BATANES is a group of ten islands at the northernmost part of the Philippine archipelago. Three of these ten islands are inhabited. Two of those three inhabited islands, I had the chance to tour on a mountain bike that I rented for 500 pesos a day. Those were one of my most adventurous and most challenging days as a biker/triathlete. What more can one triathlete traveler like me get from this breathtaking paradise? Only unforgettable memories and the most picturesque landscapes one can ever see. Welcome to Philippines’ last frontier!

I thought, of all the bloggers who have been to Batanes, how can I make my story different from the rest? Being an adventuress, a nature lover and a triathlete, I challenged myself on a do-it-yourself bike tour of Batan and Sabtang islands. I researched about the place before my travel and learned that two Filipino male travel bloggers have already done it. I wanted to do the same thing…and more.

So with a map in my hand, I trusted my keen skill in biking and off I went on a journey I will never forget. Biking along the beautiful coasts, steep slopes and dirt roads of Batanes is a lot different from seeing the place in a car or even a motorbike. You feel more in control and closer to nature when you are on a bike. All your senses are more active and you see, hear and feel everything…the sun, the wind, the sound of the waves, the sand, dust, mud, the stones. You will smell your sweat, the delicious aroma of the food that the Ivatans cook in their households, even the dung of dogs, carabaos, goats, cows and horses.

As much as I would like everyone to experience the same adventure, I have to do some reality check and warn you that the level of difficulty of this activity will not be as fun and enjoyable for everyone.  This adventure is not for the weak at heart, body and spirit. My commitment to a fit lifestyle has given me the opportunity to withstand this challenge. Even so, this trip was definitely a test of my resilience. It was a physically demanding adventure. If you are not confident to bike all the way and still want to experience it, you can always go and rent a tricycle whenever you feel the need to do so. The bike can be tied at the back of the trike.

Touring on a mountain bike was something I personally preferred as a solo traveler because aside from the training that I got, doing the tour on a bike was a lot cheaper than the rest of the other available tour options in the island. I also owned my time so I got to stay longer in a spot as I liked to and leave exactly whenever I wanted to leave without considering a group’s fixed itinerary. 
Read on to know about my DIY itinerary and some more information on other relaxing and cheaper tour options if you don’t wish to do the same adventure as I did.

I started with a half day tour of North Batan. The route may have been shorter but it had many challenging steep inclines. After interviewing a few locals before my bike ride and also from experience, here is a nice bike route for anyone who plans to go biking in the future:

FIRST DAY OF BIKE TOUR

1. Valugan Boulder beach – a stretch of boulders along the coast lines. A totally different kind of beach .

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2. Japanese tunnel -located in Tukon hills and constructed by the Japanese soldiers during the war. Make sure to frequently ask locals about directions to avoid wasting your energy having to go back and forth when you get lost.

3. Fundacion Pacita/Cafe Tukon –  once a home studio of internationally acclaimed artist Pacita Abad who hails from Batanes. If you like to splurge, this is the lodge for you. Rates range from 10,000 pesos per night. More information is found in their websitehttp://www.fundacionpacita.ph.

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I used the timer of my camera to be able to capture these pictures

4. Mt. Carmel chapel

5. Rolling hills (if your legs are not yet too tired and can still pedal). It is a few kilometers up from the lighthouse.

5. Naidi Lighthouse– one of the best places to see the  sunset.

By this time, I met two lovely siblings traveling together, two of the many wonderful travelers whom I shared the next days with.

 

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with Mae and Ryan Quimpo

 

SECOND DAY OF BIKE TOUR

My second bike route was the southern part of Batan island. I prepared myself mentally for a long day so I started at 7 in the morning. It would be much better to start earlier than that.

The south of Batan takes you to a magical experience of riding along coastal and elliptical roads with the most breathtaking views of Chamarian view deck, Mahatao shelter port, Maydangeb white beach , the mountains of Racuh a Payaman also known as Marlboro Hills country where you can see non-domesticated goats, cows and horses playing free in the vast fields.

 

Notice the goats


And since it was a DIY bike tourI had the luxury to do or undo my plans for the day. I decided to just let things unfold- one of the advantages of a DIY bike tour. When I passed by a beautiful white sandy beach, I stopped, parked my bike, took a swim and bask in the mild morning sun.

