TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

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.

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Leading our way was a thin old woman, umbrella on one hand and market bag on the other. She was wearing gold earrings and slippers, and she was climbing rather briskly for someone in her 70s.

TWO2TRAVEL: Itbayat, Batanes

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We arrived to a small congregation of men leaning against a concrete ledge at the port, looking over the vast waters about a hundred feet below.

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Itbayat, Batanes

Unlike all other ports we have seen in the country, those in Itbayat slope all the way down to the seas—manmade pathways that are one of only two ways the island connects to the rest of the world.

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The men were waiting for neighbors to get back from fishing at Mavudis Island—also known as Y’ami Island, the northernmost island in Philippine territory.

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Itbayat, Batanes

“They went out to fish two days before,” the oldest of them said. Apparently it is usual for men to go out into the seas and stay there for days or even a month.

Itbayat, Batanes

“That could be them,” he followed up, pointing somewhere to the right, but all we could see interrupting the blue were white caps. We squinted harder, but whatever he was seeing was escaping our untrained eyes.

It would be another half an hour before we finally saw the smallest speck in the sea—a small fishing boat locally known as tataya. By this time, the number of men waiting had doubled.

Itbayat, Batanes

Itbayat, Batanes

The tataya bobbed along the waves, looking so miniscule it was a big wonder how it kept afloat. It finally came near enough for us to make out that it had six men aboard. It was a sight that looked straight out of Life of Pi.

Itbayat, Batanes

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Itbayat, Batanes

Back on solid ground, the men—who numbered around 30 by this time—started busying themselves with the ropes.

“Usually it takes just 10 men to help out, but the waves are big now so we need more hands,” the old man told me.

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Itbayat, Batanes

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Since we had ridden the faluwa to Itbayat the day before, we already knew the drill: everything and everyone on the boat gets unloaded hand to hand as the boat rides the waves. One by one, the tataya’s contents came from boat to port: spearguns, nets, and containers of all sizes.

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Itbayat, Batanes

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Itbayat, Batanes

Itbayat, Batanes

After an hour, it was finally time to park.

The men formed two lines, each clutching a part of the rope connected to the boat. By this time, only one man was left sitting on the boat’s rear end—mask, snorkel, and fins at the ready.

TWO2TRAVEL: Ibayat, Batanes

“Under worse weather, that wooden post even gives way,” somebody said. In other times, the boats break as they are pulled back to port.

Just then, somebody shouted something, and the men holding the ropes tightened their grip and gave one hard, violent pull. The man on the boat jumped off into the waters just as the boat made its way noisily to the port’s edge. Two of the men pulling it slipped and nearly crashed into the rocks.

Itbayat, Batanes

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Itbayat, Batanes

Itbayat, Batanes

Itbayat, Batanes

Somewhere, somebody shouted another word we couldn’t understand, followed by what appeared to be counting, and the men started pulling the boat up at each interval. Foot by foot, the tataya crunched against concrete, and the men hunched as they tugged and pulled. It would go on like this for another 30 minutes, count and pull, count and pull.

TWO2TRAVEL Itbayat Batanes

TWO2TRAVEL Itbayat Batanes

Itbayat, Batanes

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When the boat was finally tied in place, the men rested and shared food with everyone. We expected to see big catch from their storage, to be sold at the island’s market, but it turns out what they caught was good only for their own consumption, and the island didn’t have a market.

TWO2TRAVEL Itbayat Batanes

My mind was buzzing. How difficult was it to live in such unforgiving waters and terrain? And why, why are they still here?

I remember Nanay Faustina—our old landlady with the gold earrings, who was always offering us coffee—telling us the day before, “We are all poor here. Life here in Itbayat is very difficult.” She sounded apologetic for a number of things—things we aren’t used to, things that may make us uncomfortable, things that may shock us beyond disbelief.

Although we’ve always thought that Batanes has this way of making us feel small and insignificant, nothing we saw in Batan and Sabtang had prepared us for Itbayat. Itbayat was a gust of wind that knocked us off our feet and schooled us on things as simple as coming back home.

I looked at the men as they picked up their wares and went home, and I saw smiles and looks of relief. Some of them were probably even amused to see us around. Life here might be difficult, but there was something in its simplicity that made it so captivating, so beautiful, so perfect.

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Itbayat, Batanes

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I have always believed that several years of being on the road has taught me a lot of things, but apparently it never is enough, especially when an afternoon like this just quashes everything before it. Suddenly, all my whining about commuting seemed petty compared to what they have to go through everyday.

I was still in disbelief as we made our way back to our house, but we stopped on our tracks as several giggly girls wearing white silk dresses and black heeled shoes passed by. Of course, it was Valentine’s Day this side of the world too, and the local high school was having its prom night tonight.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether these people realize how strong and beautiful they are, and how much they have taught us in such a short time. But we didn’t get to dwell on that long enough, because Nanay Faustina came ushering us inside, egging us to “have coffee first!”

