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Kamote donuts & other Batanes finds

Just say hello: Tourists enjoying Naidi Hills, Basco Light House in Batanes. Photo by DR. LARRY MALLARI

MILLIE: Every year since 2010, my crazy Why Not friends and I have gone on a trip together, to discover new destinations or simply to enjoy good food and one another’s company. This year, a trip to Batanes was envisioned some six months back. Karla and I were the last ones to decide to jump in and join the group that had swelled to 16, and we experienced one of the most wonderful nature trips ever imagined in our lives. The scenery was awesome and we were blessed with fairly good weather all weekend, a full moon and, unexpectedly, 14-degree temperature to keep us comfy and cool.

 KARLA: I honestly didn’t know what to expect. When Mom said we were going to Batanes, I figured, “That’s an island right? So we’re definitely going to the beach!” I packed two bathing suits, shorts, and other beachwear and paraphernalia including my sunblock and after sun lotions, even beach shoes, in case we were going to do any water sports. Half my luggage was full of beach-ready items. Boy, did I get it all wrong!

As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by cold winds. Good thing we brought jackets and hoodies. Mom and I arrived just in time for breakfast since our flight was at 6 a.m. Perfect, since I was the one who hand-carried The Plaza Ham and pan de sal all the way from Manila. It was neatly packed in a ham bag and ice sheets from ProFreezePH to keep it cool.

MILLIE: My friends planned not just the hectic itinerary, they also planned all the meals from breakfast to lunch and dinner and in-betweens. Everyone brought their own culinary specialty or favorite eats and we consolidated everything in one cooler that weighed all of 30 kilos (and cost P7,000 in excess weight charges). But it was a feast at every meal, with longganisas from Calumpit, menudo sa puti, Bicol Express, Rene Alcala’s  embotido, bola-bola ni Ditas, binagoongan ni Lourdes, CPA ni Tecla, maple bacon,  Hungarian and cervelat sausages, ensaymadas, cashew, macadamias, chocolate-coated almonds, all kinds and flavors of potato chips, Lapid’s chicharon, even canned goods like corned beef, Spam, sardines and Vienna sausage — plus, of course, beef tapa and The Plaza Premium Baked Ham. One would think there was no food in Batanes but actually, this group was just afraid to starve and preferred abundance at every meal.

 KARLA: We quickly settled in after breakfast only to leave at 10 a.m. for our daily tour. The memorable stops for me on the first day were the Chawa view deck and of course Marlboro Country. The Chawa view deck overlooks the water and cliffs. Since there are rock formations, you can watch the waves crash into them and make a big splash. You can go down the steps to take closer shots to the water but I don’t think any one from our group did because of the climb back up.

Marlboro Country, or Racuh a Payaman, consists of rolling hills overlooking the bay. Though we came on a very windy day, it was one of our favorite sights. It made me want to sing out the whole soundtrack of The Sound of Music. You’ll see what I mean when you get there. I was surprised that my mom not only walked all the way to take photos, but she did so twice since she went back the next day. Plus, she did a bunch of jump shots, too. I was so proud, though she did look terrified in the photos.

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 MILLIE: We spent a whole day touring various sites from north to south of Batan island including a visit to the old house called the Dakays and the old existing Spanish bridge built in 1850 and the beautiful churches of Ivana and Uyugan.

We stopped at the Honesty Store to buy beverages, light snacks and native biscuits. The unique thing about it is that there is no one tending the store; one can simply pick what you want to purchase, note it down in a ledger provided and drop in the required money in a cash box. No receipts and no change is given.

 KARLA: We had two very efficient tour guides, Paolo Escobido from Basco and JR Salengua from Ikbayat. One of my first questions posed to Paolo was what are the top five dishes I must try. The first thing he mentioned was that Batanes is known for its root crops like kamote and turmeric. Thus, the abundance of different kamote snacks like kamote fries, chips and donuts. Another native dish is uved or grated banana roots. It is traditionally sautéed and mixed with ground pork or fish and turmeric and made into meatballs, but everyone has their own versions now. Turmeric is so common in Batanes that they even have a yellow rice dish called supas or sometimes called valenciana because of the Spanish influence. Dibang or Flying Fish is another delicacy and just like any dried and salted fish, it was served to us for breakfast with garlic fried rice and eggs. I found it a bit chewy but it could also be how it was prepared. And finally, luñis, or the Ivatan version of adobo. Luñis is a pork dish; the fat is slowly rendered and the meat is cooked in its own fat. Salt is then added for flavor and the pork is submerged in oil and stored in earthenware jars. The salt and submerging the meat in fat is a traditional preservation technique since there was no refrigeration back then. During our tour in Sabtang where we walked around the stone house villages, there still are existing jars used for storing luñis.

 MILLIE: We stopped to visit Fondacion Pacita Nature Lodge in Tukon and it was here that we all witnessed the big surprise of the day: a very touching marriage proposal. Lizette’s son, Luis Santos, popped the big question to his beloved and charming Joanna Millonado. Complete with a flying drone to record the event, we portrayed a supporting role, holding up the letters “MARRY ME” amid excited giggles and snickers like young kids; Joanna almost thought it was a joke. We clapped in merriment when she said “Yes!”

All the excitement got us hungry again so we headed for the nearby Café de Tukon and had dulce de leche cheesecake and calamansi pie with our coffee.

 In the evening we also happily celebrated Ramon Tan’s birthday and feasted on coconut crabs, rich in creamy roe that oozes out. Although we were served with a huge platter of assorted barbecued pork, chicken, beef and flying fish charcoal grilled to perfection with a salad of tomatoes and pako, we still brought our baon of Bicol Express to complement the native fare.

 KARLA: It was probably too much for Mom as she felt under the weather the next day. So I continued on with the tour without her. I went to Sabtang Island where we had to take a boat. So we were passing open waters, and the waves were pretty intense, though it did seem pretty normal to everyone else. Sabtang is made up of three towns and all of them seem like they’re frozen in time. We got to walk around the villages and take photos of the stone houses; some of them we were even allowed to enter.

We also got to visit the Tinyan viewpoint. To get there, you pass a narrow trail. It’s actually a natural trail that was formed due to the livestock that pass there. There are a couple of hills to climb before getting to the top, but once you get there, the view overlooks the very beautiful Chamantad Cove, and it’s definitely worth it. We took our time taking as many photos as possible as our reward, since we did work hard to get there. By the time we were back to the top, we were tired yet felt a sense of accomplishment — but also a sense of hunger. Lunch was at the Morong beach. We were served sweet and sour fish, luñis, sautéed chayote, supas and, for dessert, bucayo. We hurriedly ate lunch because we wanted to be the first ones to take photos at the Mayahaw Arc. We were able to get a substantial number of photos — group and solo — while everyone was still having lunch.

 It was a fun-filled weekend — a bit tiring, but definitely worth it. One thing I failed to mention: be prepared to be unreachable all weekend. Only certain areas have mobile service and there is no WiFi and mobile internet anywhere. Should you need excellent guides with photography skills, you may contact JR Salengua (0919-8970806) and Paolo Escobido (0909-5747870). They were such fun company and very knowledgeable. They can answer any question thrown at them. Big props to the local tourism units for having trained them so well and continuing to train them and 100-plus other guides.



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