A TRIP TO ITBAYAT ISLAND, BATANES
January 2010

Itbayat
Itbayat
Itbayat
Approach to mysterious Itbayat Island

The crossing. A trip to Itbayat starts with a rough crossing from Basco, Batanes, to the Chinapoliran landing in Itbayat on a falowa (wide-hulled local boat). The Itbayat airport was closed for reconstruction, leaving no choice but a sea crossing. We took the M/S Itransa at 7am at the Basco pier. The boat is mainly used for cargo but takes a few passengers. Trips are daily if weather permits. After 3 hours in open ocean, the boat reaches the Southwest tip of Itbayat and then hugs the western shore for one hour up to the landing. The coast is nothing but sheer 100-meter cliffs or steep rocky slopes. There is no beach at all. Three boat landings with stairs or steep trails to the top can be seen along the way. The scenery is breath-taking, with white limestone cliffs and grassy land above. A few birds of prey were seen along the way, including two Ospreys. In places the surf rushes below cavities under the rocks and create an curious noisy high-pressure water jet.

Itbayat
The Southwest corner of Itbayat
Itbayat
100-meter high cliffs

ItbayatThe rugged western coastline of Itbayat

The landing. To land, you need to jump from the boat to a concrete landing. Since the boat swings up and down with the ocean swell, you have to jump just when the boat is level with the landing. You then climb a long flight of stairs to a cemented road where a dump truck awaits passengers and brings them to Mayan, the only town on the island about 2 kms away.

Itbayat
Approach to Chinapoliran landing

Itbayat
The steep ramp to the road
Itbayat
Jumping off the M/S Itransa


Mayan is a pretty little town set in a verdant bowl, with many traditional Ivatan stone houses and an old Spanish church from the 18th century. No hotel here, only government guest houses and homestays. We stayed at the homestay of Faustina Cano, who is simply known there as Nanay, for P150 per person (tel. 0919 3004787). She was a delightful host. The food was delicious, in particular the coconut crabs, a specialty of Itbayat. ItbayatItbayat
Itbayat
The old Spanish church of Mayan
Itbayat
Traditional Ivatan houses in Mayan
Itbayat
Mt. Karoboban. On the same day, the dump truck brought us to the view deck at Mt Karoboban near the North end of the island, at an elevation of 290m. From there we could see the four uninhabited islands North of Itbayat: Siayan (with beautiful white sand beaches), Ditarem (just behind Siayan), and the very distant Misanga (or North Island) and Yami (known locally as Mavolis, the northernmost point of the country). In April or May when weather permits, local boats can bring visitors to Yami in about 4 hours, but that is not for the faint-hearted!
Itbayat
Siayan and Ditarem Islands seen from Mount Karoboban.
     
Torogan Cave. The truck then brought us near Torogan cave, a few kms Southeast of Mayan. After a 30-minute pleasant hike, we walked down though a forest to the entrance of the cave. One of us spotted two Whistling Green-Pigeons in the forest, an uncommon bird only found in Batanes, Babuyan Is, and Taiwan. Inside the cave we could feel a strong draft, but the surprise came after a short walk into the cave, a huge opening into the ocean with the waves crashing on the rocks at the bottom. That was a jaw-dropping sight. We then walked back on a different trail that brought us at the top of the 100m cliff over the cave, with a majestic view of the coast and Di’nem Island in the distance (also known as Diogo Is. on some maps). On the way back, the trail passes by some ancient burial grounds.Torogan
Entrance of Torogan Cave
ToroganView of the ocean from inside Torogan Cave
Torogan
Torogan Cave and walking trail seen from the sea
Ditem
Spectacular Di'nem Island
Torogan
The coast seen from above Torogan Cave. Voyavoy tree in foreground
Torogan
The trail above Torogan cave, Di'nem Island in the distance
Woman
Woman wearing the Vakul near Mayan

Rapang Cliff and Nahili du Votox. We were planning to journey back to Basco the next day, but the wind had strengthened and turned to the North. A bell rings in Mayan at 7am when the boats leave Basco for the daily round-trip to Itbayat. No bell, no boat. We waited for the bell that morning but it never came. But we didn’t regret it. We hiked the whole day from Mayan about 4 km though agricultural land, forests and grassland to Rapang Cliff, a breath-taking setting facing the ocean, in very strong winds. We spotted a group of uncommon migrant birds, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, probably on a rest stop on their way back North. At the foot of the cliffs, we rang a natural stone bell believed to have been used in old times to call meetings. From there we walked south to Nahili du Votox, an ancient Austronesian settlement dated 4000 years ago, with more spectacular views of the coastline and Di’nem Island. We also walked past a good number of boat-shaped burial sites, some still containing human bones and pottery shards.

Rapang
The trail to Rapang Cliff
RapangStormy weather near Rapang Cliff
Rapang
The stone bell at the foot of Rapang Cliff on a rainy day
Rapang
Boat-shaped burial site

Trees of Batanes. Interesting trees were identified along the trails, including the Voyavoy (a variety of the date palm Phoenix hanceana endemic to Batanes, used to make the Vakul or typical Batanes headgear), Arius (Podocarpus costalis, endemic to Batanes and Northern Luzon), Liwas (Drypetes falcate, a Batanes endemic widely planted in towns there), and Valintau (Diospyros ferrea, widespread in Asia and the Pacific, but particularly common in Batanes).

Voyavoy
Voyavoy (Phoenix hanceana  var. philippinensis)
Arius
Arius (Podocarpus costalis)

Embarking for Basco. The following day the bell rang at 7am and we took the M/S Ocean Spirit, which left around noon with 6 passengers, a carabao and a pig. We observed with fascination as the boats from Basco were unloaded, and the cargo then loaded on a cart pulled by a cable along a very steep ramp. The cable passed through a pulley and was pulled by the truck driving slowly up the road. The carabao was brought down the same way, all tied-up, before being loaded by six men on the boat, which itself was swinging wildly up and down with the ocean swell! That was quite a show. The journey back was rough and wet as we were now facing the southeasterly wind.
Port
The M/S Ocean Spirit arriving from Basco
Port
Carabao brought down on a cable cart
Port
Carabao being loaded on the boat
Port
Ready to sail!
Itbayat
Itbayat is a magical place to visit. The friendliness of its people and its haunting beauty remain with you long after you have left its shores.

Christian Perez
Muntinlupa City