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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Wander our Wonders: Island Tour of Batan and Sabtang, Batanes

I was off to a well deserved break after the tax men came knocking on the door that left me sleepless and restless for a time.

We had to be awake by three in the morning for our early morning flight. But my blogsy friend Nina was right, we had to wait, flights don't leave earlier than six. "Finally!" is what we blurted out when we landed in Basco, Batanes. After months of hullabaloo, we safely landed aboard the 30-seater plane of seair together with a group of 19 joining the photo safari of Mandy Navasero. See my reviews about the photo safari here.

The view of Mt. Iraya and a stylish stone house airport terminal greeted us on the runway of Basco Airport. We were met at the airport by a local guide. Mang Roger is a typical Ivatan local: hardworking, hospitable and jack of all trade. He was more than just a tour guide. Aboard the jeepney, some were seated on the roof, a thrilling ride zipping on that winding road cliff of Batan. Batanes here we come!

Clockwise (L-R): Batanes runway with Mt. Iraya, Seair, Jeepney Ride, Basco Airport Terminal


First stop was a fifteen minute spelunking in a World War III Japanese Tunnel. True to popular sayings, there's light at the end of the tunnel. As we exit the tunnel, it was our first view of the hedgerow. Hedgerow is a closely spaced shrubs that serves as barriers, protection from wind and prevents soil erosion. These hedgerow are popular in Scotland which earned Batanes the name, Scotland of the Philippines.

The rest of the day was a jeepney ride to Tukon Hills overlooking Basco, a climb up the Mahatao Lighthouse, a walking tour of Basco, a sit on the rocks of Rocky Beach or Chadpidan, a wait for the sunset at Chanarian View Deck and an evening entertained by the Basco palo-palo cultural dance.

Clockwise (L-R): Mahatao Lighthouse, Chanarian View Deck, Tukon Radar, Grazing Cow in Mahatao, Rocky Beach, View from Tukon Hills, Hedgerow View from Tukon Hills (center)


With an early morning wake-up call, we're headed to Ivana port to ride the falowa. With lifevests on, we were prepared to rock with falowa as we crossed the sea to Sabtang Island. The weather was great, the waves was not as rough as I've expected.

We toured the town of Savidug, had buko juice in Chavayan, had lunch in Nakanmuan’s White Beach under the famous Batanes Natural Arc, went to the Sabtang Lighthouse while waiting for our falowa ride back to Batan.

Clockwise (L-R): Kid overlooking the window at Savidug Stone House, Whitebeach Natural Arc, Nakanmuan's White beach, Carabao in streets of Savidug, Chavayan Stone house, Raging waves by Sabtang Lighthouse, Sinakan Stone House, Ruins at Savidug, Peddling Ivatan, Sabtang Lighthouse (center)

Back to Batan Island by four, we dropped by the UNESCO heritage House of Dakay built in 1600. Lola Frestilda Dakay lives in this house alone. This old lady is one of the most photographed person in Batanes. Now she's very old and weak, as much as she wants to get up and sit by the door like she did on a cover of Reader's Digest, she can only hold onto a rope atop of her bed to sit and made a gesture to welcome us inside her house.

Further down in Ivana is the Ivana Church and the one of a kind Honesty Coffee Shop. It's called Honesty for the simple reason that you pay for what you buy even without someone manning the store. There's a price list on the wall, a log book to write what you bought and a box where you'll leave your money. You should bring change, it's keep the change policy here. This is something you'll only find in Batanes.

Clockwise (L-R): Ivana Church, Ivana Port, Ivana Port, Sunset at Ivana Port, Honesty Coffee Shop


It was another early day as we wanted to catch the sunrise, but we were caught offguard, our jeepney ride arrived when the sun has risen. We had breakfast instead and headed to an early morning walk at the Rolling Hills. Lo and behold, the view of the hills overlooking the sea is heavenly. It's tranquility moves the soul and breaks one into tears with a song of prayer. A moving experience felt by one during a group prayer that touched the rest of the group. Who would have thought that someone who chose to go solo on this trip, one who was exceptionally bubbly was feeling empty seven years after her husband's death, found peace on this land and so she speaks, "The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want..."

After that enriching experience was a ride back to Tukon Hills. Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge sits on top of Tukon Hills overlooking the sea where the Pacific Ocean meets the South China Sea. It was once the home studio of a great artist Pacita Abad who lost the battle of cancer. The place is reburbished in country style charms with rooms overlooking the sea and mountain. Rooms starts from P3,750 to 8,000.

The so called Marlboro Country, was another breathtaking panoramic view, with velvet green grass and grazing cows. I could hear the sound of music playing in this windy Marlboro Hills. We had a tasty lunch in a hut but I could imagine laying down after having our picnic on a mat right on top of the hill. Wishful thinking maybe, but it's not impossible.

