After a three day photo Assignment in Batanes, my companions left me on my lonesome in Basco. Learning I would be going to Batanes again, I asked if I can extend my stay there to explore. So I have around another 4 days to spare there. Oh I was originally planning to go back to Itbayat and explore that northernmost region of the Philippines but I chickened out when there was a heavy downpour that Friday morning that I have to postpone going there by boat and since the air strip there is being lengthened no planes could fly there. Not a good decision actually since the next few days became bright and sunny. More than to chill out, I decided to go around by biking Batan Island. Never knew that I would be biking at least 40km of Batan Island’s cliff side and coastal roads for at least 10 hours.
Bicycles or bikes are the most common means of transportation in Batanes. While I mostly see locals use it, I noticed that there are really no established Bike Rental shops in Basco so I had to ask around several Sari-sari stores on where I could rent bikes. I think local tourism should look into putting up bike shops here since Batanes is perfect for biking. Luckily I was led to Nuñez St in between Castillejos and Abad street where I found F.V. Amboy Gen Merchandise. The shop sells bikes, bike parts and automotive parts, but they also rent out bikes of different kinds. I was excited and found a nice mountain bike to rent so I told the owner I would be renting that the whole day next day as early as 5am in the morning.
As early as 5:00am, I saw Mang Felipe, the shop owner doing some final checks on the bike. After trying it out, lugging my tripod and Kata camera backpack on my back, I pedaled off east passing by the side of Basco airport headed to my first stop the Valugan Bay. I noticed that sun rises early in Batanes. Even at 5am, it was bright blue already. The ride to Valugan was easy. The road moderately slopes down that i find a lot of times I don’t have to pedal my way and let the bike drift through the cold morning wind. In around 10-20 minutes already I was at the beach to catch a cloudy sunrise by the large smooth boulders of Valugan Beach. After spacing out for a while at the beautiful scenery there, I went back to town to have breakfast.
Rolling off again around 8am, now I’m heading west and south of Basco via the National Road. The coastal road in Basco is actually very scenic. An amazing view of rugged cliffs and waves coming from the South China crashing against the rock faces. While the view on the road is amazing, it is also treacherous. For me whose only a casual biker I was at first apprehensive to go on. I haven’t really biked for years and my last bike was when I was in Vientiane Laos, but that was easy with flat paved roads. Batanes terrain is different with sloping hills and alternating paved and dusty roads. Not to mention the dangerous blind spots on high cliff turns. My other concern was that I would be riding alone here. If ever I fall or stumble on the road, no one would be there to help me. Nevertheless I went on. If the locals got used to this road so can I.
In 30-minutes time, having navigated through the narrow cliff side roads of Kaychanrian I reached the famous Chanarian View Deck where there’s a 300-step stairs going down for a closer look at the cliffs. Stayed there for a while then continued on the slopes, slowing down on some blind spots and at times pulling my bike up steeper ascending slopes. In 20-30 minutes I reached the town of Mahatao. Lingered for a while near the church and inspected some houses. Mahatao is actually the gateway to the inner roads going to Diura Fishing Village and a short cut to Marlboro Country. The road there is steep and mountainous though. But since I was going by the coastal National Road I continued riding south.
For 20-30 minutes the road were moderate hilly slopes. A lot of the roads are being reconstructed so half part is paved while the other half is not. On the next 20 minutes or so it’s a flat dirt road by a really scenic white beach contrasted by specks of black rocks on shore until I reached the small town of San Vicente and visited the UNESCO Heritage House of Dakay. I wanted to say hi to Lola Florestida but she was still sleeping that morning. It was almost 10am and the sun was already beaming. I donned my light packable jacket to guard against the sun and continued pedaling south.