I also had a chance to meet a media ex-correspondent Jack Castaño who is now retired and lives in his hometown of Ivana. I happened to pass by his house which was in front of the famous House of Dakay. I knocked, introduced myself and we were both in for a good chat. In this town is where Honesty Coffee Shopcan be found.  It is an unmanned souvenir and refreshment store which showcases the community’s culture of honesty and “bayanihan”.

I chatted with a few locals who gave me water and bananas and  while in Uyugan, Nanay Maria Victoria, who owns a canteen, made me a delicious lapu lapu dish for a cheap price of 100 pesos. After savoring lapu lapu, 2 eggs and three bananas, I was off to conquer the most difficult part of the route which was the steep hills and mountains of Marlboro country. I felt how taxing the steep slopes were to my legs and it was even harder because I was running out of water and the midday heat was almost unbearable. I was relieved to see one lady who was working at the side of the road and asked for water from her. Make sure to supply your tour with enough water and food and some energy gel. These will help you maintain enough electrolytes in your body to get through the day.

After finally seeing Marlboro country, it was time to complete the loop and return back to the municipal center of Basco. I found it necessary to fuel myself up with sumptuous food in Batanes Hotel.

After a few hours in the hotel, I still had enough time to spare in one of my favorite places – the Naidi lighthouse. I spent the rest of the day relaxing my tired nerves and watching the stunning view of the sunset over the mountains.

THIRD DAY OF BIKE TOUR

The next day was spent in Sabtang island, also with the same bike that I rented from Kuya Lance of Habitat Bike Shop. He can be contacted through09288607701. I and some of the travelers I met along the way kept catching up with each other as we had the same itinerary and found ourselves seeing each other in stop overs and must-see places.

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Batanes sunrise in Sabtang

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with fellow female travelers from Cebu

Sabtang is an island municipality 15 kilometers southwest of Basco. It can be reached by a 30-minute jeepney ride (27 PhP) from Basco capital to  a port in the town of Ivana. First trip is at 5 am. From  the port of Ivana, one needs to take a boat to Sabtang island. This trip costs 100 PhP and takes around 30 minutes. Carrying a bike costs an additional 40 pesos. From the town nearest the Sabtang port, I biked to Savidug and Chavayan towns to see typical Ivatan stone houses built to withstand the strongest of typhoons.

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Tinyan viewpoint

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Along the way, we stopped at a stunning place called Tinyan viewpoint where I had sumptuous coconut juice and some relaxing times as the wind was so refreshing in the middle of tropical midday heat. They also offer a free taste of fermented local wine which they call “Palek”-a must-try item.

I rented a headgear popularly known as “vakul” which is used by Ivatans to protect them from both heat and rain while farming. It helped me beat the heat while biking to and fro Chavayan.

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On my way to Chavayan town wearing “vakul”

After seeing the stone houses, a nice lunch is available at AGN canteen owned by Alma Nanud, located at the left side of police station.

After taking my lunch and a quick nap, I went to Morong beach which was surprisingly empty and quiet. I spent a few good hours having the whole stretch of this beautiful white beach all for myself.

 

I preferred enjoying some more relaxing times in Morong beach than bike my way 11 kilometers more to the nearby towns where they say the same old stone houses in the island can be seen. 
I recommend that you spend the night at the lighthouse to savor the stunning view it offers in the morning at sunrise and at night time where you can do some stargazing. The rate is just 200 pesos more expensive than regular homestays in the island.If you don’t have much time, you can also choose to leave and go back to Batan main island by joining the afternoon boat trip.

FOURTH DAY

A visit to Batanes is not complete without experiencing the fresh and cold spring waters in Diura village. The locals call it Rakuh-a-idi or Fountain of Youth. Tricycle rental from Basco town to this place is 200 pesos (one way). The trail hike to the fountain is a nice and exciting walk that leads you to an unforgettable magical surprise. The sound of a rippling brook, the feel of the fresh spring water, the shade of coconut trees and the  sight of clouds hoveringMt. Iraya, standing majestically over the clear blue sea.

