Friday , May 25, 2018

Batanes: Everybody's dream travel destination

BATANES, a picturesque setting in the northernmost island province of the Philippines remains to be a dream travel destination for many. From green rolling hills under the blue skies to harmonious landscapes and seascapes to cobblestone-walled houses topped with cogon roof to the quaint way of living of the Ivatans (locals), the “home of the winds” continues to amaze visitors.

To help boost the tourism industry and connectivity to the Northern Philippines, the country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL) on October 1, started operating four times a week to Basco, Batanes from Clark.

Now, leisure travelers from Central and Northern Luzon can enjoy the short flight to the “New Zealand of the Northern Philippines.”

The new flight, operated by PAL Express, departs Clark 11:45 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday. The return flight leaves Basco 2 p.m. on the same days.

Complementing the inaugural flight of PAL’s newest route was a four-day familiarization tour from October 1 to 4 organized by PAL and Department of Tourism (DOT)-Cagayan Valley.

The fun tour group is composed of a travel writer and eight “itinerary planners” from travel and tour agencies in Pampanga and some parts of Central Luzon.

The trip was during the “dekey a rayun,” a brief spell of warm weather in the two weeks between September and October as referred to by Dr. Francisco Datar, chair of the Department of Anthropology of the University of the Philippines, Diliman.

Located in the heart of Basco, Batanes, Florabell’s Iraya Guest House was the official home of the said tour group.

The guesthouse has seven beautifully designed and furnished guestrooms. It offers a common kitchen, dining, and lounge area overlooking the scenic view of Batanes' Mt. Iraya.

Raphael Loui Romualdo, branch manager and Lalaine Castro, account executive both from PAL’s Clark hub, arranged the itinerary.

With a population of approximately 17,200, Batanes is considered as a “living community museum” of the Ivatans, said Imelda Garduque, supervising tourism operations officer, DOT-Cagayan Valley. It is the most traveled province in Cagayan Valley region according to the DOT-Cagayan Valley senior official.

"Batanes is everybody's dream travel destination," says Garduque.

Based on the report from DOT-Cagayan Valley, in 2016, there were 26,168 tourist arrivals in Batanes. As of August 2017, there were 22, 608 tourist arrivals in the island-province.

Batanes, according to research, has a total land area of 230 kilometers, the country’s smallest province.

DOT-accredited establishments in Batanes include 12 travel and tour agencies, 14 tour guides/eco guides, five tourist inns, 14 pension houses; 35 homestays, a government facility and a resort and Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge, a 3-star rated hotel and green hotel awardee for 2016 of Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean).

Ivatan entrepreneur and president of Batanes Wakay Travel Tours Inc. Jerry Cabalce is advocating sustainable tourism.

"Our island is fragile and we need to preserve it," says Cabalce.

The company of Cabalce has been running customized tours in Batanes since 2012. “Wakay” is an Ivatan term for camote or sweet potato, which is one of the most stable food sources in Batanes.

Cabalce who is also the vice chair of Cagayan Regional Tourism Council, Inc., promises to serve Ivatans and tourists while promoting cultural heritage preservation and environmental-friendly advocacies.

Nature had its own way of welcoming the passengers on board Philippine Airlines’ flight PR 2688 during the inaugural flight from Clark to Basco, Batanes on October 1.

A two-minute rain shower that seemed a natural water canon salute on touchdown here greeted the turboprop, with 52 passengers on board.

Of the 52 passengers, 36 were from a group of market vendors from Angeles City.

For Edmond Gaddi, chairman, fish section of the Angeles City Pampang Public Market Association, the group’s Batanes trip was a “breath of fresh air and a dream come true”.

Gaddi said their group had a very positive experience PAL.

Visiting Batanes for the third time, accomplished travel agent Lerma Quiambao said, “it’s like I’m in New Zealand”.

There are infrastructure developments happening, a lot has changed since my last visit in 2015, according to Quiambao who is also the board of director of Pampanga Agents Travel Society.

“There’s always something to look forward to in Batanes,” said Quiambao. (Astrud Q. Aguinaldo)