Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Wow Philippines * Itbayat, Batanes: Adventure at Sea

My adventurous heart yearned for an unforgettable experience in Batanes and our journey to Itbayat sure gave me that boost of adventure that challenged my urban self.

Before the trip, I was having second thoughts about joining the Itbayat leg of our 3-island photo tour.  I was told the journey via boat takes 4 hours and the ride could be treacherous due to the open sea, and thus the typical tourists wouldn't go.  But, the whispers from my adventurous heart won that argument for me.

So here we are at the port in Basco where a 30-seater old wooden boat that looked like a tiny Noah's Ark awaits us.  It was the early part of the Holy Week and many locals are already travelling back to their hometown.  Cargo items ranging from sand and gravel to furniture to huge cans of biscuits were being loaded in what seemed like an infinite storage at the boat's hull.  More people came and I began to wonder if they will exceed the capacity limits of the boat, a very common practice in some of the ports in the provinces.  As we boarded with our orange life jackets, we soon found our little spots on the boat's floor, just enough for us to sit with our legs bunched up.  As soon as the coast guard gave his go signal, we were off.

View from the back of the boat where I was seated
One of the boatmen started to distribute plastic bags which we later realize was heavily utilized as passengers donated their breakfast to the sea.  As time passed, the ride became a roller coaster ride, rocking from left to right, up and down, except that we didn't have seat belts or safety bars.  The boat was covered left and right with a tarpaulin cloth to keep us from getting wet and all we do it peek through the small slot in front just to see giant waves which seemed to surpass the height of our boat.  The roller coaster ride went on continuously for what seemed like forever.  Everyone beside me was throwing up and for a moment there, the clear smelling breeze had turned into a mixture of sorts.  All I could do was surrender to the forces of nature and pray to the God up high.  This moment reminded me of how small I am in this vast world of ours, and even with all our might, we can only do so much. The only consolation we have would be to see the calm reactions of the boat staff, as if this is nothing, since they have maneuvered much worse conditions in their numerous runs.

Two hours later, we spotted land and there was a big sigh of relief.  We were informed that we will dock at an alternate port, called the Mauyen Port, which is southernmost part of the island where the waters are smoother, instead of the usual port which will take another 2 hours.  However, this means that we will have to do some heavy duty hiking up the cliff, via 14 zigzag steep narrow trails with nothing to hold on to, and with all our stuff to carry.  For someone who's not a hiker, this was really a challenge for me.  But luckily, my group was supportive enough and we paced ourselves for a slower hike up.

Mauyen Port, where we got off, there wasn't even a proper dock

As we emerged on top of the hill, all I could see were empty plains, and I felt that I was in Africa.  I also noticed that there were a few lone palm trees but they were unusually short.  We all plopped onto the ground tired and exasperated. Even the sun shining bright on our faces felt good.

That's us waiting for our ride at the top of the cliff

View from the top of the cliff, with the path where we hiked up from the port below
After an hour, an open truck came to pick us up and we all stood at the back. The locals seemed to have mastered the art of balancing more than us urbanites, as they didn't seem to need to hold on to anything as the truck moved through the rough road.  One could easily fall off as the sides of the truck are only as high as our knees.  Definitely an adventure!  I could only smile and say to myself, what better way to have an open top 360 degree sightseeing tour!  And this was our ride for the rest of the trip.

As if there is not enough adventure, we would never have expected the experience that will soon meet us in this uplifted coral of an island.  From a warm welcome from our host at the homestay, to the hidden gems deep in the cave beneath the hills, to the breathtaking view of what seemed like the Moher cliffs of Ireland, and to the history of a people called the Austronesians, these made us forget about the adventurous boat ride and the tiring hike up the cliff.  This was by far the best part of our trip.

You can read more about our experience at the island in my blog entitled Homestay and Breathtaking Landscapes.
Chinapoliran Port

Ironically our trip back to Basco was smooth sailing, reminding us how drastically things change over a short period of time.  Except for a surprise shout by the fishermen upon catching a big fish on our way back, the ride was quiet and we had space to lie down on the boat.

Our boat, back to pick us up

Poor cow, probably suffering from sea sickness after being transported on the boat hull

Smooth waters, beautiful views

Boatmen trying their luck for lunch
And yes, there were in luck!

Time passed quickly this time, and soon, we wake up from our naps to see a familiar view, the Naidi Lighthouse back in Basco, Batanes.

Naidi Lighthouse, Basco, Batanes
Naidi Lighthouse, Basco, Batanes
Challenging as this adventure may be, I wouldn't give up this experience for anything.  Till the next one!

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