"a caterpillar doesn't just grow into a butterfly. a caterpillar must undergo metamorphosis, and a cocoon is where a caterpillar risks it all: enters total chaos, undergoes total rebuilding, and is born to a new way of living. only in taking the risk of entering that inert cocoon can the caterpillar go from dormancy to potency, from ugliness to beauty."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

experiencing more of batanes: stranded in itbayat, stranded in batanes

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly
find out how far one can go."

-- T.S. Elliott

lure of the home of the winds, lure of the north

batanes is at the top of my list of dream destinations in the philippines and it's been there at that top spot since i was 12 -- since, uh, years ago when i didn't know yet how or when i was gonna get there. i just knew then that it's the place to be!

when i finally experienced batanes for real in february 2010,  i found it so perfectly wonderful -- over and above my best expectations, making me hunger for more and even more -- that i made it my personal goal to invest in visiting batanes every succeeding year of my travel life.

kat and mati -- the travel buddies i had for my first ever journey to batanes -- were also as taken by the place as i was and made a similar commitment: visit every year, experience more and more of batanes, year after year. bound by the same batanes dream, we came  to call our trio of pinas flashpackers as the batanes flashpackers.

in may 2011, our friends tony, onad, shella, and helen joined us on our second trip to batanes. having toured most of batan and sabtang islands in 2010, we allotted more time for experiencing itbayat island -- the largest of the three inhabited islands of batanes and the northernmost inhabited island of the philippines.

our group of seven in itbayat island

of the three islands -- itbayat, batan, and sabtang -- itbayat is deemed the least accessible. by boat (locally called falowa), it is about 3 to 4 hours away (depending on the boat speed, waves, and the wind conditions) from basco, the provincial capital; by six-seater small plane, it is just about 10 minutes away.

choosing the mode of transportation to get there is mainly up to two things: one, one's resources; two, the kind of thrill (and bragging rights!) being sought. at P450 per person, the falowa ride is way cheaper compared to the plane option, which will cost ~P1300 per person, assuming the full seating capacity is met. they say you haven't really been to itbayat if you haven't experienced a falowa ride being continuously rocked and lapped by the unforgiving waves of batanes. the plane ride can also potentially churn one's insides and tax one's heart to the point of rupture -- batanes is home of the winds and being in a small plane intensifies the feeling of daring the air. :D so, you see, choosing between traveling by boat and traveling by plane to get to itbayat is really a choose-your-own-adventure slash choose-your-own-thrill deal.

for our group of seven, the falowa ride was the logical choice. a good call on our part, it was. on our way to itbayat, the sea was abnormally calm -- the water surface even looked glassy -- and the trip was easy on the senses. the vomit bags i brought with me were left unused and none of our energies were unnecessarily drained. little did i know that it was a manifestation of calm before the storm :D

we spent two adventure-packed days in itbayat -- survived the waves, got to chinapoliran port where we half-jumped our way out of the ever-moving-here-and-there docked falowa, hitched a ride on the patrol car of the local police, toured the itbayat municipal proper, went hiking to the ancient burial grounds, got awed by the sight of the cliffs and di'nem island, entered torongan cave, walked the streets of barrio raele, visited the itbayat airport (more like an airstrip), trekked to paganaman port (there, i bathed in batanes' share of the south china sea), settled in the itbayat municipal guest house -- our hometel, walked around the municipality of ibayat some more and interacted with the locals (we entered traditional houses and we even got an invitation to attend a wedding reception. nice!), checked out PAG-ASA's weather monitoring station up the hill, went spelunking in northern sarokan cave, got rained on and muddied but still went up mt. karaboboan with its 360-dgree viewdeck (and stayed there until just before total darkness set in, completely turning day to night). we were to leave itbayat and return to basco the morning after. BUT...

bebeng happened. we woke up to an advisory from our contacts that PAG-ASA already classified batanes under signal no. 1 due to typhoon "bebeng" -- the coast guard disallowed sea travels and the air transportation office was also strict with the flights. we were 'officially' stranded.

