The crowd flooded through the gates of the Palace in an extremely organized fashion. There was plenty of space left and right, but people stayed on one side of the road as the queues snaked around the grounds. They were long lines, but they flowed smoothly. The only time we stopped was when we reached the two-step security inspection zone, where officers meticulously frisked and searched the bags of the visitors. Once past it, we sashayed our way over the bridge across the moat toward the Imperial Palace.
The wind was both a friend and a bully.
The skies made its dominance felt by sending strong winds that whistled as they swept the landscape, making the grass and hedgerows bow down in submission. If I were in something looser, the northeast monsoon (amihan) would have probably taken me with it, too.
The place is called Vayang. The slopes of the rolling hills rise and dive gently, forming a crumpled terrain that is covered by grass, a food and rest sanctuary for cows, goats, and water buffalos. Embracing the splashes from the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Vayang Rolling Hills overlooks Chadpidan Beach, the boulder-filled western coast of Batan Island.
It was too much beauty in one place.
Batanes is the smallest province in the Philippines by land area and population, but it is in no way little when it comes to pulchritude. This 10-piece archipelago has so much of spectacular sights to offer to lucky, lucky visitors. A tour in Batan Island alone has the ability to make you question whether everything you see is real. Batanes is dreamy, fantastic, surreal.
Of the three most popular tours in Batanes — North Batan, South Batan, and Sabtang — the first was the least overwhelming, we were told. When we were already exploring the northern half of the island, we were dumbfounded. We were so blown away that we couldn’t imagine how it could be prettier than this. If South Batan is much more beautiful as others have claimed, I thought, then it must be a heck of a destination.
When they were still alive, his parents dreamed of a chapel to which they could just walk. The nearest church then was the Basco Cathedral, more formally known as the Santo Domingo de Guzman Cathedral, which was three kilometers away. They did not make it long enough to see the chapel, but their son, Batanes representative Florencio “Butch” Abad, was able to make that vision a reality.
It’s a masterpiece created by the elements. In 400 AD, Mt. Iraya erupted and scattered andesite rocks around the northern half of Batan, which is now Basco, from the fiery guts of the earth. The mighty wind from the Pacific pushing the waves to lap the rough rocks, polishing it in the process. The result: a boulder beach that we call now Valugan.
Valugan means “east” in the Ivatan language. Boulders fill the jagged eastern edge of Batan Island like marbles recklessly dumped in a corner. The elements here are at war. The wind is whistling, the sea slapping the shore, and sharp cliffs breaking the tides. Yet, there is something so trance-inducing about the whole action. Like the ironically named ocean it faces, Valugan Beach is absolutely pacifying.
Batangas used to keep so many secrets. Matabungkay (Lian) was a secluded paradise until two Germans “rediscovered” it in the 1950s, which put it on the tourist map. Laiya (San Juan) was also a hidden gem until Manila-based beach bums made its long stretch of white sand their go-to beach for weekend getaways.
Whatever other secrets Batangas holds will not stay that way for long. Its proximity to capital easily makes it an easy target for the beach-chasing crowd. This makes Masasa Beach a surprise, the kind that does not shock but pushes you to a joyful reverie.
I feared that my island hopping plan had died, and the coffin loaded on boat right in front of me was not a good sign. (Seriously, there was a coffin.) It was three in the afternoon and I had been waiting for an hour for the boatman. Still no message from him. Another half hour and it would be too late for a tour, wasting all the time I spent getting here. When the coffin-carrying boat sailed, I knew I had to come up with a Plan B.
Had I been a diver, Plan B would have come easily. Anilao is a destination popular for the diving, not for its beaches. Unfortunately for me, I am no diver. Not yet, at least.
While Tubbataha Reef is widely considered the Philippines’ Diving Mecca, many regard Anilao as an Eden, the birthplace of scuba diving in the country. Much has been said about the natural treasure-trove it keeps beneath the waves, but its beaches are often overlooked.
The swarm of tourists was the first to catch my attention when I emerged from Shibuya Station. Curious (as usual), I swooshed to their direction and found a tail. And a tale, too.
It’s a story I have long been familiar with even before this trip to the Land of the Rising Sun. A statue of Hachiko, the faithful dog, sits comfortably in the middle of circular benches where many locals and tourists alike pass the time.
The lights turned green, and it was on!
The swarms that had built up on all sides of the intersection rushed across the street on cue. It’s a mad scramble, a perfect example of organized chaos. With a camera in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other, I had a good view of it in action from the second floor of a nearby Starbucks store. It has been dubbed The World’s Busiest Intersection, although I’m not sure if there are actual numbers to back it up
I blame it on the weather. No, I blame my bed.
It was already past noon when I finally reached Lake Kawaguchiko Station. No thanks to the January cold; it just felt so damn good to stay in bed and forget about the outside world. But I was under the spell of a majestic beauty. She was calling.
I had quite a long list of places to visit in Kawaguchiko — including the northern shore of the lake to catch the mountain’s early morning — but I was late. Squeezing them into a half-day tour would be impossible. It’s winter; the lazy sun would be retiring earlier than usual, which gives me just a few hours of daylight.