Biking around the southern part of Batan Island reminded me of a lot of things. The road reminded me of Pagudpud because of how its rocky cliffs plunged into the sea. It also reminded me of Sagada because of how those same cliffs often towered above the road. Its undulating grass carpeted hills reminded me of Bohol and its famous Chocolate Hills.
But Batanes’ southern loop also had something these places didn’t have. I had a hunch that biking through the towns of Mahatao, Ivana, Uyugan and back to Basco would send me through some very awesome vistas. But I didn’t know just how awe-inspiring this place would be.
We started riding out of Basco at a relaxed pace around mid morning. We wanted to start early but there was some mix up with the mountain bike we were going to hire. Because of this the sun was already almost halfway up the sky by the time we were pedaling out of Basco’s town center. It was mid-April and as expected, the weather was already hot. But there was also an ever-present sea breeze that made the ride quite pleasant.
From Basco, we went to Mahatao. We passed a lot of quiet beaches and beautiful rock formations which were being pounded by the angry surf.
The raw beauty of the landscape was causing me to have a split personality. At almost every kilometer, I wanted to stop and take photos. The photographer in me wanted to stop, shoot and preserve the experience. But the biker in me wanted to just keep riding to savor the experience.
As you could expect, we were not going fast at all. But that was okay, we were in no hurry.
For someone whose daily environment is the claustrophobic streets of Metro Manila, it was unthinkable to rush through such a free and open countryside. This isn’t fast food, it’s a gourmet meal whose flavors are best enjoyed slowly.
From Mahatao we went to the village of Imanjbu and the famous “Marlboro Country.” The sweeping slopes of this place made me want to go downhill fast even though I was on an XC bike.
But who seriously gives a fart for distinctions like XC/Downhill/Trail when confronted with a hill as beautiful as that? It’s mountain biking pure and simple. So I rode down the hill as fast as I could until I came to stop near the cliff.
Sweet God, what a feeling! It is one thing to ride downhill and feel the adrenaline rush. It is an entirely different thing to ride downhill, and feel the adrenaline rush amid one of the most spectacular landscapes in the entire Philippines.
I painstakingly rode my bike up the hill again, zigzagging to take the load off my weary legs, and then I rode down the hill again. It makes me happy that Kara is one heck of a brilliant photographer. She captured these shots—nothing like beautiful memento from a once in a lifetime mountain bike ride.
We ate our packed lunch at Marlboro Country, rested, and just admired the view. You could see the Mahatao Lighthouse from here, as well as the radar station.
The Ivatan villages we rode through were like nothing I had seen before. These houses, with their thick stone walls and their roofs made of dense cogon, can be found nowhere else in the Philippines.
Ivatan houses were designed to withstand the worst weather Mother Nature could dish out in this part of the world. The walls, which are made of stacked fieldstone, are up to a meter thick. The roof meanwhile is up to a foot thick and tied down with strong hemp cords.
These houses can take a beating from a supertyphoon and still keep their occupants safe within. As a matter of fact, supertyphoon Odette (Yolanda wasn’t the only superstorm to hit the country in 2014) battered Batanes last year, but there were no casualties here.
The sun was already starting to set by the time we got to Ivana. We parked our bikes at the Honesty Coffee Shop and slaked our thirst with some Buko juice and Sanmig Light.
This Coffee Shop would probably go out of business in mere minutes if it was in Metro Manila. But in Batanes, it’s been around for decades and has become something of an institution. It seems like honesty just comes naturally here. No one even bothers to lock up their bikes here.
It was already dark when we started to ride back to Basco. It was a long day, but we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Weekend warriors could probably finish the south loop in 3 or 6 hours. But there is just too much to see.
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And if you want to bring your own bike to Batanes, check out these tips on how to pack your bike for a plane ride.