Batanes. Distant land…distant, but comfortable. Wilderness is far, yet nature is at your doorstep, and the the towns feel like home.

I was there back in 2009, a trip my father organised. My senses were so overwhelmed by the sense of place, that it is etched permanently in my mind and heart. What I remember the most about the trip was not only the greenness of the rolling hills, contrasting with the blackness of the rising cliffs…not only the deep blue of the open sea, nor just the farm boy that made his karabao gallop for our amusement. I remember the fresh, cool air – despite being there at the peak of summertime. I remember the strong, consistent winds that brought home the fishermen, who sat in their small boats with fabric sails – until the wooden hulls kissed the shore. So clear is the memory of the shiny Dorado (locally known as Mahi Mahi), caught by line and pulled onboard single-handedly by these strong men, yet with those hands, they can delicately slice and portion the fish, to be smoked and dried by their mothers and wives as food and a source of income.

Left and right, people rolled along in bicycles, a comic scene of little children handling wheels over half their height. I met a little girl who was playing by the pier; she spoke fluent English. She told me her mother was from Papua New Guinea, her father – a fisherman from Batanes. They met on a boat, and fell in love. They got married in this town, but her mother had to go back home for a few months. She smiled at me and joined her friends. This little girl’s energy and enthusiasm to share her story touched me; open and curious with nothing to hide. She played with the group of children, mostly boys – who were daringly somersaulting into the water as the afternoon surrendered to twilight. It struck me that these children have simple surroundings, and have simple needs – yet they are at their happiest this way. They are in touch with nature.

Batanes. A magical place, where the sunset never ceased to amaze…(so is the story of every Philippine sunset)

Batanes’ coastlines may not be strewn with white sand beaches or palm trees, but what it seemingly lacks – in terms of a stereotypical tropical paradise – it makes up for, tenfold. The architecture and building style is unique, the homes along the coast and mountains are set in the ground and built from rocks and roofs of cogon grass, tied in bundles and layered to form a sturdy, wind-proof roof.  The boats are different; they are not modelled after the typical outrigger boats found in other provinces. Many are still powered by sail. The towns are well-organised, with Spanish colonial architecture, highlighted with festive colours of teal, red, and orange. There, I was surrounded by fantastic panoramic views of the sky, and clouds would seemingly come so low I felt I could touch them. The people are a wonder to be around with. They are proud of their home, and they keep it clean and safe. There is a well-known Honesty Coffee Shop that has been running for over 20 years; it is fully stocked with soft drinks, sweets, snacks, coconuts, chocolate, knickknacks and some ‘necessary’ things like toothpaste, shampoos…on the wall, there is a pricelist and on the counter, there is a book. The book tallies all the purchases by each customer, and money is left in a jar nearby. As far as I know, they have only had one major theft; and that was from a visitor.

I cannot wait to go back to this wonderful part of the Philippines. The airport of Basco is small yet beautifully designed, and it is easy to get stuck in Batanes due to bad weather. May this long continue. May no commercial development touch these precious lands. May the people remain proud of their heritage, and satisfied with their fulfilling lives. Thank you, Batanes for all the memories.

(Slideshow below doesn’t work on mobile devices?!):