Find out why a lot of people say that Batanes is like a wonderful kind of odd among the places in the Philippines.
The Batanes group of islands is found at the northernmost part of the Philippines where the mighty Pacific Ocean meets the West Philippine Sea. Everyone wants to tick if off from their bucketlist, but it’s never that easy. Airfares are normally expensive, more expensive than a Hongkong trip from Manila, as many would utter. Promo fares from Philippine Airlines and Skyjet do come, though. Flights are also easily cancelled due to the seasonal harsh weather.
I have been warned that people who came here once would want to come back again and again. When that “once” came, I completely understood. The unique culture of Batanes not just comes from it being isolated from the rest of the Philippines. It’s hard to explain in words. The least I can do is to list the things I found unique about Batanes.
Only in Batanes
1. Batanes is the smallest province in the Philippines
This is in terms of total land area and population. Before I went here, I was only familiar with three of its islands: Batan, the provincial capital and where the airport is (Learn more about North attractions here), Sabtang and Itbayat. It’s because these are the islands included in standard Batanes tours, and because these three are the only inhabited islands. Batanes is actually composed of 10 islands. Other islands are Dinem, Ditarem, Misanga, Siayan, Vuhus, Dequey and Mavudis.
Batanes is breathtaking even on a rainy day.
You might also want to read about Biliran province, one of Philippines' smallest provinces
2. Ivatan, the Batanes language, is Austronesian in origin.
Hearing the term Austronesian, the first thing that came to my mind is Madagascar. Hearing the Ivatans speak though, I could strongly associate the sound and intonation to a combination of Ilokano and Kapampangan (both Filipino dialects). Ivatan language is spoken only in Batanes unlike other Filipino dialects that are spoken regionally. Oh! And I suppose the letter V is their favorite letter among the alphabets.
Ivatan is also how people from Batanes is called
3. Batanes crime rate is the lowest in the Philippines.
Being a jail warden is probably the most boring job in Batanes. Batanes is a very safe place to visit. Bikes and motorcycles are parked without chains or locks. Moreover, they have a famous place called Honesty Café which is open to locals and tourists, even without the owner/ staff to attend to it. Customers can drink coffee and buy goods, check the price posted on the items, drop their payments in the dropbox and list the items bought in a logbook.
4. You’ll be blown away by its sumptuous supply of strong winds.
I meant that both literally and figuratively. What feels like a stormy weather in Manila is just an ordinary windy day in Batanes. Considering that Batanes is called Home of the Winds, it’s natural to think that windmills will be an ideal energy source. There are in fact windmills in Mahatao in Batan island but unfortunately, none are currently working. We’ve seen the windmills bent down to the ground to prevent further destruction by the strong winds.
Crashing waves and hurling swells are normal seascapes in Batanes
5. Fishermen have distinctive traditional fishing techniques.
The most interesting of which is the method used to catch dorado (a non-mammalian dolphin and migratory fish) in Diura fishing village. I call it the food chain fishing method. Here’s why…First, they make fresh shrimp as bait to catch flying fish. The flying fish then becomes the bait to catch the dorados.
Fishing season only takes place during summer from April to May, so we weren’t able to witness nor see the large fishes being filleted, salted and hung for drying and preservation. Our guide told us the dried dorado costs Php 800 – 1,000 a kilo. Yes, it’s expensive. Bear in mind, though the fishermen's skills and guts to face the stomach-turning swells just to catch these fishes. You can definitely afford to be generous knowing that.
6. The development of lands in Batanes is carefully regulated.
A few years ago, it was said that Ramon Ang of San Miguel Corporation bought land in Batanes to put up new hotels. However, the plan was thwarted upon disapproval from the Batanes government. I am not aware of the inside story but if this was true, I would agree with the government’s. I would prefer the development of homestays where the locals of Batanes are the ones who will benefit.
7. Ivatan children are remarkably respectful of elders.
While outside the Mt. Carmel Chapel, I noticed some kids hanging around a small primary school in front of the chapel. I believe school hours were over that time because the kids in their school uniforms were already playing outside. I approached to photograph them while playing but I was surprised when they took my hand to touch on their foreheads (the act of pagmamano in Filipino, or showing respect). Pagmamano isn’t unusual in the Philippines but to do so with total strangers without being told is out of ordinary. For the first time, I didn’t mind being considered an “elder” because what they did felt good.
