I don’t think any place on Earth, so far, has been as over-hyped to me as Batanes, Philippines, had been. The few months of planning and the weeks leading up to my multi-day Batanes tour felt like everyone was telling me how amazing Batanes was going to be. They were so excited for me! Take lots of pictures! Oh, you’re going to love it there. Eat coconut crabs! Oh, it will be so amazing.
So it was with a bit of trepidation that I started my short vacation last March, but it was still difficult to shake off the excitement and expectation I’d built up. I couldn’t help but be so expectant, but it felt like disappointment was inevitable.
But…there wasn’t any.
Don’t get me wrong, there were some things that could have dampened the experience. Typhoon Meranti (Ferdie in the Philippines) wreaked havoc on the local cell sites and mobile data was nonexistent, and extra for lodgings (if they had any). Even text messages had problems getting through. Also, I did not do my due diligence and confirmed that our Batanes tour package was private. I only found out a few days before our trip that it was a small group tour package (my fault of assumption). So, between having my parents with me, and the tour group dynamics lottery, so many things could have gone wrong. There was even a local fiesta on our last night and the restaurants that were open were packed to the gills, and we were stranded without a ride back to our lodgings. I mean, how’s that for mishaps?
But the place, the people: it was everything they said, and how. It was a step back in time into a place yet untouched by many things people take for granted in the cities; a visit to a people whose simple lives, while difficult, felt so much more meaningful and purposeful to me than the helter-skelter of city life.
No mobile data? Who cares?
Who cares, when you’re in the middle of all these amazing views, just soaking in the soft, cool breeze and the cheery sun? We soaked it in, and even in the evenings, we talked and rested and just turned off from the hyper-connected lives we’ve usually led.
Tour group lottery? No problem.
Question of luck aside, there was something in the air, with the locals we interacted with, that I think mellowed out everyone in our group. Each one of us was just happy to be there and had hearts full of the beauty and vastness of the place. Because the locals around us had such unassuming friendliness, and the environment had such a cheery laid-back-ness (totally a word) to it, I feel that we were in a state of perfect openness and agreeability.
My friends told me our group was “large” by Batanes tour group standards (aside from my parents and I, there were also three couples with us). Because each group in our tour had their own ten-or-so-minute photo taking care of our guide, we spent a fair amount of time “waiting” for all four sub-groups to be done with photos before moving on to the next place, or finding out more about where we were.
But the size did not matter; the wait did not feel like waiting. We were all perfectly content just to be there: quiet, basking in the sights, or sharing words with one another.
Photo finish dinner mishap? Serendipitous!
Even the last dinner mishap turned out for the best. The restaurant recommended to us was closed; the restaurant we returned to was full up and we ended up waiting an hour and a half or so for a table and food. But once again, we had each other, and our fellow dinner hopefuls, to talk to, to share, to enjoy the ludicrousness of the moment in.
And at the end of the evening–late by Batanes standards–every tricycle driver seemed to be out at the fiesta. Walking was out of the question–it was far, and the streets were dark, so that even if we had known the way in daytime, we would surely get quite lost then. But we did not feel worried at any point, and we ended up even having a chat with the restaurant’s owner before a kindly man came by (straight from the fiesta) to bring us back to our hotel in his quaint wooden sidecar.
It was–is–the perfect getaway. Cool wind to soften the bright sun; the cheery ‘good mornings’ and ‘good evenings’ that lighten the heart; the simple, fresh, and delicious food; the clarity of the air and water, and the wide expanse of land and sea that just begs the mind to expand as they do. As the days went by, it felt like I was also traveling back in time to an age when I didn’t worry so much, when things were clearer, simpler, straightforward.
The way we went: Batanes tour itinerary summary
We flew out of Manila to Basco (the capital) at 6am on the Sunday, and came back Wednesday morning. (All commercial flights to/from Basco are in the morning.) The official Batanes tour started at noon of the first day, giving us plenty of time to lounge about and rest after our very early morning rise (with my dad’s penchant for being early, that meant 2am rising for a 6am domestic flight…and, uh, I had just been on a 6am Singapore-Manila flight as well just the previous day).
Day 1 Sunday
North Batan island tour – In and around Basco and Mt Iraya, the highest peak in Batan island.
Day 2 Monday
Sabtang island tour – 6am pickup for a 7am, 30-minute ferry to Sabtang island. (It was lucky our guide decided to switch this around from our official itinerary, because the next day proved to be windy and moody, which would mean a more turbulent ferry ride.)
Day 3 Tuesday
South Batan island tour – covers the southern municipalities of Mahatao, Ivana, and Uyugan.
I regretted that I couldn’t extend my stay. It would have been great to just spend another day or two just going around and returning to the spots we loved best. The rest of our group did stay behind for a few more days, and one couple opted to do a homestay in Sabtang when we nipped over there for the second day.
Still, there is always next time. At some point I would love to visit Itbayat (a 3-4-hour boat ride, or an 8-seater plane). I’ve also found out there is the Vakul Kanayi Festival over at Sabtang on April 25-27, if anyone’s interested in an almost-impromptu trip. ;) Regardless, Batanes was an amazing way to rest and recharge and I will definitely try to come back.
Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. – Seneca
Previously posted in Retracing Steps – Three days in beautiful Batanes