“To explore the unknown and the familiar, distant and near, and to record in details with the eyes of a child, any beauty, horror, irony, traces of utopia or Hell.”
-- Dan Eldon

vivid memories of being stranded in the northernmost province of the philippines: the good ones, the ugh, and the in-betweens

storm signal no. 1 in batanes
it could have just been another summer morning with slightly stronger winds in beautiful batanes. maybe. if only there wasn't a storm signal raised over the entire batanes group of islands and if only it wasn't the month of may, a known summer month in the philippines. but bebeng was a freak tropical storm. it entered the philippine area of responsibility during the early part of may.

seriously, a storm in early may? a tropical storm in summer? what really weird times! and, of all times, it really had to happen while we were there in batanes, between the south china sea and the pacific ocean, there in northernmost itbayat -- 40 kilometers from basco, more than 860 kilometers away from manila, more than 280 kilometers away from the mainland with aparri, cagayan as the reference point, and just a little over 200 kilometers from the southernmost tip of taiwan. yup, yup, we were that far and away when we got stranded. :D

some of the locals told us that it was only the second time that a storm signal was raised in the area of batanes at the height of summer and the first one was already a few years ago.

with storm signal no. 1 flag already up and travel advisories against traveling already relayed, there was nothing for us "stranded seven" -- kat, mati, onad, tony, helen, shella, and me -- to do but to come to terms with being stranded and wait for our next opportunity to be out of itbayat island.

from flashpacking (backpacking with style) mode, we switched to survival mode -- day 1 of being stranded and the days that followed were spent avoiding boredom in between monitoring weather updates and travel advisories and looking for travel options.

survival by taking things in stride: doing the usual | biking, walking around, and playing house
day 1 was a fine day to be stranded. even with the storm signal already up in batanes (of course, including itbayat), there was actually no compelling sign of a typhoon being already in the area. the sun was up, the sky was still a beautiful blue with wisps of clouds. there was no rain. other than there was just something different with the wind, everything seemed like a normal summer day.

so instead of staying in and succumbing to nothing while waiting for the storm signal to be lifted up, we went out of our guest house and said hi to the sun and, at times, engaged in small talks with the people outside. we borrowed the mountain bike of kuya roger (our guide in itbayat) and took turns riding it around and around the municipal plaza, just in front of the house.

biking during storm signal no. 1 in batanes | around the itbayat municipal plaza

that afternoon, some of us walked to paganaman port. there, i finally saw a manifestation of the storm coming -- choppy water, which looked inviting and glassy just two days prior. with angry waves lapping at the cliffs and rocks, it was hard to believe that it was the same body of water i bathed and swam in during our first day in itbayat.

paganaman's share of south china sea:
looking glassy in good weather (left),
choppy in stormy weather (right).

the rains came that night and, when we woke up to day 2, raindrops were still falling and the sky was overcast.

from the inside looking out: outside the guest house at 6:10AM of day 2

the choppy water as seen from paganaman port on day 3 | storm signal no. 1

the afternoon sky and the choppy water as seen from paganaman port on day 3 | storm signal no. 1

our 2-day/2-night planned stay in itbayat got extended by 3 days/3 nights -- that's a total of 5 full days/5 nights spent in itbayat! over the next days after the planned stay, playing house saved us from boredom & starvation and made us productive despite the setback in our travel schedule. giving in to domestic activities helped us in keeping our wits: doing laundry by hand, frequenting the sari-sari stores to buy supplies and food ingredients (until we could already map where to go to buy this or that at best price), engaging in culinary adventures (with kat as the cook, onad as the able assistant, and the rest of us as the 'construction workers' who ate with gusto), dishwashing & cleaning the house, and sewing (my fave pair of travel pants got torn by some nail & required stitches).

cut off from our usual sources of comfort, we still managed to live well during our days of being stranded (although we also witnessed some moments of funny desperation, hahaha).

where we stayed: the municipal guest house of itbayat

on the sixth morning, we got great news -- that the falowas were already allowed to cross the sea again! the waves rocked the falowa that much all through our 2.5-hour ride to basco and i had to use two vomit bags, haha. on that particular day (and it was just another ordinary day in itbayat and in basco), the waves were really unforgiving -- a few seconds on board the boat proved to be already nauseating.

