Basco Jaunts: Vayang Rolling Hills

Credits: Red overlay by Kari Holts or iKari Design.

It is perhaps the most visited in Basco.  This place somewhat epitomizes Batanes in the minds of many… endless rolling hills, blue skies and magnificent views of the sea, the South China Sea.

The first time I made it here, I was mesmerized by the unfathomable vastness, how small one can feel within its green expanse.  In 1998, one has to walk up hills upon hills, no vans, no tricycles, and no paved roads.  You get there by walking on unpaved trail.

A trip to Batanes then needs at least 5 days for a complete walk through of Batan and Sabtang.  Those were the days – though I still get goosebumps, I think I like it better then. I can’t deny though that the comforts of today made it a pleasant revisit, especially on a hot summer’s day in May.

The scenery of Vayang is so immense no photo can capture exactly the true essence of the place.  Having said that, here’s an attempt on capturing even just a bit of its flavor and spirit.


Basco Jaunts: Valugan Bay

Credits:  Quickpage by Antonia Krajicek using the “4Ever” kit, a collaborative kit created by Jessica; Suede Alpha by Miss Behaving 2011.

From where we got off, I could hear the splash of the waves; the boulders hardly visible.

The sea is calmer in May.

The rambling of the rocks that hits the ocean floor becomes clearer when you are closer.

With picture-perfect spots scattered all over the islands, Batanes is easy to love.  To pinpoint one specific spot that I love the most is a tall order and perhaps impossible.

Valugan Bay though is so different from any beach I’ve seen, it has left indelible memories and has landed on my top 10 lists of favorites.

I’ve never come across any beach as dramatic as Valugan Bay.

Spewed out by Mt. Iraya and polished through time by powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean, large multi colored rocks covers a kilometer stretch of beach

Taken February 2006 when the waves were larger.

and made more mystical by the ocean mist when waves are strong.

The rambling of the rocks soothes my senses every time I’m here.

The troubles of my world easily fades into a renewed spirit as God whispers through those ramblings that everything will be as polished as those beautiful rocks.   I could sit here forever.

Birding in Basco

“Wanna tag along?”, invites my birder friend, Christian.  “Why not?”, I’ve never seen an owl before.  Not that I’d see it up close, I realized when we were trekking in the woods… at night, obviously, they’re nocturnal creatures.  Duh.  I’ll need binoculars and a strong light, which I am hoping Christian has.  Turns out we didn’t need them because it started to rain.  We took shelter in a house nearby and when it didn’t let up, we decided to call it a night.  Owl watching, day 1 – fail.

Basco is best known for its rolling hills.  It also is the capital of Batanes and where the airport is located.

Aside from the beautiful aerial view of its landscape, the first thing that greets you is its airport.  Small and unassuming but tastefully designed.  It has a charm of its own.  Given that the province is somewhat isolated from the mainland, making use of whatever is available has made the Ivatans quite resourceful.  They have, and I dare say, an eye for beauty… but who wouldn’t if you are surrounded with natural beauty all your life?

These ordinary bucket seats, made attractive with the play of colors, left a lasting impression.

Many accommodations are in Basco, to be close to the airport perhaps.  We stayed at Shanedel’s Inn and Café.  A simple family run inn named after its owner, Dely and her late husband Shane.  Its location plays a big factor in its popularity, particularly among regular visitors.  Even after Shane’s passing, Dely takes the role of excellent host, helping out however she can.

Shanedel’s, albeit on the tired side, still possesses captivating views.

From the veranda, on the right is Naidi Hills with the lighthouse standing tall from a distance.

On the left is the beach where locals play in the waves.

So used to it, the kids seemed unfazed but rather enjoyed the big waves.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher.  That is what C hopes to see on this trip (outside of that owl).  We woke up early to join him on another birding expedition.

The guide brought us to a private lot just 10 minutes away from Shanedel’s.  We had our sights on a bird’s nest perched on a tree, hoping it is our bird’s nest.

Birding is not for me… there was a lot of waiting and this kept me company.

Patience is a virtue.  After an hour or so there they were, first the female and not too long after, the male appeared.

Credits:  Photo courtesy of A. Carag.
My shot sans the bird.  This was a different nest — closer for a shot in my camera.
I didn’t have this.  A preferred lens for birding.

Bird watching, day 2 – success.

And with that, we celebrated with the best organic burgers in Basco. Zantan’s is a small eatery right beside Shanedel’s.

And with the burgers, I had sweet potato fries on the side and finally, halo-halo for dessert.  Stunning landscapes and sceneries up next. Stay tuned.

