Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Cycling Philippines Batanes Day 3-1 : Itbayat Torongan Caves

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Cycling Philippines Batanes Day 3 : Itbayat Torongan Caves
Our faluwa approaching Itbayat Island.
Batanes Islands - Day 3 : 16th September 2015
Trio Ride : No Cycling, boat trip from Batan to Itbayat and then
a motor-cycle & motor-tricycle tour of Itbayat (Santa Rosa>Torongan Caves>Yauran Native Village>Lake Kavaywan>Itbayat Airport>Valance Port>Pangaraman Port>Santa Rosa.)
Distance: Boat Trip- approx 45km.;  Itbayat Motor Tour- 17.36km.  
Time : Boat Trip - 6:10am to 9:00am; Itbayat Tour - 9:30am to 5:35pm
Time Taken : Boat Trip - 2hrs. 50mins; Itbayat Tour - 8hra 5mins. (including hikes to Torongan Caves, visiting native village & ports).

Route Recommendations :
1. The boat trip from Batan to Itbayat takes about three to hours on a calm sea. During rough seas it could take more than that. Their is a daily boat between the islands, but the schedule boat trip may be cancelled if whether is bad/stormy. The fare one way is 450PHP
2. The boats (called Faluwas) does not provide much seating and be prepared to sit/lie on the floor mats provided.
3. Take sea-sick tablets if one is prone to sea-sickness.
4. Itbayat  Island is the largest of the Batanes islands, the island is very hilly. We did not cycle here but I have included a route map & an elevation drawing for those keen to cycle there. Much of the roads are gravel or laterite tracks, so be prepared with suitable tires.
5. Points of interest that should not be missed includes:
    - Torongan Caves (some hiking required).
    - Yauran Native Village, see life of the original natives of the Philippines.
    - seaports (view the steep ramp access and the sunsets).
    - Itbayat has the most remnants of Spanish culture & architecture and has many stone houses with thatch roofs for which Batanes is renown for.
    - stopping to interact with the locals, they are really warm and helpful.
This blog comes in a several parts. To go to other parts click on the following link to return to the summary page:

Goofy at Basco Lighthouse.
The previous day we had cycled around Basco and northern Batan Island; it was a good introduction to the life, culture and the beautiful sights of the Batanes. Today there will be no cycling as we will be taking a 3-hour boat journey to the northern-most inhabited island of the Philippines, Itbayat. This island is the largest of the Batanes islands, and one with the most remnants of the Spanish culture and buildings. 


Route : Santa Rosa>Torongan Caves>Yauran Native Village>Lake Kavaywan>Itbayat Airport>Valance Port>Pangaraman Port>Santa Rosa.
We decided not to take our bicycles along and went on a motor-tour of Itbayat. In the morning we explored the central area of the island before heading for the south after lunch.

We woke up early, and by 5:00am started the short walk down to the Port of Basco; we had a 6:00am boat to catch and would not want to miss it! When we arrived at the port, it was still dark but after a while the sun started peeping out and in dawn's early light we saw the boats docked at the port. It was still too early and the ticketing office was not opened yet, but we are hopeful of making the trip as the weather was relatively calm (during bad weather the boat trips could be cancelled).

As it got brighter we were able to see even more - a derelict boat moored at the piers, was it damaged by the typhoons that occasionally hit these islands around August every year?

Our boat (locally called faluwas) arrived and all are impatient to board...

... but first cargo, including this motor-tricycle, are loaded. We patiently waited.
At the rear is the faluwa, the Ocean Spirit, which leaves at 8:00am. The cost each way is 450PHP.

After all cargo has been loaded, we boarded. There is no gang-plank, and with the help of the boat hands with skipped over. Our faluwa embarks quite on time.
The boat is at least a fifty footer, with two decks. The upper deck is where the where the pilot is, behind which is a small deck which can stand about five to six. There are hardly any seating and mats are laid on the floor for most to lie down on.
Did we take our sea-sick pills? It didn't really matter, for today's sea was relatively calm and soon the rocking motion of the boat lulls us to sleep just like this baby.

The boat is full and the poor boat-hands (about nine of them) have to sit outside. But they are prepared for this and are well covered up against the shining sun. They keep themselves occupied by throwing a line into the sea; as we neared our destination, they reel in the line.... but the it came out empty!

