"Artista ka, 'no?," an Ivatan girl peeked outside her door and asked me with a smile.
On this side of the world, I could sometimes pass as a celebrity. Sure it is flattering but it is the kind of compliment I cannot accept simply because I am an outsider who just happened to look and act differently from everybody else. Yes, a fish out of its water, I tried my best to experience more of the Ivatan culture.
Going here for the fourth time may seem strange for some. But then again, I knew that there is so much yet to learn and see in Batanes. Hence, I deported myself to its rural town, Ivana, located fourteen kilometers away from Basco.
For seven nights, I lived in a stone house located two blocks away from the South China Sea, and about thirty steps from the oldest stone house in Batanes called House of Dakay. My wonderful abode, the Hidalgo house, is a cross-breed of modern architecture and traditional Ivatan stone house. The stones and corals forming the thick walls are inconspicuous-- all you see at first glance is its white-painted walls. The roof, like a typical vahay, is thatched with cogon grass. It has tiny windows and a door that you could leave open 24 hours a day, without the fear of villains bolting inside your home.
At exactly 10 in the evening, the bell reverberates across the municipality. This isn't martial law, but in this peaceful town, a certain order puts children inside their homes after the country's primetime telenovelas have finished airing on their tubes. About five minutes after the curfew, you can not hear a single murmur. Not even the shrieking falsettos of videokes plaguing the entire nation have shaken this neighborhood.
It was too peaceful outside but inside my stone house, I lay awake. I could hear the barreling of the waves and the howling of the winds, even if all my windows and doors were closed. The cold bed weather temperature was perfect for a good night sleep but I stayed restless not because I was scared that legendary vampires would suddenly appear in front of my bed. Insects that looked like half-spider-half-mosquito-super-creature (I'm not kidding!) were attacking me, probably also aware of the fact that I'm an alien in this part of the world.
Every 5:45 in the morning, the deafening silence is replaced by the bubbly chirping of birds. Minutes after, the sound of school kids reeling their bikes chime with nature. This is the time I open the windows and doors, supposedly welcoming the start of the day but sometimes, I accidentally fall asleep after a hearty breakfast meal. And this time, the insects leave their prey unattended.
Before 12 noon, I'd walk a few blocks to witness the street sights. An old tipsy man walking like a toddler sent the Ivana sisterhood cracking into laughter. The elementary school's packed with parked bikes, but soon, kids on their shorts and long skirts spin it back to their homes for their one-hour lunch break. These kids are masters of bicycles-- most of them barely half the size of their bikes.
I walk back and forth. The Old Spanish Bridge. The House of Dakay. The eternal folding of the waves. The carinderia. The waiting shed. The unattended stores with their fresh harvests on the table and money bills as payment tucked somewhere. The nice trash bins segregated too neatly. Surreal sunsets. Each day, there is something new to observe, and something old to remember, like the father who walks his kids by the beach every 5 in the afternoon and happy students who've saved enough money after school to buy fish ball in front of my house.
My friend Ate Juliet or sometimes her niece and nephew knock on my opened door with their sweet call of "Dios!" Normally, I would have said "Kain tayo" but my dining table was always empty. Instead, my visitors were always there by the door, delivering their deliciously cooked meals.
I was alone for eight days and seven nights but I have to say that my stay here was one of the loveliest vacations I've ever experienced. There is no such thing as being sad when you're alone in Batanes. The sights and my neighbors have made me feel right at home. And this is Batanes at its finest.
Follow me @fartherfurther