the scene outside our basco-bound falowa as seen from the inside

looking back on our experience (wow, almost one year ago already!), the top things that i am thankful to God for are:

the opportunity for immersion
we experienced a tropical storm in batanes -- a freak storm in summer at that -- and we had a taste of what it is like to stay put where you are, make do with what you have, and to survive like the ivatans do every time a storm signal is up in batanes. heeding the storm signal is important even if you're seeing sunshine and clear skies.

the people of batanes
they are really great people. they are helpful. they are hospitable. interacting with them especially during our extended stay was really a blessing.

we learned their way of life a bit more, having woken up for several straight days to the same church bell that they get to hear every 5am in the morning, watched the kids' softball practice sessions at the municipal plaza, and having seen them go about their lives storm or no storm.

our guides, jacklord labrador (in basco) and roger doplito (for the itbayat leg), looked after us and kept us posted of developments.

knowing my travel buddies even more
because we got stranded in batanes together, i saw our group dynamics and how we are individually when we are put in situations beyond our control. (it's particularly amusing when the quirks get magnified, haha.) 

our being stranded in batanes affirmed my agreement with this line: "if you want to get to know someone, take a trip with them." i realized (and it's good to know) that when we are forced to go back-to-the-basics, we can still live with each other and become one another's keeper.

experiencing more, learning more
sure, being stranded is inconvenient -- there are supposedly daily grinds to deal with elsewhere, jobs to mind/bosses and clients to appease, loved ones who worry and who need to be assured, lost income opportunities, appointments which aren't supposed to be missed, the list goes on. however, the worst of times can also be the best of times to grab opportunities and to end up having more than the usual, going beyond what's planned.

we got stranded and had our stay extended beyond our will -- first, in itbayat because of the storm and, second, in basco because of insane rebooking options given by SEAIR (that airline!) to most of its stranded passengers in batanes that time.

while waiting for things to turn around, i was able to:
(1) experience taking the public land transportation there: jeepney ride from abad street to ivana/mahatao junction plus a tricycle ride to diura fishing village
(2) walk beyond diura fishing village under the heat of the sun and to the fountain of youth (racuaydi nakavajayan), a fresh spring water source.

the infinity pool of racuaydi nakavajayan and the pacific ocean

the water flows to an infinity pool, which was strategically placed to provide an illusion that it's part of the pacific ocean.

now, the ugh part!
we learned that our 10th of may basco-manila SEAIR flight got cancelled due to typhoon bebeng. a flight cancellation due to bad weather -- very understandable; something we accepted. what's not understandable: SEAIR left it up to us to contact them to ask for the status of our flight and even forcibly rebooked our basco-manila flight to 17th of may. this, despite the fact that they were already able to resume their manila-basco and basco-manila flights by 11th of may. "forcibly rebooked" as in SEAIR did not give us any better rebooking option and was being unmindful of our schedule.

boo, SEAIR. when our original flight schedule was may 10 and you resumed flights on may 11, did you really think it it was sensible to rebook your passengers to a may 17 flight? seriously, a one week gap?! the arrangement you made for us was very convenient for you but what for us? the convenience which that move provided your part was drowned by the inconvenience that you forced us further into -- unfavorable weather conditions made us stranded in itbayat;  the unfavorable rebooking option you gave us made us stranded in basco. i admire the level of consideration you afforded us and i'm, of course, being sarcastic. we're not the only ones -- you also had other passengers who experienced the bad because of your brand of customer service.

i already ranted about this matter a year ago and i do not wish to again go through the negative process of being pissed at SEAIR for what happened. we're NEVER flying SEAIR again, anyway. somehow there'll be a way for us to be back in batanes, just not with SEAIR.

i'm ending this post here. after the jump, you can read my compiled rants on SEAIR, in chronological order. you can also check the web for more complaints about them.

p.s. representatives and defenders of SEAIR, should you find your way here, please do not bother asking me to take down this portion of my post just to save your name -- i have a copy of the formal complaint against SEAIR which our group filed and submitted to the civil aeronautics board (CAB) as well as a copy of SEAIR's unsatisfactory reply; i might end up resending them to you to remind you of our experience and all the inconvenience we had to go through. i suggest that you focus your efforts on improving your customer service.


