Almost 100km off the northern coast of Luzon, BATANES is the smallest, most isolated province in the country. This is a memorable place with otherworldly scenery, where doors are rarely locked and welcomes are warm even by Filipino standards. The people are different, the language is different, even the weather is different. The coolest months (Dec–Feb) can get chilly with temperatures as low as 10°C, while the hottest months (April–June) are searing. For visitors, the islands are at their best from February to May.
Batanes can be idyllic, but it would be wrong to portray it as a tropical utopia as the realities of life this far away from the rest of the world can sometimes be harsh. Petrol and provisions are brought in by ship, which means they cost more, and when typhoons roar in from the east (July–Sept) it may be impossible for ships or aircraft to reach the islands. Boredom can set in and locals joke that during the typhoon season the cargo ship brings 50,000 sacks of rice but 60,000 crates of gin.
Only three of the ten islands in the Batanes group are inhabited: Batan – the location of the capital Basco – Sabtang and Itbayat. The native inhabitants of Batanes, the Ivatan, trace their roots to prehistoric Formosan immigrants and latter-day Spanish conquistadors. Most still make a living from the cultivation of yams and garlic or the raising of goats and cows; if you visit a village during the daytime, be prepared to find that almost everyone is out in the fields. Some women still wear rain capes called vakul, made from the stripped leaves of the voyavoy vine. The main dialect, Ivatan, includes some pidgin Spanish: “thank you” is dios mamajes and “goodbye” is dios mavidin (if you are the person leaving) or dios machivan (if you are staying behind).