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Food and other commodities in Batanes are pricier than in other places because of the logistics involved in transporting goods into the island. The kind of soil Batanes has and the unpredictable weather conditions also make it harder to grow crops. A few locals have told me that some of the vegetables have to be imported from Benguet, Isabela or Tuguegarao. Thanks to the sea and the vast fields where to grow different farm animals, the locals have a good source of beef, goat meat and fish.

There are many companies that offer group tours. Most of them have their own pages found through Google. If you prefer a cheaper option, you can hire individual tricycle drivers like Kuya Lito Alcantara 0918 2167440 or Kuya Gunding 09193174794. 
A sample of their itinerary is found below. These, however, are subject to change depending on your preferences. If you are a small group of two or three people, you can divide the rate into two or three which  makes it a lot cheaper than the the other tour packages which cost 6,000 pesos per person.

North Batan Island tour (1000 pesos)

  1. Tamulong viewpoint
  2. Tukun chapel
  3. Pag asa complex
  4. Fundacion pacita
  5. Ijang portres
  6. Japanese tunnel
  7. Valugan boulder beach
  8. Concepcion cathedral
  9. Naidi lighthouse
  10. Vayang rolling hills
  11. Sunset viewing

South Batan tour (1500 pesos)

  1. 
Paderes view point
  2. Chaua view deck
  3. Mahatao shelter port
  4. San Carlos Borromeo church
  5. Blankbook archive
  6. Old spanish lighthous.
  7. Blue lagoon
  8. White beach
  9. Mabatoy view point
  10. Spanish bridge
  11. House of Dakay
  12. San Jose de Obrero church
  13. Honesty cofee shop
  14. San Antonio de florencio chapel
  15. Vitawey view deck
  16. Muchong view
  17. Ruins of Song song
  18. Miraculous church
  19. Alapad rock formation
  20. Old loran station
  21. San Lorenzo Ruiz chapel
  22. Marlboro hills
  23. Tayid lighthouse

Sabtang island tour (100 pesos)

  1. Savidug town
  2. Viewing vernacular houses
  3. Ijang portres
  4. Viewing sleeping beaty
  5. Chamantad viewpoint
  6. Chavayan town tour
  7. Saint francis ferrer
  8. Saint aquinas chapel
  9. Morong beach- nakabuang cave

When it comes to accommodation, I recommend Vatan Inn because it is cheap, clean, and homey. For only 400 pesos for a fan room, you get free breakfast and free pick up at the airport. For more info, contact Jover Vargas through vatanhomestay@gmail.com/0998 551 9656/0995 810 5205. The rate for an air con room which is good for 3 pax/room is 1200 PhP.

Other expenses include airport tourism fee of 350 pesos upon entry to Batanes (don’t forget to get a map after paying), 100 pesos terminal fee upon exit, 200 pesos Sabtang environmental fee if you are going to Sabtang island.

I flew in and out of Batanes through Skyjet which often offers promo tickets. Other airlines that operate in Batanes are Philippine Airlines and Airswift.

The weather in Batanes is unpredictable ranging from very hot summers to little rain showers and strong storms. Their houses and lighthouses are built to withstand these extreme weather conditions. The locals say that their “little summer” comes in September. I was very lucky to have been in the island exactly during that time. I got myself a very good tan even though I used enough amount of sunscreen. Four days straight of little hot summer and then a storm came right after that.

I think this solo travelling has now become a habit. A habit of losing my heart. I lost it once again to the memories that Batanes gave me. I have no plans of returning. I usually say that it’s different the second time around and I want my memories of a place to be just as unique. As the airplane slowly alighted, I looked back to say goodbye and gaze once more at its timeless beauty. I hope it stays that way.

This paradise was home for many generations of young Ivatans who chose to leave Batanes to explore further. Those who chose to stay hopefully will take care of it so that it stays the same  for many generations to come. To those who are planning to see Batanes, I hope you learned a few good tips and I wish you enjoy your stay in paradise. It´s a little piece of heaven that will surely leave you in awe, wandering and wondering how nature´s miracle came to life like this.

More stories are found in author´s blog www.filipinawanderwoman.wordpress.com. 
 

Published by Lot Ramirez