Friday, March 29, 2013

Batanes: Week Two

Jegs has collected a very good quality tan, perhaps largely because we’ve visited the entire coastline of Batan Island from Basco in the North to Itbud in the South.   We visited the Boulder Beaches of Valugan (east) and Chadpidan (west) in Basco, and travelled to the trekking-start point on the slopes of Mt. Iraya, close to the historical burial grounds in Nakamaya on the western side of the mountain and we have seen much of the towns of Basco, Mahatao, Ivana, and Uyugan. 

Among the places we’ve visited that are related to Jegs’ research are dumpsites and water source systems.  Seepage in all the dumpsites is minimal, and if there is seepage at all it goes to the sea (China Sea or Pacific Ocean).   Dumpsites are at least two kilometers from the towns, and approximately 120-190 plus meters above sea level (except that of Ivana, which is in a remote beach area).  The most advanced of these dumpsites is that of Mahatao, where biodegradables are first ground and used for composting.

Each town generates small amount of garbage, probably not more than a ton per day.  Households, like those in Ivana and Mahatao, are required to segregate their trash.

(Pix of Basco Dumpsite at the foot of Mt. Iraya, facing the China Sea, up at about 170 MASL.)

On both sides of roads in all towns, including the national highway connecting all towns, are lines of arius, votalao (palomaria), and vayo tree species.  In all backyards in all towns are planted significant tree species such as arius, riwas, votalao, mango, breadfruit, jackfruit, and mabolo. 

 An observation that we had was that arius and mabolo are listed as endangered species but these are common backyard plants.  Mabolo in its natural habitat, in the mountains, has become rare.  Both species, including riwas and votalao are used by the Ivatans as ornamental trees, therefore, used for road beautification purposes.  When we asked some individuals if they were aware that arius and mabolo, for example, were endangered species, they were not aware of it.  That these species are used as ornamental plants in the different towns on Batan Island has turned out to be a saving grace for these species.

Road to Ivana, lined with arius and votalao trees, above right.)                                                   


There are two palms, both endogenous to Batanes, are fast becoming rare.  One, the voyavoy, sometimes called Hanceana (Phoenix loureirii var hanceana) is found mainly on the islands of Itbayat and Sabtang, although there are a few found on Batan Island where they have been introduced years ago.  A few years back we had suggested that the provincial government should declare a voyavoy sanctuary in Itbayat.  Today, I’m personally convinced that voyavoy sanctuaries should be established both in Itbayat and Sabtang.  Two, the betel palm tree (Areca catechu).  We saw one in its natural habitat, forest area.  Fortunately, this palm is also being used as ornamental plant and has been planted in certain areas of some towns.  These plants are being propagated in Basco.  For example, we saw one at the Rizal Park and three in the DepEd Compound, both in Basco.

(Ripen nuts of the arica palm [above left], and a small arica palm tree [below right] as found in its natural habitat along a stream path down the mnountaiside in Mahatao.)

 In most cases, the areca palm tree is not commonly propagated because it is a slow-growing palm.  Mature palms normally measure some twenty meters (probably more than 25 years old) and usually used as planks and lumber.  In Itbayat, where these palms used to be plenty, these are used as planks and lumber to build houses in farms, usually called pañisanan houses.  By the way, the fruit of this palm, larger than most, is what’s called nganga elsewhere.  In Batanes, this palm species is called voa.

Talking of endangered species, we have to mention that the popular Batanes delicacy, tattus, is no longer as common today as it used to.  In fact, it has become endangered species.  It is now prohibited to transport this outside of Batanes and it has become much more difficult to catch.  We were in Basco for two weeks and we didn’t taste tattus. 

What Jegs tasted, and liked, was marida, which is known in the rest of Luzon as kuhol.  The difference is that marida lives in the forest, not in water areas like those in Luzon.  How did Jegs find this delicacy?  “The adobong marida is really good.  I liked it better than the ginataang marida,” she says.  I also introduced another delicacy to Jegs, it’s called unot, a sea urchin (Colobocebtrotus atratus).  Locals gather these at low tide and during full moon.  These are usually found on rock surfaces in coastal rocky places.  Jegs says she liked the taste, but probably not for always.  What she enjoys is the tattus (coconut crab).

