Sunday, April 29, 2012

Batanes: Travel Tips and Final Thoughts

Summary of my Batanes blog posts:
I love the Basco airport terminal. There are different photos of Batanes displayed all over the terminal and some Batanes videos are shown on the TV. The thatched roof and the ceiling fans also give a very local, island feel to it.

There are souvenir shops at the airport. A couple of them are outside the terminal (they were open when we got there at around 730am) and another one is inside the waiting area.

I would say the perfect time to visit Batanes is early in the year, from around January to April, or May even. There are daily Seair flights from Manila to Basco and back. If you plan to visit during the rainy months, make sure you are ready to spend extra days in Batanes since flights can be very quickly cancelled when the rains or winds are strong.

Obviously, if time permits, staying an extra day or so would be great coz it would allow you to see other places like the Torongan Cave, Diura Fishing Village, and Itbayat island. I would have also loved to just walk around Basco, which I didn't get to do due to the fact that our schedule was full.

Also, when heading to the tops of the different hills, be ready for sudden gusts of winds that will require you to plant both feet firmly on the ground quickly. A couple of times, I felt like I would be blown off the hill LOL.

I'm not sure what the dining options in Batanes are since all our meals were included in the tour. If you are a coffee drinker, be ready to go instant since I don't think a lot of places have brewed coffee. Fundacion Pacita served brewed coffee but our hotel didn't. If you can't do without brewed coffee, you may want to bring your own coffee and press so you can make your own.

One really cool experience I had here that brought back memories of childhood was drinking soda with a straw from a plastic bag. While waiting for our mass to start, I headed over to one of the sari-sari stores to get a snack and a Coke, and since the drink was in a bottle and not a can, they poured the contents into a bag and handed it to me (bottles have a deposit here). I honestly can't recall the last time I had soda that way. :)

If you plan to visit Batanes, and I really think you should, please make sure you don't litter (Batanes is really clean and it would be a shame if tourists start leaving trash on the streets) and that you don't abuse the honesty and friendliness of the Ivatans. This is truly one of the best places I have visited in the Philippines and I definitely recommend a trip here.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Batanes Day 3: Structures and Scenery

Our third and last day in these wonderful islands involved visiting a combination of man-made structures and amazing scenery. We began the day with a return trip to Fundacion Pacita. When we had dinner there on our first night, it was already dark and we couldn't really take good pictures. As such, our guides decided to bring us there again so we could have more photo ops in the venue and enjoy the place in a different light.

We then took a short drive down the road to a chapel that was also built by the Abads (the family that owns Fundacion Pacita) for the wedding of one of the Abad daughters, Julia. If you notice, the chapel structure actually looks like Fundacion Pacita.

Next up was a stop by some wind turbines. Unfortunately, they were all undergoing maintenance so none of them were working at the time we passed by. Didn't stop us from taking photos, though. :)

Our itinerary was being modified as we went along, but a lot of the changes were based on what the tour group wanted. So while a trip to San Carlos Church in Mahatao, which dates back to the 17th century, was originally slated for the late afternoon, it was close enough to where we were that we moved it up the itinerary. Good move on our part too, because we met the Parish priest while we were there and he agreed to give a special mass for us late that afternoon!

After spending the morning visiting man-made structures, we headed back to nature by visiting what the locals call 'Marlboro Country'. Once again, the fantastic views were astonishing!

We had our lunch in the area as catered food was delivered to us in the covered sheds just at the entrance of the hills. Once we all had our fill and got a bit of rest, we passed by another lighthouse in Batan.

I first realized that Batanes had a lot of amazing scenery because of the 1991 film 'Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit' which was mostly shot here. Our next stop that afternoon was one of the sites where filming of this movie was done.

The Parish priest in San Carlos church agreed to hold a special mass for us that afternoon, but before that, we had time to pass by the Old House called Dakays, which was built in 1887. The cogon on its roof is changed every 30 years and was last changed in 2007.

The Old Spanish Bridge was just a stone's throw away from Dakays.

We got back to Mahatao with time to spare, and after getting settled and resting a bit, we all headed into San Carlos church for our mass. By the time the mass ended, it was after sunset and time for dinner.

Our last dinner in Batanes was held in Vatang Grill & Restaurant. To make our dinner even more enjoyable and memorable, one of our guides, Noli Gabilo, connected his laptop to the TVs in the resto and he showed some Batanes videos as well as slide shows of the photos he took during our trip. It was definitely a great way to cap off a fantastic visit to Batanes.

