BATANES MY LOVE
By William M. Griffin
In 1968 I arrived on Batanes Island in what the
U.S. Coast Guard affectionately call an Albatross. It's an old Grumman
two-engine seaplane. After unloading supplies for the Loran Station I
was taken to "The Judges" for some cold beer by the Chief and the Corpsman.
In the afternoon we started the trip toward the station. I was riding
in the back of one of the old jeeps that the station had, and the old
power wagon was in front with a trailer being towed behind full of supplies.
The curves between Mahatao and Basco were over whelming with their beauty
and thrills. I had not in all of my life ever seen anything like that,
but I had dreams of one day seeing something like that, I was finally
living my great adventure.
As we passed through Mahatao
there were more curves and then the Chief yelled, "This is White Beach,
this is where we go swimming." I nodded that I understood, and thought
that it was funny, and odd that there was no place to park, and it was
straight down to the ocean and water was crashing into the sides of what
I thought were sheer cliffs. As with many that came to the island, latter
I was to learn that there was a place to park, and that there was a beach
Photo by BatanesOnline.com
We drove on through Ivana, with its broad sweeping sand and rock beaches,
on into Uyugan where the beaches are not as inviting, but much more rewarding
in their beauty and rugged seascapes. Into Song Song with it's ghostly
houses standing in silent testament to man's inability to judge the sea,
and finely, into Itbud. Here I saw for the first time the blond women
of Batanes. Out in the tidal
flats were women bending over and picking up things, what I didn't know,
but for sure I could see that they were all blond. Of course I was to
learn latter that this was a headdress that they wore to keep out the
sun and rain, called a Vacul.
- headdress against sun and rain.
I spent a year there on the island. Walking around, and speaking with
everyone I came in contact with. Trying to learn as much as I could about
this island. I had even befriended an old man in Basco who would out play
me on the tennis courts in front of the capital building. Sometimes he
would beat me so badly I would call out "UNCLE." One day he asked me why
I called him uncle, and I sort of snorted a laugh and replied that I wasn't
calling him uncle, but that I was using an American slang term that asked
for surrender. We would sit under the spreading Banyan trees by the wall
at City Hall and cool down. We would often engage in conversations of
politics, agriculture, education, and development of resources on the
island. Some of you have guessed by now that this was Clemente Mata, former
schoolteacher, administrator, and Governor of the island.
That brings me to the best part of the story, my wife. My wife is from
the town of Itbud. We met when I had completed half of my tour already.
We decided on getting married fairly quickly because of the short time
I had left on the island, and the time it took for getting the papers
cleared through the Navy. Yes, that's right, even though we were in the
Coast Guard the Navy handled the paper work for getting married. We were
granted permission to get married in April of 1969 and on May 30th we
were married in the church in Itbud.
We had three children, and
we have returned to the island as many times as our finances would allow.
The first time was in 1974, and we stayed for two months and then returned
to Hawaii where I was stationed on a ship at that time. Our next trip
was in 1979 and again we stayed for two months. The next trip wasn't until
1995 as I had just retired from the service. With the last trip in 1999.
We have always gone back for what we thought was the longest time we could
stay under US law, but we have found that we can stay longer if we want,
and we are now working on doing just that.
of Mavatuy. Photo: BatanesOnline.com
It's the people, the weather, the atmosphere, the wild life, the freedom,
the air, just so much to say, and so few words to say how much our lives
are made richer by returning to the island. I can sit in a tidal pool
for a couple of hours and even the fish will leave me alone. If I'm walking
along the road to nowhere in particular I can depend on someone asking
where I'm going, and how am I doing, and it's a genuine question, not
some off hand, pass you by, and forget I said anything question, but a
sincere quarry requiring some response that was as equally sincere. You
don't find that in to many places out side of the island, and I would
dare say its one of the main reasons that islanders return to the island.
During my last trip someone asked, "Why do you come here when there must
be much nicer resorts to go to elsewhere?" Well that my be true, but no
where else in the world that I've gone have I felt as secure as I do on
Before I left home last time to go to the island, I went to my professor
of Geology at the
University and asked if I
could do a study of Batanes from a Geological point of view. Of course
I could, was the reply and we'll give you some credit if you present all
of your findings. I brought back 43 samples of rock, 89 photographs, and
a sixty-page report. All of you may find this hard to believe, but the
college is giving serious consideration to sponsoring a full team of scientist
and academic types to go to the island and look at some of the specific
sites for specific reasons based on some of my report, and recent events.
|Rugged cliffs of
Alapad (Itbud) where the Loran Station used to be located. Photo:
The beauty of the island will always call to each of you in a different
way, but each of you knows in your heart that Batanes is your home, your
love. Each of you will find your own way to intermingle your on memories
with all of the others, and find ways to bring the peace of Batanes into
your daily lives.
BatanesOnline.com would like to thank Mr.
William M. Griffin for contributing the above article and for allowing
us to share it with the Ivatan community.