Coconut crabs on Batan Island are becoming very rare.  Those that are being sold come from Sabtang and Itbayat.  On the average, coconut crabs now cost P600 per kilo.  The two-kilo crabs are now very rare.  Hence, the transport of coconut crabs out of the province is now prohibited.  You can eat coconut crabs today in Batanes, but it’s prohibited to catch those smaller than half-a-kilo each.  Jegs and I were invited to three dinners, but not in one did we see tattus served.  Still we enjoyed the old Batanes cuisine.  Young Ivatans , we were told, no longer eat the old Batanes dishes.  They now go for pizzas, pastas, burgers, and the like.  The traditional Batanes cuisine is served now only on special occasions and for special guests.

Some snapshots in Batanes (Batan Island only)

Jegs arrives in Basco, her second visit, on the Skyjet Service, the only airline servicing Batanes.  This British-made aircraft flies silently and smoothly.  They say it's used by the Royal Family in Britain.  I understand that beginning in May, Air Philippines will begin regular service to Batanes.  Just hope they try to keep their rates down.

National Road looking from the road-curve fronting Brandon"s Lodge, where we were accommodated.  Road (behind the photographer) curves eastward to the airport at the edge of town at the foot of Mt. Iraya.  Basco Bay lies right straight ahead in this picture. 

Appropriately trimmed arius (Podocarpus costalis) trees on the capitol grounds.

Jegs did a good job coaching the lad to pose for a pix at the Basco Wharf.  The kid did enjoy the photo-ops, though.  Clearly, he didn't bathe with fresh water after taking a dip in the sea because there traces of salt (after salt water evaporated) on his forehead.

View of the Rizal Park, fronting the Capitol Bldg.  Note trimmed arius trees, and the vadite trees to the left.  Beyond the tree-line is the Basco Bay.

This is the Basco Municipal Hall.  In front of it is a 60-year old tennis court.

Had that urge to walk the 30-meter sand bar while it was still low tide at a beech in Ivana, where the Batanes High School Golden Jubillarians had a picnic.  Where the surf breaks is the rock-line where the deep portion of the sea begins.

This is a slightly miniaturized rice jar made of nitto vine, a common handifraft in Batanes.  There are numerous variations of this model, coming from Mindoro, and other places in the country.

Well, I had to try the hat made of vayasuvas vine (this species is endemic to Batanes) on sale in one of the roadside handicraft stores in Kaychanarianan.  I would have preferred the hat made of pandan leaves which I used to wear when I was a farmer before attending high school.
Basco cathedral at dusk.  It was Holy Thursday, so there were people inside when this pix was taken.  You see the most common mode of transport, the motor cycle, for both male and female.

In my younger years, there was complete solemnity in the faces of people all over during Holy Thursdays and Good Fridays in Batanes.  It's a bit different now.  For example, before no one would dare wear clothes with bright colors, and people would very rarely smile.  Not anymore.

Jegs posing at the balcony of Shanedel's Inn and Cafe in Kaycha-narianan, right along the National Highway.  At the background is Naydi Hill.

This pix was shot by Jegs on the beach in Diura Fishermen's Village in Mahatao.  This village faces the Pacific Ocean.  These small boats, locally called tataya, have small sails and are used by the matao, the fisherman who goes out to sea alone to catch, through  hook and line, arayo (dorado), using flying fish as bait.

The Tayid Lighthouse atop the mountain high above Diura Fishing Village, facing the Pacific Ocean.

Mahatao Cathedral.  You should see the walls of this church, about 1.5 meters thick, made of rock, lime and sand, the traditional building materials for houses in Batanes.  Today, houses in Batanes are made of concrete, and architecture completely different from that in the past.

Hedgerows in Mahatao.  All farms on Batan Island are distinctively indicated by hedgerows.

This building, housing the offices of the Municipal Development Planning Office and other offices of the LGU in Mahatao, has thick walls.  It is half traditional building, and half modernized building (result of modernization and renovation of old buildings for use by the LGU).  The belt is about 44 inches long, laid across the back window of the building.  Front of the building is made of concrete.

This rock formation is just one of numerous rock formations along the coastline and beeches of Batan Island.

The entry to Ivana (southward direction) from the Basco-Mahatao direction in the north.

One of the oldest traditional stone houses in Batanes, the House of Dakay in Ivana.

An old voyavoy (Phoenix loureirii var. hanceana) plant in the compound of the San Lorenzo Ruiz Church in Ivana.  The voyavoy plants found on Batan Island were previously brought either from Sabtang or Itbayat, which isands are the natural habitat of this very expensive palm tree.

