At the Tip of the Philippines

August 25, 2010 Travel

Want to really get away from it all?  This is the farthest island you can go to up north without needing your passport.  

Itbayat is the country's last inhabited island.  It is only about 200 kilometers from the southernmost tip of Taiwan.  It is also Batanes' largest island.  The municipality also includes Diogo, Siayan, Maysanga, Mabudis, North and Mavudis Islands.  

Mavudis, also known as Y'ami, is the northernmost island of the Philippines.

Getting there

From the airport in Basco, Batanes, we went straight to the port.  Anton, our friend from Mahatao, made sure the faluwa waited for us.  I knew it wasn't enough time for my antihistamine to work.

Faluwas are motorized boats in Batanes used in the islands to transport goods and people.  It doesn't have katigs or balance beams.

The three-hour ride at a faluwa felt like an eternity on a sea rollercoaster. The faluwa didn't have seats so I experienced being tossed and turned while lying, standing and sitting. None of these positions could calm my tempestuous stomach, so I learned a new skill, swallowing my vomit before it comes out. Yet, they told me it was a relatively calm sea that day.

The worst didn't come until I was told by one of the boatmen when we reached Chinapoliran port that I had to jump to get off. I had to command the whole universe to work with me as I mustered enough courage to jump off the faluwa at the exact point it collided with the ledge, while my head was spinning.

Well, I really didn't have to as one of the boatmen just decided to push me. As soon as I hit land, I ran like crazy to the farthest point my feet could take me at that steep port, away from the waters.

That was what it took for me to reach the country's last frontier.

The Gentle Island

Not a lot of Batanes' tourists visit Itbayat and I see why. Even the massive limestone cliffs surrounding the island seem to be as forbidding as the turbulent seas. But the land it cradles is the opposite, for it is total serenity.

Itbayat is an uplifted coral reef in the shape of a shallow bowl filled with gently sloping hills and verdant land.

It didn't take much time before the calmness of the surroundings crept through me. 

I was in Itbayat to accompany a good friend who is visiting the place where his mom was born. We were also with a friend who frequents Batanes but has also never been to Itbayat.

Maybe the welcome accorded to the homecoming of its son affected me so much that I actually felt peaceful and at home. It was like I was looking at land I also belong to.

Our three days were spent getting to know my friend's relatives, which seemed like everybody in Sta. Maria, including the owners of the guesthouse where we stayed, the proprietor of Laruz Carinderia, and the old Spanish priest, Fr. Dennis who lived in Itbayat for more than 40 years.

I was surprised to find out that men and women still sit separately during mass here at the church.

I was amazed by their hospitality, which came to the point of them apologizing to us for only affording a really humble meal in one of our picnics on the hills. The humble meal just happened to be two big fat lobsters.

We spent an afternoon strolling along the nearby fields, then ending up at the town center just in time for the end of classes. We saw students with bolos tucked in their waists.  My friend explained that most kids drop by their farms before or after class.  

Our sunsets were spent on top of a hill that afforded a view of the surrounding islets like Y'ami and Mavudis. Over beer, home cooked meals, and music from our ipod, we listened to the catch-up stories of our friend and his relatives.

It was during our last night on the island that I felt the fear and at the same time the pain of saying goodbye. I chose to remain sober, for several reasons. First, I did not wish to throw up in the boat ride back to Basco and second, I wanted to remember every tranquil moment at our hill.

Leaving Itbayat

Our journey back to Basco was as eventful.

When I woke up, I was told that we couldn’t ride the faluwa because the Taiwanese tourists chartered the whole boat. They didn't even allow a sick man to board the faluwa. That was followed by good news, however. Batanes Air was conducting a test flight.

Good thing the place where we stayed were also the contacts of Batanes Air, so we got the three available seats.

We rode on habal habals to the airport.  It was a very scenic ride.  We got to see the rest of the beautiful island.

The first sight of the plane was instant joy. As soon as we lugged our baggage in the plane's compartment (yes, it was a self-service plane), I was 100% sure I was going back to Basco via air. 

We took our last look at our island, and as soon as the captain switched off the seatbelt sign,  I dozed off to sleep.

Kidding. It was a really small plane.

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