There are many things not to like about Batanes—lack of good hotels, frequent brownouts, a sporadic cell phone signal or lack of it outside Basco, the capital.
Add these: no fast-food, a dearth of good eating places, no Starbucks, and only tricycles for taxis, jeepneys for travel outside Basco, or rent-your-own vans for a day, at P70/liter of gas. Then there are no movie houses, no late-night entertainment, no shows, malls or places where one can lounge, sip coffee and view the passing crowd.
If you’re used to a fast-paced life, a phone in your ear for hours every day, and your brain working at high speed—thinking, networking and preparing for any eventualities, you have to do it elsewhere. Not in Batanes.
This place forces to you to slow down and sit for two-hour meals, the only thing fast here having the 3-in-1 coffee and instant noodles. Everything else has to be done from scratch or ordered in advance.
Want a hot shower? Check if there is electricity, or if there’s even water. Things we take for granted in the city are absent here, or if available, are like a nice view from a speeding train, gone in a few seconds, which makes one appreciate every little comfort one finds in this place.
This is especially bad for Type A personalities, meaning people who are competitive and time-conscious, want to do many things at a time, and feel guilty when relaxed and not doing anything.
They will find Batanes to be like Dante’s 5th Circle in Hell, for everything is in slow motion. No speeding even if you have a Ferrari—you will fly off the cliff or hit another vehicle head-on, for the roads are narrow and steep.
No care at all
So, what does one do when driving on a two-lane road following someone with no care at all, enjoying the clean air, vast expanse of mountains and pastureland? Gritting your teeth and honking your horn will only result in coronary heart disease and stress.
If you are Type A, for your peace of mind, catch the next flight home. But wait! I recommend that you spend a few more days, for the wonders of this magical place are not immediately evident for some people.
Food has to be chewed slowly and thoroughly to allow the enzymes to do their job. Try this the next time you eat bread, and you’ll be surprised.
The views are breathtaking, stunning panoramas evoking feelings of serenity and contentment. Couple this with the almost docile livestock grazing on seemingly manicured grass, balancing on steep cliffs, chasing and playing with each other—you wonder how they manage to do it when you cannot even look down the ravine without holding on to something. This is the first reaction of people seeing Batanes for the first time, and if this was all you experienced, you were shortchanged.
For the scenery is just a small part of the island. The rest will have to come slowly—meet the people, see how courteous, accommodating and honest they are. No excuses about not having any change from tricycle drivers.
Meet the children, feel their hands when they offer theirs as if to beg, and be surprised when they just want to show respect to their elders.
Taste their food—kamote, dibang, arayu, coconut crab, dishes flavored with native ginger and coconut milk. Further, contemplate the boulders of Valugan, hear the rhythm, the music of its rolling stones as they are pushed by endless waves.
See the South Philippine Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other; experience riding a boat in a shape you only see in Europe, and not in any other place in the Philippines, while crossing to Sabtang, an island straddling the two mighty oceans.
This is still not the whole picture.
Something happens when you assimilate the place, the people and its culture. Something invisible, even indescribable. Some call it seeing with the third eye, seeing or feeling something out of the ordinary or not on this level of consciousness.
This place inspires, gives one an insight that comes just once in a long while. It makes one bring a flute, camera, easels, brushes and paint—feeling things that would be impossible in a crowded, noisy city full of distractions.
Imagine this. In Batanes there is an old lady, owner of Honesty Café, a small, 5×4-square-meter store near the Port of Ivana. It’s open all day and night, with no cashier to receive payments or attendants to serve you. You pick whatever you want—coffee, bread, native crafts with all the prices written on them—and you pay via a box with a slot. No change given.
You can ransack the place anytime, but there is a sign that says, “The Lord is my Security Guard,” and that apparently deters anyone who wants to cheat, because the café is still in business.
A person comes once in a while to wash the cups, and replenish the stocks and hot water in the thermos.
The old lady needed a cataract operation and could not afford it. She put up a sign inside the store asking for donations. There was no need for Dr. Adel to go to the store, because if the boat was on time, his group had a few minutes to put on their life jackets and go.
The boat was late, so Dr. Adel went to the café, saw the sign and immediately sought out the owner who was attending Mass at the church. She was with her whole family—husband, sons, daughter-in-law, grandchildren.
Dr. Adel asked the lady if he could examine her eyes and whipped out his iPhone, pressed the flashlight a la Macgyver, and declared after a few seconds of inspection that her cataract was ripe for removal and he would do the procedure for free.
There was silence. The relatives could not believe what they just heard. Dr. Adel had to explain, not twice but three times, before the family was able to grasp the minor miracle. Jubilation. Perhaps Dr. Adel does this many times a day, but the fact that many events had come together to make it happen was serendipitous.
Imagine this, while watching the sunset at Naidi Hills, and the only sound you can hear is the rustling, whispering of the wind, when suddenly you hear the sound of “Londonderry Air” from a flute, wafting, caressing your senses, coming from a distance of about 300 meters. Artists paint, cameras click, someone is singing while others listen and watch.
Even if one is not creative, Batanes exudes peace, contentment and serenity. It is like being in a cathedral where one can meditate and relax in an almost mystical place.
Most people go to Batanes to look for views, and while looking, some find themselves.
They are the lucky ones.