Camiguin Norte: An oft ignored beauty

Surely, many of us have, by now, heard how travelling is not only about seeing new places but in seeing old, familiar places with new eyes. That is the subtle beauty of travel. It allows us to bring fresh perspective to an old haunt — a beach, a mountain lodge, a waterfall, and in this missive, a secluded island in the northernmost part of Luzon, Camiguin Norte. Also referred to as Camiguin de Babuyanes, it is one of five major islands that make up the Babuyan Group of Islands — the others being Calayan, Babuyan Claro, Dalupiri and Fuga. To be here again and “rediscover” this place with new friends filled me with much anticipation.

We left Calayan Island on a chartered boat amid a slight 5AM drizzle. The sea was slightly restless but we cared little as we swapped stories of how Calayan Island captivated our wanderlust. The 6-hour voyage came by quickly and as the sun began to take its position in the sky to announce midday, the imposing figure of Dakel a Balai began to loom in the horizon!  Dakel a Balai (or Balay) is an Ilocano term that means “big house”; and that, is what this mountain is to the locals.

Dakel a Balai

Too bad, we’re only staying in Camiguin Norte for the night; thus, we didn’t have time for a trek, even a short one. So we just contented ourselves watching its magnificence.

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As our boat headed for Balatubat port, we couldn’t contain our excitement and asked — nay, cajoled — our boatman to make a not-so-quick stop at this beautiful island where we saw children playing in its clear, blue waters.

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Not a minute wasted after docking at Balatubat Port, we headed for Kgd. Gina Ballestereros’ Lance Homestay, our dig for the night. After a quick meal, we negotiated with a local fisherman to rent his boat for beach hopping. We weren’t disappointed!

Naguilian Beach

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Mangiti-ngitit Beach

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Pamuctan Island

We definitely saved the best for last!20180503_103404

Our trip may be short, but for my friends, whose visit here was their first, it was a truly memorable experience and they couldn’t wait to return… and for me, their satisfaction was uplifting.

81, 82 or 83: What’s the count?

I can’t remember exactly when I did finally chalk my 81st. At the time, I wasn’t really keeping tab of the places I have been to, so long as I get to find a story to tell or a moment to capture and photograph. This #81PH fad was still unheard of.

I have already published a few articles about travel, yet some remain to still see the light of day — mostly because I ran out of steam. I think writer’s block is as real as sunrise. I still have a lot of travel stories to tell, but I can’t seem to find the same drive or energy as I had. Also, my patience has waned a lot that I cannot seem to go past the whole process of tedious manuscript revisions. After a few drafts, I simply find myself abandoning the task.

However, I have yet to satisfy my thirst for capturing beautiful photographs, which fuels my itch to travel. Photos have always been a big thing for me and after about a quarter-century of travelling, I have amassed upwards of 125,000 pictures and counting!  Looking through them one day, they reminded me of the special moments captured in each one of the albums. Apart from words, photos in themselves truly are stories waiting to be told. I can look at one and weave together the story behind it. That’s what always made them special. And as I reminisce with some photos,  I came to the realization that I have — forgive me for this oft-used term — “conquered” all 81 provinces of the Philippines! 

Hurrah? Not really. I may have been to all 81 (or is it 83 now?) provinces but I haven’t completely seen the whole country, much less capture a singular picture of it. I must concede, much is yet to be discovered — sights to see, adventures to explore, cultures to experience. Y’see, travel spins us around in two directions at once — while it shows us sights and stories that we usually ignore in our day-to-day lives, it also allows us to discover parts of ourselves that we do not  otherwise recognize. In being in a different place, with different people, we bring ourselves to uncharted states of mind and reflections.

Reflections. Well, I’m still trying to work that one out; thus, saving it for another time. Cheers!

A taste of the simple life

When choosing a destination, I usually go for places that haven’t succumbed to commercialism yet. And when I travel, I always make it a point to try local delicacies or cuisine — I eat like the locals. Contrary to what you may have read about Batanes, dining out at PhP200 to PhP300 per dish, serving two to three people is not that expensive.

Ivatan cuisine have been influenced by the climate of the province – often times, exposed to high risks of agricultural disruption, they adopted strategies that ensured their survival.  Due to the frequency of typhoons and drought, they planted root crops that were more resilient to the destructive forces of the environment; these include yam, sweet potato, taro, garlic, ginger, and onion.

 

Why Batanes?