Clockwise (L-R): View from Rolling Hills, Fundacion Pacita du Tukon, View from treking up to Fountain of Youth at Diura, Early morning walk at Rolling Hills, Marlboro Hills, Diura Beach, Rolling Hills, Infinity pool of Fountain of Youth, View from the window of Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge (center)

We moved to Diura fishing village, where we started our trek up the hills to the Fountain of Youth. It's spring water with infinity pool overlooking the sea. Others took a swim while we just laze around waiting for the tides to go low. We continued to walk down by the shore, leading to Crystal Cave for a short spelunking. As we exit the tide went high instead of low. The guide must have overlooked the calendar. We had to brave the raging waters, as we head back to the village. Some didn't want to get wet but in the end, everyone got soaked. Whew, we survived with scratches here and there and a bundle of fond memories to last a lifetime.

Batanes is finally off my wishlist, but wait! Batanes will remain on the list, I'd love go back there with a free and easy itinerary, different from what we had. That is, to laze around Fundacion Pacita sitting on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific and South China Sea... to lay a picnic mat at Marlboro Hills with the real sound of music... and to watch the clouds go by as the sun sets by the Rolling Hills. :D


Mandy Navasero: (02)8991767 or
Nice Travel & Tours: (02)5266363 or


Fly via Seair from Manila to Basco Airport.


1. Pack a Map of Batanes by Ironwulf.
2. Contact a guide. Mang Roger Amboy: +639183331797
3. Discuss your itinerary with your guide, maximize travel time.
4. Hire a jeep or van. (I didn't see any form of public transportation.)


  • Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge Rates: P3750 - 8000+

  • Batanes Resort +639275829078 Rates: P550 - 1500

  • Batanes Seaside Resort and Restaurant +639212290120 +639178825609 Rates: P450 - P1200

  • Shanedel's Inn +639204470737 Rates: P350 - 1200

  • Ivatan Lodge  P300 - 1200
  • Sunday, April 12, 2009

    Batanes Photo Safari with Mandy Navasero

    Along with my sister, we booked this tour five months before the scheduled trip. With early bird discount, we paid P20,000 all inclusive of travel photography workshop, full board and lodging, and airfare from Manila to Basco with Zest Air. Regular rate is at P25,000.

    Zest Air flights are suspended due to unfortunate events. With a sigh of relief we were accommodated with Seair. A few days before the trip, we were informed that our flight was cancelled. It would have been lovely to experience Batanes with the cold front but we were left with no choice but to reschedule it on a later date. Two weeks ago, we finally land on Basco, Batanes at the height of summer.

    We were checked-in at Batanes Seaside Resort, unfortunately, not all bookings were honored. Some overstaying guests occupied our rooms, so some of our companions has to stay for a night in another lodging house. With basic ammenities, rooms are clean and spacious, private bathroom comes with electric hot and cold shower, the suite rooms came with a refrigerator, and there's television too but food was ordinary.

    Mandy Navasero's Photo Safari is unlike the travel photography I've been to. There was no room-in lecture, not even a critique session. Mandy's teaching style is different. Her creative ideas are outrageous and her personality is a standout - at times with comic relief and naughty antics. She remained energetic and passionate with what she is doing inspite of her age.

    Mandy Navasero during an informal lecture at the view deck

    She puts emphasis to shoot with a heart, to pose with an attitude, and to add life into the subject. After a while, I've come to appreciate it. It's not the technical aspect that brings life to a photo. My basic knowledge on travel photography came in handy, but Batanes landscape is lovely as it is, it will come out beautiful in any photo. She puts much emphasis on colors and fashion photography with the so called "S-curve". Frankly, it doesn't come naturally for me, I look awkward in my photos. All throughout the trip, it seemed like we were having a photoshoot. We had our fair share of becoming a bench model, a beauty queen, a lifestyle model and a mastered the art of jumpology. On the otherhand, being the photographer, one must know how to motivate and to bring out the spirit of the subject, flatter if you must.

    This is my second travel photography workshop and I'm getting comfortable with the Nikon D40. No more cheats this time, I managed to pull off some good shots with the manual settings. Yipee! :)

    Joining Batanes Photo Safari with Mandy Navasero:

    I recommend this tour for those adventurous fellows who love to travel and like to shoot and/or appear in them, but not for those hard core photographers who expect point by point photography lecture.

    PROS: hassle free: board & lodging, itinerary & flight bookings and everything else are taken cared of; touring with a group sharing the same passion for travel & photography

    CONS: quite hectic: itinerary needs to be ironed out to maximize travel time and to start on time; for pre-trip briefing: personal appearance was necessary when it could be done remotely via email; no critique session: it would have been necessary for a photography workshop.

    For inquiries, they can be reached at:
    Mandy Navasero: (02)8991767 or
    Nice Travel & Tours: (02)5266363 or

    Read more about my experience on the trip here.