Note: This narrative is from Ms. Celerina M. Navarro. She posted it on her Facebook page and I asked for permission to re-post it here. She narrated this as if you are travelling with her as your tour guide and teacher in Batanes. Enjoy!
Good morning fellow lovers of Batanes! I am Celerina Navarro, your tourist guide for the day. Thank you for coming to our beautiful place of good people and outstanding natural and cultural beauty. You have reached the northernmost province of the Philippines a province closer to Taiwan being only 224 kms from its southernmost tip than to the Philippines at 280 kms from the northernmost tip of Aparri in Cagayan.
When you stepped down from the airplane and looked to your right you would have seen the highest point in Batanes- Mt. Iraya . It is 1009 meters above sea level. Now that mountain is a big asset with its charm and immeasurable wealth. it is never a monotony for its scenic beauty is always changing and reinventing itself with veils of misty fog or thick clouds and changes color from green to blue or gray. It has its own story and it would take much of our time if we talk about it in full now. So come back to listen to its story.
You are now in Basco, the capital town of 8,000 more or less inhabitants of mixed Ivasays, IMahataos, Ivanas, Iuyugans, ISabtangs and Ichbayats and Ipulas or non Ivatans. As a capital town it is the center of governance, religious, education and business activities so people flock here for many reasons.
This town was founded in 1785 (but named Basco in 1783) by the Spanish missionaries and officials of the Spanish government who started the civilization and Christianization of Batanes. Before their coming , our ancestors lived in settlements in the forests and Ijangs or hill fortresses usually near water sources. Over there at the eastside is one of the Ijangs of Basco, Notice how the side here is not accessible and has only one entrance at the other side. That is for maximum security. At the top most are piles of rounded andesite stones as weapons for enemies that dared come near. Below is the next level of their community and near the base are the caillanes or common people who do the food production. Notice too, how our fields are bounded by hedgerows of trees or reeds. They serve both as boundaries, protection from the winds and sea-sprays and serve as food and wood sources while projecting an overall quilt- like pattern beautifying our farms in the process.
When the Spaniards came they gathered us in one place and arranged the streets and houses neatly and in an orderly manner. What you see in our towns in Batanes was the town planning work of the Spaniards. We were under the Spanish government for 169 years from 1719 to 1888, a rule which was of Christanization and civil governance and education and not of militarization and oppression.
Basco is one of the youngest land formation of the Batanes archipelago having risen from the sea out of the many eruptions of the composite volcanoes near each other which we now call Mt. Iraya. This was during the Quatenary Period or 2 to 1 million years ago. The eruptions of Mt. Iraya is responsible for connecting Basco to the town of Mahatao which is the next point of our tour.
We are now going to Valugan Bay where we shall see a beach made up of smooth boulders believed to have come from the belly of Mt Iraya in its violent episodes of eruptions. Here among the boulders we gather many kinds of sea food- urchins, different seafood whose meat we can eat right away. So good with boiled camote. And of course the sea yields plentiful fishes some of which will end up on your table. From the eroded cliffs you will sea several layers of volcanic effusive- ashes, pebbles, lava and others piled up over a million years.
We will now proceed to the west coast we call Chadpidan (westward) and the shoreline we call Songsong. We will be passing by the major government offices of Batanes primarily the Batanes General Hospital under the DOH, the Provincial Government Office and across it the Provincial Command Office of the Philippine National Police and the Municipal Government Office of Basco on your left. We also see the town plaza and parks venues of many celebrations and festivities and sports of the province. At the end of the plaza southwestward are the Basco Elementary School started by the Spaniards and the Batanes National Science High School that opened as Batanes High School in 1917. It celebrated its centennial 2 years ago. From that small school has risen PHDs, Deans, Congressmen, Governors and other prominent Ivatans scholars, artists and workers here and abroad. Behind it is the iconic Naidi Hill which means in Batanes former settlement where as early as 1,700 BC Austronesian settled in Naidi and set up one of the biggest settlements in Basco. You can still see the shape of an Ijang in it. The provincial government office and the Sto, Domingo Church also known as the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral was built during the Spanish era of cogon and mortar but were rebuilt during the American period G.I. roofing. They have since then been expanded using cement and GI roofing.
We are now passing by Songsong of Basco on your left (there is a place of the same name in Uyugan, fourth town from Basco. another boulder beach which has the same story as Valugan, But this is the latest addition to the Basco land area courtesy of Mt. Iraya’s explosion in the quaternary period or 2 to 1 mya.
We are now proceeding to the Nakamaya boat-shaped burial grounds a burial practice of the Ivatans believed to have started in its prehistoric phase from around 1620s to the early 1800s along with jar burial practice here in Batanes. You will notice that the boatburial always faced the sea because our ancestors believed that the final resting place of the dead is the sea and there is quicker passage for them when they are positioned towards it. This tells us the values of our ancestors that we carry today- the Ivatans’ respect for life, valuing their dead kins and the sacredness of the sea which is why when we are at sea we are supposed to be silent and commune with it.
On our way back we will be passing by the lighthouse in Naidi where one can see a panoramic view of Basco and watch the most beautiful sunset one can ever see in his lifetime.
Author: Celerina M. Navarro