Batanes gave me the opportunity to discover different values and means to get by in life. Amid the exotic scenery is a way of life that has survived time.

Anchored in faith.

The Ivatans of today are considered to be the Christianized surviving group of the ancient people who once inhabited all the islands of Luzon and Taiwan.

Apart from the Jewish people, of course, I have never encountered any other group of people who take the “Sabbath” more seriously than the Ivatans. A good half of every Sunday is spent attending mass and having a relaxing lunch with family — at home or by the beach, picnic style. Commercial establishments are closed and open only in the afternoon.

Steadfast in the face of raging storms.

Also unique to the Ivatans are their limestone houses patterned after the Spaniards and adapted to stand the onslaughts of the notorious Batanes typhoons. Ivatan stone houses — typically windowless cube structures with walls as thick as one meter with thatched roof made of cogon grass.

The more famous of these vernacular houses is the House of Dakay, built in 1887.

Batanes

Two of Batanes’ most iconic symbols: the vernacular house (this one is the oldest house in the town of Uyugan in Batan Island) and the Japan-style bicycle.

Beacons of hope amid hardships.

The Batanes landscape won’t be complete without another of its iconic symbols — the lighthouses.

Stewards of nature’s bounty — above…

Batanes is the only province in the Philippines declared in its entirety as a protected land- and seascape area.

… and below.

The first time I visited Batanes, I wasn’t planning to go diving — actually, I didn’t even know that SCUBA diving is offered there. I’m glad I did!

Batanes. Untarnished. Unexploited. Unbending. Visit now!

Three-of-a-kind

The dry season may have robbed these waterfalls of their magnificent cascades, but it has exposed their hidden beauty — those mind-boggling rock formations!

Bulingan Falls: “French fries”, anyone?

Located in Lamitan, Basilan, Bulingan Falls…

Mahayahay Falls: Raw beauty

Just by the roadside, Mahayahay Falls in…

Merloquet Falls:

Perhaps the most visited of the three, Merloquet Falls in Brgy. , Zamboanga City…

Batanes: Home of the Ivatans

Batanes is a chain of small islands in the northernmost point of the Philippines. Of these islands, only three are inhabited: Batan, Itbayat and Sabtang. These three (3) islands comprise six (6) municipalities collectively known as BISUMI: Basco (the capital), Itbayat, Sabtang, Uyugan, Mahatao and Ivana. Although described as having no real ports, the island chains of Batanes boast small beaches and coves which serve as anchorage for the locals’ small boats.

Inhabiting Batanes are the Ivatans, their name derived from the language they speak: Chirin nu Ibatan or simply Ivatan, an Austronesian language spoken exclusively in the Batanes Islands which is characterized by the dominant use of the letter “v”, as in valuga, vakul and vanuwa.

Where to go in Batanes

Tour destinations in Batanes are subdivided into four (4) clusters:

  • North Batan Island (Basco)
    • Mt. Carmel Chapel
    • Radar Tukon
    • Idjang Viewpoint
    • Fundacion Pacita
    • Japanese Tunnel
    • Valugan Boulder Beach
    • Vayang Rolling Hills
    • Basco Lighthouse in Naidi Hills
    • Sto. Domingo Church
  • South Batan Island (Mahatao, Ivana and Uyugan)
    • Chawa Viewdeck
    • Mahatao Pier
    • San Jose Borromeo Church
    • Diura (Fishing Village)
    • Fountain of Youth
    • Racuh a Payaman (Marlboro Country)
    • Imnajbu Point
    • Old Naval Base
    • Alapad Rock
    • Song Song Ruins
    • San Jose de Ivana Church
    • Honesty Coffee Shop
    • Famous House of Dakay
  • Sabtang Island
    • San Vicenter Ferer Church
    • Savidug Village and Savidug Idjang Rock Fortress
    • Sabtang Vernacular Houses
    • Sabtang Lighthouse
    • Limestone production
    • Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint
    • Chavayan Village
    • Nakabuang (Morong) Beach and Ahao Arch
    • Vuhus Island
  • Itbayat Island
    • Chinapoliran Port
    • Sta. Maria Immaculada (Itbayat) Church
    • Lake Kavaywan
    • Mt. Karoboban Viewpoint
    • Torongan Hills and Cave
    • Paganaman Port and Lagoon
    • Rapang Cliffs and Stone Bell
    • Kaxobcan Beach
    • Mt. Riposed
    • Nahili Votox Burial Site
    • Komayasakas Cave and Water Source
    • Manoyok Sinkhole
    • Sarokan, Pevangan and Do’tboran Caves
    • Agosan Rocks
    • Port Mauyen
    • Island hopping (when weather permits):
      • Siayan
      • Dinem
      • Ditarem
      • Yami (Mavolis)

Optional activities

Mt. Iraya Hike (North Batan)
Duration: 3hrs to 4 hrs
Highlights: At 1,900ft ASL, Mt Iraya offers a stunning view of Basco and a wide array of endemic flora and fauna.

