Back on the isla

12 noon. Habagat is here, blowing its winds while the June sun bore down really hard.

We are back on the island, back on one of our favorite haunts, waiting for one of our favorite comfort food — a bowl of agedashi tofu, which unfortunately is prone to inflation, as is everything else in this place.

Exactly a year ago we were probably doing exactly the same thing, seated on the same table, famished but happy. We’ve come twice more between then and now, and Owen and I would always find ourselves in this spot.

Everything looks as I remember it from a year ago: the umbrella tree in front and the plastic lounge chairs surrounding it; foreign families just off the beach coming in — spattering water all over the floor in the process — to order fresh fruit shake to be delivered later to their spot under the tree; somebody kitesurfing on the beach; the beach’s sundry hues of blue.

But this year, there was something else.

There were giggles and laughter as the surf crashed into shore and the wind blew harder.

On the beach were kids — tiny specks of brown against the blanket of blue — swimming naked without a care in the world.

It was a perfect day in Boracay.

White Beach, Boracay

~
Words by Nikka, Photos by Owen
Other Boracay posts

Kannao

Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Beans and rice — that was our first square meal the day we arrived in Buscalan, a tiny village in Kalinga. It was offered to us by Kannao, the 70-year-old sister of Whang-od, Kalinga’s famous mambabatok.

We met Kannao just as she was making her way up the ladder to her hut, plastic plate on one hand. We had just deposited our bags in the house where we were staying and knew nobody in the village. Our guide made the introductions, and she smiled and motioned us to come up, speaking in the Butbut language we did not understand.

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao’s house stands on a mix of wooden and cemented stilts, underneath which were several native pigs. Inside were a clay stove, a table for pots and plates, and not much more.

She was wearing a polo shirt and animal print pants that clung to her thin frame like a tattoo. But these were nothing compared to what she had on her arms: both of them were covered in the familiar dark patterns of traditional Kalinga scars: snakeskin, ladder, and rice fields, from the wrist all the way up. She had another on her collar too—a beautiful, thick band of even more snakeskin and rice fields, curving from one shoulder to the next.

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Although we couldn’t stop staring at the tattoos, we tried to make conversation. She kept smiling, nodding, and talking, but we did not understand anything she was saying.

Finally, we attempted the only thing left that can help us understand one another. We spoke in Ilocano, telling her we are from Baguio.

It worked.

Well, sort of. It turns out, Kannao—and most of the other tribespeople—understood Ilocano quite well. Turns out we wouldn’t have to make do with feeble sign language after all.

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

She sat on the floor right next to the stove, picked up a thin iron rod, poked the cinders, and started tracing the base of the plastic plate with the end of the rod. She seemed to have been working on this before we arrived, because a rough letter K already shone on the green plastic, and she was halfway through what looked like the letter A. She was writing her name on the plate ‘so nobody will get it,’ she laughed.

Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

People would regularly pass by her hut and they would converse in the Butbut tongue. I tried making out anything that resembled Ilocano, but it still sounded too strange. It was already noon, and we could hear the chatter of more and more people next-door—the house of Kannao’s daughter, Abuk, the mother of 18-year-old Grace. This is where Whang-od usually tattoos visitors, and the day’s sessions will most likely be starting soon.

Buscalan, Kalinga - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

‘Mangan,’ she told us (‘mangan’ is Ilocano for ‘eat’). Owen and I didn’t really know what to say. We didn’t want to bother her, but we were famished since we haven’t had anything else the whole day apart from water and coffee.

She didn’t wait for a response and busied herself with the plates. Soon a bowl of what looked like beans in clear soup and more rice than we can eat were on the floor in front of us. We thanked her and dug in. The beans, which, despite looking plain and pale, were actually quite excellent. We ended up finishing everything rather shamelessly (and over the next few days, Owen and I would be eating more than our usual intake, thanks to their family’s excellent cooking).

Buscalan, Kalinga - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

We would talk about her tattoos and her sister a bit later. “Whang-od is not pretty because she has a small nose,” she joked. When I asked her what she thought of my tattoos, she shook her head and told me they were pangit. She then pointed to those on her arms. ‘Napintas,’ she smiled (napintas is Ilocano for ‘beautiful’).

