HERE are photos of her Batanes getaway sent in by reader Jasmin Rose Limbo, a finance and administration coordinator in a maritime company in Makati City. Jasmin writes: "I love to travel the beautiful islands of our country because 'nature tripping' is one of my outlets." The photo above shows Mhel, Glad and Jasmin at the Honesty coffee shop. At the top of a radar station. Mt. Iraya is in the background, and you have a 360-degree view of Batanes. "Marlboro Country" in town of Mahattan. Glad opening the gate of the Pacita Abad Foundation House. White sand beach at Sabtang island. Exotic food (coconut crab). Jasmin at the handicraft store of Aling Adelina together with Glad. At the lighthouse in Basco, enjoying the last day of vacation.
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By Marlet D. Salazar, Contributor INQUIRER.net THE LOOK on the faces of the people on board varies. Some are calm; others tense. And one lady grips her rosary as if her life depended on it. But evidently, everyone is quiet. The waves are huge all right, but for a group of islands bounded by the China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, these seem to be perfectly normal. A 45-minute faluwa ride to Sabtang on an overcast and windy day makes things a little more, well, exciting. A faluwa is the motorized boat used for island hopping. A trip to Batanes has always been about fun, adventure, and tranquility. Without this experience, it would have never been as memorable. So much has been said and written about Batanes. Opportunities for magnificent photographs abound. It is the dream destination of shutterbugs because anywhere you look at there is a perfect photograph just waiting to be captured. Almost half of Batanes is made up of hills and mountains enveloped in that breathtaking seascape. Still, Batanes holds such magical mystery. And to borrow one writer’s perspective, it is "a state of mind." Its distance from the rest of the Philippines could very well be its No. 1 attraction. About 860 kilometers north of Manila, it is paradise for city dwellers who yearn for some quiet time. Neither the strong winds nor the dipping temperature (that can drop to as low as 7 degrees Celsius) could stop us from going there. It was February, just nearing toward the end of "really" cold months that usually starts in December. It doesn’t take a while to sink in that we finally set foot on the celebrated small archipelago. The wind breezes through our faces... and caps... and jackets... and we try in vain to gather the stuff that are blown away. Divinely provincial The rural feel immediately seeps through our senses. It is indeed magical. Batanes is most famous for its glorious coastline, vast rolling hills, and centuries-old stone houses. But the town of Basco with its divinely provincial setting is already an object of enchantment. Environment-friendly bicycles are used to get around even in nearby towns although a few scooters have already found their way into the lifestyle of some Ivatans. Of the 10 islands in Batanes only three are inhabited. The population of only 16,000 is spread over Batan, Itbayat, and Sabtang. The province is the least populated in the country. The capital, Basco, is in Batan which serves as the center of commerce and trade. The schools and the parish church are also located there, and the municipal and provincial capitols are just within a few strides away from each other. The islands of Itbayat and Sabtang are part of the six municipalities that made up the whole of Batanes. The others include Basco, Ivana, Mahatao, and Uyugan. In recent years, Batanes has transformed into a must-see tourist destination after being only known to be the point of reference for typhoons. With this development, lodging inns are gradually increasing. Pension Ivatan is the newest inn in the island. A literal uphill climb leads to the best rooms which give a perfect vista of the town of Basco overlooking the Kanyuyan Beach and Port and Basco Lighthouse on the right. Batanes may be a far-flung area but Christianity still found its way to the province. Like most places in the north, it is not short of old churches. The San Jose Church fronting the Ivana seaport underwent three renovations. Its foundation dates back to 1795 but was built in 1814. We are invited to see the ruins at the back of the church. There is an eerie feeling while investigating what has remained of the old church but the photographs proved irresistible. Like churches, Batanes does not lack imposing lighthouses. Aside from their main purpose, they have become perfect subjects of photographs what with the blue sky as flawless background. Naturally polite And can someone let the trip continue without stopping by the Honesty Store? As the name suggests, this famous store will test your truthfulness. The jeepney ride brought many surprises but one thing that really sticks to my mind is the courteousness of the drivers. This is something Greek to me so I try to indulge myself in witnessing their incessant acknowledgment of each other when someone gives way in narrow roads. This refreshing change of atmosphere is spiced up by the wonderful scenery of the ocean on the right and the rolling hills on the left. The faluwa ride to Sabtang is postponed for a day. We are advised that it is impossible to travel because the weather is not cooperating. Thanks to the blessing from the Basco's parish priest asked by one of the members of the group, we’re off to Sabtang the next day. The "slight" turbulence at sea is what prompted a passenger to hold her rosary and pray for our safety. Clueless of what is really happening, I am beaming during the ride amazed by the huge waves that would most likely swallow our boat. As my friend put it: "Ga-bahay yung alon no?! (The waves are the size of a house)." Sabtang is about 41 square kilometers with its central part covered with mountains. While some are still dazed by the ride, we headed to Chavayan. The drive through the dirt road takes us to one of the Japanese garrisons during the Occupation. While Ivatans in Basco is slowly changing the look of their houses, residents of Chavayan are able to preserve the old stone houses. Itbayat intrigues me. The second most populated among the municipalities, it is about 95 square kilometers. I can see a glimpse of the island from the Ivana port. It will take about four hours of faluwa ride to get there. The still uncorrupted natural wonder that is Batanes may have been slowly embracing modernity. The fear of many conservationists and environmentalists is that the culture of the Ivatans may become a thing of the past once they fully embrace the changes that are introduced there. But the relaxing way of life continues to be like an open invitation to become one with the locals. The Ivatans never cease to greet you in the streets, in the stores, in the church, and everywhere you go. If we follow the religious context of heaven which is "a place or condition of supreme happiness and peace where good people are," then Batanes is indeed heaven on earth. Editor's note: Marlet D. Salazar writes for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the parent company of INQUIRER.net.