By the way, the difference between the loureirii varieties and hanceana varieties is the size of the trunk.  The loureirii has thinner trunk, similar to the trunk of an areca palm trree, and the hanceana has larger trunk (left pix).  

Couldn't resist this scene.  These days, this scene is very common in all places in the country.  These are laborers paid daily out of PDF  releases during this time of elections.  There really is no need to clean this part of the national road, but people must have money prior to elections (some believe this is a form of vote-buying).  They will not be laborers anymore immediately after elections.

The now-famous Honesty Coffee Shop in Ivana.  It has improved as it has become popular among visitors from outside of Batanes.

The marker upon entry into the town of Uyugan in the southern point of Batan Island.  This town faces the Pacific Ocean.

Road on the slopes of the hill toward Ivana from Uyugan.  To the left is the rocky beach facing the Pacific Ocean.

View from Uyugan facing the southern tip of Sabtang Island (located westward).

Back in Basco.  This is an arius tree planted fronting the NFA Warehouse near the Basco Wharf.  It has been trimmed like a cement post.

In Japanese, su desu ka?

This balete tree, locally called vadite is old.  It's still of similar height when I left Basco in 1963, but the arial roots were not there then. 

This is the shingle urchin (Colobocentrotus atratus), also known as the helmet urchin.  It is present in Batanes.  Among the Ivatans, this urchin, called unot, is a delicacy and could only be gathered during low tide at full moon.  It's delicious when eaten raw.  The yellow-orange mass is also called roe, or the egg mass of the edible sea urchin.

Jegs strtolling on the black beech near the Basco Wharf on the day before we left Batanes.  She'll be going back to complete the research she's doing there in connection with her project of helping Batanes develop an Ecotourism Master Plan.

There are still more.  Watch out for them.

Till the next trip to Batanes in May.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Visit to Batanes: Week One

 Jegs and I had been thinking of revisiting Batanes, and this was made more urgent by two reasons.  First, Jegs is working on her PhD dissertation in environmental science and she has decided to do research on ecotourism in Batanes.  Second, the High School Class of 1963 had been planning to celebrate its golden anniversary as graduates of the Batanes High School; I was invited Graduation Speaker by the Batanes National Science High School and by the Batanes State College.    

My high school classmate, Eddie Puño, was organizing and coordinating the subevents relative to the second reason that’s why said events came to be.  He asked me to be present in the homecoming of BHS Class 1963 but I told him I needed more reason to come home to Batanes.  He told our classmates to think of some kind of “work” that they would assign to me while in Basco.  Therefore, Eddie came up with this idea of finding out if the BNSHS would want to invite me to be Graduation Speaker since I would be coming home as a Golden Jubillarian of BHS, the forerunner of BNSHS.  He also mentioned to the Batanes State College that I would be around during the last two weeks of March 2013 so may be they should find out if I would agree to be their Graduation Speaker.  I’d say, Eddie did a fine job on these.

So Jegs and I booked (online) our flight to Basco.  I didn’t realize it has become very expensive to get to Batanes.  We paid P33T for the two of us for roundtrip flights, and this didn’t include inland expenses for two weeks in Batanes.   

We got to Basco at 7:00 a.m. March 18th.  We were a bit tired because we had to leave Los Baños 2:30 a.m. to catch our flight at 5:30a.m. (which was actually 6:30), so we took a quick nap when we got to Brandon’s Lodging, where we were to stay the whole time.  It was so nice getting to sleep with windows open because of the very comfortable ventilation (cool air circulation in the room).  Even outdoors was cool and comfortable.  In the afternoon we walked around town a bit then proceeded to the capitol building where we had brief chat with Governor Vic Gato and provincial tourism officer Gel Valones.

The Governor was supposed to have flown to Tuguegarao, noon today (18th), on his way to Ilagan in Isabela, to attend the meeting of the Regional Development Council of Region 2, but the airplane he was supposed to ride, when it arrived earlier in the morning, developed mechanical problem in its landing gear, so it didn’t fly out of Basco anymore.   This provided us with the opportunity to formally discuss with the Governor the research project Jegs was undertaking and find out if the provincial government could provide some sort of assistance.  The Governor said he was willing to provide some assistance (such as transport while we went from possible ecotourism site to another making evaluations), but clarified that he could not commit any provincial funds because the province did not have funds for this purpose and it was election time and he didn’t like to commit financial resources the action of which could be misinterpreted by political foes.