In the days of her youth, Butbut women had tattoos done because they believed these made them more attractive to suitors. It was rather different for the men, who had to earn theirs from victories in battle.

I asked Kannao how much she had to pay for them. She raised two fingers: two pesos for each sleeve. Each sleeve took one day to finish.

Kannao - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

She looked at the photos of her we had taken all that time, but mostly she would just shake her head and tell us she looked ugly in them. We insisted on the opposite, even offering to give her copies when we return, but she wouldn’t hear any of it.

Buscalan, Kalinga - Owen Ballesteros / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

The day before we left—our fifth day in Buscalan—we decided it was time for a tattoo. Later that day, after returning from her farm duties, she asked to see my forearm, where Whang-od has tattooed two jagged lines of the karayan (river), representing constant movement.

’Napintas,’ she smiled.

A little later that same day, while we were sitting on the steps to her hut watching Whang-od tattoo more visitors, she asked us to take a picture of her and Hunter, the family’s dog, who was then nursing a bad cut on one of his paws.

We did, and she smiled a smile for the camera we have been waiting for since we arrived.

She looked at the photos, laughed, and told us to bring a copy when we come back.

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

Kannao, Buscalan, Kalinga - Nikka Corsino / Two2Travel

-
 Words by Nikka, Photos by Owen and Nikka

Whang-Od

There is so much we want to say about this lady named Whang-Od and her little village in the mountains of Buscalan in Kalinga province. But there will be time for lengthy writing; today is not it. Because though we are back home, our minds are still deep in the mountains, looking at her as she tattoos a visitor for the nth time today.

TWO2TRAVEL | Portrait of Whang-Od, mambabatok of Buscalan, Kalinga, Philippines

~
Photo © Owen / Featured Image © Nikka

Back from neverland

You don’t go to Batanes for pizza. Heck, you don’t go to Batanes to eat.

But then again, sometimes, pizza becomes the only logical choice, especially when you just got out of the boat from Itbayat, enduring three hours of lying on your back while waves buffet the faluwa from all directions, sometimes causing you to roll over so suddenly to one side like a piece of log.

So yes, it’s pizza. It’s not even the best pizza in Basco (the crust was too thick). But for weak-kneed city dwellers who just got from one of their most daring rides yet, this freaking pizza will do.

Black and white pizza

Black and white pizza

Black and white pizza

Black and white pizza

Black and white pizza

Black and white pizza

Black and white pizza

Black and white pizza


Words by Nikka, Photos by Owen

El Nido, finally

Sleeping on the floor of a hut on an uninhabited island was a new thing, and we did it in El Nido.

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

Earlier that night, our group of five tourists and three boatmen dined on an assortment of grilled and fried things; our only source of light was a piece of cloth stuffed inside a bottle of Coke filled with gas. There was a guitar, and the guys who were steering our boat earlier were now belting out Freddie Aguilar songs over copious amounts of rum coke. One of them was marrying the love of his life soon and seemed jittery about it; the other one kept poking fun at him. Our guide also told eerie tales from the islands (“May araw talaga na mangunguha ang dagat“), and one of my friends got help finding her way to the bathroom from somebody who looked like one of our other friends.. who happened to have been somewhere else at that time. We stayed long enough to see the moonrise, until the sky went completely dark and we decided it was time to retire to our hut. That was Owen’s birthday salubong, the end of the only sunny day we would have in El Nido.

And we didn’t have a single photo to show for it.

So it probably did not happen, depending on your life’s beliefs. After all, this was fabled El Nido, where anything from the mundane to the magical to the eerie can happen.

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

TWO2TRAVEL El Nido, Palawan

You may also want to read:
Drenched Tales from El Nido
Moody Bacuit Bay
Also check out:
Hotels in El Nido

~
Words by Nikka, Photos by Owen

Smokey Mountain: A day in Manila’s slums

We approached her and asked if we could take her picture.

“But I look filthy,” she said in Filipino, looking embarrassed.

Her face was covered with soot and so were her hands, her clothes, and her feet.

But she wiped the soot off her face with her hands anyway, looked directly into the camera, and smiled.

