Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Backpack Photography Batanes 3-Island Hop: An Invite to see and experience Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat in one trip

BP Batanes Mahatao Side View Mirror View
Even the rear-view mirror scene is breathtaking
The first time I ventured to Batanes, I didn't expect I would come back again and again.  Early on in my wanderings, I set an ambitious (read: maybe unrealistic) goal of visiting all 7,107 islands (or whichever is large enough to set foot on, anyway) of the Philippines.   I also didn't account for the fact that there are some places which I would return to time and again maybe because I fell for the place's charm, its people, or both.  Personally, Batanes falls under the category of charming place and charming people. 

But it would take many trips for me to explore the places of this northernmost island group of the Philippines, like many layers revealing themselves slowly.  Part of it is due to circumstance and the fickle weather -- I've been privileged to visit Batanes at the height of summer when it is sweltering hot but the trade-off is that the skies are blue, the air clear, the vistas postcard pretty.  I've seen a stormy Batanes when the wind howls through the trees and the surf thunders home to shore with increasing height and intensity.  I've also been there during what they call the 'Batanes winter' when the cold winds from China blow thru the islands and it gets really chilly especially during the evenings.
batanes • nakabuang fence
A view of Nakabuang Beach from a hill
Circling Batan. On my first visit way back, I covered most of the places in Batan either on foot or a tricycle.  I vividly remember how our tricycle can hardly climb the steep interior road leading to the Mahatao lighthouse, with I having to walk most of the way lest the whole thing slide all the way downhill.  Circling Batan through the coastal ring road, the wind blew relentlessly on our small vehicle even as each bend reveal jaw-dropping sceneries.  I walked through what they call 'Marlboro country,' 'sunrised' in Chanarian and 'sunsetted' at the view deck, chased goats on Imnajbu, posed with cows on Viang as well as explored charming churches from Ivana to Uyugan.

Crossing to Sabtang.  Sabtang Island is just a 45-minute boat ride from Ivana port on Batan.  But it would take a third visit for me to set foot there as the fickle weather on my second visit made me heed the wisdom of the local fishermen not to go out to sea.   The spread of the island is visible from Basco and for sometime, my mind wondered what lies over there.  My personal impression of Sabtang is a simpler but no less beautiful version of Batan, with less people and more rolling terrain and dramatic seascapes.   The stone houses of Savidug are a throwback to simpler times.  The beach at Nakabuang is raw, inviting and beautiful.
Batanes Itbayat Sta Maria Church
Itbayat Sta. Maria Church
Itbayat Calling.  Itbayat is another story altogether.  This northernmost inhabited island is some 4-5 hours boat ride from Batan and for years, I've always wondered what this huge corral of an island looks like and also speculated how to endure the trip after hearing stories of how the temperamental sea can wreak havoc on the strongest of stomachs.  Through a twist of fate, I was able to finally step on this island on my fourth visit to Batanes.  In my mind, I can still see the wonderful spread of green hemmed by a rugged coastline and framed by a deep blue sea and light blue sky.  In Raele, there were vernacular houses made with grass, enduring abodes that preceded the iconic stone houses which were inspired by the Spaniards.  Come evening, the power goes off at midnight as a wonderful silence settles on the landscape, the blanket of darkness disrupted only by the stars.  Tucked under a mosquitero (mosquito net), you may just yet meet the sandman while counting fireflies in the dark.  The vibe is even more laidback than in Sabtang and even lacking the usual creature comforts, I felt right at home there.

Come island-hop with Backpack Photography.  While I experienced Batanes in what seems to be installments, we at Backpack Photography want our participants to be able to see all three islands in one-go.  Combining our love for exploring with capturing a sense of place, we invite you to see, experience and shoot Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat this April 2-8.   The itinerary is for photographers and enthusiasts who will be willing to trade a few hours of sleep for a chance to bring home keepers from Batanes.  To register or for more details, please visit this link or email backpackphoto@gmail.com • See our previous Batanes workshop here.
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