By the way, it’s an interesting phenomenon that a seating governor, who has always been working in collaboration with the current Congressional Representative, is running as an independent while the seating Congressional Representative has withdrawn support for him.  This seems a significant issue Ivatans are concerned about, my fellow Golden Jubillarians of BHS are telling me.  They pointed out to me that the Governor used to support the Representative of Batanes, twice in fact and in both cases the Representative won.  Now that same Representative has withdrawn support to Gov. Gato and shifted that support to a lady candidate who, a few months earlier promised publicly, through radio broadcasts, that she would never run for governor against Gov. Gato.  The grapevine among Ivatans in Metro-Manila with whom I’ve had accidental contacts recently say the current Representative has withdrawn support for the governor because “he’s old,” which people say is a ridiculous reason.  I’m not making any personal statements about this, though, except to say that even politics in Batanes has become a bit unpleasant.   I hope the Ivatans are reading these signals  more accurately.


Anyway, back to Jegs’ research mission on Batan Island.  The week before the Holy Week, Jegs has scheduled FGDs with respondents from various sectors.  We’ve done some reconnoitering to identify the places we’d visit and evaluate more thoroughly next week. 

We’ll be doing simple inventorying of plant species along routes to and possible ecotourism sites on Batan Island.  I believe I still know the local names of most of the plant species, but I have forgotten their scientific names.  We’ll have to do creative pictorial documentation so that we could ask taxonomists at UPLB to help provide the scientific names.  It’s unfortunate that the DENR here in Batanes does not have taxonomists, and said office doesn’t have an updated inventory of plant species on the islands. 


My main chores in Basco were to address the graduating classes of the Batanes National Science High School (March 20), and the Batanes State College (March 23).  I met a lot of young men and women in those two graduating classes.  Of course, these guys didn’t know me personally.  But some of their grandparents were my classmates in high school.

An interesting phenomenon I learned was that some of those graduating from BSC came from other provinces such as Cagayan, and even as far as Agusan del Sur in Mindanao.  There were about seven of these students.  When I asked the President of the BSC Alumni Association, he informed me that those were actually hired as household helpers from other provinces but who studied at the same time while being household helpers.  I was informed that Ivatans no longer want to be hired as household helpers.  They have become the hirers rather than the hires..  The interesting thing in this phenomenon is to find out if these are able to find jobs (most college graduates in the country don’t get jobs the salary of which is commensurate with their training) or do they simply go back to being household hands?

We capped the week by  finishing off the activities (photo documentation of plant species in the town of Basco) we have started in the previous days.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

So It's Summertime, Folks

Yesterday, about lunchtime, I was feeling good.  Who wouldn’t when you’re preparing to go home from the hospital and feeling that your health problem you wanted resolved had been, in fact, remedied!  I spent more than 48 hours in the hospital because of a sneaky asthmatic condition.  I don’t know much about the science of asthma to educate you well on it, but let me tell you my personal experience with it.

Since about two years ago, me having asthma has always been part of my thought patterns after this very young lady doctor told me at the UPLB Infirmary quite briskly, “you have asthma!” after a quick touch of the stethoscope.  That condition that I have asthma didn’t register in mind perhaps because I didn’t like the way the doctor laid it out to me.  But, in fairness, she was the first to diagnose me with asthma.  When I consulted other doctors later, they agreed with the diagnosis.

Still, I wasn’t really worried about being an asthmatic until very recently – actually, about a couple of months back, when I started having difficulty breathing and suffering from shortness of breath most of the time, thereby resulting in what was terrible tiredness, fatigue, and congested chest that ultimately induced chest pains that connected with my heart condition.  Well, that’s not all, but certainly that’s the brief flow chart.  A very short distance of 10 meters would result in gasping for air.  A flight of 5 stair steps got me gasping for air and I couldn’t recover easily.  Such episodes had been happening twice daily, usually noontime and midnight, in the last month or so.  My life during that time was like I was frequently and regularly on the verge of drowning in a pool of water the bottom of which I could hardly touch with my foot and had nothing to hold onto to keep my nose above water level while my strength grew weaker and weaker.  In time, usually I recovered and could gain more air (well, until the next episode)   And I thought it was already a given, and I had to endure it.

