Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Batanes: Some Facts and Photos

Because I am jobless and consequently broke, this Batanes trip is on an extremely limited budget. To cut down on touring costs, I decided to forego the services of a guide, avoided renting motorcycles or any convenient means of transportation, and opted to use my legs as much as possible. I also know (and have been several times victimized, embarrassed and amused) that I have a ridiculously poor, almost moronic, sense of direction, so I am relying on the kindness of strangers for instructions. Fortunately, I am quite skilled in asking the right questions and getting the necessary answers even from strangers. Before I get sidetracked by my self-centered ideas, let me give you a brief background on Batanes (nothing much that you don’t know, but due to my keen interest in the place and its people, I’ve done a lot of homework).

Batanes is the smallest province in the Philippines. It has 6 municipalities (Basco, Mahatao, Ivana, Uyugan, Sabtang and Itbayat), spread over 3 inhabited islands (Sabtang in the south, Batan in the middle, and Itbayat far north). In terms of population, it is also very small (less than 12,000 for the entire province; my town Digos has 60,000 people!). Because of the harsh environment, the people, known as Ivatans, are strong-willed, hardy, and very cooperative. Some fascinating facts and observations about the province and its people:
  • It has an almost zero crime rate. They didn’t even give me keys in Shanedel’s! I dropped my wallet in Mahatao, and after 2 hours, I retraced my steps and it was still there!
  • They have a literacy rate nearing 100%! Education has a very high value here. You talk to an elderly Ivatan in Tagalog, she talks back in great English!
  • They have 100% Philheath coverage! And this is the only province that I know of that has its own health insurance system aside from Philhealth. Basic services, health, and education are priorities here, quite different from the rest of the Philippines.
  • They have an excellent waste disposal system here. Even in Itbayat, there is a truck collecting garbage regularly from the houses. And in Basco, households segregate their wastes! MMDA would be jobless here.
  • Their culture is very much preserved: very solemn Catholic masses, a solid bayanihan system, etc. Ivatans are known to be rather shy but cooperative, hospitable, very hard-working, and respectful. And I can now attest that they really are!

My parents were furious when they found out I was going to Batanes, all alone for more than 2 weeks. But if there’s any place a lonesome female can be stranded in for weeks and still feel safe, this is it! I feel that there’s a bigger chance for me getting stabbed by a stranger while waiting for a jeep in front of PGH in Taft Avenue, than getting robbed by an Ivatan during my entire 2 weeks!

This morning, I talked to Dr. Thea De Guzman of UPCM Class 2003 (a fellow INTARMED, oh, I’m proud of this breed this time), an ipula (a non-Ivatan) who has made Batanes her home for the past 3 years. She said that the beauty and charm of Batanes lies not so much in its scenery but in its people. Oh, how true indeed!

An 82-year old lola in far away Raele, Itbayat. She still goes to her farm alone. Hypertension and diabetes are rare here. Most people die of accidents and infections. They say more and more people are getting liver diseases due to Ginebra San Miguel, consumed like water during cold weather, which happens almost all year round. During my stay in Itbayat, I think I was the most unfit and unhealthy person in town. I was the only doctor in town but I was also the only obese person there! Nakakahiya!

My Ivatan friend, Katrina, in front of an old schoolhouse in the middle of Itbayat town. I love the contrasting colors of red, blue and yellow. And her smirk. And the typical Ivatan eyes and nose.

Senior citizens after mass. I was surprised at the virtual absence of 20-30 somethings in Itbayat. The population was mostly young children and old people. There were a number of 30-somethings, all with families. They say the young people are in Basco, Manila, or abroad, studying or working. Sadly, all these young people eventually decide to stay in the cities. Very few decide to come back. Lolo is 97 years old.

And the children came. They kept me company during my most peaceful and solemn birthday in 29 years. They didn’t even have any idea how they blessed me.

With Nana Itay at the Municipal Guesthouse in Itbayat. During the northern winds (they call Northina), she brought me warm clothing, extra blankets, camote, and even kept me company. Batanes is beautiful because of people like her. (And may batang sumisilip sa likod. hehe)

After settling in in Basco, I decided to take a trip to Sabtang, an island south of Batan, 40-minutes away by harrowing falowa ride. I ended up in Itbayat, far away up north. You have seen some photos of the people I met there. Hopefully, I'll further sort my thoughts out and give you a viable account of my experience there soon enough.

According to my Lonely Planet, the word Ivatan literally means "where boats are cast ashore". No wonder I'm drawn to this mystical land. I'm a boat cast ashore too. I only wish this 2 weeks of hibernation/ preventive maintenance/ rehabilitation/ "under repair"/ soul searching/ whatever would buy me some direction. I don't want to be a castaway soul anymore.


kegler747 said...

I would love to go to this province! Based from the facts you wrote eh i'm really impressed sa achievements ng Batanes.

aggie said...

ack! i posted something, but it didn't show up. so i'll be reconstructing it. in case the message appears twice, you can opt to delete the other one.

jean! you look great! hindi na kase nilalapitan ng mga sagip reimbursements. =p batanes air--and sights and people and everything you have just written about--seem to be doing you good; you look well-rested. enjoy your "ME" time! =)

Walking on Water said...

@kegler, yes, do visit this place before tourism overtakes you. the place does something strange and permanent to you somehow. although, every journey does, in varying degrees.=)

@aggie, hey aggie! nakakamiss din ang office, honestly. iba ibang klaseng fun lang but fun pa rin in a way. thanks for reading my blog. see you around PGH soon.=)

kegler747 said...

Hello, thanks for the compliments in my blog. Pareho pala tayo ng ultimate dream, Sulu & Tawi-Tawi :)

Reena said...

wow. ang ganda!! i'm inspired to go there na rin. but i don't think i can last a day without any company. ang tatag mo!

belated happy birthday. hehehe...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about Batanes most specially Itbayat, my hometown. The "Lolo" in the picture is my uncle Mariano "Mamo" Mirabueno, the younger brother of my Father. Sadly, my uncle already passed away. He was the last survivor.

I am glad my "kahilians" took good care of you. While it's true that most of us have left the Island, we never forget to go back.

By the way, if you want a solemn Holy Week, visit Itbayat.

Thanks again.