The Majesty of Mahatao
Some place reminds us of our roots, of who we are, and where we want to be. Traveling to Batanes is like that and more, it’s like journeying to the core of our being
Text and photos by Gael Hilotin
“Life in Diura is pretty simple, indeed. Mornings are marked by the crow of a rooster, the fall of a coconut or footsteps of fishermen hurrying to the shores to pull their boats to the sea. The azure beach embraced by towering mountains is usually lapped by the waves at this remote-feeling spot. Pleasant walkways are ideal for strolling, especially as you had guess – at sunrise”
Wind blows incessantly here and the contrasts between land and sea are astonishing, but so are their similarities. Both are colossal in extent and they are equally as enchanting.
I stand to take a better look at the cerulean sea hemmed in by jungle-clad mountains; they say this place is an impeccable spot to watch Batanes’ celebrated twilight facing the South China Sea. But the sun is not due to hide yet, so I just enjoy the view and take pictures. Visitors are also encouraged to walk down the a hundred steps of a nearby cliff to fish, to test endurance, or take more photos.
“It’s a balmy day today,” Ryan Cardona, a former guide who now runs BISUMI Travel and Services, a local tour agency, tells me as he points towards Mt. Iraya which crowns the neighboring town of Basco at 10009 feet ASL. “The peak is visible, not draped by clouds.”
We are standing at Chawa View Deck, situated in Mahatao in Batanes, a municipality which has been dropping jaw for decades. Situated just 6 kilometers away from Basco – the capital of the province – it prides itself for its wealth of cultural heritage sites and practices. It has a land area of about 1,290 hectares, representing 5.61 percent of the provincial land area. The town amid a collection of four barangays is where all that is magical about Batanes come together in one easy-to-love package.
Cardona continues driving towards the south, we wind our way through mountain-shadowed roads. Soaring cliff drops hundreds of feet into the sea, surrounded by crashing surf. Suddenly, around a slow meandering bend in the mountain, I see a lovely, yet lonely sentinel crowning the windswept hill that has withstood savage weather over the years.
The Tayid Lighthouse has graced the cover of glossy magazines since it was built in 2000, and you probably have seen them on Batanes postcards many times before. An attraction in itself, this structure offers tourists a gorgeous view of the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.
Draped around the promontory where Tayid Lighthouse is perched are old-fashioned patterns akin to a quilt. I learn later on that they are called liveng (hedgerows). The Ivatans use them to divide their farmlands and protect their crops from wind and animals, host migrant birds and other species, control soil erosion, and provide wood and reeds for domestic use. The reeds are used as ceiling materials for the traditional cogon-roofed houses.
Together with organic farming and land fallowing, livengs add up to the sustainable agricultural systems of the province of Batanes.
“Stop! I wanna take a photo”, Cardona steps on the brake, and laughs upon discovering what I am up to. “It’s just another view with a cow. Come on. That’s nothing yet, you’ll see better views up there.”
He is right of course. The road to Racuh a Payaman offers neck-swiveling views! It’s one of those moments when you feel fulfilled and attests that all your journeys are slowly making sense.
But my favorite destination in Mahatao is the Diura Village, located just below the promontory where Tayid Lighthouse is standing. It is largely known for its traditional fishing practice for arayu (Dorado).
During the fishing season which falls on summer, here lives an association of fishermen called Mataw. Cardona tells me that these locals have permanent homes in Matao town proper, so the cogon houses standing shoulder to shoulder at the shores of Diura Village are actually temporary houses.
Around the first week of March, the fishermen of Diura Village practice a ritual called kapayvanuvanua. “To signify the start of the fishing season, fishermen butcher a pig and offer food to the spirits to pray for a bountiful fishing season and safety while at sea. The blood of the pig is poured onto the shoreline while they say their prayers”, Cardona explains further.
I decide to spend a night at the village to observe the unassuming lifestyle here. I take a quick stroll and meet an old man fixing his boat while another carefully separates the newly harvested onions. Two amiable kids walking down from the forested hill carrying woods greet me. Dappled around the houses and street are dried dorado.
Life in Diura is pretty simple, indeed. Mornings are marked by the crow of a rooster, the fall of a coconut or footsteps of fishermen hurrying to the shores to pull their boats to the sea. The azure beach embraced by towering mountains is usually lapped by the waves at this remote-feeling spot. Pleasant walkways are ideal for strolling, especially as you had guess – at sunrise.
Late in the afternoon, I serendipitously stumble upon the two kids again, but instead of carrying woods, they now play a traditional toy called huhunos. Ronald Escobido, one of the kids, explains to me that it’s a boat toy made from the parts of a coconut leaf. He then invites me to participate in their nightly prayers to St. Fatima. An image of the lady saint is transferred from one house to another; and the kids at Diura chant the prayers at night which is marked by the ringing of a bell.
Before parting ways, Escobido gives me his toy as souvenir. “So you won’t forget about us,” the charming boy says as he hands over his humble toy, something that I will forever treasure. This is why I fell for this place; it reminds me of who I am and where I want to be. For a province-dweller like me, visiting such places humbles me and teaches me to never forget my roots. Traveling here is like journeying to the core of my being.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Philippines Airlines has daily flights between Manila and Basco in Batanes. Mahatao is a few minutes drive from Basco town proper. For affordable Batanes tours, contact Ryan Cardona of BISUMI Tours and Services (www.discoverbatanes.com) at 09192795963/09158034582.
WHERE TO STAY:
If you wish to do a day trip around Mahatao, you can stay in Basco town proper. Marfel Lodge has reasonably-priced sleeps. Contact Fe Fitero at 09088931475/09209764966.
If you wish to stay overnight at Diura Village, you may contact Aldrin at 09295589130.