Last Sunday before noontime, that episode happened again as usual and I could not bear any further episode of it anymore, so I told Jegs that I wanted to have myself confined in the hospital again and see if I could even gain a day’s rest (I was also worried about her being under intense pressure because she had to look after me and my condition wasn’t exactly easy to deal with, given the nature of a patient that I can be).  So I told her, “I’d like to be confined now.”  Apparently, she was thinking of the same thing although she didn't tell me because she was concerned I wouldn't like the idea at all.  She was quick to put the things she thought we would need and loaded them into a small basket, which she loaded in the car.  Before we left for the hospital, Jegs and I first checked the hospital's Website.  From there we identified a possible pulmonologist to look into that concern of mine. Then, off we went to HealthServe.   

Also, before leaving for the hospital, I texted my cardiologist, Dr. Lantican, telling him what I was going to do and seeking his advice, but before he could respond we got to the hospital.  I had specifically mentioned to him that I also wanted to consult a pulmonologist, and gave him the name of Dr. Claudette Gabrillo, whom  Jegs and I simply identified from the hospital's Website. Jegs and I had heard of the name of one listed in the Website, but she was on vacation, so I selected the other one based on what I read about her on the Website.  Dr. Lantican agreed to invite Dr. Gabrillo to be my pulmonologist

While Jegs was looking for a space in the HealthServ parking area, I entered the ER and told the staff nurse that I wanted to be confined.  I told her who my doctor was (Dr. Noel Lantican), and also told her that I wanted to be seen by pulmonologist, Dr. Gabrillo.  The Doctor on duty at ER asked me if I was being referred to Dr. Gabrillo, but I said I only identified her from the hospital’s website.  After the quick preliminaries, I was wheeled into the X-ray room for my chest ex-ray, which I was told, would be needed by Dr. Gabrillo when she came in to evaluate my condition.

One of the things that Dr. Gabrillo noticed was that there was a little amount of fluid in my lungs (which one, I didn’t ask) and she tried to get that out through medical therapy.  I took the medicine she prescribed, and, boy, did that tablet have an effect on me!  Every hour I had to urinate, and apparently the fluid in my lungs was gone overnight.  I felt good the following morning.  The shortness of breath and the feeling of congested chest after a slight exertion of effort were gone.

As a result, I requested to be discharged Tuesday noontime.  I thank Dr. Lantican and Dr. Gabrillo for such quick improvement in my system.   

That's the news report part.  Now, the personal interpretations and beliefs..

A few days ago, I had reported to my doctor that I felt gas was building up in my stomach each time I ate something, or even drank water.  And each time that I felt gas was building up in my stomach, I felt I could no longer add more air into my lungs because the space may have been taken over the gas and my lungs could no longer expand anymore.  I thought that simply getting rid of the gas would be enough so I pushed the gas in my tummy downwards until I passed wind, but the gas simply would build up again.

Perhaps you have experienced this before.  When you feel you’re building gas in your tummy and you take a breath because you need fresh air, you feel that your lungs could not expand anymore so there’s no more space for the new air you have breathed into your system.  This condition results in quick, short breaths that does not really result in air intake.  So you keep on taking very short breaths and you feel you’re losing air.  Apparently, that’s what happens when you have liquid in the lungs.   

The liquid takes space of your lungs and  when there’s a large amount of liquid in the lungs this condition leaves less space for the fresh air.  When there’s too much liquid in the lungs, one suffers from what many who have experienced such episode as “drowning.”  Come to think of it, that must have been the feeling in the last few seconds in the lives of most of those who perished with the Titanic.

Well, anyway, I’m not saying you have liquid in your lungs.  All I'm saying is, I hope I'm done with those kinds of episodes so I can enjoy my life.  

You’re all very robust and healthy.  For those who have asthma, though, it may be wise to prepare for some eventualities during the Summer break.  Since asthma can’t be cured, we can only avoid the triggers such as inhaling pollens, dust, smoke, pollutants, and even smell and hair of pets.   

On this last one, though, I'm taking my chances with Waku, our three-year old shi-tzu.  Our neighbors told us that during the two nights that we were in the hospital they heard him crying or howling softly about midnight, just about the time he would normally wake me up so I could let him out the apartment to pee.   For a pet owner, no matter how stern or even unforgiving, such brief episode is tough to deal with and extremely sentimental that can melt one's feelings in seconds.

Anyway, you can avoid the likely triggers of asthma by using a medical mask whenever you’re outdoors or even indoors.  Avoid the sudden drizzles, they can be nasty, as well.  And by the way, avoid, too, the intense heat of the sun. Stay under the shade of those large trees.

Otherwise, enjoy the summer outdoors as you listen to Theme From a Summer Place by Max Steiner..