Mt. Matarem Hike (South Batan)
Duration: 1.5hrs to 2hrs
Highlights: An extinct volcano, Mt. Matarem spans the municipalities of Mahatao, Uyugan and Ivana. At the summit, you’ll have a commanding view of Sabtang.

Hiking/Walking Tour
Duration: 4hrs to 6hrs
Highlights: Hike along the Basco-Mahatao Trail, stopping by Racuh-a-idi Spring of Youth in Diura Fishing Village for a cold, refreshing dip. Then continue on to the radar station, Fundacion Pacita and the wind turbines.

SCUBA Diving
Duration: 2hrs to 3hrs, depending on the dive location and number of dives.
Highlights: Explore the rich marine life of Sabtang: Pavona coral fields, Trevallies Lair, Canyons, etc.

Fishing/Boating
Duration: Minimum of 1hr
Highlights: Experience “mataw” fishing with local anglers using nylon line and hook.

ATV Touring
Duration: up to whole day
Highlights: Explore Batan at your own pace.

Bicycle (Motorbike) Touring
Duration: up to whole day
Highlights: A visit to Batanes is not complete without trying out one of its iconic symbols, the bicycle. Tour Batan Island on two wheels, either self-powered or motorized. Travel from the heart of Basco to the southernmost parts of Batan.

Contacts:

BISUMI Tours and Services
Ryan Lara Cardona <+63915.803.4582>
bisumitours@gmail.com

MarFel Lodge
<+63908.893.1475>
<+63920.976.4966>
<+63917.857.4493>
<+63917.883.3249>
marfellodge@gmail.com
http://marfellodgebatanes.com

Dive Batanes
Chico Domingo <+63939.935.1950>

Ivatan ATV Rentals
<+63998.551.9656>

Basco TODA
<+63929.703.8404>

Casa Napoli Pizza
<+63999.990.7553>

Rapang (Itbayat) Guide
Jose Valiente <+63949.620.0184>

The Passion of Christ

The Senakulo is a dramatization of the Passion of Jesus Christ–His trial, suffering, death and resurrection; and is performed during the Holy Week or Semana Santa in the Philippines. Traditionally, the Senakulo runs for eight nights–from Palm Sunday through Easter morning.

The term Senakulo is derived from the Spanish cenáculo, meaning “cenacle,” the place where Jesus Christ celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples.

The Senakulo has many variations across the Philippine archipelago, each incorporating a local tradition. While some regions have penitents go to ‘extreme’ penitensya–from self flagellation to actual crucifixion–many towns still adhere to the message of the Good News: that Jesus Christ died n the cross for our sins.

In Guimaras in the Visayas region, they have the “Pagtaltal” or the bringing down of the dead Christ from the cross. In Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, the “Pugutan” or the beheading of Longinus is one of the highlights the pageant.

Photos below are from Boac, Marinduque.

Talakudong Festival: Wear Your Hat

The Talakudong Festival in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat is a neo-ethnic cultural extravaganza celebrating the city’s rich and diverse cultures and tradition. The spectacle is highlighted by streetdancing and a field demo competition, participated in by various elementary and high schools across the region. Dancers in colorful costumes don the traditional “kudong“–the Ilonggo term for salakot–adorned in indigenous trimmings, and comes in various hues and sizes.

Celebrated every 18th of September, this week-long festivity opens with a float parade and agro-industrial fair, showcasing Tacurong’s best agricultural and industrial products.

Beyond words: Kaparkan Falls, Abra

The first time I saw photos of this one-of-a-kind waterfalls in Abra, I instantaneously said to myself, I have to see it with my own eyes… and see it, I did!

Kaparkan Falls, hidden in the heart of Abra, is a gruelling three- to four- (sometimes five-) hour long ride via 4x4s or monster trucks, depending on road conditions, which is pretty much from worse to worst, especially that the best months to go here is during the rainy months of July to September.

In most cases, steel chains are wrapped around the tires for added grip in the muddy road.