Land Ahoy!
As we approached Itbayat, I am awed by the island. As we skirted the island, I noticed that the whole island literally sits on cliffs without a single beach, there don't seem to be any towns near the seaside. I later learnt that Itbayat is one of the largest uplifted coral islands in the world.
Instead we see a landing wharf at sea level with a steep ramp leading up to Itbayat (Chinapoliran) Port terminal area.

As we make land, there was a flurry of activity up front.
The boat hands threw the heavy anchor overboard to slow down the boat's approach; the old tires were put out onto the approaching side to cushion the boat as it hit's the wharf. From the wharf side, a couple of other hands caught a thick rope thrown from the boat and tied it to the strong moors.
With the boat secured, passengers with the help of the boat hands made their way out and with a skip disembarked on the solid wharf.

On landing we climbed up steep steps to the vehicles terminal area which was easily a hundred feet above the wharf. At top we looked down at passenger now boarding the boat for it's return trip to Batan Island. Thank goodness we did not bring our bikes, carrying them up those steep steps would have been a task!

Now wonder vehicles do not go down to the wharf area; the ramp leading down is very steep, of almost  45 degrees incline. Goods are taken down to the wharf level by this carts held to a cable which is slowly let down by a winch at the top. A porter guides the cart so that it does not go astray and tumble into the sea!

(Photo by Siew Yung)
Up at the top, there seems to be a bit of a mixed up. We were suppose to be guided by an English speaking guide but instead he had delegated us to Jason who does not speak English that well. We negotiated with him for a while but it was to no avail, we were stuck with Jason. At the end of our stay in Itbayat, we must say that Jason did perform admirably, taking good care of us albeit the minor language barrier.
In our haggling, most of the motorcycles which transport passengers to town had been taken up. So instead of three motorcycles, one for each of us, we ended up with two. Siew Yung and me shared one while Ong rode pillion with Jason. I have rode in multi-passengers motorcycles before, like the motor-dops of Cambodia which sometimes can squeeze up to four passengers. But unlike the motor-dops, the motorcycles here does not have extended seats. So there we were squeezing onto the bike and sharing the narrow foot pedal. Luckily the road to town was a good one and not bumpy, but I still held on for dear life!

We were dropped off at Cano's Lodge where Nanay Cano was waiting for us eagerly. She welcomed us most warm heartedly, like a mother welcoming her children home.
Nanay was a former tourist information officer of the island and is thus very knowledgeable about the place. Over coffee she gave us a detailed talk on the history & geography of Batanes in general and Itbayat in particular.
Here we are like students in a class, listening attentively. Every once in a while she slipped into her native Ivatan tongue' although we could not understand Ivatan, we politely refrained from interrupting her he artful presentation.
(Note: the coffee is not on the house and comes from a neighbouring caterer. Itbayat's economy is mainly fishing based and some farming of its renown garlic and onions. Nanay is trying to improve the lot of her neighbours by spreading the tourist dollars around, so we paid up happily).

After the talk, we popped over to the neighbouring caterer to have breakfast and were surprised by the menu; they served quite a heavy meal which included rice and a few dishes! My guess is that the Itbayatans have a hearty breakfast before starting their laborious day.
After that we had to go over at the provincial administrative office to register and pay a nominal visitors fee, this applied for all the islands we visited. We are ready to start our tour; while SY rode pillion with Jason, Ong and me shared this orange motor-tricycle. We had seen these at Batan but had not rode in one as we were cycling around back then, so this is a first for us. The roofs over the motor-cycle and cabs are rather low.

Click on video to see a You Tube video of bumpy ride to the Torongan caves.
The route to the Torongan Caves was mainly over laterite and gravel roads which were very bumpy, we had to crouch town a bit to avoid our heads hitting onto the low roofs.

Our motorcycle ride ended but we are not at the caves yet. The caves are still two kilometres away. With no direct road access, we had to hike the rest of the way through narrow and sometimes steep paths. Looks like I will have to change my name from AhPek Biker to AhPek Hiker for the meantime.

So near yet so far....
Our hike ended but now we had to climb down some steep cliffs to reach this narrow pathway that leads to the entrance of the caves. The rocks here are young limestones, almost coral-like with rough and sharp edges, so we climbed very carefully.

The cavern of the Torongan Caves are huge, we seemed like tiny ants, slowly crawling over the coral rocks with the ceiling hanging high over us.