Up next: Final thoughts and travel tips.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Batanes Day 2: Sabtang Island

Batanes is comprised of 10 islands, but the three main ones are Batan, Sabtang, and Itbayat. The capital Basco is on Batan island which is where we were based during our holiday here. However, the other islands have quite a lot to offer as well so we spent the second day touring Sabtang Island. And boy, what a day it was!

Before our boat arrived at the port, we quickly passed by the San Jose de Ivana church to say a quick prayer and take a few photos.

We then make our way to the Honesty Cafe across the street from the church. This store is such a great concept, and it is a true testament to the honesty of the Ivatans (or the Batanes locals). There isn't always someone tending the store, but purchase instructions are provided. Every item for sale in the store has a marker indicating its cost, and all you need to do is write in a small notebook what items you got and how much they are in total, then you drop your payment in a payment box. If you need change, you can knock on the door but if nobody answers, anything on top of the cost of your purchase will be considered a tip. We ended up getting a couple of shirts and leaving a small tip. We also borrowed a vakul - the headgear used to protect the Ivatan from rain, wind and sun and which are used by women (the counterpart for men is the tagulong) - for a quick photo op inside the store.

We then boarded the boat that would take us to Sabtang. I think it was about a 45-minute boatride, but our Sabtang tour didn't start out well for a lot of folks in the group though as the water was quite choppy, leaving several of us quite seasick. We needed several minutes to kind of regain our equilibrium. So while a lot of the folks were resting, we decided to take some photos around town.

Once everyone felt well enough to move, we headed to Savidug. This beautiful barrio of stone houses is very quaint, and walking through the very clean streets makes you feel like you have gone back in time. I really think Savidug should be declared a World Heritage site!

I could have spent more time exploring the barrio but we needed to get a move on since it was almost noon. Our guides stop at a location that offered a lot of great views (we also had some snacks while here to tide us over 'til our late lunch). Again, we headed up and down the hills where we took several photos.

There was a small beach on the other side of the hills and it was a bit tempting to head down. Unfortunately, the slope got too steep closer to the bottom of the hill and there was no way to get to the beach so none of us did. Instead, we enjoyed it from a distance. :)

We get back on the mountainside zigzag roads and find our way to Chavayan, another barrio that seems to have been frozen in time. Chavayan is set against an brilliant backdrop of lush mountains.

Once again, I would have loved to spend more time here but our earlier delay meant that we were about an hour behind schedule and lunch would soon be waiting for us on the other side of the island. Nevertheless, I found time to visit, and have my photo taken in front of, the Sta. Rosa de Lima church with its unique thatched roof.

Our lunch was set up in Nakabuang beach. And what a gastronomic feast it was! Highlights of our meal included the local delicacy coconut crabs...

photo courtesy of Noli Gabilo

...and lobster.

photo courtesy of Noli Gabilo

A few of us then hit the water after our meal. It was quite good to cool down after being under the sun all day. A major landmark on the beach was the Nakabuang Arch. Before we left the area, we took a big group photo under the arch.

photo courtesy of Noli Gabilo

It was late afternoon when we headed back to the Sabtang port. Thankfully, the waves were a lot gentler at that time of the day and no one got seasick on our return trip. One day left in Batanes, and while it meant that we didn't have a lot of time left in these incredible islands, I was definitely excited to see more amazing scenery.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Batanes Day 1: In and Around Basco

We arrived in Batanes at around 7:30 A.M. and headed straight to our hotel - the Batanes Seaside Lodge - where we had breakfast while the tour guides explained that because our flight schedule got bumped up to an earlier time, they wanted to add a stop in our tour. Perfect for us! Our transport for the next couple of days were jeepneys, which gave an even more local feel to our trip.

Our first stop was the Valugan Boulder Beach. There's a part of the island that juts out into the sea that has a bit of a Jurassic Park feel to it, like it was ancient and mystical.

And unlike most other beaches, the shoreline here is littered with large smooth stones that give this place its name. We didn't really go into the sea but this location was great for taking photos.

Our next stop - the Japanese tunnel - was the item added to our itinerary due to our extra time. The Japanese tunnel is a small cave that was used as shelter and a hideout from Japanese invaders during World War II. A few folks didn't want to venture into the dark cave but naturally, my family and I wanted the full experience so we all went in.

The views that greeted us on the other side of the cave were spectacular! (Of course you could have just walked around the cave to see it haha but then you would've missed the adventure. Also, there's a unique effect when going through a dark tunnel then coming out into the light. :))

To soak in more beautiful scenery, we headed to the PAGASA station where we had a lot more photo ops. This was the last stop in our morning tour as we headed back to the hotel for lunch and to get cleaned up for the rest of our afternoon tour.

After lunch, we got back into our jeepneys and headed to the exquisitely beautiful Rolling Hills. The views here were jaw-dropping!

