The furthest north of all the Philippines islands, when you stand on the coast of Batanes, every one of the archipelago’s 7,500 islands are at your back!
It’s also so isolated, mercilessly sitting in the middle of the China Sea where it meets the endless Pacific,that it’s closer to Taiwan than the mainland of its own country.
Batanes looks like you took the Scottish coast, mixed it with Nova Scotia, and sprinkled in some Lake Tahoe in Northern California – all in the tropical Philippines.
Flying on a twin prop Bombardier, the aircraft rumbling and shaking as it rambled through the cloud fields as big as small cities on our way true north, I felt like my progress was being tracked on an old map like in an Indiana Jones film.
But putting this bird on the ground would prove no easy task, as the pilot had to pass the island, pull a sharp 180 and swoop down and then, drop in quickly once he cleared the dormant green volcano and touch down on a short runway, not unlike landing on an aircraft carrier. But even with the jarring, slam-the-brakes 2G landing, I had to let out a laugh. I was finally in Batanes.
I had arranged a stay at the Batanes Seaside Resort – a place I took a gander on based on the photos on the booking site, and a smiling local woman was waiting for me with a single name written on her sign: Sir Norm Schriever.
She welcomed me, and we walked outside, where we got in a van and drove the approximately five blocks and two minutes to the hotel. As the driver helped me with my bag, the woman got out quickly and ran inside.
When I walked into the lobby, she was slipping behind the front desk just in time to say “Welcome to the Batanes Seaside Resort.”
She was the hotel’s only employee at the time!
It's a good thing that I did because the rest of my stay in Batanes it was rainy and storming!
That first afternoon, the underpowered trike chugged up the hills and along the weaving coastline, stopping at several scenic vantage points (I won’t try to describe them – the photos will say it all!)
Some of the highlights included the Japanese or Dipnaysupuan Tunnels.
I would have returned to that café daily, but the local proprietor's daughter, Polly, told me that they were closing down for a few days for team building exercises, a common practice in the Philippines to both reward employees and foster trust and cooperation among them.
At one point, our trike stuttered, coughed and quit - right on the steepest part of the hill. I got out and tried to help by pushing, but it wasn't just a matter of our underpowered motorcycle but also the fact that my driver had forgotten to fill up his gas tank. Oops.
Towards the end of the afternoon, as the sun dropped to the vast horizon and the shadows grew long on the hills of Batanes, turning them from emerald green to black, our last stop was the Light House of Basco, one of three such guideposts for seafarers crossing the endless Pacific or stormy South China Sea.
I climbed the 66-foot circular staircases to the top, where I had a magnificent view of the surrounding Naidi Hills, the town of Basco, a few preserved Ivatan stone dwellings, and, of course, the sea.
Some of Basco's infrastructure was uncharacteristically pristine, like the park and municipal buildings in the center of the town proper, or the Science High School, which was decorated with all the pomp and circumstance you'd expect at a top-flight Philippines university.
I stopped to snap a photo of a yellow and black marker that read simply “K 0000 BO,” as Bosco was the exact latitudinal starting point of the entire Philippines.
At first, I panicked when they told me that since I have to work daily online. But my worst fears of being fired unilaterally were assuaged when they helped me buy a local SIM card and sign up for cell service, which functioned slowly but adequately as a hotspot for my computer – as long as the weather was good.
No, this two fisherman kin never broke their stern frown and squinting eyes when I walked by, and only nodded disapprovingly when I said hi.
Maybe they knew something the rest of us didn’t and, like the fish that were now headless, they knew the stakes. A storm was coming.
And it was a big one.
Stay tuned for part two of this postcard about Batanes next month.