Friday, July 12, 2013

Dateline: Itbayat, Batanes

Brief, Interesting Trip to the Edge of the World

Itbayat is the northernmost town of Batanes and of the Philippines.  This town lies in  a vat-like interior area of a 92sqm island formed out of the rise of corrals from the depths just where the Pacific Ocean meets the West Philippine Sea (known earlier as the South China Sea) at 121oE, 20oN, some millions of years ago.  This was where I was born three scores and ten years past.  I left the place in 1959, visited it back in 2004, and visited it again July 4&5 this year in what seemed to be an accidental  visit.
Itbayat Island at some distance.  It's the edge of the world.

While visiting Batan Island to continue helping Jegs collect data for her dissertation on ecotourism (of all places, she had to choose Batan Island that I think her doctoral committee at UPLB least know about), we got information that re-elected Governor Vic Gato was planning to visit Itbayat on July 3rd.  We visited the Governor and inquired about the Itbayat trip and he informed us that he would sail to Itbayat for a “blow-out” party as a means of thanking the people of Itbayat (his hometown as well) after getting re-elected and that we were invited to come along.  The trip was actually going to be July 5th because the Governor had a number of meetings scheduled before leaving for Itbayat.  Jegs was so excited about the possibility of visiting Itbayat, even if it wasn’t included in our schedule, and I must admit that I also wanted my wife to see where I was born.  Well, here was an opportunity presenting itself although I wasn’t exactly sure the idea was good (I have become wary about sea travel perhaps as a function of aging), but we decided to rebook our return flight to Manila and go visit Itbayat, instead.
  Jegs halfway up the concrete stais at Chinapoliran.

We left Basco Warf at 9:00 a.m.  4th of July on board the MB MISUBI (for Mahatao, Itbayat, Sabtang, Uyugan, Basco, and Ivana, the towns of Batanes), and arrived at Itbayat’s Chinapoliran seaport before lunch.  In my youth, I recall this seaport as a crude promontory jutting out about 3 meters at sea, where passengers in small boats called tataya and falowa (a bit larger in size than the tataya) drop off their passengers.  In those times, one had to take time to jump off from the tataya to the rock when the wave was at level with the rock.  I haven’t heard of anyone from the place missing this crucial step, but I’ve been told that an accident had happened long time ago when a visitor to the island didn’t listen to the advise of those helping him down and jumped at the wrong time.  From the sea level, one has to walk up a steep rock road which is about 80 meters long at an inclination of about 400, winding up the cliff until one is about 75 meters above sea level (MASL), which is the pick-up point.  This road, which is now cemented (and vehicles can now go down to pick passengers), used to be just a rough rock trail.  From where the passengers take off from the MB MISUBI, which has docked on the rock, we had to climb a cemented stair (about 100 steps) to where we could take the vehicle that was waiting for us.  I had difficulty navigating those steps, though, particularly because the heat was so intense which affected me badly since I have a heart condition.  It seemed like it was much hotter at the seaport compared to any other place on the island.  I had to stop about four times while ascending concrete stair, to take my breath.    

Rock formation called misanga's tutok (misanga su tuktok), meaning "twin tips".  Between this rock and the shoreline (which is part of the awesome Itbayat Cliffs) is a ten-meter wide water channel about three fathoms deep and has very powerful undercurrent.  

Pix below shows another cliff near the southern tip of the island, also indicating wild growth of voyavoy (Phoenix loureilii var. philippinensis), said to be a very expensive palm.  It is popular in Luzon as ornamental palm.  In Batanes, especially in Itbayat and Sabtang, this palm's leaves are shreded while still fresh, dried under the sun, then used to weave what Ivatans call vakul, and what Itbayats call suhot.
The entire coastline of Itbayat is rock cliffs that can be as high as some 100 meters above sea level.
From a distance, these are how the Itbayat coastline looks like. 

 This trip was very exciting to Jegs and me, though.   It was the first time Jegs visited Itbayat, and I had always wanted her to see my birth place.  This trip, while accidental, was well worth the effort and expense.  When we checked in at the SM Lodge, near the Municipal Building, we enjoyed the cool room (it was air conditioned).  