{This post was a finalist at Wego Philippines’ Life-Changing Travel Contest 2014.}

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.

  • http://www.LakbayDiva.com/ Lakbay Diva

    amazing story!

    makes me remember how twisted we are in thinking of terms like “poverty”, “GDP”, and “money”. these are western concepts that can’t define who we are. despite lacking financially, we’re happy that we could eat and that our family is around that helps us through…

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

      :) they are such an amazing people. balik tayo dito!

  • Dante Funda

    Life’s a journey, a discovery of one’s self. You need not go far or set out to unfamiliar places. Our usual commute to and from work, the short walk in our neighborhood, the narrow corridors at work. The all reveal us or make us. If we only look closer…….

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

      :) Thanks for reading, Dante! Safe travels to you always :)

  • http://definingx.blogspot.com/ Arlet Villanueva

    That made me smile. It seems like a perfect place to reflect on things and be engulfed by the kindness of the people around you.I’ll save up and visit there someday!

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

      Perfect place to think on things, yes. And the people are lovely too. Hope you get to visit soon! :)

  • http://www.flickr.com/nathan.estenzo nathaniel estenzo

    Places like Batanes would always put you back where you started.. back to days when life was simple. And it is in simplicity that we learn how much we have overdone things and neglected ourselves.

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

      :) very true. there’s a lot to be learned, and they’re always worth sick boat rides for :)

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

    Wow. Amazing photographs. Detailed and vibrant of the townsfolk and their way of life. Those slopes are frightening but beautiful. Aaah…can;t wait to set foot on Batanes!

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

      Hi Butchie! Thank you so much. You’ll love it there! We miss it terribly.

  • http://ilovetansyong.com/ Athan of “ilovetansyong.com”

    great ! very life changing story, Go for the Gold Idol. this is the post with a substance

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

      Thank you for the kinds words <3

  • http://www.pinoywanderingboy.com/ Mach | pinoywanderingboy.com

    Beautiful narrative and equally stunning photos. I was supposed to go to Batanes this year but unfortunately the ticket I reserved got forfeited. :-(

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

      Thanks, Mach! How come?

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  • http://ilovetansyong.com/ Athan of “ilovetansyong.com”

    You really described how simple their lives is, nakakatuwa
    lang sa mga inhabitants, they are contented of what they are. by that they
    found happiness , you are lucky you able to experience the way of life in that
    place

    Keep on posting inspiring stories… I will follow you and
    add you in my roll Hope to meet you someday and travel simultaneously. I love meeting people with same interest

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

      Thanks so much Athan! Hope you get to meet them too :D Safe travels always!

      • http://ilovetansyong.com/ Athan of “ilovetansyong.com”

        kaya, nga po.. organize tau para mag meet up lahat… hahah

  • Jona Branzuela Bering

    Telling images and subtle, moving narrative. Doi recommended this site! :)

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

      Thanks so much, Jona! <3 (and thanks too, Doi! hehe) Hope to meet you in Cebu!

  • http://wanderingdylan.com/ Dylan Chan

    Awesome photos and great story telling Nikka and Owen! Double thumbs up!
    That’s how I envision life. Definitely NOT poverty but the sheer simplicity of it all.
    Batanes is now included in my bucket list for next year.

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

      Thanks Dylan! Batanes won’t disappoint! We’ll go back in a heartbeat, if only tickets weren’t that expensive.

  • Bali Indom

    re: video. i wonder why they didn’t install rollers so they can pull the boat easily. with rollers, a gear and a pulley, even one man /woman can pull a boat of that size. and it won’t cost a fortune to put one in place. they can use round logs as rollers, a 2-foot diameter wood gear as crank (with a stopper that will prevent the crank from slipping), a pulley and the rope tied to the boat. i think they can produce the items locally with whatever materials are available in the island. just thinking aloud.

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  • Eva Everywhere

    Great story! A very moving one. Compliments for two2travel

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

      Thank you, Eva!

  • http://pepesamson.blogspot.com/ Pepe Samson

    I just got home from Batanes, researching about Itbayat (which I didn’t have a chance to visit), and I found myself crying after I read this post. Batanes’ beauty is beyond words and pictures–but yours come so close to reliving it, to replicating it. Thank you for this post. I don’t know how to blog about my own Batanes experience in the most “accurate” way possible but with this post I know I will not rest and will not be satisfied until I do so. Batanes deserves it.

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

      Thank you, Pepe! Thank you too for reminding us of this one — it’s been exactly a year since! Valentine’s Day in Itbayat was quite the experience!

  • Kristoff

    You guys did an awesome job sharing to everyone what it felt like to be in Batanes. I will surely visit the place the soonest. If, possible can you guys please let me know when are you travelling back so that I can join you? Thanks! Keep rockin!

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