore since it was at their room anyway!

We agreed at this point that our “canned-goods” from Manila might still be useful for tomorrow’s breakfast! OF course the “agreement” was done in hushed voices and away from the crew!

While we were playfully roaming around the premises of the resort, we would catch glimpses of the resort crews going to or coming from our cottage. At times they were bringing some things like chairs, table-cloth and napkins. Other times we see them bringing food or drinks. But we knew both rooms were closed and the keys were with us! So we assumed they had duplicate keys, such that, they could go inside the girls’ room to deliver the food.

When we were finally called by a waitress to lunch, all eyes grew wide to see that our lunch fare was already laid on a big table by the little Bermuda-grass portion beside the girls’ room that had a panoramic view of the fields and the sea beyond. Behind the table was a hill with nothing but green grass, three grazing cows and a scattering of goats also having lunch! Too superbly splendid, we thought!

As we enjoyed the sumptuous dishes al fresco, they lighted two candles on our table! Since it was high noon, we asked what the candles were for! They explained that lighting up candles usually drive flies and other insects away! So on with the feast!

The uniformed waiter and waitress just stood by waiting for whatever it was we might have needed while eating. Occasionally, Ms. Waitress would come to ward off flies or insects attempting to hover at our table. Just an attempt from anyone of us to lift the big glass-pitcher of cold water, or an attempt to lift the big porcelain dishes to pass the viand around, Mr. Waiter would quickly be on the side ably assisting us! When the sun slanted to 1PM moving the shade away from our table, Mr. Waiter courteously asked if he can move the table for us so that we can avoid the direct sunlight! Of course we said, “don’t bother, we like it that way”! Again, the six of us joked at each other, “who the hell told us to prepare like we were going for a trip to the hinterlands?” This was like being in the Rivieras!

There are too many other details that we came not prepared for in Batanes. Perhaps we should rephrase that to: “there were too many other things we over-prepared for in Batanes”. Then again, those will come as I describe more of this trip!

Of course we did not anymore tell the resort staff that we even brought our own cooking gadgets like we do during camp-outs. Those were safely tucked inside one of my companions’ big backpack and it remained there till we were back in Manila! We even had knives, ropes, flashlights and all the trimmings. We really thought this was going to be a trip to some undiscovered civilization! What a shame!

More on my next entries! Or click these numbers for chronology 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
050424

8 comments :

  1. hi! i am planning of going to batanes this holy week. read that you stayed at batanes resort. do you have their contact details? thanks! - assilem1119@yahoo.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. thanks for ur travelogue & tips - makes me want to go to batanes even more! i definitely want to stay in batanes resort; hope they'll have room when i go there...

    ReplyDelete
  3. HI, wOULD YOU KNOW THE person's name of the green-house owner ? we plan on shooting an indie film/movie there. I hope to contact him. THANKS pls email me armie888@yahoo.com cell phone 09193220121

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi..enjoyed your posting

    based out of Philippines. Planning a trip to Batanes. Having a hard time contacting good places to stay and local guides. Hope you can email me : eric.balinghasay@gmail.com

    or SMS me at +65 8183 3455. Will call you to get more details!!
    T
    hanks so much..

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi,
    we're plannin to go in december. do you have the contact details for batanes resort?

    please email me at amicitas@ymail.com

    thanks much. :)

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete