July 20, 2004  (STAR) By Lynette Lee Corporal  -  Batanes has a way of taming a spoiled psyche. No unnecessary luxuries here, just plain good sense and simple, uncomplicated living. Here, man has learned to accept Ė and live with Ė natureís quirks, its wrath and its blessings.

To a non-Ivatan used to the easy life, living in Batanes (no matter how short or long oneís stay is) is an exercise in patience and more patience. In these tiny pristine isles, patience is not only a virtue but a must.

Are you used to having a killer schedule thatís planned right down to the last minute? Well, time to loosen up a bit. In Batanes, strict itineraries are the exception rather than the rule. Flights could get canceled, power failures could happen, meetings could be delayed. Like the bamboo, you are taught to bend to the wind gracefully, good-naturedly. Hey, whatís your hurry? Look around and marvel at the clear skies (or the gathering gray clouds on the horizon), the greenest hills, the crashing surf on the sand on a deserted cove. Time slows down in these isles and you are expected to respect that.

Used to having everything provided for you at the snap of a finger? Let Batanes teach you to appreciate the things often taken for granted back home.

Used to the fast broadband or WiFi Internet connection? Stop a moment and think about how precious communication technology can be to a people who used to be so isolated from the rest of the country. So never mind if Bascoís dial-up Internet service cuts you off four, five times. Grin and bear it.

Used to having your daily burger and fries meal, or that pizza and potatoes merienda? Let Batanes get you back to a healthy diet of fish and vegetables harvested in the backyard and brought in from northern Luzon. Flying fish are staples and are cooked in a variety of ways Ė fried, steamed, grilled, used in sinigang, or prepared kilawin-style. The dorado, or arayu, is seasonal and usually ends up being dried and salted. The famed tatus, or coconut crab, is quite a delicacy and an expensive one too, at P700 a kilo. Be careful, though, about taking in too much of the creamy reddish-yellow aligue rich enough to give you serious palpitations. Yes, it could be deadly.

Are you used to having a car at your beck and call Ė or a cab, jeep, FX for that matter? Try a bicycle for a change, or hitch a ride on a motorcycle to navigate Bascoís zigzagging scenic roads. Or get fit walking two kilometers from the Basco town proper to the idyllic Batanes Resort. Youíll not only get to see a sweeping panorama of the sky, sand and sea, youíll also get rid of those stubborn cobwebs in your mind. Oh, and remember to breathe deeply as the air there is still pollution free.

The Ivatans, it seems, are the epitomes of patience. If you just take the time to know that Ivatan kid with the shy smile living on Sabtang island, you would be amazed at how he was able to walk eight miles to get to school and another eight miles back. Or how a young school teacher in Djora on Basco island patiently teaches a class of four students day in and day out. Or how dancers of the Palo-Palo, who reenact the conflict and eventual reconciliation between the Spaniards and Ivatans, would perform the two-hour-long dance with the audience patiently watching as well.

With limited resources, the Ivatans know how to be resourceful and to adapt to natureís demands. Case in point is the buttress at the side of the Immaculate Conception church in Basco, made with steps that double as stairs which people could use to repair damaged roof after a strong typhoon. Harnessing wind power, which Batanes has a lot of, is also a priority. Thus, the construction of the hybrid wind-diesel power plant in Mahatao in Basco, a first in the country. In Batanes, you donít fight nature but work with it and learn to respect it. Thus, the formation of the Batanes Development Foundation Inc., a project being assisted by the World Bank and the WWF, which came up with an integrated protected area system of landscapes and seascapes, and divide the islands into different protected zones.

In a way, the Ivatans are caught in a crossroads. While they are for the preservation of their land, they are also open to development and, along with it, tourism which could easily be its main source of income. But, as Batanes Gov. Vicente Gato, Rep. Henedina Abad and DOT Undersecretary for Tourism Standards and Regional Operations Oscar Palabyab agree, itís quite difficult achieving a balance between preserving the pristine quality of the islands and enjoying the benefits of development. For a province that aims to be included in the Unesco World Heritage List, wrong priorities could send the wrong signal.

In the updated masterplan of Batanes 2001-2010, the Ivatans drew up a plan to divide Batanes into cultural and heritage zones, and classified these zones according to the level of conservation and deterioration. If implemented strictly, only certain areas will be open for development, and the rest will be left alone.