In just around 15 minutes on flat road, passing by the town of Ivana, I finally reached the famous Honesty Coffee Shop. Nothing much has changed from my last visit there but for the addition of nice souvenir shirts they have. I heard Lola Gabilo sells some special home made bukayo and garlic chips but there were none stocked at that time. What is more surprising is that some comments from my entry here in ironwulf.net was printed on their folder cum slum book of information about the cafe. It’s a nice feeling that my site has reached the attention of the owners. I stayed there for at least 30minutes cooling off since I was really tired.
The only new thing I noticed there is the construction of a new Port in Ivana. After taking some shots I continued my ride south. I noticed I was already getting tired easily because of the heat and I stopped a lot often. I got to this nice stop over on the road with a gazebo to the next town of Uyugan where there’s a great view of Sabtang Island just across. I realize I’m already at the south western tip of Batan Island. Resting and muching some snacks a bit I continued on and by almost noon I finally arrived at the quiet town of Uyugan. Nothing much to see here but the old San Antonio De Florencia Church built around 1784. From here on I was contemplating whether I should get back already but I decided to move on.
Once I got out of town, the main road started getting steep again just like the Kaychanarian area. My legs were aching and I could almost feel the tendons on my left legs tightening up. And seating on the bike stool for more than 4 hours is already painstakingly uncomfortable. Now I know why bikers have paddings on their cycling shorts. At these times I was walking and pulling my bike more on upper slopes. In 20 minutes or so I reached the marker to the Municipality of Motchong. On the beach below I could see a number of horses galloping and playful goats head butting each other for their game.
But looking above and the road ahead, I could see it going higher with more sharp turns. At this point I already decided that it is time to turn back. It’s almost 1pm already and if I continued on, darkness may catch me on the road on my way back. I was already dead tired as I’ve never rode a bike as far and long as that. Maybe it would be easy if it was just a flat paved road but going up and down hills was a real challenge. I looked down on the road milestone and found I have already gone 21 kilometers from Basco. And I was starting to think if I still have strength left to go back the same distance at that length. I considered just waiting for a jeep to pass by and I’ll just toss in the bike at it’s roof and just ride comfortably back to Basco but jeeps pass by very seldom on these parts. So getting my bearings back, I turned around and pushed the pedals with what’s left of my strength.
Even with the mid day heat taking a toll, I continued on. There was one time I took shelter under a tree by the roadside on the way to Ivana when I passed by Uyugan. I found out my water suply has already depleted so I hurried to Ivana and replenished. I found a sari-sari store and downed two bottles of a small Minute Maid Pulp Orange and a Small bottle of cold mineral water then bought another bottle of water to take with me. With renewed strength I pedaled on, walking once in a while to pull my bike on steeper ascending slopes. Descending lower slopes was more exciting and easy as I just had to ride through but at the same time, watching out for my speed on sharp turns. By 3pm I already reached Mahatao. I rested a while and slumped by the bench at the waiting area for a few minutes. Then by 3:30 I already reached the Chanarian View Deck and stopped there again. I’m already close to Basco.
A bunch of teens biking caught up with me at the view deck and chatted with me while resting. They said they just biked to Mahatao for fun and are on their way back to Basco. I let them go on the road first since I find it embarrassing to join them being so slow at this point. A few minutes after they left I followed. From here on it was a lot easier. I squeezed in all the strength I could muster on the last stretch going to Basco and was glad when I finally got into town. I headed straight to my home stay house, straight to my bed and just lay there to rest. It was almost 4pm. I never thought I could bike like that and thank God I didn’t fall or stumble. I know hardcore mountain bikers would just find this task petty, but for a casual biker like me who does this once in a blue moon, it’s a proud personal feat.
Essentials: For Bike Rentals in Basco, go find Alda or Mang Felipe Amboy at F.V. Amboy Gen. Merchandise at Nuñez St, in between Castillejos and Abad St. Bikes can be rented for a day at Php 200 and on a per hour basis at Php 25. You may call Alda to inquire at 0908.468.0766. Do wear sun protective clothing while biking. A good cycling shorts is a must for long hours biking. Bring some snacks and keep hydrated while on the road.
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.