Sunday, July 11, 2010

Itbayat, Batanes: Stepping onto the corral island at last

Batanes Itbayat Pagganaman Crashing Waves
Crashing Waves at Pagganaman Port Cliffs
We were at the pantalan at a little over 6AM and it was already swarming with people eager to get seats on the only boat bound for Itbayat, the northenmost inhabited island of Batanes.  The one in charge of listing the passengers' names showed us a really crowded list.  Seems the first-come, first-served policy is not popular here (like in Sagada where the locals casually request that their friends' names be listed in their absence).  Uh-oh, looks like my twice-aborted plan to see Itbayat will have to wait a third time. A little backstory: I was able to hike up Mt. Iraya on my first trip but it took me three trips over four years  before being able to step on Sabtang. Will Itbayat be the same waiting game all over again?

Batanes Itbayat Rainy but Sunny Loading at Chinapoliran Port II
Chinapoliran Loading
As it turned out, the M/V Misubi, a steel boat that normally ply the Basco-Currimao route (or so the locals say) was getting ready to ferry back the spillover of the Batanes day celebrants from Itbayat. Finally, luck smiled on me as we are indeed going to one of the largest uplifted corrals in the world.  Even just for an overnight stay, I am eternally grateful.

The trip took almost three hours.  With the good weather, the sea was relatively calm.  Still, that didn't keep some passengers from using their share of barf bags which were distributed upon embarkation.  Instead of taking a straightfoward point A to B approach that's 21 nautical miles from Basco, Itbayat-bound boats go round the southern tip of the island to Chinapoliran, one of the three ports on the western side, some four nautical miles farther.

With its towering cliffs, Itbayat has no real coastline for the usual port.  I've long read about the tricky disembarkation process -- having to time one's jump to stable ground with the swelling of the waves -- something I've witnessed to be true.  The port hands were there to make sure we avoid mishap but we've seen how fickle the sea can be, changing from placid one moment to boiling the next.  I wonder how it would behave (or misbehave) in inclement weather.
Batanes Itbayat Chinapoliran Sloping Port from the Hillside
Chinapoliran Port Sloping View from the Hillside
From port to road lies steep stairways and a slope used for hauling supplies and sundry.  There is no sophisticated crane or hauling equipment but I give due credit to the locals for their tenacity and resourcefulness -- through a simple pulley system, a truck drives up the hills pulling a sled attached through a steel cable.
Batanes Itbayat Passengers Climbing Up Chinapoliran Port
Ascending Chinapoliran

In the late morning heat, we walked halfway towards the town center when a kind lady on a Nissan pick-up let us hitch the rest of the way.  The lack of sleep over the past days and the heat of the afternoon weighed down on us so we napped the hot noon hours away.

We chose to hike the 1.7 kilometer distance between the town center where we stayed in Nanay Maria Gordo's homestay to Pagganaman port to catch the sunset and observe the fishermen either coming home or going out to sea.  It was already dark when we came back to town, the clear night sky filled with stars.  The night was quiet save for our footfalls.  To borrow the lyrics of the Dream Academy's song, here's to the simple life in a northernmost town.

Info:  To reach Itbayat via boat, ride the M/B Intransa or M/B Ocean Spirit from Basco pier • Departure time: 6-7AM • Fare: P450/one way • Travel time: 3-3.5 hours • Recommended time to visit: April - June Accommodations: Around 6-8 homestays are available at around P200/pax/day • Via air: The airport, closed for the last two years, is nearing completion. There used to be Chemtrad or Cyclone 8-seater planes plying the route Basco-Itbayat; travel time is around 12 minutes though trips are subject to volume of passengers; otherwise planes are diverted to other routes such as Laoag and Tuguegarao
Batanes Itbayat Chinapoliran Green Cliffside View
View of green cliffs from the hill above Chinapoliran port


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