Torongan Cave: Not To Miss in Itbayat

When asked about the places I have liked the most in my travels, high up there with Africa, my answer would always include Batanes. When I look back at the adventures I had in this northernmost province of the Philippines,

our trek to Torongan cave in Itbayat was a highlight for sure… the state of wonderment, unforgettable.

It was a 20-30 minute hike from a gate to the cave entrance, passing through a forest.

And from this spectacular cave entrance is a relatively easy walk down the large cavern leading to a wall that opens to the sea.

This opening is believed to be the entry point of the Austronesians from Taiwan to the island some 4000 years ago. An excavation done on Torongan cave in 2004 uncovered the oldest artifacts so far found in Batanes.

But it isn’t the cave per se that impressed me.  We exited the cave where we entered,

we walked further and found ourselves climbing up some boulders to a rocky pasture land,

revealing the coast, and Dinem Island in the distance, a view so jaw-dropping beautiful.

The dramatic change in scenery atop the cave was an experience stuck in my memory to this day.

We wandered around in awe.

The view majestic at every turn.

Walking back, we passed through several ancient burial grounds shaped like a boat, albeit hard to discern.

If you have limited time in Itbayat, make Torongan cave your first stop and be awed.

Itbayat: On a Hunt for Halo-Halo

It was the middle of May; the blistering heat was rapidly zapping my energy… I wanted halo-halo.  We knocked on Nanay Laura’s house as her canteen was closed.

A keepsake with Nanay Laura.

Her charming Larez Carinderia beside her house was a favorite back then.  Who can forget her cooking?

A retired municipal treasury officer, Nanay Laura is an exceptional cook.

In my opinion, she makes the best Turmeric (or Yellow) Rice  (a Batanes Specialty) in the whole of Batanes.

She whips up creative dishes with the limited ingredients Itbayat has to offer her.  In 2006 and again last May, we were witness to that.

She was in Raele that day and didn’t have halo-halo.  I asked to see the twins instead. I remembered them from 6 years ago and was curious to see how they have turned out.

Now in their “tweens”, they have become beautiful, confident young girls.  We asked where we might find some halo-halo; Eva Marie offered to bring us there.

Each store we went to would apologetically shake their heads.  Ok, what about some ice cream then?  No success in that area too, although there is a store that actually has a soft serve machine but they weren’t serving any that day.

It is, after all, the farthest inhabited island of the north. Supplies don’t come easily, and often, especially if the falowa from Basco don’t come.

This bell is used to tell the town if the boat from Basco has left or not.

In Mayan Centro, Itbayat’s town center, a few trucks would occasionally ply the streets as townsfolk use these as transport to other towns.

There are those also who would go around in bikes, but these are rare.  People walk everywhere, to other towns even, if trucks aren’t available.  Eva Marie mentioned that she walked all the way to Raele yesterday where there was a fiesta.  She said she walked for hours and was so tired and bored.  I asked her how many hours; she shrugged and replied, “hindi ko alam, basta matagal, I don’t know, all I know is it took a long time”.

School break means that the kids are free to play, if not helping out the family.

Some of us even joined (or shall I say disrupted) their game.

Eva Marie likes hanging out with us.

Walking around town, she provided nuggets of information about her town.  Six degrees of separation definitely apply here.  Everyone is an aunt, uncle or a cousin.

She has ten siblings (eight, six years ago). She has been to Basco but has never left Batanes even if her mother works in Manila.

Along with some of her siblings, she stays with her grandmother, Nanay Laura.

Mayan Centro holds its own appeal, set in a bowl between hills.

The town center from the PAGASA tower.

At the centro, a basketball court and an open field play center-stage.

It is perhaps the only form of leisure in Itbayat; children of all ages are often seen playing in the field.

Across Larez Carinderia is an Old Spanish church, Sta. Maria Immaculada and the school beside it.  On one side is the municipal office

and on the opposite end of the field is its guesthouse, where we previously stayed.

While the town has many traditional Ivatan houses with its cogon roofs, many opted to use galvanized roof.  Cheaper upkeep and it’s less prone to fire, says Nanay Cano.

But the Itbayats love their gardens.

An Arius Tree, indigenous to Batanes. 

No matter the type of house they may have, their gardens are always verdant, some are even quite creative.

We practically roamed the entire town center in search of something cold and alas, we found a heat-quenching treat in some ice candy.

Nanay Cano and Coconut Crabs

Faustina Cano, Tina or simply “Nanay” is the woman to call when you’re headed to Itbayat.  She can arrange almost anything.  We needed a boat to take us to the farthest island of Batanes – an idea out of the ordinary that turned to fruition through Nanay’s help.   A retired teacher, Nanay is now the tourism officer of the island and is perfect for her role.  You’ll soon find out why.

Flying was not always possible for this northernmost inhabited island.  When there was still no airport or when it recently went for a refurbishment, one has no choice but to take a grueling 4-hour boat ride.

Because it is a giant uplifted coral reef as research claims, it does not have a shoreline to land on.  When the water is rough (which is almost always), getting oneself to the port is a challenge.

Chinalopiran Port, Itbayat

One has to time the boat and jump as it levels with the landing.  Whew!  Glad I never had to do this although it would have been an interesting trip if ever.

The motley crew on a mission.

Arriving on an 8-seater plane, we landed at the Itbayat Airport only 12 minutes after we took off from Basco.  The airport is far from town and when I first came in 2007, a truck picked us up and took us to town on bumpy, unpaved roads.  This time, we hitched a ride with the ambulance that was going back after bringing an old woman to the airport.

Road conditions had improved with some roads paved along the way.  Classified as a community airport, it provides one pick-up to take passengers to and from the airport.

Needless to say, we booked our rooms at Nanay Cano’s Homestay.  Our home for the next few days had 5 beds, one bathroom and several fans to keep us cool although it is rendered useless after midnight when the power goes off till 6 the following morning.  On hot summer’s nights in May, we miserably sweltered through the night, truth to tell.  How far do I go for adventure, I often ask myself.

Nanay Cano is an excellent host, she knows the history of the place, and she explains it with so much gusto too.  As soon as we got settled, she called us together to explain the following day’s agenda, the islands we are visiting and its logistics etc.   It is not going to be easy, and again I ask, how far do I go for adventure?

Coconut crabs.  A delicacy and found most in this island.  Walking around town waiting for lunch to be served at Nanay Cano’s, we came across some fishermen selling these crabs and a delicious dinner it made.

The crab is said to climb coconut trees and husks coconuts with their powerful claws hence the name.  It is however not a significant part of their diet.

When cooked, the claws are hard and needs a good bashing to break, the meat sweet and firm.  Although I still prefer Alimango (mud crabs) and Alimasag (blue crabs), Coconut crabs is a priced delicacy and is widely hunted, its population dwindling.  The IUCN has classified them on the red list of threatened species.  This means (as I understand it) that they can only be consumed locally and is not to be sold outside of the island.  Or am I just justifying for having a scrumptious meal?   😉

Aside from the coconut crabs, Itbayat produces garlic, a lot of them.  Nanay explains that the different varieties are a result of bartering with Taiwan, who has an extensive production of garlic as well.

Between some of us, we brought home a total of 12 kilo worth – Nanay arranged to have it shipped to Basco lest we go over the weight limit.  These are good garlic, folks.  If you find your way to this corner of the globe, do get yourself some of these.  I am loving it and will miss it once I run out.

With that lovely dinner, we were off to bed early… before the fan shuts down.  A long, challenging day awaits us tomorrow.

Useful Info:

Nanay Faustina Cano: +63 919 300-4787
Air Republique Booking Office: +63 908 120-2548