One dilemma when living in an archipelago with over 7,000 islands: It’s hard to pick a favorite.
You literally have a plethora of choices. Off the top of my head, I am torn between these pieces of paradise: the Cordilleras, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by majestic rice terraces and sunrises and sunsets that take your breath away; Palawan, with its aquamarine waters, jagged limestone cliffs, sunken ships and multi-colored riches under the sea; Donsol, Sorsogon where you’ll come face to face with whalesharks; or Ilocos, where you’ll be given blasts from the past every time you explore its many world heritage sites. Like I said, it’s a really tough decision.
The one place that stands out from the rest of the islands in the Philippines, however—and I say this with absolute conviction—is the island province of Batanes.
Located in the northernmost part of the archipelago, Batanes is closer in proximity to Taiwan than Manila. So close that when I was there a few years ago, my guide Jhayson informed me that they actually pick up a couple of Taiwanese radio stations in their neck of the woods.
Its close proximity to Taiwan also lends Batanes a similar topography to that of Isla Formosa, which is why I say this group of 10 tiny islands stands out. The first time I went to Batanes? I felt as if I were in a different country. I haven’t been to Taiwan then, but when I finally paid the country a visit earlier this year, I saw similarities in its seaside areas: emerald hills and a jagged coastline battered by huge, angry waves.
The day before my flight, my editor told me that I needed to go to Sabtang (30 minutes away from the main island of Basco) because “you haven’t been to Batanes unless you ride a boat across its choppy waters.” She shared how she actually feared for her life while on that boat ride, and me being the skeptic that I am (and being quite proud of my lack of motion sickness), I gamely included that in my itinerary.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to go to Sabtang that weekend.
The day my plane touched down in Basco was also the day the great tsunami wreaked havoc on Japan. I was happily touring around Basco when the text messages came: family and friends telling me to go to higher ground because Batanes was among the places given tsunami warnings. Funnily enough, when I got the messages, I was actually by the beach, taking photos of an abandoned U.S. army base.
I still remember how I felt that very moment: scared out of my wits yet so enamored by the beauty before me that I still managed to snap about a dozen shots of the coastline. A part of me was also thinking I could make a lot of money when I sell live footage of the tsunami hitting the coast. Heh. Apparently, when in the face of danger, I am easily distracted by a beautiful view and a great story opportunity. :P
That first afternoon in Basco was definitely one for the books. While everybody back home was panicking on my behalf, the Ivatans were all unfazed and looking at me with amused looks on their faces. I’ve never seen a group of people more relaxed—huge waves are as common a sighting here as a plate of their steaming turmeric rice. Even when there were finally alarm bells sounding off, they marched on to higher ground while amicably chatting with each other.
Their uber-calm dispositions eventually eased my distress. It wasn’t until I finally came home that night and saw live footage of the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan that I realized there was cause for panic after all.
Fortunately, Batanes was spared. Sea travel, however, was suspended until further notice so I ended up staying put in Basco. I thought I’d feel bummed about it because I really looked forward to exploring Sabtang, but how could I sustain a good sulk when every corner I turn, views as grand as these await:
The day ended quite peacefully, with the waves actually looking quite serene as the sun made its way down the horizon.
While I was happy with my trip to Batanes, even with the rather surprising turn of events, I do feel I have unfinished business in the island.
Definitely coming back again someday.
Soon, I hope.