After a body-wrenching rollercoaster ride, the waterfalls is still about 15mins to 20mins away on foot! But all these pain and hardships vanish as soon as you see the beauty and experience the cool, refreshing waters of Kaparkan Falls.

Aside from its unique formation — terraced cascades forming mini pools in several tiers — another of Kaparkan’s rare beauty is the color of its water. Rich mineral deposits lend it its light bluish hue.

Kaparkan Falls is truly one of nature’s many wonders.

NOTE:

Visits/Trips to Kaparkan Falls is regulated by the local tourism office. Before traveling here, make sure you have advance registration. For inquiries, you may get in touch with Ms DyKath Molina, Abra Provincial Tourism Office (https://www.facebook.com/dyane.kath).

The Dreamweavers of Lake Sebu

National Artist Boi Lang Dulay

Boi Lang Dulay (August 03, 1924 – April 03, 2015) elevated T’boli weaving into an art form, earning for her the Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan in 1998 for her outstanding craft and masterpieces that made the t’nalak – and the T’bolis – famous the world over.

The T’bolis belong to the many indigenous tribes or “lumads” that live in the hinterlands of the southwestern part of Cotabato. The T’bolis of Lake Sebu in South Cotabato are famous for their dream-inspired and spirit-infused weavings, raised to the level of art by the iconic Boi Lang Dulay, the 1998 Gawad Manlilikha ng Bayan Awardee. Lang Dulay has designed and woven over 100 T’nalaks. She stopped weaving in 2011 due to advancing age and concentrated on designing. The last design she made was bought by the NCCA after she died.

The T'bolis are also well-known for their ornate and intricate brass and beadworks.

The T’bolis are also well-known for their ornate and intricate brass and beadworks.

The T’nalak is a deep brown cloth made from “krungon” or abaca fiber, tie-dyed with intricate designs and produced mostly by the womenfolk of the tribe. According to T’boli tradition, T’nalak designs have been passed down through generations and are revealed to the best weavers in dreams, brought to them by their ancestors.

The T’nalak is so ingrained with spiritual meanings that its production and use is surrounded by a variety of traditions and beliefs.  It is believed that in order to maintain the purity of their art, T’boli women must abstain from “worldly pleasures” while weaving a T’nalak. During weaving, one should not step over the loom, for doing so is to risk illness. Also, cutting the cloth, unless done according to the prescribed norm, will cause sickness or death; and if a weaving is sold, a brass ring is often attached to appease the spirits.

T’nalak production is labor-intensive, requiring both skills and knowledge, and learned at a very young age by the women of the tribe.

Along with the its world-famous T’nalak, T’boli music and dances are also among the indigenous cultural heritage being showcased in Lake Sebu.

Paddies in the Sky: Ifugao Rice Terraces

The rice terraces collectively known as the Ifugao Rice Terraces is among the “Eight Wonder of the Ancient World”, covering about 4,000 square miles of mountainside at approximately 1,500 meters (5,000 ft.) above sea level.

Carved into the Cordillera mountains of North Luzon in the Philippines by the indigenous “Ifugao” people using ordinary hand tools and implements, these rice paddies in the sky have withstood time for more than 2,000 years and continue to provide food for the Kalinga Nation.

What makes these rice paddies unique is their construction. Beginning from the valley floor, stone and/or mud walls are built along the natural contours of the mountain side, reaching as high as 50 feet, then backfilled with fertile soil where another wall is erected at a slightly higher elevation. Each terrace comprising the Ifugao Rice Terraces was constructed from the valley floor up and are watered by an ancient irrigation system from the rain forests above the rice terraces. The system comprises of dams, sluices, channels and bamboo pipes, which are open and closed in co-operation with each owner.

Although hundreds of rice terraces are still intact and spread across Northern Luzon, only these six rice terraces clusters are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site norm.

1) Nagacadan terrace cluster in the municipality of Kiangan, a rice terrace cluster manifested in two distinct ascending rows of terraces bisected by a river.2) Hungduan terrace cluster that uniquely emerges into a spider web.3) Central Mayoyao terrace cluster which is characterized by terraces interspersed with traditional farmers’ bale (houses) and alang (granaries).4) Bangaan terrace cluster in the municipality of Banaue that backdrops a typical Ifugao traditional village.5) Batad terrace cluster of the municipality of Banaue that is nestled in amphitheatre-like semi-circular terraces with a village at its base.6) Banaue Rice Terraces.

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