In the first ever Tourism Industry and Heritage Conservation and Management Seminar Workshop held in May 2002, representatives of various sectors in Batanes gave some recommendations for an ecologically and culturally sustainable tourism plan. Worth mentioning are the key priorities in the conservation of the land, which includes a prohibition of "environmentally and culturally inappropriate activities." That is, no jetskiing, parasailing, rock climbing, and absolutely no casinos. We can only hope this would be implemented very strictly, especially the last one. A vice is a vice any way you look at it. Besides, gambling has a way of corrupting the minds of a people one way or another.

Visitors to Batanes need not worry about finding a place to stay in Batanes for there are several resorts and inns to choose from. Of course, if you want to experience how life really is in Batanes, homestays are encouraged. The Batanes Eco-Cultural Tourism Cooperative (tel. no. 0981-995067, e-mail or JPcataluŮ headed by Juliet CataluŮa makes arrangements for tour packages and homestays in Basco and Sabtang.

"Many visitors have expressed interest in our homestay program, which gives them a chance to stay with an Ivatan family in a real Ivatan house and experience first-hand the Ivatan way of life," says Juliet, adding that these visitors leave Batanes filled with a new understanding about the province and its people. They become more aware, too, of the importance of preserving the Ivatansí culture and tradition.

There are a lot of things that need to be preserved in this land. The traditional Ivatan houses, the idjangs (once used by the natives to protect themselves from invaders), the boat-shaped burial sites, the ancient Ivatan settlements, the pasture lands that would give New Zealand a run for its money, the hedgerows (the rows of trees planted by landowners to separate plots of lands) Ė all these and more are natureís gifts to a land blessed with a breathtaking albeit raw beauty.

Itís easy to wax poetic once you set foot in Batanes, as we would imagine the Japanese ship captain Jirobe in 1668 and British buccaneer William Dampier in 1687 did when they got stranded on the islands. Batanes exudes an innocence that is quite refreshing, an innate gentleness that is quite captivating. Visitors have come and gone, and numerous articles have been written about Batanes, but these arenít enough to fully understand the place and its people.

Itís been weeks since our motley group of DOT representatives (including the DOT Region 2 group headed by Director Blessie Diwa) and media people visited Batanes but until now, itís hard to put a finger to its charm. Thereís definitely more to Batanes than the postcard-pretty scenery. I mean, let the pictures of thousands of articles about the place speak for itself. To really understand Batanes is to go beyond mere appearances.

Do you know what makes Batanes tick? Watch the Ivatan kidsí timid yet bright smiles, curiously peeking at camera lenses, or an old folk who shows her disdain for the intrusive camera lenses and who promptly walks away to continue her chores. Itís there in a couple of older peopleís friendly nods that seem to welcome your approach at sunset as they watch over their apos playing on the beach. Itís there in the sincere invitation of a Batanes government employee to stay at her house the next time you find yourself stranded Ė and loving it Ė by a typhoon.

If you ever get stranded in Batanes, fret not and be grateful for the fabulous sunset which never seems to set on the horizon but just disappear beneath a column of clouds. Reflect on the haunting sight of a lighthouse surrounded by acres and acres of green pasture lands. Donít be afraid of the spectre of a Signal No. 2 typhoon which the Ivatans dismiss as a mere "banana typhoon." Besides, the image of Batanes as a typhoon area is becoming old and inaccurate. No, cows donít get blown by the wind and yes, old Ivatan houses are that strong. I should know for I slept in one while a Storm Signal No. 2 was raging outside. I never slept so soundly in my entire life. Donít let a sudden power failure upset you. Gather your friends and sit under the stars in a grassy lawn dimly lit up by candles placed in plastic bottles, exchanging ghost stories, and enjoying the strong night breeze.

Itís true what they say about people giving a place its depth and character. A photograph is just a photograph. You may take a million of them in Batanes but without the proper perspective, you might end up with an image sans a soul. Without understanding, youíll probably leave with a spoiled psyche still. How sad.

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Are you ready for Batanes? Then hop on a 40-seater Asian Spirit plane which flies to Batanes Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. If youíre coming from Tuguegarao or Laoag, Chemtrad has Monday, Wednesday, Friday flights, while Pacific Air flies daily to Basco and Itbayat. If you have a fear of flying, then take Ivatan Princess which sails Sundays and Wednesdays from La Union. The best time to go is during the summer months but if you donít mind getting stranded and missing work for a few days, then go during the rainy season. Either way, youíll get a life-changing experience.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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