At the far end of the cave, an opening gives a nice view of the sea.

Satisfied... and it's time to climb back up again.... have to be careful of those sharp rocks though!

Jason took us on a different route out from the caves. It was a gentler route, one that took us through turfed slopes few trees...

It was a worthwhile climb as at the top a rewarding vista of the island awaited us. Far away the sharp crest of Dinem Island can be seen.

At another point we looked down below, the sea is so beautiful crashing onto the cliffs in a splendour of blue. The Torongan Caves are on a small inlet to the left.

Wow.... WOW!
The sea is so, so blue. I am almost tempted to jump in.
Whoa..... steady there!

Up above is a small plateau with a pathway lined by small white stones. I was wondering what was the significance of this when Jason explained that those brownish stone cairns around us are actually burial grounds of ancient aborigines who dwelt here, probably having migrated over from Formosa.
Ok.... noted.... better stay on the path lest we trod someone's grave and disturb their spirits.

The trek back was through grassy shady paths; one much, much easier than the steep route that we took coming down. It was a longer road but we did not complain and yet wondered why we did not use this path down instead. Perhaps it's all part of the tour, to show the different faces of Torongan.

Having trekked for close to three hours, we noticed some coconut trees and remarked that some coconut water would rejuvenate us. Quite immediately Jason climbed one of those trees and cut down some coconuts, with his parang he cut opened them for us. He's turning out to be a better guide than expected.

It's way past noon now, sitting there sipping our coconuts direct from the nuts was one badly needed replenishment coupled with a well deserved rest.
Arriving back at the road, we hopped onto the motor-bikes and headed back to Cano's Lodge for lunch...


This blog comes in a several parts. To go to other parts click on the following link to return to the summary page:

To see more photos for the day, Click here.

Related Blogs :

Scenic sunset views of a beautiful mosques sitting at the edge of the Straits of Malacca.

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker / Cycling Philippines Batanes / Day 3-1 : Itbayat Torongan Caves     | Jump to Day 1 / 2-1 / 2-2 / 3-2 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8
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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Cycling Philippines Batanes Day 2-2 : North Batan Beauties

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Cycling Philippines Batanes Day 2-2 : North Batan Beauties
Batanes Islands - Day 2-2 : 15th September 2015
Distance: 15.33 km.
Time : 9:00am to 5:20pm
Time Taken : 8 hrs. 20 minutes (it was a leisurely ride with many long stops to enjoy the place, have brunch and take photos).

Route Recommendations :
1. For those from right-hand drive countries, take note that the Batanes are left-hand drive. Do keep right when you ride otherwise you will be cycling on the wrong side. The cooling wind may lull one into thinking that one won't get sunburnt.
2. Much of Batan Island does not have trees to provide shade, do cover up or use sun-block lotions.
3. Except for the town areas and coastal road, most of Batan is hilly.
4. Parts of the route are on off-road paths, allow for tires to take these road conditions.
5. Points of interest that should not be missed includes:
    - Basco Lighthouse.
    - Vayang Rolling Hills.
    - Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnels.
    - Valungan Boulder Beach
    - The old Spanish era stone houses with thatch roofs.
    - stopping to interact with the locals, they are really warm and helpful.
This blog comes in a several parts. To go to other parts click on the following link to return to the summary page:

In Day 2 Part 1, we had arrived in Basco, Batanes and had almost immediately rode out to have a look and get acquainted with the town and its people. We liked the rustic town and its warm, friendly people.
Now it's time to cycle further and higher, up some hills and down to the beach to see the sights that North Batan is renown for. 


Route : North Batan Island - Marfel's Lodge>Basco Lighthouse>Vayang Rolling Hills>Japanese Tunnels>Valugan Boulder Beach>Marfel's Lodge
The ride will be a short stint around the northern part of Batan Island, a sort of introduction to the beauty of the Batanes and local life in Basco, the provincial capital. We will ride to see the attractions at the hills and the beaches.

The initial part of the route up to the Naidi Hills was a gentle slope shaded with trees on both sides but the road became steeper. The steeper slopes coupled with stones that now surfaced the road made it harder to ride on. It was only the thought of reaching the lighthouse and seeing the surrounding scenery that egged us on.

The Basco Lighthouse (also known as the Naidi Lighthouse) was a Spartan one with a stone house at the bottom, it's simplicity was its beauty. It was a rewarding view worth the climb up.

