Batanes, Philippines: Never Saw Blue


BatanesIt was the green that caught my eye, the first time I saw photos of Batanes in a book as a teenager. I knew where the Batanes Islands were, of course, we had studied it in school: the northernmost province of the Philippine archipelago, nearer to Taiwan than to Luzon. This point was always emphasized by my teachers and now I knew why—it seemed liked a different country altogether. Scotland was my immediate comparison, from what I had seen from other books. Or Ireland. My parents were from Ilocos and Cagayan Valley, also in the north, and the rolling hills, moor-like coastline, and limestone huts portrayed in the book showed no similarity to the slate cliffs and volcanic rock, the plowed fields and groves of fruit trees, and Spanish-inspired homes that were the scenery of my childhood summers. I was captivated, and immediately resolved that one day I would see that green for myself. I’ve long since forgotten the title of that book but the green that leapt out from its pages never left my mind’s eye.

The years passed. Making my way to Batanes proved to be more complicated than I had anticipated. Batanes was not among the destinations regularly offered by travel agencies. Until recently, the only way to reach Batanes was by sea travel, and strong winds and constant storms for most of the year meant a very small window of opportunity. The lack of telecommunication facilities made communicating and coordinating with the few guides and operating inns nearly impossible. Public transportation was near non-existent, conveniences such as fast-food joints and 24-hour stores were unheard of, and even basic electricity was unreliable. Balking at these difficulties, I found other places to visit—other towns in the Philippines and in ‘popular’ Asian destinations in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Hong Kong, all very beautiful and exciting in their own way. However, the image of Batanes and the urge to see it for myself remained vivid. Each time anyone asked my bucket-list travel destination, my answer would always be the same: Batanes.

Just go, I finally told myself. Just go.

Finally landing in Basco Airport, it became clear that that Batanes was evocative not only of another place, but of another time altogether. Basco Airport was a picturesque wood and stone edifice, more like a country cottage, rather than the grey sterile buildings so common for airports. Driving to the quaint bed and breakfast I would call home during my stay, it was clear that though time had not left Batanes untouched, it moved here at a different pace. Here, the signs of modernity—the new hotels, the restaurants and convenience stores, the electricity and cellular towers, and the motorcycles, among others —seemed charming, exciting in the way a child takes its first steps.

Over the next few days, I devoured as many of the province’s offerings as I could. I feasted on fresh seafood and local delicacies in local cafes. I toured, among others, Racuh a Payaman (nicknamed Marlboro Hills) in Mahatao, where carabaos (now a very rare sight), cows, and other grazing animals ranged freely over miles of stunning pastureland overlooking the sea; the ruins of Songsong, steadfast survivors of a massive tsunami in the 1950s; the ancient Savidug Idjang settlements and the stone houses and weaver association in Barrio Chavayan; the famous Stone Arch of Morong Beach, with its crystal clear waters and white sand beach littered with beautiful stones, shells, and fossils; San Jose de Obrero Church and the Spanish Bridge in the Ivana; and Honesty Café, an unattended store trusting in the honesty of customers to pay for their purchases. I came to Batanes lured by the color green, and everywhere I went, I was surrounded by green. That would have been more than enough. But surprisingly, Batanes assailed my senses with another color, one that I was unprepared for: blue.

“I never saw blue like that before,” goes the Shawn Colvin song, a song that was constantly in my head throughout my stay in Batanes. It was cloudy the day that I arrived, and although, from a distance the water looked misty gray, the waves that broke upon the rocks were a mesmerizing icy blue, a true aquamarine. I finally understood how wise men could consider sitting for years in one spot simply contemplating the world. The sun broke on the second day, and the aquamarine transformed into a rich cobalt blue, a color I would have thought impossible without Photoshop. In all my travels, all over the Philippines, Asia, and even the United States, I have never seen water so blue.

I still see it in my dreams.

About the Author: JC Albano writes, loves to travel, and is planning her next adventure.

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