I have heard of the beauty of Batanes over ten years ago, when I began seeing pictures of its rolling hills and clear blue sky in newspapers and magazines.
I couldn’t believe how beautiful the place was, but there was a reason why I couldn’t go at that time: the huge cost of traveling there, and the weather which had been known to keep the islands isolated for weeks on end.
Indeed, Batanes can be pricey. Flights alone can set you back up to P19,000 (~$450) for a return ticket, and accommodation packages can range from P2,000 to P6,000 or more per day ($40-$140), including the meals which are usually pegged at P300 ($7) per head.
When I managed to buy a round trip ticket to Basco, the mainland, for only P2,700 ($64), I told myself that I would stick to a budget and prove to people that there’s no need to break the bank just to travel to Batanes.
Marfel’s Lodge, operated by local resident Felomena Fitero, is located just a few meters from the airport (you can walk it in less than 5 minutes!). It’s a two-storey house comprising two bedrooms for rent, each of which can accommodate up to three persons. I was lucky that when I sent a text message to Ate Fe, one bedroom was still available. The other one was already reserved for a couple, Donna and Lloyd, who still had to arrive from Manila.
If you’re budget conscious, a homestay like Ate Fe’s is the way to go. If you don’t want to use the air conditioner, the rate is only P350 per head. Even if you want to use the AC (P1,000 per room for two persons), it would still be worth it. Why? Let me enumerate:
There are only two bedrooms in the whole house. That means that there won’t be a lot of strangers that you have to get along with. If you’re lucky and the other guests leave ahead of you, you get the whole house to yourself, like I did for three days. Where else can you pay only P350 per day and get a whole house?
Each bedroom has two beds, one single and one double. The rate includes free use of towel and linen, and a complimentary roll of tissue and bar of soap. Talk about value-laden!
At the second floor where the bedrooms are, there’s a small living area and a terrace for smokers, or for those who just want to chill out.
When you’re lodged at Marfel’s, you get to use the kitchen (left of the photo) for a small fee. That’s right. If you’re on a budget and don’t want to pay P300 or more for a meal in restaurants, buy the raw ingredients and cook your own. You can find complete cooking and dining utensils here. I have cooked most of my meals, from just frying eggs, to making a pasta dinner. I just bought the ingredients I needed and put them in the fridge.
Ate Fe has a mini-Honesty Store inside the house, too. There are snack items and other food stuff there that you can use, with the corresponding prices indicated. You can pay immediately, or just list them down and pay your bill when you check out. This was a major disadvantage for me, as I couldn’t resist having junk food, given the ease of access!
The living area is big, comfortable, and there’s a TV and stereo that you can use. Former guests of Ate Fe included a group of 11 friends (four people each in the room, two in folding beds in the living room in the second floor, and one person using the sofa in the first floor as a bed) who cooked their own meals and had videoke sessions when they weren’t out on tours.
Even if you’re not into karaoke or videoke, the living room is still the perfect place to relax after a long day’s tour. The sofa is very comfortable and I have found myself (and Donna, too) falling asleep while watching TV.
As if all these are not enough, there’s more!
The best thing about Marfel’s Lodge, aside from the price, is the strong Wifi connection! Not all lodging houses and resorts in Batanes have that; even the highly-priced Pacita Fundacion isn’t connected. For freelancers and budget travelers like me, Marfel’s Lodge is definitely heaven sent.
There were a few disadvantages, but nothing major.
If you get the fan accommodation, and if you were there during the summer months, it can get pretty hot in the bedroom. I addressed that by staying mostly downstairs, working on my netbook in the dining area, or chilling by the sala. That’s why if you’re not traveling solo, better spend a few hundreds more and get the AC accommodation.
Since the homestay is situated within a community–not on a bluff overlooking the ocean, for example–don’t expect nice views or total serenity. Expect seeing the locals go through their daily lives, hearing children crying, or seeing them play. In the mornings, there’s a taho (soya) vendor who passes by; why not do what the locals do and buy a small cup (P10)? It’s warm and sweet and filling.
I can never fully articulate how beautiful Batanes is, but there’s another thing that will make me go back there again and again; Marfel’s Lodge, Ate Fe, and the kindness of the people in this wonderful bit of heaven called Batanes.
If you wish to stay at Marfel’s Lodge, book in advance to secure a room. Call or text Ate Fe at +63 908. 893.1475. Fan room is P500 (1 person), P700 (2 persons), P1,000 (3 persons). Aircon room is P1,000 (1 person), P1,200 (2 persons), P1,500 (3 persons). Updated as of 07 November 2013.
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!