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Batanes General

Itbayat: Living on a coral

Itbayat Island is actually a giant uplifted coral reef, and research claims it’s one of the world’s largest. Knowing this first time around made me think how this was possible. I guess that explains how the island doesn’t have a shoreline and the texture of the cliffs does resemble a giant coral. Interesting isn’t it? So how is it like living on a giant coral reef?

Down to the Port of Paganaman

Down to the Port of Paganaman

Itbayat Island is actually a giant uplifted coral reef, and research claims it’s one of the world’s largest. Knowing this first time around made me think how this was possible. I guess that explains how the island doesn’t have a shoreline and the texture of the cliffs does resemble a giant coral. Interesting isn’t it? So how is it like living on a giant coral reef?

A vine covered house

A vine covered house

Little is known about this island and guidebooks tell very little about it, even none at all, which can be hard really to make an itinerary for it. We only have an overnight stay allotted on this island and its a damn short time to explore after seeing how huge the place is and its wide potential for exploration. The main town center of Itbayat is surprisingly modern in structures for a rural town and really peaceful. Electricity here is from 12noon to 12 midnight. I swear if your a fugitive in hiding, this would be a perfect place to live in if you just want to disappear from the world.

Itbayat Mini Library

Itbayat Mini Library

There are very basic facilities for the town here. There’s this amusing little library there, I swear I would like to see the books they have but it was closed at that time. This also made me think that this would be a perfect place to do a book-giving outreach and the challenge is going here.

Anyways we passed by this town and the folks here are very friendly. Apparently, people here aren’t “Ivatan” but are also called “Itbayat” and they are good looking actually, like mestizos and mestizas. They have a very distinct eyes for a Filipino.

A failed attempt on climbing a mountain

A failed attempt on climbing a Mt Karoboboan

That afternoon, we were supposed to climb a low mountain called Mt Karoboboan, which the locals said was quite reachable from the town. So we headed on the direction they pointed, but after almost an hour of walking it seems we can’t see a mountain in our sight. Now this is a disadvantage of not having any information. As much as I’d like to continue further on, it was already getting late in the afternoon and we couldn’t risk being caught in the dark in an uncharted place so we decided to head back and go to the nearby Port of Paganaman instead.

Catch of the day

Catch of the day

Port of Paganaman is a fisherman’s port. When we came there they were just sorting out their catch. And boy the fishes are big and looks so healthy here and colorful as well. We even saw a large captured murray eel coiled to a spear, and guess what, the spear was bent by the eel! So imagine how strong this eel was to bea able to bend that spear. On the port, we could also see their local version of bayanihan here. Since there are no shoreline here, at the end of the day, the fishermen have to secure their boats by carrying them up to the elevated platforms, Which isn’t an easy job due to the more than 45 degree of elevation so everyone helps out carrying them.

Starlite boat and cliff

Starlite boat and cliff

Tony Bobony’s friends just kept on coming and we met a couple here, Richard and Dante. They own this blue starlite boat which they boast have been featured on some local tv travel channel before. He said that if we had gone here earlier that day, they could have taken us to the last island up north to Y’ami, a small island close to Taiwan abound with orchids and amazing sea life and reefs. Wow, I thought. He also talk of a lot of free divers here who are able to stay long under water for 5 to 10 minutes. They somehow managed to learn proper breathing techniques to be able to do that and swim fast enough even with wooden fins on their feet. Amazing.

Waiting for a sunset

Waiting for a sunset

Another problem he mentioned here are the illegal fishermen and divers who cross the Philippine borders to dive for the precious shells. Yes, those shells which they used for a lot of jewelry are very abundant here. Some ignorant locals who doesn’t know the value of these shells sell them to these border crossers on a very cheap price of 50 pesos to 100 pesos wherein the true value of these shells could go up to 500 to more than a thousand pesos in the market. So he and his fishermen friends keep close watch on the waters of Itbayat and protect them themselves as much as they can.

We waited for a nice sunset there at Paganaman but there were just too many clouds at that time. At the same time we were also hoping for some whale sighting which they said some pass by occasionally but there were none also. But we did get 3 fresh fish delivered by Richard and Dante at the guest house that night for our dinner and breakfast.

Sta Maria church on a morning Maundy Thursday

The Sta Maria church

A prominent landmark at the town is the Sta Maria Church. There is something special about its bell and church tower but I can’t quite remember. Maybe someone here knows about it’s architecture or something? But I do know their priest isn’t a Filipino but a Spaniard who lived most of his life in this island. I was able to talk to the local candidate, Nick Abad, that morning before he left. He mentioned that in Itbayat, there are 5 barrios with a total of 3000 population in the island. And he’s own his own to campaign. I must commend that person. He’s a one man army.

On the way to Paganaman in light

On the way to Paganaman in light

For the rest of the morning we decided to just go back at the port since we only have a little time left. We saw how the port looks more amazing in broad light. More stunning cliffs amidst blue waters. Fishing boats are already out into the ocean.

Back at the port, time to go

Back at the port, time to go

By mid day it was time to head back to the boat as there’s only one boat trip going to and fro the island. It’s a bit disappointing leaving the island without having to fully explore it. We were told of impressive caves, more stunning cliffs, singing rock formations and heritage sites around the area. It’s time to go back to Batan island, on our way back we promised ourselves we’ll return to this island to discover its hidden wonders. Unlike going here going back was more comfortable and fast due to the good weather. We boarded a vessel named Ocean Spirit and there were only six passengers including Richard, and we raced back to Batan island by the sea. Our next stop, Sabtang Island!

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