06.05.2011; Finally Friday; 12:45

Latest fantasy: Travels. Mooooore travels! Bacolod, Siargao, Palawan, Babuyan Islands, Zamboanga, Basilan, Camarines Sur, Aparri, moooore!

Dear Niwee,

My heart had always been burdened with the spiral downward movement this country continue to exhibit over the years. With our natural gifts, hardworking think tanks as citizens and other noteworthy characteristics, it is no doubt our race can rise to the challenge. It’s just a matter of how and when.

For the past services I have attended, I was reminded of the beauty and tenderness of agape. This probably requires saintly acceptance of the Tourette syndrome-inducing existence of the jejemons, try-hard hip hoppers, corrupt political leaders, sipsip officemates, nouveau riche show-offs and other annoying personas that pollute our society. Like I explained in this entry, poverty is NOT the root cause of our nation’s misery. It’s the manifestation of the scarcity of our sense of country.

One’s Pinoy pride journey may begin from an accidental access to mind-blowing documentation of our Austronesian roots or that moment of enlightenment that kayumanggi skin is actually stunning, but I’m convinced that it would really come to a point wherein we see God in the eyes of a street child or a rallyist. Mother Teresa said it best: “Every person you meet is Jesus in disguise,”

From my recent dream-come-true traipse to the islands of Batanes, I went home radiating with gratitude from all the valuable lessons I’ve learned and all the inspiring sights I’ve experienced. 

Tao Po?

Before entering the oldest house in Batanes, we had to ask if Lola were home. Photo by Toni.

In Cavite (and probably elsewhere), visitors ask “Tao po?” (“Is anybody home?” in English) before ushering in. In Batanes, locals inquire “Deus?” instead. They believe that there is a god living inside that humble abode before them. The response can be either “God be with you!” or “Pas?” meaning “Ano ‘yun?” or “How can I help you?” I also heard this respectful exchange between shopkeepers while we were on a rummaging search for pasalubongs. This, in my opinion, demonstrates how highly they think of the next person.

If we could see others the same way in the metro, our lives would be waaay better.

Honesty is the Only Policy

My pre-vacation research led me to sources stating that all or most stores in Batanes are left unattended. Buyers may get they desired item, leave their payment behind and, if needed, get their change from the cashier (or anything similar). Turns out there’s this one store of such nature. It’s called Honesty Coffee Shop.

The exteriors of Honesty Coffee Shop in Ivana. Yeah, it’s a Coca Cola country. Photo by Toni.

According to our tourist guide, Kuya Chris Cataluña, the owner Elena Gabilo would rather work in her farm than man the store. It offers snacks, instant noodles, sodas and pasalubongs like vakul (it starts at P175), I ❤ Batanes eco-bags (P80) and others. The buyers are expected to help themselves in the selection of their purchases, payment and waste management. As they instructed in the board, you may provide the exact amount or, if you’re feeling generous, pay more and “may your tribe increase”.

When’s the last time you thought about your future generations over today’s pressing need? 

Paying for that much-deserved refreshment. It was a humid afternoon. But hardly as humid in Manila.
Photo by Toni.

Two-Way Road

The trek en route to the rolling hills and other beautiful sights call for a long yet merry road trip. For long-time concrete jungle residents like our party of 5, it was easy to worry how the one-way road and the ensuing ubiquity of Blow ur Horn signages (it’s been spelled that way even before the advent of shortened text on mobile phones) would slow us down. Little did we know that the motorists know how to give and take. Cheerfully. 

Can you imagine the same thing along EDSA daily?

One-way road. The highway…or the depths below. Your pick. Photo by Toni.

I can’t resist to show you how my best friend‘s drawn to the Blow Ur Horn signages. She even bought a shirt. Photo by Toni.

Lolo Marcelo Hostallero, the oldest man in Batanes. Photo by Toni

At 104, he’s still active and he holds the record of NEVER being hospitalized. The secret? He eats kamote (instead of rice), buko juice (instead of water), veggies and, occasionally, fish. When he gets sick, he just drinks calamansi juice.  

Call it poor man’s diet but, hey, longevity is truly priceless! Tell me, does he even look like 104-year-old to you? 


On our first night in former Department of Education undersecretary Dr. Fe Hidalgo‘s ancestral house in Ivatan, our party opted to prepare our own food for dinner and conclude the evening with drinking and light painting (at the same time). I was on my nth glass of whatever powerful concoction Toni came up with when I saw police lights rolling outside the window. Even before I can ask Toni, who happened to be seated in the quasi-rocking chair behind me, if she saw the same thing, we all heard repeated gongs that crippled us in our respective seats and made me ask for an additional hand as I couldn’t cover my ears and place a hand in my chest dramatically all at the same time. It was too loud as if the authorities were drumming something directed at us.
We were all convinced that we were too rowdy…and we deserved it. I sent frantic messages to friends who’ve been there to ask what was going on and how we can make amends. Nobody knew. We thought it was pointless to ask the ancestral house’s caretaker as the locals are typically asleep by 7pm but I went ahead. No reply until the morning after. 

Turns out the gong is a nightly reminder of the 22:00 curfew for teenagers. It was no order for us to clam up and end the happy hour right away. Phew. And why it felt the sound hardly traveled at all? The gong was situated in a pole right across the ancestral house! It happened to be one of the gongs that the Japanese foot soldiers used during their occupation in the island. [Wow, who would have thought the Japanese went after the Ivatans, too?]

The Ivatans are indeed practical people but nothing prepared us for what utility they can come up with for such reminder of the cruel past.


I can go on and on and write lessons learned from Batanes but I must admit there are some realities that bothered me. 

It pains me that modern houses now outnumber the stone ones that the province is greatly renowned for. No, Ivatans are hardly trying to keep up with the rest of the country. I was told that they are no longer permitted to gather the seaside stones like the ones in Valugan Boulder to build houses. They are now for sale. For practical people, it was rather wise to put up their own houses with gravel and sand than use what the earlier generations were accustomed to.

Let’s help preserve the Ivatan house!

Valugan Boulder Beach. These stones were spewed by the nearby Mt. Iraya before. Photo by Toni.

Ask any traveler where to stay in Batanes and they’d chorus Fundacion Pacita. For cheapskates like myself, any room that starts at P6,300+ per night (according to the website) and requires at least 2 nights of stay (according to Ryan‘s research) can be discouraging. Worse, it is not open to mortals who simply want to see the breathtaking view from there and/or experience the much-anticipated gallery of artworks just because they didn’t make reservations. That is…snobbish. Don’t you think? 

This is exactly what pushes most Pinoys to foreign destinations instead of exploring local paradise such as Batanes. The airfare alone is more expensive than, say, airfare to Hong Kong. Our group was fortunate enough to avail of Seair‘s Sweet 16 promo, making us pay only 50% of the usual amount. Since I can’t afford accommodations in Fundacion Pacita, we opted to stay in a homestay instead. Though I have no regrets in doing so, a part of me still wishes I get to see the award-winning artworks displayed there and find out for myself if they have paintings as postcards that I can send to my closest friends. So heartbreaking.

The nearest you can get to Fundacion Pacita. Photo by Toni.


Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer
– Honesty Coffee Shop