The wind was blustering and you had to be careful as you walk over the hills to avoid being blown down the slopes. I experienced a few gusts strong enough to challenge anyone's balance and footing. But the effort really pays off when you get to enjoy the fantastic scenery.

Biggest surprise of the day was when we ran into Bo Sanchez on top of the hills. What are the odds? Naturally, we had to take a photo. :)

We then drove a short distance to the Basco Lighthouse. We climbed to the top, took more pics in the area, and we stayed to watch the sunset and take more pics. (Plus we had another Bo Sanchez sighting here hehehe.)

To cap off a long and memorable day, we had a wonderful dinner in Fundacion Pacita. I can't recall everything that we had - I know we had fish, vegetables, and pork confit - but I know there was a lot of food and everything was good! We also had time to go around the premises and take photos of the art pieces created by global artist Pacita Abad.

I didn't get any sleep the night before because I worked til past midnight to make sure I closed everything out before I took a few days off of work and our flight was at 5:30 A.M. So when we got back to the hotel, I took a shower and fell asleep. I definitely needed the rest to gear up for Day 2.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Beautiful Batanes!

The Philippines has a lot of amazing places to visit. And Batanes is definitely on that list! I got to visit the northernmost province of the Philippines with my mom and brother recently. I'll write about this in more detail, but here are some photos I took during our fantastic trip there.

Boulder Beach

Rolling Hills


Fundacion Pacita

Sabtang island


Marlboro Country

More blog posts to come about my trip to Batanes.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Hunger Games

Four months into the year and I finally make my way to the cinema for only the third time in 2012. I was hearing such a lot of buzz and hype about 'The Hunger Games' that I told myself I needed to see it, no matter what. And I did.

I actually thought the movie is really well-made, apart from the fact that I'm not a fan of the shaky camera style of filming that is used in some scenes. The performances of the cast were pretty solid overall - what would you expect when the film is headlined by Jennifer Lawrence who already has an Oscar nomination for best actress tucked under her belt? - and the characters for the most part were believable.

I guess the main problem I have with 'The Hunger Games' is the premise. *** Spoiler Alert *** Stop reading now if you don't want to know more about the movie. At the onset of the games, one boy and one girl from each district have to be offered up to join, and of all 24 participants, only one will survive and be crowned the winner. This essentially means that all other 23 contestants will have to die, whether in the hands of other contestants or from being unable to survive out in the woods. The creepy thing as well about it is that kids aged either 12 or 18 are put up for the contest. 12??? I think therein lies my inability to suspend disbelief; I can't imagine upperclassmen wanting to watch kids kill each other.

The Hunger Games is based on a novel written by Suzanne Collins and is the first book in The Hunger Games trilogy. So two more movies will be coming out. I've checked out the plot synopsis of the two other books that follow it - Catching Fire and Mockingjay - and I have to say that they have very heavy themes as well. I'm still curious to see how the books translate into the big screen so I will be watching the second and third installments when they come out.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Lady Gaga in Manila (but I'm skipping it)

Lady Gaga had a concert here in Manila a few years ago and since then, she's become arguably the biggest pop superstar in the world today. So it's great that she is coming to Manila to perform a concert as part of her Born This Way Ball tour. But it also means that concert tickets wouldn't be all that affordable.

I was toying with the idea of getting tickets but seeing the prices decided it for me. P15,840 for the VIP section, P11,620 for the lower box seated area, P5,280 for the upper box free seating area, and P2,120 for general patronage. Ouch! I guess it's also because of the venue; only about 11,000 tickets are going to be sold for this concert that will be held in the SM Arena so they have to make the cost of each ticket higher.

I'm sure it will be worth it but I just keep thinking of all the stuff I can buy with that money. So it looks like I'll be skipping it. It should be a blast though for anyone who watches.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Earth Hour 2012

I participated in Earth Hour again this year.

video uploaded in youtube by earthhour

I wasn't home for most of the day because I had a planning session with core team of our corporate social responsibility initiative at work. We scheduled our planning session on March 31 because I thought it would be a great idea for us to spend the day together then have dinner over candlelight in a restaurant that would be participating in Earth Hour. We ended our planning session at 7pm and headed to Bonifacio High Street were practically all establishments were participating in Earth Hour. We decided to have dinner in Kirin but by 830pm, we were done eating LOL. No more candelit dinner then hehe so we just got the bill and decided to sit somewhere outdoors and hang out. The hour actually went by quickly with all the stories we shared with each other.

When the lights came back on, we decided to have a couple of drinks in Agave. A productive planning session, good dinner, support of a global environmental campaign, and some cold beers = one pretty awesome day.