A look back on “Untouched, Unspoiled Batanes”

This post by Filomeno St. Ana III on Vicky Abad Kerblat’s book, Jawid sawen nu Vatan!, brings me back to one of my best Philippine holidays ever, in the practically untouched yet progressive province called Batanes. Allow me to share with you this retro post, published exactly a year ago, about the group of islands that I believe every Filipino should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Fundacion Pacita, the bed & breakfast that used to be the artist's workshop of author Vicky Abad Kerblat's late sister, the renowned visual artist Pacita Abad | Photo by NTZ, January 2011
Fundacion Pacita, the bed & breakfast that used to be the artist's workshop of author Vicky Abad Kerblat's late sister, the renowned visual artist Pacita Abad | Photo by NTZ, January 2011

Untouched, Unspoiled Batanes

Originally published in Manila Bulletin on January 30, 2011

It was going to be a different year, I told myself. For starters, I would do away with the usual loud and head-cracking New Year revelry and stay where my husband and I could breathe clean air, fall asleep to the sound of crickets and the crashing waves, and have 360-degree views of Mother Nature at her best. We would figuratively and literally unplug ourselves from my gadgets and from the toxicity of a frenetic urban life, and begin 2011 in a place that is pristine and virginal, removed from the excesses of the life that we had gotten accustomed to in chaotic, cacophonic Metro Manila.

For that purpose, there was no other place on our mind but Batanes, that almost-mystical group of islands that has been likened to Scotland or New Zealand but which remains very much in touch with its Ivatan roots. Years ago, people scoffed at the thought of flying to Batanes because of the impression that it was too “backward.” (“We hated flying there,” I had been told by a former flight attendant. “There was nothing to do!”)

"Nothing much to do" in Batanes except admire its unrivaled beauty and serenity | Photo by NTZ, January 2011
"Nothing much to do" in Batanes except admire its unrivaled beauty and serenity | Photo by NTZ, January 2011

Now, however, with sustainability on everyone’s minds, and with a collective call to reimagine the way we live and adopt a back-to-basics approach in our lifestyles, people are training their eyes on Batanes not only as a superb getaway destination where they could (quite literally) throw their cares away, but also—and more importantly—as a model for a sustainable, reimagined Philippines.

Cows graze freely on "Racuh a Payaman", also known as "Marlboro Hills" or "Marlboro Country" | Photo by NTZ, January 2011
Cows graze freely on "Racuh a Payaman", also known as "Marlboro Hills" or "Marlboro Country" | Photo by NTZ, January 2011
An "honesty" coffee shop? Only in Batanes! | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)
An "honesty" coffee shop? Only in Batanes! | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)

Proud of their culture

Imagine this: Even from thousands of feet above the sea, the sights that will greet your eyes will already be enough to declare the majesty of the Batanes Isles deep-green mountainous islands stand proudly against the azure waters of the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, their lush mountaintops showing no signs of erosion or human intervention. Only three (Batan, Sabtang, and Itbayat) out of the eleven islands comprising Batanes are inhabited by some 17,000 people, leaving plenty of space for vegetation to grow, for cows to graze lazily, and for Mother Nature to unfurl her virtuous best. The rest of the islands remain untouched and unspoiled by human hands.

A tour around the islands shows how the Ivatans take pride in their collective history and culture. Centuries-old churches remain preserved and stand proudly in the middle of the town, their clean exteriors belying the fact that they had borne witness to the wars, disasters, and struggles that have helped to define a people. In Savidug and Chavayan villages in Sabtang Island, even the ruins of the old stone houses bore the marks of quiet dignity and pride. I wondered about the stories behind these walls and the secrets that they kept, observing that even in the chilly winter weather and in the pregnant silence of the tour, the villages were not eerie at all but seemed to exude the quiet elegance of a grand old matriarch.

Century-old stone houses like this are common across Batanes' different islands | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)
Century-old stone houses like this are common across Batanes' different islands | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)
Chavayan Village in Sabtang Island is a UNESCO-nominated village, owing to the preservation of its stone houses and its traditional way of life | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)
Chavayan Village in Sabtang Island is a UNESCO-nominated village, owing to the preservation of its stone houses and the Ivatans' traditional way of life | Photo by NTZ (January 2011)

Imagine if more towns in the Philippines could show this much respect for history and culture: What would Intramuros or Binondo look like today?

Read the rest of the post HERE.

 

Niña Terol-Zialcita

Niña Terol-Zialcita is a “Communicator, Connector, idea Curator, and Changemaker” who uses the power of words and ideas to advocate causes and promote the Philippines at its best. She is ProPinoy.net’s Deputy Editor, as well as Editor-in-Chief of asianTraveler, the longest-running travel magazine in the Philippines. When she is not writing, blogging, or traveling, Niña is conducting writing workshops with Writer’s Block Philippines, hanging out at art galleries and cafés, and performing poetry with her husband, percussionist and performance artist Paul Zialcita. She is also the author of the book “[r]evolutionaries: The new generation of Filipino youth and youth organizations”.


  • Sandra Bollocks

    Sana makapunta ako dito… 🙂

  • Nenette164coronel

    It’s so refreshing to know that there are places that are still untouched and customs still unchanged, the uncorrupted way of life before Magellan came to change us. Thanks for the revelation!!

    • Nik

      LOL! It’s so pretty, unspoiled, and untouched by Spanish corruption! Look at the pre-Hispanic stone architecture and…oh wait.

      Snark aside. Batanes is unbelievably beautiful.

      • Hah! Spanish corruption, American corruption, Filipino corruption. 😛

        Batanes is just truly refreshing, you guys. Beautiful inside and out, it seems. When you can, please do take time to read ’till the end of the original piece and see what they have to say about flying. It’s a very poetic way of looking at things, but very matter-of-fact for them. Their Human Development Index indicators are pretty good, too. 🙂

        Now I can’t wait to go back to Batanes!

  • cocoy

    WOW, Nines, Batanes is Beautiful! 😮 How’s the Internet there? Electricity? Looking at the photos, it would be a nice hideaway spot, me thinks! 

    • Electricity, great 🙂 Internet, hmmm. I actually went there to unplug–and you SHOULD when you’re in Batanes–so I WANTED to be unreachable 🙂 You HAVE to go see it at least once in your lifetime. 🙂