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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

Two2Travel

Owen Ballesteros & Nikka Corsino are trigger-happy travelers from the Philippines. They both swear by the sharpness of Nikon and almost always carry a packet of instant coffee when traveling. Photography is their bread and butter, their passion, and sometimes the only thing that prevents them from killing each other. If you have offers of work, collaborations, or an endless supply of instant coffee, please drop them a message here.

  • Trish Lim

    Beautiful!! Wow those photographs are amazing.

    • http://www.two2travel.com Two2Travel

      Thanks Trish! <3

  • Dante Funda

    Behold Batanes.. I think you really captured the spirit of the island. More power!

    • http://www.two2travel.com/ Two2Travel

      Thanks Dante! Have a lovely week! <3

  • http://www.filipinaexplorer.com/ Filipina Explorer

    I love your captures. Wait, I think I already said that in your other Batanes post. Just sayin’ it again. And the way you guys weave stories too. Adding you to my reading list :)

    • http://www.two2travel.com/ Two2Travel

      Thank you! <3 Have a lovely week!

  • http://www.arlynemeetsworld.com/ Arlyne/arlynemeetsworld.com

    you captured Batanes and the people very well in your photos! Congratulations!

    • http://www.two2travel.com/ Two2Travel

      Hi Arlyne! Thank you for the kind words. Batanes is too big for words and photos though. We try our best :)

  • Dk Dreckz

    first time Ive seen batanes (on a different perspective) this is beautiful , and I thank you for sharing this to us.

    • http://www.two2travel.com/ Two2Travel

      Thank you too for your kind words. It’s a beautiful place :)

  • abby

    I enjoyed reading your blog.. batanes is indeed beautiful! you did well! we’re also planning a trip to batanes this october hopefully heaven will shed us some sunshine! :)

  • Maurice Espina

    Made me excited all the more! Going there this July 24 to 29 :) Beautiful photos!

  • Getzhelle Hingco

    your photos are amazing and your experiences are so real and raw! i love your blog! =)

    • http://www.two2travel.com/ Two2Travel

      Hi Getzhelle, thank you! We hope to free up more time soon to write. :) Hope you stick around! Happy travels!

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