January 13, 2019
Three years after our memorable trip to Sagada (MY RECAP), I contacted E-Philippines again to bring us to another dream local destination of mine, Batanes. To book a trip for December 2018, we contacted E-Philippines as early as April 2018. Even if it was well over six months before our planned dates, the schedules in Batanes were already limited.
Because we had our senior citizen parents (aged 80+) with us, we decided to book Fundacion Pacita. A package in Fundacion Pacita cost more than twice higher than the next cheaper one, but nothing but the best for the comfort of our parents. Once those rooms were booked (4 rooms for 10 of us), I proceeded to book our air tickets from PAL for our chosen dates, and we were all set 8 full months prior to our Christmas day vacation.
PAL flights to Basco leave from Clark airport at about 9:30 am. To avoid any hassle, we decided to spend the night in a Clark hotel so we would not have to rush to reach the airport in the morning. PR 2688 was a small airplane, those with visible propellers outside and only four seats per row. The flight left on time and was very smooth, though a little bumpy on the landing in Basco.
The Basco airport was very small and rustic. We were met by our guide Ate Remy Santos, who had a cheerful, friendly, tita-type personality. We were brought to our hotel, the Fundacion Pacita, by the Hi-Ace van provided by E-Philippines. (There was a second van for our luggage.) This was the same van and driver which would be taking us around the narrow roads of Batan island in the next three days.
(with a statue of contemporary artist Pacita Abad in the foreground)
The Living Room
The grand main house of Fundacion Pacita was located on edge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Once we were shown our four rooms, it was immediately evident why those rooms cost so much more than those in regular hotels. The interiors of these rooms were beautifully designed for sure, with comfortable beds and spacious bathrooms.
Our Room Keys
Dining Area with a view
Inside the attic room Palahanitan
Inside Idaud Room
But the true clincher were the breathtaking views -- of the sea, the cliffs, the mountains -- as seen from the huge windows and the terraces of our rooms. These were fantastic views which you could enjoy immensely simply by looking out and meditating on its grandeur. You can spend the whole day just sitting at your window or terrace doing nothing, and yet feel totally fulfilled. That is exactly what we did every afternoon and evening after coming home from our daily tours. (By the way, Fundacion Pacita is proud that they do not have television or wifi, so we can leave the city behind and enjoy nature.)
View from the Terrace of Idaud
View from the Terrace of Avayat
View of the topiary garden from the Terrace of Palahinatan
Fundacion Pacita is not in the town proper so for food, there is only the in-house cafe, the Cafe de Tukon. They pride themselves with local Ivatan recipes and their food preparations were excellent. A charming touch we enjoyed everyday was their FREE afternoon tea served from 3-5 pm, where they serve pastries and coffee or rosemary tea. This cafe was also where we ate our daily breakfasts which was included in our package. Don't miss the museum located on the floor below the cafe for some eclectic artwork of young artists.
Homey Interior of Cafe de Tukon
Complementary Afternoon Snack care of Cafe de Tukon
The Museum Below the Cafe
with its colorful floor
The itinerary for today was a half-day tour of the northern part of Batan Island. Ate Remy picked us up at 1:30pm after we had our first lunch at the artistic Cafe de Tukon beside the office. Upon driving out of the gates of Pacita, Ate Remy remarked that the paved road with raised sides leading to and from our hotel were usually called "Great Wall of Batanes" because of how it looked snaking up and down the hills.
The first destination was the so-called Japanese Tunnel, which was located in a grassy hill along the side of the main road. We hiked into the dark cave, lit only by the flashlights of our phones. Deeper inside, we were led to climb downwards into a lower level of the cave that led out a different opening. It was an exciting kick-off activity to our Batanes adventure.
Making Our Way Down the Shaft
The Light at the end of the Tunnel
Next stop was the Valugan Boulder Beach, which had a beach of big round rocks where the waves break dramatically.
Valugan Boulder Beach
We were then brought to the Basco town proper center. There we took photos in front of the provincial capitol. Later we all said our Christmas prayers inside Santo Domingo Cathedral right next door.
Sto. Domingo Cathedral of Basco
Vayang Rolling Hills
Rolling Hills with Cow
View from the Lighthouse Top
(where the sunset should have been)
Our second day began early when Ate Remy picked us up at 6:30 am for our Sabtang Island Tour. It was quite a long but scenic seaside drive. Our guide pointed out an area on the rocky beach where the film "Aurora" was shot. We were en route to the port of Ivana, where we would catch our motorized bancas (called "faluwa") going to Sabtang. While waiting for the boat, we used the time to visit the famous Honesty Coffee Shop beside the pier and the San Jose de Ivana Church across the street from it.
