|The province of Batanes is a world seemingly
frozen in time. It is composed of a group of islands defined
by the splash of sea against rugged cliffs, verdant hills dominated
by grass and stunted trees, and the great Mt. Iraya. Its people
are friendly to anybody who comes to their homes. With its sights
and sounds, Batanes possesses a hypnotic quality that makes
visitors want to come back.
|These far-flung islands’ isolation has preserved
their old captivating charm. South China Sea borders the west,
the Babuyan Islands to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the
east. The province lies even closer to neighboring Taiwan rather
than to the Luzon mainland. Over the centuries, harsh weather
conditions and rough seas have shaped the islands’ picturesque
cliffs and land formations. Unfortunately, there is a misconception
that the islands are inaccessibile. The yearly visits of ravaging
typhoons have affected the province’s tourism industry keeping
many tourists away from the place.
|However, the province offers much more than the
storms it has become known for. Located 860 kilometers from
Manila, it is the least populated and smallest province of the
country occupying a total of 230 square kilometers and inhabiting
almost 15,000 people. Of the ten islands, only three are inhabited:
Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat. Batan Island is the most populated
since Basco, the province’s capital, is located here. It is
the point of entry to the province, housing both the airport
and the main seaport. Resorts, lodges and home stays are mostly
found here with prices that range from P100-600 a room per night.
|Unlike the smaller towns, Basco enjoys certain
utilities like electricity, phone lines, and a variety of public
transportation. Other municipalities in the province are Mahatao,
Ivana and Uyugan in the Batan Island and the island municipalities
of Sabtang and Itbayat. The mighty dormant volcano, Mt. Iraya,
is located beside Basco where food, timber and fresh water generally
|There is only one mode of transportation to get
from one island to another, and this is through falowa boats.
Falowa boat-making, has been a tradition for Ivatans. The boats,
which look like Noah’s Ark, are big and have rounded bottoms
that pitch and roll with the waves. From Batan to Sabtang, a
30-minute boat ride costs P20, while it is P80 for a 4-hour
boat ride to Itbayat.
|Since centuries ago, the Ivatans or natives of
Batanes have preferred to live in their traditional dwellings.
An Ivatan house is built with limestone walls, reeds and cogon
roofs, which are sturdy enough to withstand the numerous typhoons
and earthquakes that ravage the islands an average of eight
times a year. The roof usually lasts from 25 to 30 years if
there are roof nets to protect them during typhoon season.
|Only three walls of the house have windows. The
wall that doesn’t have one faces the direction of the strongest
winds during typhoons. The temperature within its interior is
conditioned. It is relatively cool during the summer and warm
during the cold stormy season. Most of the time, the doors and
windows are left open when the owners leave to do their daily
chores. When they get back, everything is the way they left
it even if there are numerous tourists that pass by to take
pictures of its unique and quaint architecture.
|The Ivatans live a simple life devoid of the
characteristics that define modern living. They are gentle,
amiable, peace-loving and polite. It is second nature for Ivatans
to greet strangers by wishing them the best for the day. They
are also hardworking people, each holding more than one job.
Civil servants and teachers are also busy with farming, fishing
and livestock raising which they have learned when they were
|The hills that tourists use as a perfect background
for picture taking, the farmers use as their main source of
livelihood. The farmers have evenly divided the hills into square
fields, using trees as demarcation lines. They plant root crops,
rice, corn and garlic.
|Batanes is famous for the old women’s headgear
called vakul. It is ordinarily made large and waist length to
cover the old women from the heat of the sun and the rain. It
is made from the abaca fiber of the palm found only in Batanes
that locals call vuyavuy. It takes three weeks to a month to
make the headgear, but it lasts a lifetime.
|Vakul owners maintain their headgear by constantly
combing its strands and hanging it on the walls of their house
when not in use. Although the vakuls are mostly sold in Basco
for P300 to P350, they are traditionally woven by old women
in the small barangay of Chavayan in the Sabtang Island. Makers
also sell vakuls cheaper by P100-150. When old women wear them,
under it is a rattan backpack connected to a headstrap called
yuvuk. It contains their belongings for farming as they walk
to town from the fields. While women wear the vakul, old men
wear a traditional vest made from dried banana leaves called
tadidi. They wear it along with a salakot to cover themselves,
the same way the vakul serves the women.
|Despite of the province’s remoteness, Catholicism
is very strong among the Ivatans. As early as 1772, the Spaniards
already sent expeditions to the islands. By 1773, the Ivatans
consented to become subjects of the King of Spain and became
officially a province of the country. It was named Provincia
de la Concepcion with Joseph Huelva y Melgarjo as its first
|Then Philippine Governor General Jose Basco became
the “Conde de la Conquista de Batanes”. The capital town was
named after him. They built a church in the center of each town
named after various patron saints – San Carlos Borromeo in the
town of Mahatao, San Jose El Obrero in Ivana and San Vicenter
Ferrer in Sabtang. The churches were constructed from lime and
stone, baroque-style, strong enough to endure the most powerful
natural calamities. Until today, the 200-year-old churches remain
the houses of worship of many Ivatans.
|The Ivatans live in simple ways, like how they
have for many centuries. It is one of the traditions that the
have been successfully passed on for generations. But as Batanes
becomes more popular with tourists, change will be inevitable.
Modern influences will slowly creep into the lives of the natives.
Perhaps, the yearly visits of strong storms will end up saving
the old glory of Batanes, after all.