Useful Info:

Shanedel’s Inn & Cafe
Mobile: +63 920-4470737 
Contact: Dely Millan

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.


We scrambled through rocks, walked through pastureland until we reached a beautiful beach.

As with Y’ami, a shore entry wasn’t possible.

The boat took shelter at one side of the island, hidden by a cove of volcanic rocks; the boat is safe there for the night.

We, on the other hand, had only a tarp to shelter us for the night.

If it rains, we’re doomed.  And as thunder rumbled and lightning flashed through the night, deep sleep eluded me.

Siayan Island is about 1km in diameter.  It is 164m high and is considered an inactive volcano hence the rocky path to the beach.

Lying about 8 km north-northeast of Itbayat, it is just an hour away from the farthest inhabited island of Batanes.

Itbayat in the distance.

The water can become turbulent however and our guides took precaution and insisted we stay the night in Siayan.

When they said that the island has a water source, I had in my mind a stream tucked away in a forest somewhere.  Instead, it is more of a concrete rain catchment built on top of a hill.  The water stored there is only for bathing, not for drinking.  We took turns rinsing ourselves and I should add that the view on this hill is spectacular.  I meant to take a photo but unfortunately never got around to doing so because I don’t normally bring a camera with me when I take a bath, do you?  So I keep forgetting.

Dinner and bedtime was early because we were tired from the day’s excitement and there really wasn’t much to do after dark.

Breakfast Feast prepared by our guides.

The walk back after breakfast was another struggle – going down this time.

Definitely not a walk in the park.

A glimpse of our boat from the top.

Back in Paganaman port, we walked up steep steps (with our stuff) to the road where our truck will return for us.

Waiting for our ride.  Tired from the journey and the sleepless night.

A grueling trip worth all the experience.  Will I do it again?  Perhaps not back to Y’ami, but to other unexplored territories, hell yes.  As I always say, I’ll do (almost) anything at least once in my life.

A Trip to Y’ami: Philippine’s Northernmost Tip

A truck waits for us at the corner of Nanay Cano’s house.

It will be taking us to Paganaman Port where we will embark on a trip to Y’ami Island.   The northernmost island of Batanes, it is closer to Taiwan than it is to Aparri.  An idea I never really took seriously until an email came my way one day in March.  “He wasn’t joking”, I thought.

We had to trek down to the port with our drinking water and overnight kits.  It was a long way down.

There it was waiting for us at the landing.  The boat, also called a falowa that Nanay Cano arranged for us was unbelievably small.

Could it really bring us safely to Y’ami on treacherous waters?  The sea was calmest in May, which was why this expedition happened then.  So along with treacherous waters is scorching sun.  That boat has no cover whatsoever.  So I ask myself for the nth time, how far do I go really?  Is this so-called adventure worth the trouble?

No one spoke a word when we reached the landing.  One by one, we got on the boat with much effort.  The water was rough, making it difficult to mount.  It was the biggest fishing boat on the island, we were told, costing us a mere P6,000 for the 2-day journey.

Looking back at Itbayat.

Composed of 3 major inhabited islands, Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat, Batanes also has smaller uninhatbited islands.  These are Siayan, Di-nem, Dequey, North, Mavudis, and Y’ami (also called Mavulis by locals).  Y’ami being the farthest, we will pass all these islands on the way.

The plan was to drop off our stuff at Siayan, the island closest to Itbayat.  Because Y’ami has no water source, we will stay the night at Siayan before heading back to Itbayat the next day.

The water became quite rough at one point, I wanted to get off with our stuff in Siayan but as fate would have it, the captain (they actually call him piloto) decided that we were light enough to travel the long haul.  Stopping at Siayan would take up time (you’ll soon find out why) and he’d rather be out of the water before late afternoon. If truth be told, the rough sea exhibited how capable our captain was and that there was nothing to fear.  One of us noticed that they only have one engine.  “What happens if the engine breaks”, he asked.  They shrugged, “we will use the sail”.  Simple as that!

Am I glad there was no need for that.  Needless to say, the journey to Y’ami was grueling with me getting perhaps the lousiest seat – the middle seat with nothing to hold on to.  I slip and slide as the boat ride the waves.  The fiberglass boat is slippery when wet, leg room was limited, the sun scorching…

But the scenery along the way somewhat eased the uneasiness.

Three hours after we left Paganaman port, we see Y’ami in the distance. As we approach it, we realized that getting off was a problem.

The water was too rough for a shore entry so we anchored far from shore and waded to the island.

“This better be worth it”, my thought balloon goes.

Under those rocks we found shelter from the scorching heat of mid-day sun.
And there we had lunch.

