Sunday, March 27, 2005

The balm that is Batanes

Let me start my Batanes chronicles with this caveat: it's not for everyone. I echo Congresswoman Dina Abad's sentiment -- it really takes a certain kind of tourist to like it here. Did I like the experience? I haven't left yet and i started missing the place. While we have done so much considering we stayed all of three days, there's so much to discover - for example, the adjoining islands of Itbayat and Sabtang. Then, there's also the warmth of Batanes folks. Only the temperature is cold, only the weather fickle, Batanes folks are consistently warm and friendly.

The relative isolation may have something to do with it. While there's already Smart and Globe coverage in some portions of Batan, the place doesn't lose its feeling of isolation from the rest of the Philippines. This "enclosure" also contributes to the very low incident of crime for where does one hide if he commits a wrongdoing. With a population of 15,000 spread over the three main islands, almost everybody knows everybody. There's little chance you can escape or hide.

It being the Holy Week, most of the eating places are closed so we ended up eating in somebody else's kitchen -- they're that accommodating.

The sights are something else, too. Che, one of our Mt. Iraya climb mates, says each twist and turn offers you something to ooh and aah over. Dramatic cliffs, rolling terrains, strong waves, all these paint an interesting sight.

It is also a place where serendipity finds an ally in friendly folks. We've only met Aldrin, a DOH worker who trained in manila and going back to Batanes after a week, in the airport but it felt like we knew him from before. While he was busy going to friends during the rest of our stay, he opened up the way to making the most of our stay by introducing us to his friend, Philip. schooled in Manila and a commerce grad, Philip showed us around on the second day -- from ending up serendipitiously in the kitchen of Congresswoman Dina Abad to radar Tukon, round Chanarian, Ivana, San Vicente, Songsong and back to Basco, all in a day!

It also turned out that Philip's one (if not the most capable) great trail guide for Mt. Iraya. Climbing Mt. Iraya is just part of my dream in going here, to make up for not being able to go to Itbayat or Sabtang due to the limited vacation time and the rather uncooperative weather. But on Good Friday, we assembled a motley group (Emz and I, along with Che Diego, a producer with the Knowledge Channel and Paul Villegas, an ex-mediaman and now an Ateneo professor) by accident. We started at 9am. from grassy, the terrain moved to tree-laden paths. The first half, the ground was dry, as if it didn't rain the previous day. the next half, and especially from the shoulder up, the trees gave way to wild grass. The ground turned muddy and slippery.

It's pretty tiring but the view gets even more spectacular as we went higher. At the shoulder, 200 meters away from the summit, one can already see the whole of southern Batan. At a little over 3 hours, we reached the summit amidst 3-foot wild grass. It was freezing cold up there with the wind threatening to lift us up like kites in a storm. We ate lunch at the summit and took a while to drink in the view even if the wind threatened to blow us away. Going up in 3 hours and climbing down as fast. It surely made my day. even my whole stay all worth it.

Leaving is not easy as I'm already missing the place even before the plane left the airport. This early, I'm planning to go back, especially now that I have friends i can go to over there. If it's introspection and isolation you crave for, Batanes might just be the place for you. Batanes is there as a balm for the soul longing for quiet and introspection, away from the Din, noise and man-made spectacles. Here is where you get to listen again to the wind, hear the waves, talk to the mountains and trees. I can't wait to go back.

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