Christmas carols echoed eleven days after Christmas. People garbed in their best winter get-up; armed with tambourines, guitars and all sorts of musical stuff. Everyone was on their best moods, like Christmastime. We were lost in all of the happenings that we stopped for a while to regroup.
A local came by enlightening us on what was going on. Apparently, the Christmas season in Batanes doesn’t end at New Year; it is extended up to the first Sunday of the year for the Three Kings celebration. And that Sunday will be the next day. Light bulbs started flickering as the guy told us the festivities the next day. We needed to change plans immediately.
|January 4: Christmas is not yet over|
We hanged out on this coffee stand stationed at a very nice garden somewhere. We had some coffee and chatted with the owner of the place. He was telling us about the next day’s activities. The Santo Niño or the Baby Jesus image will be brought down to the Poblacion from other Barangays. The locals from the other places will flock there to witness the image as it goes to different houses. Food will be everywhere and houses are open to everyone. We were excited on this part.
As our Sabtang Island trip the next day totally vanished, young kids who were seemingly tired (but happy) from their caroling flocked in our tambayan to grab some hot chocolate from the machine. This group of young girls seemed to be happy that they can’t stop yakking (in Ivatan language) about the night’s event. There was even a girl who was too young that she could be inside one of those Kokopax Carriers for easier transport. Judging from their reactions, they were quite accomplished and just took a quick breather from the endless caroling going on there. It was ten in the evening.
I tried to talk to them and was glad to know that some could understand Tagalog. They started around seven in the evening and they’ve already accumulated a huge bag of cash, candies and some knick-knacks. It’s amazing how no one turned them down. Everyone would open their houses to this cute ensemble. A little amount would suffice, even candies. It’s just so amazing how this place would celebrate Three Kings like Trick or Treat.
And then they showed us their bag of goodies; paper bills, some coins, candies, chocolates and many more. Happy smiles on their faces as they got another coin to drop on the slot. And as if they sensed that I’m a good person (ehem) they gravitated towards me which made the chat more intimate. And then the younger one, Aiah, went to me and suddenly hugged me. I was surprised with that gesture and hugged her back telling her that she’s so adorable that I wanna take her home with me. She replied that although she wanted to, her parents probably won’t allow her. She’s the cutest.
As they were about to go back to their “caroling duties”, they stopped and offered some of their best songs for the night. Me and my buddy sat on the bench and held on to our coffees (our 3rd I guess) and listened to this wonderful kids. They sang three Christmas carols; two of which in Tagalog and one in Ivatan. And then I wished that the night won’t end yet. The voices of these kids plus the chilly weather in Batanes were just divine. And then we handed them some tokens for that performance. Aiah hugged me again and said goodbye. That was just lovely.
Going back to our inn, we still saw some groups who were tirelessly singing some carols. Like angels in heaven; in their most fluffy suits ever. Imagine how good our sleep was that night.
The next day we were excited that we woke up a little late after lunch. After three days of non-stop adventures we took this time to just chill and check out the day’s event.
We went out and saw a huge number of people on the streets (a very unusual scene). We saw some truckloads of books and goodies being given to the kids and a huge pile of people in queue for something. And then someone mentioned that we should join the crowd.
A little bit hesitant we queued and followed the line. We registered and went inside this old house and to our surprise, Sec. Butch Abad welcomed us. Yes, he’s an Ivatan. He handed out some five kilos of rice (we gave it afterwards to our landlady), canned goods, some bread and the traditional Ivatan Vunung meal of yellow rice and some carabeef dish wrapped in kabaya leaves. After some photo ops we went away with a huge load of stuff with us.
Our yummy late lunch was revealed as we unwrap the kabaya leaves one by one. Ate Marina of our lodge explained to us this traditional meal. Yellow (turmeric) rice with carabeef dish wrapped in this very durable leaf was our happy meal for the day. The taste was ok but the feeling of having it on the town’s celebrated day was just amusing.
|traditional Ivatan's Vunung meal|
As if we weren’t tired of eating we headed to another house (Ate Marina’s kin) to have dinner and celebrated with the people there. Some guys were on this long table having some celebratory drinking session, women were inside the house busy preparing dinner and kids were preparing for the last night of their carolling shindig.
We were ushered inside the house like we were some notable guests or something. And then they offered some coffee. We exchanged stories with them as we sip our coffees. It was a nice chat and we learned so much about Batanes and the Ivatan’s way of life.
It was nine in the evening and we called it a day. We saw some kids still singing some Christmas carols on the streets. And it’s not just your typical carolling; they sing it with passion and enjoyment. You can totally feel it.
Our supposed trip to Sabtang Island didn’t push through that day but we experienced one of the most celebrated festivities in the town. Hanging out with the kids on the coffee stand was one of my fondest memories in Batanes. And hearing the old folks as they narrate to us their lives were equally memorable. And I am so looking forward for my comeback. I’m gonna look for Aiah and the kids and the nice people we met. Batanes should not only be remembered for the amazing landscapes but for the Ivatans who unselfishly opened their homes and hearts to us. Until then.
|Carla: Ang cute mo Aiah sama ka na pauwi sa'kin|
Aiah: Gusto ko po sana kaya lang 'di ako papayagan...