Over at another side, Siew Yung was posing for photos to be taken by Ong.
Yes, we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves - the view, the cool strong wind and even the smell in the air; taking deep breathes as we took in the scenery.

The little stone-house at the bottom has a souvenir shop manned by a pretty Filipina girl and next to it are stairs that lead up to the top of the lighthouse. I would encourage visitors to the place to go up; the view of Batan Island from the top is spectacular!
Mount Iraya lies on the left, (almost always having clouds covering its top) and to the right the island stretches to the away.

Contented and light-hearted, Ong and me rode down the slopes while Siew Yung was still happily enjoying the lighthouse.
Partway down I saw this man carrying something odd. As we got closer... Hey! Those are octopuses, are they a delicacy here?

At the bottom, a pause at the Basco Cemetery for a different view of the lighthouse.
And then we crossed over to a pizza joint to have drinks while waiting for Siew Yung to come down.
We waited, and waited.... and waited!
After almost half an hour there was still no sign of her!
 Getting worried, I rode back up to look for her while Ong waited.

Up at the light house... no sign of her....Hmmm..... I hoped that she had not been captivated or held captive by a handsome Filipino hunk. As I rode back downwards, I noticed this other road on the left..."Hey, isn't that the road that lead up to the rolling hills?" and rode up there to search.

The road up to the rolling hills is not long (about 3km) but it has many slopes that goes up and down, and up and down. It was a tough climb cycling up there, but I just pedalled on anxious to find my friend.

Up at Vayang, I saw Siew Yung; just she and her bicycle - no Filipino hunk around.
She was thoroughly enjoying the place, a place of gentle rolling hills covered by light green grass with hardly any trees around.
Many hills at these islands have few trees giving them that rounded green look. This is because at these former volcano land, most places has only a thin layer of top soil covering the lava rocks, these are not deep enough for trees to take root.

Siew Yung was enjoying the place... and soon so was I...

... and so was Goofy, my bike.
This place has both the sea with it's mighty cliffs; and beyond that hills, just gently rolling away.

Like this cow, I could just lie down for hours and bask in this place; taking in the majestic sceneries as the cool air blew, rustling through the grass...
Then something JOLTED my mind...
So enraptured by this place, I had forgotten about him. I quickly phoned him, told him that I have found Siew Yung and asked him to come up *smirks sheepishly*.

After getting engrossed at the rolling hills for almost ninety minutes; it's time to move on, it's time to go over to the other side of the island to view other sights there. Basco, located at north Batan, is at the neck of the island so we did not have to cycle far; we only had to cycle up and down several steep slopes.... *Pant!....pant...*
We did however pass by Basco town again and I took the opportunity to observe life there again. This lady owns a grocery store, selling some of the islands' favourites - dried Dibang (Flying Fish), garlic and onions... AND the renown Dorado fish (the ones hanging on the right of the above photo). Dorado means "gold" in Spanish; and the fish is so named as they scales exude a golden sheen when they are swimming in the sea. But it is the pickled and dried Dorado that is a much priced delicacy in the Philippines, selling for up to 1,000 PHP per kg in the major cities. Over at these islands, it sells for about the third of that price.

Met this two young girls cycling in the streets and they were most happy to pose for us.
That's the thing we like about Batanes too, there is zero crime rate (as claimed by the islanders). The people here really practice the adage "Honesty Is The Best Policy". In fact there is a coffee-shop called "Honesty Cafe" in Ivana where no one man the shop and patrons just record down what they drank/ate and what souvenirs they bought, and plonk their payment into a basket.
That's why these two girls feel safe cycling around on their own; like many locals they have probably been brought up without an inkling on the concept of dishonesty or perhaps any of the other vices.

Up at Tukon Hills, where the tunnels are located, we saw this man in a make-shift hut, in our ignorance we thought that he was one of the locals. He is actually Mr. Bata the caretaker, one appointed by Basco's Tourism Office  and we should have spoken to him for more info on these tunnels. If you do see him, kindly extend our apologies.
 The Dipnaysupuan Japanese Tunnels were some of the many tunnels dug into the Batanes. On 8th December the Japanese task force departed from Formosa, landed and occupied Batan Island. The island is one of the earliest taken by the Japanese in the Philippines and they occupied it for the  duration of World War 2. The Japanese with the use of forced local labour, dug tunnels into the islands to fortify them.