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

We were at Barangay 105 in Tondo, Manila, more commonly known as Smokey Mountain, where people like her live in the middle of thick black smoke and garbage—two things that also mean cash for their families on a daily basis.

At Smokey Mountain, Manila’s largest dumpsite, people scavenge for garbage and make charcoal for a living. Scavengers can take home as much as P300 or as little as P150 for putting in eight to 10 hours of work a day. Charcoal-makers can rake in just as much (or as little), but it can go up to P500 on a particularly good day.

But this is not without hazards: pneumonia is the leading cause of death among residents in the community, says Nympha Flores, our guide for the day.

Smokey Tours

Nympha is also a resident of Tondo. She works for Smokey Tours, an organization that offers experiential tours around Manila’s slums, cockfight areas, and markets. It also offers bicycle tours around the city.

“Smokey Tours are not just tours. We offer experiences, believing that deep experience equals deep insight,” the organization says on its website.

Proceeds from these tours go to the Bahay at Yaman ni San Martin De Porres, an NGO providing food and education for kids and livelihood for mothers of impoverished families in Tondo.

The San Martin de Porres building—a tricycle ride from Smokey Mountain—is brightly painted in green, pink, and blue. By noon, the ground floor is filled with the chatter of kids having their lunch. The upper floors have classrooms, dressmaking rooms, and craft rooms. The top floor offers a sweeping view of colorful Manila covered in grey urban haze. Paper cranes made by the kids hang from its walls.

It is a far cry from the neighborhood of Smokey Mountain—at least at face value—with its open drains and narrow, dark, and garbage-strewn alleyways. The shanties are clumped together—a maze of wood, GI sheets, tarpaulins, and electric wires. People eat pagpag, food scraps from fastfood outlets recooked and sold to residents.

It is a very busy place and everything can get overwhelming fast–the smell from the garbage, the thick smoke from the ulingan, the hot summer sun; garbage trucks coming in and out, people pushing sikads containing pieces of discarded wood.

But although Smokey Mountain is far from ideal, there is a semblance of a typical neighborhood: there are sari-sari stores, day care centers, police, and NGO offices interrupting the garbage dumps. There is also karaoke.

People greet strangers with warm smiles, and some scold their dogs for barking at what they call are visitors. There are handwritten signs offering haircut, and women have their pedicure right outside their homes. There are children everywhere, and at least one monkey in a cage too. And perhaps because of all these, Smokey Mountain didn’t strike us as unfamiliar.

Nympha is also very keen to point out that the community is safe and drug-free—a distinction that we think needs to be made in order to separate it from the stereotypical Manila neighborhood that is as poor as it is dangerous.

Smokey Mountain also happens to have a beach—a garbage-littered one, just behind the ulingan. Here, boys in their underwear take turns jumping into the waters, coaxing and cheering, unmindful of anything else. It looked just like any other scene from any other beach with any other group of kids trying to take a break from the heat.

That’s when we realized that although there are a lot of things Smokey Mountain is not, there is one thing it is: a home where people live, work, and probably even dream big dreams. Whether that involves getting out of its carpet of garbage and cloud of smoke, only time—or the government—can tell.

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

Smokey Mountain, Manila

Smokey Mountain, Manila

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

TWO2TRAVEL: Smokey mountain

~
Thank you to Smokey Tours for making this visit possible. For more information on their tours, please visit their website.

Words by Nikka; Photos by Owen & Nikka

Faces of Batanes

The winds and the seas have perfected the Ivatans of Batanes.

We see it in their lined faces, wrinkled hands, and bare feet. We see it on the veined, muscular arms of men as they pull fishing boats back to land. We see it in children’s sun-kissed skin and their legs so adept at biking hilly terrain for hours on end.

Despite living so far away from the rest of the country they belong to, Ivatans find it easy to give away smiles to strangers. They open their homes, they share their stories, they oblige with a photograph. Sometimes they also say I love you when they are drunk.

We spent 12 days in Batanes this year. And on those days, we went to four islands and met countless people. We hitchhiked on a truck, walked in on at least six homes to eat, and downed brandy—the province’s preferred liquor—with a few men.

Each encounter with the people was different, but somehow they all fit together to help us understand, through photographs, who the Ivatans are. This is our retelling of their stories.