thanks but no thanks, SEAIR
.o0 (thank you, SEAIR, your customer service badly needs major improvement. i’ll see you in my blog soon and you’ll be reminded how powerful a tool blogging can be. thank you for forcibly rebooking us to may 17 when our orig basco-to-manila flight sked was may 10. thank you for not bothering to contact anyone from our travel party to inform us that our flight got cancelled; never mind the fact that your we ‘cannot-be-reached’ excuse is so lame because even my mobile phone did not lose its 3G connection -- yes, the mobile network signal remained & still remains to be that good. thank you for allow|ing us to be stranded here in batanes without checking on how we are. thank you for leaving it up to us to call you to check how you are. thank you for making it clear what ‘most reliable service’ means -- i didn’t know until now that it is equivalent to NG as in no good. thank you for not being helpful at all. fly us back to manila before this week ends; it’s the least you can do, no buts, no ifs.) -- the acerbic may 12, 2011 note i posted in facebook | basco, batanes
world-class mag-bigay ng rebooking ‘option’ ang SEAIR. harharhar, kung tao lang si ‘option’ mabibigti yun for sure sa matinding kahihiyan. just in case SEAIR opts to continue to miss the point, let me set this straight: we deserve better treatment from them. their seats are expensive and we are not so-so customers.

tsk, just a few months ago, for my love for batanes i was willing to be SEAIR’s customer for life. with the treatment we are getting from that airline now, i take that back. i love batanes (but SEAIR? weh!). i love batanes period. ooops. p.s. SEAIR should not make that an excuse to keep me stranded here ’til may 17. i love batanes in a healthy kind of loving way. 

you may ask, how about SEAIR? my answer: can you please tell them to invest on sense of urgency and customer service upgrade pronto? there. their expensive prices and level of service suffer a mismatch. -- may 12, 2011. posted in facebook | basco, batanes

maganda naman ang weather. SEAIR resumed their Manila-Basco/Basco-Manila flights on May 11. so di ba, unfair ang May 17 ‘option’ (hindi talaga siya totoong option kasi they forcibly rebooked us to that date. napaka-ekis na move on their part.) -- may 12, 2011. posted in facebook | basco, batanes

naku, wag nila kami tinitipid. wag kami ang magsuffer kung gusto nila magkuripot, customers kaming binayaran ang expensive services nila kaya mag-step up sila. we’re definitely the wrong people to let down. -- may 13, 2011. posted in facebook | basco, batanes

on the bright side, very helpful ang local guide namin na si kuya jack, siya na gumagawa ng paraan para may makasakay kami ng planes on or before sunday. he’s really going out of his way to help us out of this situation, something SEAIR is not doing. siya pa mismo tumatawag sa amin; as for SEAIR, kung di namin (or through our representatives in manila) sila tatawagan, we won’t hear from them. no exag there, yan talaga ang situation, pinababayaan lang kami. helpful din ang mga locals na nag-g-give way para kami muna ang makabyahe. grateful ako sa mga ivatans. baka nga mag-via tuguegarao na lang siguro kami, another airline. -- may 13, 2011. posted in facebook | basco, batanes

since di naman nila (SEAIR) kami tinutulungan, kami na lang gagawa ng paraan para makauwi na kami; di kami ewan para hintayin pa ang may17 --  may 13, 2011. posted in facebook, basco, batanes

i’m glad to be back in manila ahead of the may17 rebooking that SEAIR shoved our way. we do not owe it to that airline’s efforts since they did not bother to contact us anyway. i’m grateful for the people of batanes because they're the ones who facilitated for our flight out to be sooner than later, they stepped up to make up for SEAIR’s negligence where our situation is concerned. SEAIR owes the people of batanes big time; that airline has no right claiming to be the country’s premier leisure airline if their ‘brand’ of customer service is a big insult to the standards of quality. --  may 14, 2011 (10:47am). posted in facebook | manila

it’s may 17 today and SEAIR is still ignoring our posts -- no reply, no effort to follow-through or something. they remained consistent on being indifferent and refusing to care. -- may 17, 2011. posted in facebook | batangas

 i still batanes!

1 comment:

  1. bulok talaga seair. i hope magbago na sila. had a very bad experience with them too. as in nightmare.


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