 This place is managed by Mrs. Maria Gordo, whom Jegs had met a week earlier in a DTI workshop on tourism held in Basco.  Jegs actually interviewed and befriended Ms. Gordo and Ms. Faustina Cano, who manages another home stay facility in Itbayat.  The two senior citizens accompanied Jegs to Mt. Karoboban, the highest peak on Itbayat Island after lunch.  This was a good trip because when Jegs took a course on natural conservation she chose to research and report on Mt. Karoboban in Itbayat.  This time, she was at the mountain, appreciating its beauty.

At Mt. Karoboban, Jegs brought this bunch of fruit.  In Itbayat, this is called pawali (whose scientific name I haven't been able to check).  The fruit is edible, although a bit sour.  This particular variety, I believe is Itbayat indemic, but that's for the botanists to say.  I'm toying with the idea of organizing some kind of a mini-scientific expedition to Itabayat and Mt. Matarem in Mahatao.

 On Itbayat Island, the NAPOCOR operates a diesel power generator only from 8:00 a.m. up to midnight.  When we were there, there was not much wind flow from midnight to morning and our room was stuffy.  This was one of the  down sides of visiting Itbayat, which is still a sixth class municipality with a lot of problems, such as lack of resources.  However, I’m proud of the fact that this town remains very peaceful and clean.
Panoramic shot of Itbayat town (facing south) from the front stage of the Municipal Hall.

Itbayat is a town situated in a place  like a vat.  One would think it would be filled with flood waters when it rains, but the fact is, it has a natural drainage that flows out to sea near another seaport called Paganaman, north of Chinapoliran.  At no time in its history has Itbayat experienced flood waters deeper than  12 inches in its canals

Pix at right is the main street of Itbayat, which connects Mayan town and Raele, a barangay 8 kilometers south.

The lunch-blow-out of the Governor was held at the town plaza along the national road.  In Itbayat, they have a systematic way of doing this kind of event, which is a long tradition in the town.  One set of people (males) took care of butchering the two cows for viand, another set of individuals (females) took care of cooking all the food, another set of individuals (females) took care of putting the food on breadfruit leaves (serving as plates), and still another group took responsibility for distributing to each individual his/her set of food (of rice, ovud, vunes, picadillo (chopped meat), and other meat dish).  Everybody fell in line (very orderly).  What is ovud?  It’s the rhizome of banana plants, while vunes is dried stalks of gabi.  These are finely chopped, mixed with meat, and cooked.  Food here is simply prepared, but tasty, at least for the first-timer.
Today, one would not even see canals in Itbayat town with plastics or any other kind of debris.  The place is so clean, peaceful, and people are so courteous.  Aside from Itbayaten, the local dialect in Itbayat, people speak Ivatan, of course, but they are as conversant in Tagalog as in English.  The priest in Itbayat, who has been there just a month, related a story of an old woman whose confession he had heard in Raele, a barangay south of the town, telling him, “please speak in English, I don’t understand what you are saying.”

Above as a family abode some 7 km south of town.  Note the satellite antenna (above).  To the right is the pix of a nearby house occupied by newlyweds (the husband is son of the owner of the house above).  It comprises the main house and the kitchen.
Hayud herb cooked as vegetable by Itbayats.
In Itbayat, Jegs and I wanted to pay a visit to Ms. Prudencia Capito-Redondo, said to be 101 years old (oldest in Batanes), but we didn't have enough time to do so.  We learned that Lola Prudencia has continuously taken hayud (yayud in Ivatan) tea, an herb that is popular among residents of Itbayat.  She has been quoted as saying she had always avoided what we all know as "junk"food.
Motor falowa ferrying passengers from Itbayat to Basco.

We wish to take this opportunity to thank the new Mayor of Itbayat, Mayor Reuel Ybañez and his wife for making sure that this event was successful.  I wish to extend again my thanks to my former classmates at the Itbayat Elementary School many years ago.  I didn’t have enough time to visit the place where our house used to stand, but I did have a clear picture of the places I used to frequent as a growing boy.  Going back to one’s roots was, indeed, a nice experience.


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