FACES OF BATANES

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

The life of the Ivatans revolve around their vast lands and rich oceans. People farm their own fields and pasture their own cattle, men and women both. Most of the men also go out into the sea to fish. Those who fish also build roads, as in the case of Itbayat, so it’s not unusual to find men on a tataya one day and by the roadside the next.

Faces from the fields

Nanay Fely was coming back from her farm on the hills very early in the morning. Slung on her head was a basket of wakay, a root crop the Ivatans consider their staple food.

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang Island, Batanes, Philippines

Outside Batanes, wakay is synonymous with Ivatan, at least among the locals. “When I tell you Wakay ka, I mean to say you’re Ivatan,” tells Jun, a fisherman at a village in Batan.

TWO2TRAVEL: Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

The women—or at least those in Itbayat—use the vakul, a protective headgear made from dried vuyavuy, a wild palm endemic to Batanes.

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

Ivatans produce garlic, their cash crop, as well as an assortment of other root crops and yams. They do not grow rice, so whatever supply comes all the way from the mainland. This is why rice remains largely a luxury, and for most Ivatans, it’s still wakay all the way.

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

We met this woman by the roadside as our group of three, accompanied by our land lady, made our way up the port (yes, in Itbayat, you need to climb the hill and then descend rather steeply to get to where the boats are) to wait for returning fishermen.

The woman, upon learning we are tourists, tells us quite eagerly that her children are in Manila and abroad. “I go and visit them in Manila when I get the chance,” she tells us. “I don’t get to exercise there though, because I only stay inside the house.”

“I love it better here in the fields,” she adds.

Page 1: Faces from the fields Page 2: Faces from the seas Page 3: Life under construction Page 4: Faces of the future Page 5: Faces from everyday


Faces from the seas

“Life here is simple. When you learn how to fish, you will never go hungry,” another man, also named Jun, told us a few months back.

He is from Isabela who married an Ivatan woman in Sabtang. They live in a two-storey concrete house right at Sabtang’s sentro with their little boy. Jun fishes most times, when the waters are friendly. Apart from ridiculous airfare prices—which prevents the rest of his family from visiting, he says—he seems to have no complaints about his new home.

Batanes’ waters are as rich as they are violent, and fishing is something the men learn from an early age.

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

Jun, a fisherman from Diura, a fishing village in Batan, tells us, “When we were kids, we would sneak on a boat to fish before everyone else was up. We would return with a big catch and the older ones would be left speechless.”

Conditions are harder in Itbayat, where men sometimes stay on islands for days to bring home substantial catch, most of which are only for sustenance.

TWO2TRAVEL: Vuhus Island, Batanes, Philippines

There is also the continuous competition with poachers, who have bigger vessels and far more advanced fishing equipment.

Of course, there is always the matter of coming back home from sea—which in Itbayat isn’t as easy as docking on the shore, because it doesn’t have one to begin with.

Cargo boats—three of them—connect Basco with Itbayat daily except on Sundays and when Mother Nature (and the Philippine Coast Guard) says no. This is also the cheapest (P450) way for visitors to get to Itbayat—a journey which, many fondly and laughingly recall, will ‘let you remember all the saints’ names you learned in school’ while the wooden vessel navigates perhaps the biggest waves in the Philippines.

Take the cue from the crew, most of them would also say. “If they look relaxed, if they’re lying around, there is no need to worry…”

Getting from the boat to the port is another matter too, and depends again on the waves. Itbayat, a contiguous coral reef, has no coastline. Ports are built sloping sharply from the mountains to the seas, so that boats have to wait for the waves to propel them up to the edge —

before a passenger can jump—

before cargo is thrown—

into the waiting hands of people on the other side.

Everything—mattresses, a stack of Monobloc chairs, sacks of cement, and large LPG tanks get transported this way —

one by one.

TWO2TRAVEL: Ibayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

Page 1: Faces from the fields Page 2: Faces from the seas Page 3: Life under construction Page 4: Faces of the future Page 5: Faces from everyday

Life under construction

Although most native Ivatans farm and fish, not everyone does—at least not anymore. Batanes is changing, and with it, the way people make a living. With it, their lives. Roads are being built, little by little, one faluwa trip at a time. And those who are fishing one day are the same ones shoveling the next. When it is time to plant, they will ride their carabao to the fields.

