To Be In Itbayat, Or Not To Be In Itbayat?

That should have been the question.

The question I should have so seriously asked myself the other day before this fools side trip to the northernmost inhabited island of the Philippines.

Would have I answered, “No”—probably not. (Peer pressure!)

Day2 – Afterthoughts
Itbayat, Batanes

It was way of maximizing our limited vacation so it’s a 3-island bargain per se. And Itbayat is clearly on the itinerary. The only thing not clear, initially, was that Itbayat is 4-hours away by boat (or by falowa) from Basco. And that part never sink in on me until we set sail and left the island of Batan for the very first time.

The journey to Itbayat started with a “maybe”. Maybe we will or maybe we won’t. It depends… as William of Batanes Mountaineers would say. It depends on an “if”. If the waves are calm then it’s a go. But that’s just an understatement because in reality it becomes, “if the waves are tolerable…”

And that means an Ivatan’s tolerance to the sea. Are you an Ivatan? So go figure.

With the day’s forecast nearing the low end of what’s tolerable: would you still go to Itbayat? Or not?

Yes, it’s a foolish game but our dilemma’s already made up!

So here we go! This is it!

Get your barf bags ready in a jiffy cause most assuredly you’re gonna fill those even before Itransa touch port in Chinapoliran…

A brief note about Chinapoliran

This isn’t China of course. Which makes Chinapoliran a very unusual name for a Philippine port. As if paying homage to China, or Taiwan for that matter… but that’s just probably so.

Anyway, Chinapoliran is Itbayat’s main port by virtue of its vicinity and nearness to Poblacion (Mayan Centro)—Itbayat’s capital town. The port is located on the island’s mid-west facing the South China Sea.

It is situated on a rocky enclave that on my opinion is not ideal for a pier. The harbor is sitting on a 60 degree slope shouldered by some sharp, rough and edgy rocks. At first glance docking seems impossible if not outright dangerous. But the local maritime protocol is to force for Chinapoliran as much before resorting to a secondary port.

There is a secondary port which is safer. But Chinapoliran dictates Itbayat’s maritime commerce and trade. The port also offers a crude yet functional cargo-hauling system. An advantage the other port doesn’t have.

Port of Basco

Day3 – M/B Itransa
Basco, Batanes

A day later…

Itransa arrived in Basco port after 3 hours of rolling with the waves. Just 6 hours ago, I was taking a couple of Dizitabs at Chinapoliran. Mindful of our miss encounter at sea the other day.

It’s either that the Dizitabs did work or that I’ve amazingly mastered seamanship in one day?

Well, it’s probably a mix of everything else: Itransa was not congested, as you can see in the picture above. There were only around 10 passengers this time. And the South China Sea offered us safer passage after that initial Blair Witch-like introduction.

Blair Witch-like ride

The other day, Itransa was fully booked with probably 30-40 people on board. So crammed it looked like a refugee boat. With no room to spare even to stretch an arm or a leg lest somebody complains at you.

And the voyage was rough! With some mega waves that would force you to recite your Hail Marys. Or just close your eyes and pretend you’re in a bad dream struggling to wake up.

Or that you’re so dizzy to say your prayers and too seasick to pretend to dream, you could just as well be busy filling a couple of barf bags… Jejeje

Naidi Lighthouse

As we approach the island of Batan, I was very happy I’m still with my senses. I was enjoying the sunny weather, the sea breeze that soothes the nerves, the lullaby of the mild rolls Itransa makes as it zigzags with the waves.

I can sit and stand freely. I can walk straight a line. In short, I’m not drunk! Ha ha!

And of course, with all these happy thoughts, what else is there to do than to pull out those cameras and just enjoy the ride and the scenery:

A view of Naidi hills, pictured above,  inside the boat as we approach the west side of Batan from the north. You could also see the Naidi lighthouse visible on the far background at the center.

Waiting in Shadows

4 hours ago, it was high noon at Chinapoliran port.

The few of us waiting to board Itransa for Basco were on the upper deck of Chinapoliran in this super concrete waiting shed.

Chinapoliran’s Cargo Cart

Itransa had arrive an hour ago but was still busy unloading its tonne of cargo. It took Itransa 2 hours before it was all ready for boarding.

Pictured above: a gas tank, part of Itransa’s cargo, is loaded into the cart and is hauled upward to the upper deck via a cable being pulled by a truck.

The 3-foot Long Catch

The scene at Chinapoliran was very much uneventful until Itransa arrived. Saved for this lone fisherman who showed up at the port in a small boat carrying a 3-foot long catch.

Torongan Cave

That morning, before leaving Itbayat, we went to the famous Torongan cave. It was a 30-minutes hike though a small forest and a 15-minute ride from Poblacion.

Torongan cave is a barren place. It’s more technically a tunnel than a cave. There’s nothing interesting to see except that it offers a good view of Di’nem Island from Itbayat’s eastern coast.

But Torongan is considered as a major destination only because of its historical significance: believed to be the ancient dwelling place of  Ivatan’s Austronecian ancestors from Taiwan, 4000 years ago.

Gene and his magic Kulambo

Day2 – Lights out!
Itbayat, Batanes

It’s an overnight in Itbayat and we stayed in Ma’am Faustina Cano’s homestay facility near the municipal hall.

Flag Ceremony

I wonder if the Philippine National Anthem, as only heard by the world when Manny Pacquiao fights in the US, can be heard as well in Taiwan when we sing it as loud as we can in Itbayat?

It’s our last activity for the day. An afternoon flag ceremony to cap a dizzying day at sea. Nevertheless we’ve already recovered and just laughed it off in memory.

Manny at the Grotto

With nothing to do after our trip from the view deck, where we were able to see Siayan island to the north. Our guide offered a short side trip to a grotto on a hill in the outskirts of town.

… just Sea Sick and Tired

Here, we’ve just arrived from Basco. But we’re more like sick patients in a hospital ward than tourists as Gene and Manny retreated to their beds.

I was hoping a pretty nurse would come by and check us up but I guess a short nap would do—to straighten my thoughts scrambled earlier by an angry South China sea.

Looks and feels like the end of a journey but in reality, Itbayat had just treated us with its usual newcomer’s welcome. It was a crazy trick that I would have not gone into had I known what’s in store before hand.

And good thing I hadn’t… Itbayat is just a crazy beautiful place to visit. And glad I’m not a newcomer anymore!

So, would I recommend Itbayat as part of your Batanes experience? Of course!

The one regret I have was not covering the whole island on our overnight stay. But fortunately Itbayat’s airport would be opened soon, sometime this year or the next, after a major renovation. You could roughly save 6 hours at sea with a 20-minutes flight. That’s more than half a day to do more wandering around.

Or, you could opt with the same experience as ours… then I’ll just have to salute you, my Captain!



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