Honesty Coffee Shop
San Jose de Ivana Church
Waiting for the Faluwa at the Port of Ivana
We reached Sabtang after a 45-minute boat ride. It was not as bad as its reputation made me expect. However, the morning ride was really supposed to be smoother. The ride back is more turbulent, especially if you catch the afternoon trip. Our guide was going to make sure we were going to catch the 12:30 pm boat ride back to avoid the rough waves.
Port of Sabtang
Port of Sabtang
The Arch in Nakabuang Beach
Nakabuang Beach View
The first stop was Nakabuang Beach with its famous rock arch. After taking several photos there, we then went to Chavayan for a tour of that community, which is a candidate for becoming a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Typical Rock House with Kitchen
Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel
This village of traditionally-constructed stone houses built to withstand the typhoons that ravage the area regularly. When we left Batan island it was drizzling, but here in Sabtang, it was scorching hot in the full sun. Some of us found it difficult to walk around in the heat. I made it all the way to the charming Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel at the far end.
An 83-year old grandmother welcomed us to enter her home, so we got to see how these old rock houses looked inside. You can't miss a photo of Coco Martin inside in there. Martin shot the film "You're My Boss" (Antoinette Jadaone, 2015) with Toni Gonzaga in Sabtang. Her home was actually up for an authentic homestay experience for those interested, at only P300 a night.
Trying out the Vakul at Chamantad-Tinian Viewpoint
Hiking at Chamantad
Ocean View at Chamantad
We woke up to a drizzly morning on Day 3, when we were scheduled to do our Batan Island Southern tour. Our first stop was a souvenir store in town where we can buy matching t-shirts for our entire family to wear during our photoshoots today. This is a tradition we did in all our family trips together.
We then headed to the Municipal Hall again to pay the registration fees expected of all tourists. This should have been done on our first day, but since we arrived Christmas Day, the counter was closed. Two fees (Protected Area Fee and Sustainable Ecotourism Development Fee) were paid at this stop.
San Carlos Borromeo Church
There was a third fee paid at the San Carlos Borromeo Church in Mahatao. All of these fees were included in the tour package price. They gave us a brochure of Batanes they called the "passport" which will be stamped in these fee payment kiosks. It was interesting to learn in Mahatao Church that the Katipunan actually had a chapter in Batanes.
House of Dakay
We passed by the Homoron Blue Lagoon along the road where the water was a deep blue when viewed from afar. As we went nearer though, this illusion disappeared, maybe because it was an overcast day. There was a short stop at House of Dakay, supposed to be the oldest stone house in Batan island, a house that survived an Intensity 8 earthquake in the past.
There was another short stop for us to see the old stone Spanish Bridge, which was beside the main road. We also passed by an old stone house used as Iza Calzado's house in the film "Batanes: Sa Dulo ng Walang Hanggan" (Adolfo Alix, 2007) which also starred Ken Chu (of "Meteor Garden" fame) and pre-stardom Coco Martin.
Blow Your Horn!
Again the most remarkable stops were the mountain views. There was Alapad Gorge where Richard Gomez - Dawn Zulueta film "Hihintayin Kita sa Langit" (Carlitos Siguion Reyna, 1991) was shot. There was a steep one way blind-corner road cut through a rock there, where the famous "Blow Your Horn" warning sign (carved in stone) is placed.
There was the spectacular Mutchong Viewpoint, where the wind was so strong we could hardly stand or walk against it. And finally, there was the magnificently expansive Racuh-a-Payaman (also called Marlboro Country). We wanted to go further down the mountain there but the rain fell so we had to cut our trek short and head back to the eatery beside the road for our lunch. This was certainly a place that was difficult to say goodbye to.
It was rainy and windy from the night before to this morning. The waiter at the cafe said this weather was usual for them. It often felt like a typhoon even when there was not really a typhoon. We then got news that the first flight this morning was cancelled, a matter of concern.
However, we still needed to check out of Fundacion Pacita already that morning after breakfast. Our flight was supposed to be at 11 am, but anticipating confusion because of the flight cancellation, we were at the airport by 9 am. Thankfully no chaos there. After a long wait in a queue, we were admitted inside for check-in. Later we saw the PAL plane land, which meant our flight home was pushing through! Our flight back to Clark was safe and smooth.
If you are interested to take the same adventure vacation we just had, you can check out the website of E-Philippines for their tour package by clicking HERE. You can also text Mr. Russell Ri (founder and lead adventurer of E-Philippines) at +63.920.952.5285.