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

Just the day prior, we saw these men helping their neighbors get back to land at one of the ports, unloading the fishing boat and pulling it up foot by foot for hours. Here they are building their island home’s roads.

TWO2TRAVEL: Batan Island, Batanes, Philippines

This man, Mang Eduardo, works for the local Public Works office. He was cleaning up dead leaves and burning them by the roadside.

ATWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

Tourism is also picking up, giving birth to jobs that pay directly in cash. Tourists now have guides, drivers, caterers, boatmen, and even dive masters.

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Mahatao, Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Mahatao, Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes, Philippines

TWO2TRAVEL: Mahatao, Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Mahatao, Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Batan Island, Batanes

two2travel: faces of batanes

two2travel: faces of batanes

Tourists also have places to stay, from vernacular homes to brightly painted concrete hotels with tiled floors and air-conditioning.

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes, Philippines

This is Faustina Cano, a retired schoolteacher who now manages a homestay in Itbayat. Most people in Batanes call her Nanay Cano. Immediately after arriving, she gathers her guests at her yard’s al-fresco dining area where she has plastered a framed illustration of Itbayat’s map, covered in shiny plastic. Over repeated offers of coffee, she spends the next 30 minutes delivering a well practiced litany (in English) of Itbayat’s history, mysteries, and tourist spots.

two2travel: faces of batanes

Inside one of Nanay Cano’s rooms, where beds are comfortable, walls are thick, and sleep is always pleasant and mosquito-free even without the nets.

two2travel: faces of batanes

This is Mang Felix, who works on benches that come in the iconic blue color we have come to associate with Batanes. He works for the only (and most expensive) hotel in the province.

two2travel: faces of batanes

Inside a typical vernacular house in Sabtang — a wooden divider separates one small room from the rest of the floor space, where tourists sleep on mats and pray the wind doesn’t blow too hard during the night, when all power on the island would be turned off.

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

Woven baskets, placemats, and hats from Ivatan homes make their way into shelves, ready for purchase. That, and wakay chips and vakul, both neatly packed in clear plastic, ready for air transport.

TWO2TRAVEL: Mahatao, Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Chavayan, Sabtang Island, Batanes, Philippines

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

Page 1: Faces from the fields Page 2: Faces from the seas Page 3: Life under construction Page 4: Faces of the future Page 5: Faces from everyday

Faces of the future

Ivatan kids are another matter altogether. Some are shy, others are game. Some stare at strangers squarely, others hide behind windows and curtains. All of them had been a joy to photograph. All of them also knew how to ride a bike.

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang Island, Batanes

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TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

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TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Mahatao, Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL Batan Island, Batanes

Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Mahatao, Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

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There is one encounter though that would stick with us long after we’ve forgotten their names and faces: It was just 7 in the evening, but most of the lights at the town plaza were out. Hardly anyone was around.

It was Valentine’s Day, and we were in Batanes, on an island called Itbayat, where the northernmost community of the Philippines lives. And tonight was their prom night.

We walked uphill to the local high school and saw what appeared to be the whole community in attendance. The girls were wearing silk dresses—white for the juniors and pink for the seniors—looking like they came from a single tailor. They formed a square on the grounds, and at the back were their parents, and on some parents’ arms were younger children. All of them were wearing jackets. It was a chilly Valentine’s night, and the moon was full.

And then they were lighting candles and singing Miley Cyrus’ The Climb, which, according to them, was symbolic of many things: conquering mountains, keeping the faith.