Used as a shelter/small fortress, the tunnels are accessed through small manholes; two of these lead from Tukon while another three lead from Taytay. From the shape of the entrance manhole, I would imagine that they were also used as bunker openings where canons or machine guns were placed.

The tunnels are a series of interlink ones leading to bunkers were the Japanese soldiers can hide out for months. The first few metres near the entrance are concrete lined but further in it is just earth lined, the volcanic soil/gravel combination made this tunnels stable without the need of any shoring.

Photographing one of the ventilation vents.
Small vertical ventilation vents lead upwards to the surface of the hills to facilitate air circulation in the tunnels.

Do bring flash-lights as further into the tunnels it's complete darkness. These tunnels are fairly tall (about 1.5 metres) but at certain points it gets lower (probably because of bedrock), so even with flash-lights walk with care and don't just look down at the floor, take glances up too. I know as I bumped my head into a drop in the roof...."Ouch!"
I am always weary of eerie places in where people may have died; I kept glancing to the right, left, top, bottom, and hardly daring to glance behind. Siew Yung said not to worry she will take care of me if any ghosts appear - see, she's the brave one, I am the chicken afraid of ghosts.

Steps lead down, some say two hundred feet down, to bunkers below. Shall we go down?
"Okay, enough of this. Let's go out already." I remarked to SY.

My friends pointing the way to the Fundacion Pacita, it seems a distance away.
Leaving the tunnels, we cycled upwards a bit, intending to go see the best resort in Batanes, the Fundacion Pacita Nature Lodge. This resort was formerly the home of artist Pacita Abad and has now been refurbished into a boutique hotel.
Some locals informed us that the place was closed for renovations, so we decided not to ride over. But probably it was just an excuse for us; the hotel seemed a distance away and the road leading there seems treacherously steep - and we had had only a few hours sleep this morning.

Happily we went whooshing down the slopes, down towards shadier roads on the way over to Valugan Boulder Beach.
Somewhere along the "whooshing", a strong gust of wind came and blew Ong's hat over to an open field and down a slope. We stopped and looked and looked but could not find it. Poor Ong, that loyal hat had been accompanying him on his travels for a long time and had served him well.

At Valugan, Ong was in his element, it was time for some serious photography. Setting up his tripod, with his back-pack hanging as a counterweight against the strong wind. There he was right at the water's edge, amid the roaring waves and undeterred by the loud breakers crashing onto the the rocky edge; waiting for opportune moments to capture good photos . His lost hat, for the moment, a thing of the past.

(Photo courtesy of Ong Kay Swee).
One of the rewards of Ong's patience, a misty, surreal look of the Valugan Boulder Beach.

Goofy decided to join in, nestling itself among the boulders that line the whole stretch of this beach. The dark blue sea merging to a light blue horizon, the waves with slow staccato roars and a strong wind whispering in the air - the picture is just perfect.

I took a step back to ponder on this melding song of colours and sound, admiring in awe at Mother Nature's creativity.
These boulders were hot rocks spewed out onto the beach by Mount Iraya eons ago when it was an active volcano. The waves have through the ages slowly eroded them into the round boulders we see today.

Dinner was at Pensioner Ivatan, the food was mediocre and the service was very slow.
Fortunately there was this ugly fellow, a coconut crab, to keep us occupied for a while; we were tempted to order this crab for part of our dinner, their pricing of almost 2,000PHP was an expensive deterrent. (On another day, we did get to savour this delicacy.)

Surrounding the outside dining area were these palms with bright orange fruits (Pandanus Tectorius). These Screw Pines are one of the coconut crabs diet; they were tempting and Siew Yung plucked one to try and stated that they were softly crunchy and sweet.
"Hey, are those edible by humans?" I enquired.
Fortunately, she did not develop any stomach upset or come out with any weird orange spotty rashes. They were edible after all.

Magandang Gabi....
(that's Good Night in Filipino)

This blog comes in a several parts. To go to other parts click on the following link to return to the summary page:

To see more photos for the day, Click here.

Related Blogs :

You May Also Like :

You are at - Jotaro's Blog / AhPek Biker / Cycling Philippines Batanes / Day 2-2 : North Batan Beauties     | Jump to Day 1 / 2-1 / 3-1 / 3-2 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8
If you like this, view my other blogs at Jotaro's Blog
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