Trekking to the other side of the hill where there is some sort of landing, albeit on sharp rocks.

The island is beautiful, pure, unspoiled.  Sadly though, we saw a baby shark with its fins cut off from a fishing boat.

Except for some fishermen (including the corrupted ones) taking a break from fishing, hardly anyone sets foot in this uninhabited island.  It is, after all, a long way from home.

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


Located more than 860 km from Manila, you can see Taiwan on a clear day.  The island looks more like the Scottish Highland.  Typhoons are common, hitting the archipelago between July and November.  The sheer isolation and location, in the middle of typhoon alley, keeps mass tourism at bay.

My journeys to Batanes have been a series of milestones.  I first set foot on this northernmost part of the Philippines, the home of the Ivatans, in 1997.  That trip started it all.  It catapulted my zeal for adventure.  I found myself back nine years after, this time to explore the farthest inhabited island of Batanes called Itbayat.  And very recently, another dream brought us back to this pretty corner of the world.  A new milestone to achieve.

Batanes continue to enchant despite commercialization.  More frequent flights fetch more tourists albeit still miniscule compared to other destinations.  The size of the plane allowed to land at the Batanes airport prevents mass tourism from flocking in still.  With its rolling hills, ancient cultures, traditional stone houses, and breathtaking landscapes, Batanes is worth exploring again and again.  Let this post be a prelude to an ultimate adventure.  Stay tuned.

El Nido: Island Hop Day

“The best island destination of Southeast Asia” was how National Geographic Traveler Magazine sized up El Nido in its November-December 2007 issue.  And has since been dubbing it as one of the best travel destinations.  Alex Garland’s “The Beach was inspired by El Nido, many say.  The Amazing Race, Bourne Legacy… it’s becoming a Hollywood favorite as well and for good reason.

Majestic karst limestone formation, enchanting lagoons, marble cliffs, lush forest, white sandy beaches, clear blue waters, wonderful marine life… all these epitomizes the Philippines’ so called “Last Frontier”.

Shops along the main streets of the town center offer the same A to D island-hopping tours.  To be in El Nido and not do these tours is like going to an ice cream parlor and not have ice cream.

It is after all the gateway to Bacuit bay—

an exquisite nature gem scattered with limestone islands with stretches of white sand beaches and hidden coves.

Mang Rudy promised a good lunch in his tour and so, together with the French friends we met coming to El Nido, we booked a tour with him.

Tour C— because it was my favorite tour the last time and because the our French friends wanted to see “Secret Beach”.

First on the agenda was Hidden Beach on Matinloc Island and the farthest from town.

Beautiful beach with lush vegetation hidden behind towering limestone cliffs hence the name.

We did some snorkeling but didn’t step foot on the beach.

Matinloc Shrine, our next stop, is on one side of the island.

The shrine is a two-storey building towering in one corner and a concrete gazebo at the center of the site.  Abandoned, the shrine is not in good condition but remains part of the tour— most likely because of its remarkable scenery.

In front of the building stands a limestone cliff with a stunning view of the nearby Tapiutan Island and other beaches of the island.

One has to climb the cliff to see the view while relatively easy; the sharp limestone edges can easily cut.  So be careful.

A beautiful tiny cove, Shumizu Island, which we had all to ourselves, was where we stopped for lunch.

While the food was on the grill, we enjoyed the sun, sea and sand.

Lunch was a wonderful feast of grilled chicken and squid alongside a refreshing cucumber and tomato salad.

Thank you Mang Rudy, we were not disappointed.

Matinloc Island has a Secret Beach.

Inside the steep rock wall is an enchanting beach inaccessible by boat.

The only way to enter this secret beach is through a small crevice, which during high tide is submerged earning its name.  When submerged, one has to swim through the crevice underwater making the reveal more dramatic, truth to tell.

This particular beach is said to have been the inspiration to Alex Garland’s “The Beach”.  It is easy to understand why.

Inside those walls is another world, a secret paradise, if I may call it that.  It is a sight to behold and this, dear friends, is why Tour C became a favorite.

Fronting the Matinloc Shrine is Star Beach.  I particularly love the rock formation in front.

The reef nearby is a great snorkeling spot owing to good coral beds and the abundance of marine life.

Capping this tour is a stop at Dimalicad Island, better known as Helicopter Island because of the shape it resembles from afar.

The long stretch of sparkling white sand beach makes it ideal for lounging around with a good book or sunbathing perhaps.

Although the water beckons for a swim, the waves can be strong for some.

They couldn’t have chosen a more perfect cap for the day.