With hardly a stable Internet connection, Itbayat was the last place anyone would have expected to hear pop music. It’s less than 200 kilometers from the southern tip of Taiwan, nearer that country than its own. But times seem to be changing—the Itbayat National Agricultural High School, it turns out, has a Facebook page, albeit the last post was from three years back. Its first post was the lyrics of its loyalty song:

“We’ll travel our ways for your side
To seek the golden shores that await
I-N-A-H-S, we leave you behind
With memories so dear, we shall keep”

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TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

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Page 1: Faces from the fields Page 2: Faces from the seas Page 3: Life under construction Page 4: Faces of the future Page 5: Faces from everyday

Faces from everyday

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

Ship crew of MB Itransa take their day’s first meal onboard. Can also be taken as a good sign for an uneventful passage.

two2travel: faces of batanes

two2travel: faces of batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Cockfight in Ivana, Batan Island, Batanes

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TWO2TRAVEL: Mahatao, Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat Island, Batanes

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TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Batan Island, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL: Sabtang, Batanes

two2travel: faces of batanes

Meanwhile, all over the islands, people drink brandy on cold nights. On Sundays, they watch cocks fight.

They wait for their brothers to come home from sea before sundown. They till their lands, they wait for a big one to take their bait.

They bike to school most days. On other days, they get a haircut.

Life goes on.  

Page 1: Faces from the fields Page 2: Faces from the seas Page 3: Life under construction Page 4: Faces of the future Page 5: Faces from everyday


Words by Nikka, Photos by Owen and Nikka

Coming home

It was too early for sunset, but we went anyway. The concrete uphill path was glistening in the afternoon sun after a brief shower earlier. It was, as it has been for the past week, biting cold in Batanes.
Continue reading “Coming home”

The Center Suites: No-fuss, good-value hotel in Cebu City

Whenever we find ourselves in Cebu, we either hie away to its far ends for the beaches, sardines, or sharks, or else stay in the city to pig out. The last time we were here, we couldn’t find time, however hard we tried, to go back to Moalboal, so the inevitable happened: we were stuck in the city’s humidity and heavy traffic, but, BUT we were also within easy reach of our favorite food haunts.

And we have The Center Suites to thank for this: its location—along Escario Street—meant we were a couple of minutes’ walk from the nearest branch of Cebu’s Original Spicy Lechon Belly (yes, that’s the name!), our favorite lechon house. It’s also one ride from almost everything else, including IT Park, Ayala, and Fuente, all of which have branches of another favorite, Casa Verde.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

And although staying in this hotel did indirectly fatten us up, that’s not the only thing it does well. For one, we found the staff very accommodating and courteous, even when we arrived at the ungodly hour of 4 AM from a lechon-booze-siomai night out with friends. We were also asked to fill out a form for our breakfast choice that (same) morning, which we thought was quite a nice touch (especially for those who wouldn’t suffer a fried egg for a scrambled one). I also think it’s a prudent way to manage resources (we are not fans of hotels who waste food just because their guests can pay/have already paid for it).

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

Our twin room was also very comfortable, with its own toilet + hot and cold shower, air conditioning, and television. Towels were also provided.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

Those who are looking for luxe accommodations won’t find it here though. There was just enough space for two people, and thankfully the room had a separate area for stowing luggage, which helped maximize the remaining floor space.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

There’s also free (and fast!) WiFi, an advantage that most smaller hotels have since there are less people fighting over it at any given time. The table was also a nice touch—something that not all budget hotels are keen to add, which is a shame because it is still very useful for those who want to work and/or have a decent space to put their stuff that isn’t the mattress.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

The Center Suites Bistro is also in-house, and serves a la carte Filipino breakfast for guests (each booking comes with free breakfast, which is always welcome, thank you very much) as well as an assortment of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino dishes, available even for non-hotel guests.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

At an average price of P700 per person, it’s definitely a good deal considering its central location, AC rooms, and free breakfast. It’s also not directly along the main road (you have to walk just a few meters inland), so the city’s fumes and noise do not get as far as your room window. So when you’re traveling to Cebu and would like to be in the thick of things, The Center Suites will make a great base. Trust us, that lechon belly is worth staying nearby for.

TWO2TRAVEL: The Center Suites, Cebu City

For more info:
http://thecentersuites.com/
(63 32) 416 8881
(63 32) 266 8885
+63 932 440 6950
+63 905 251 8212
info@thecentersuites.com
N. Gonzales Compound, Brgy Camputhaw,
Escario Street, Cebu City
If you’re booking via Agoda, you may use this link
Overnight room rates start at P855.

Our overnight stay at The Center Suites was complimentary. Our opinions of the hotel’s services & facilities are based on firsthand experience and are completely our own.