8. The food tradition is uniquely Ivatan.
The people in Batanes have found a way to live with the limited island resources, the rough seas isolating it from the main Philippine islands and the typhoons. For example, instead of just harnessing the fruit from bananas, Ivatans learned to make food out of the banana stalk pith (uvud). Lunyis or salted pork cooked in its own fat, which can last for weeks, is similar to the more popular adobo.
Banana leaves are often used to wrap food in other parts of the Philippines. In Batanes, they use breadfruit leaves as wrappers.
9. Basco, the capital of Batanes, has its own version of Grab Car.
The way to commute in Basco is to use the tricycle. Unlike other parts of the Philippines where you can get a tricycle from the streets or from designated terminals, in Batanes, you have to call or text the Basco Tricycle Owners and Drivers Association (BATODA) at their hotline.
10. To “Blow Ur Horn” is encouraged in this province.
Whereas the road sign “No blowing of horn” is the norm along roads, blowing of horn is encouraged in Batanes. Roads in Batanes are characterized by many sharp curves. Hence, these signs were placed for road safety. The signs are carved from cliffs and boulders. As you may have guessed, ordinary road signs built on posts can easily be swept away by the intense winds. And yes, the “your” is always spelled like a text message. The people of Batanes had etched “UR” in their road signs as early as the American period, long before mobile texting came into picture.
11. It is the only place in the Philippines I know of where bikes are registered.
My friend was actually the one who noticed the bike’s “plate numbers”. Bicycle is a common means of transport in Batanes. If you are up to the challenge of cycling around Batanes, the hilly terrains, with plenty of blind curves are the fun parts.
12. Liveng, the Batanes hedgerows, are normal sights over the hills.
These are rows of reeds, bamboo or shrubs used as windbreakers to protect crops or to serve as fences to protect crops or grass from hungry animals. The hedgerows are also used to delineate boundaries of lands and avoid soil erosion, as well.
13. Ivatans are resourceful structural engineers.
Using the natural resources available, they built their traditional houses out of stone, corals, lime, reed and cogon. The house is perfect for protecting not just the three little pigs from the big bad wolf, but is also an adaptation to the harsh weather condition in Batanes. The walls are about a meter thick and the cogon roof about 15 inches thick. The steep thatched roof is designed to deflect strong winds.
Can you see the corals in this Ivatan wall?
Another type of Ivatan house is the jin-jin. Both the walls and roof are made of thick layers of cogon. I can't help but pose on this one. Jin-jin...Jing...you know! (Photo borrowed from Moyeh)
14. Vakul is the signature Batanes headdress.
The Batanes headgear is used not to make them look like Tina Turner, but to protect them from the rain, the sun or from cold. It is worn only by Ivatan women. It is made out of Vuyavuy (did I mention, V is their favorite letter?), a Philippine date palm endemic in Batanes. Alas, I did not get to see (or I may have just missed them) any Ivatans wearing the vakul. The only ones I saw are tourists wearing them for photo ops.
The palm trees on the foreground are the vuyavuys (I hope I got this right).
15. It is the only province in the Philippines declared as Protected Landscape and Seascape by UNESCO.
It’s not just Batanes culture that’s unique. It has also bid to be included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Site. Because I could not explain it any better than UNESCO, I’m quoting this from their website,
“It is one of the last remaining areas in the Philippines having unique natural physiographic features (wave-cut cliffs, cave-like outcrops, secluded white sand beaches) resulting from its position where strong winds and fast currents have etched out its distinct morphology. It is an important flyaway for many migratory bird species, and the deper portions of the marine environment are the few remaining sites where pink and red corals (Corallum sp.) are found. The site is the only area in the Philippines where traditional architecture is of stone in response to the wind and monsoon stresses rather than of the more typical, tropical, impermanent materials (wood, bamboo, thatch) commonly used in village architecture. Due to its isolation from the rest of the country, the traditional culture of Batanes has likewise remained intact."
One thing about Batanes related to this is the coconut crab which is considered a traditional delicacy by the Ivatans. Coconut crab has already been listed by the Bureau of Fisheries as a threatened species, and its harvest has therefore, been regulated (I hope this is strictly enforced). It is expensive but delicious and sulit, as others who tasted it say, but I would discourage people from eating this marine resource. Our satisfaction is far more less important than the cause for conservation of coconut crabs.
There's more of Batanes that cannot be defined, but can only be experienced. Like I said in the beginning, there's something about Batanes that will keep you coming back for more.
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