It doesn’t have the smooth rolling hills of Batan or the white sand beaches of Sabtang. Steep rocky cliffs comprise the edges of the island and jagged boulders jut out from the greenery of pasture lands. The sea is rougher, the terrain is tougher and life is harder. But that’s how it is when you’re living on a giant coral reef in the northernmost town in the country.
Itbayat doesn’t attract as much visitors as the two other inhabited islands of Batanes. The boat ride takes about three hours and being tossed around in the open sea on a faluwa for that long makes it less of a fun adventure and more of a miserable ordeal. A six-seater plane flies to Itbayat but a one-way flight costs around P1,300, which is three times as much as the boat fare.
Miserable ordeal or not, I was determined to go there if only for the bragging rights of having survived the boat ride without throwing up. On that at least I succeeded. Ha! The sweltering heat though was unbearable and the combined smell of salty air and sweaty people cooped up in a tiny space was quite challenging to the olfactory senses. The worst of all the sweaty people of course, was me. It was so hot on the pier I was perspiring like my sweat glands were on fire even before I stepped on the boat.
Even though it was their barangay fiesta, Kuya Romy insisted on being my guide in Itbayat. His mother was from there, he knows the island well, and speaks the dialect. Itbayaten is not the same as the Ivatan that’s spoken in Batan; even the accent is different and has a more distinct rising intonation. I felt bad that he had to miss the festivities but he said that it was fine since he had already butchered the cow anyway and served the first name (see last part of previous blog post), which apparently was what the fiesta was really about.
We arrived in Itbayat at noon and headed to a guesthouse in a farm owned by Kuya Romy’s uncle about three kilometers from the town proper. The place costs P250 per night, a little more expensive than the P200 accommodations in town. It’s located on a hill though which offered a beautiful view and much cooler air. It tends to get humid at night and mosquitoes are aplenty in the residential areas. Electric fans are no good since electricity is turned off at midnight. There was actually a dengue fever epidemic just a few weeks before we got there.
A minor inconvenience in our accommodation however, was the bathroom. There was an outhouse a few meters away which is basically just a partially enclosed hole in the ground. And by partially I mean you’d be in full view if someone happens to come along; a thin white curtain passes for a door and one side of the wall is wide open. On the upside, you’d be enjoying a panoramic view of the hills while pooping. Fortunately for me (I think), I’ve seen outhouses that are far worse than that and have taken a dump just about anywhere. And by anywhere I mean in the bushes and, at one time, on a giant hole halfway filled with excrement and only covered by rickety wooden planks. If one of the planks gave out, I would’ve been literally drowning in a pool of shit.
We had to catch the boat back to Basco at noon the next day so we had only 24 hours in Itbayat. I made the most of our limited time by taking a two-hour nap right after lunch. Screw the tourist spots, I needed my sleep. Maduho ko na, masdep makaicho, another Ivatan phrase I learned which roughly means Inaantok na ako, masarap matulog. We did manage to go around the island and visit Torongan Cave and Mt. Karoboban later that afternoon despite my being a sleepyhead.
Since I could never seem to go a day without an accident, our motorcycle just had to trip over a huge rock while we were on a rough road. It fell on its side, which broke the clutch. Kuya Romy got off with a sprained ankle and a swollen thumb. We went to his relative who’s a manghihilot so he could have his injuries fixed. I’m not sure if it did any good though; he was just screaming in pain the whole time and the limping and swelling got even worse afterwards.
The rational thing to do would have been to go back to the guesthouse and get some rest but of course we didn’t do that right away. At eight in the evening without having dinner yet, we drove around with a broken clutch looking for palek, a local sugarcane wine. After going to the wrong house twice, we finally found the old man who makes it. He was selling it at a ridiculous price of P50 per gallon. There was no way we could finish all that alcohol in one night unless we put it on an IV drip straight through our veins. Nonetheless, we still happily lugged around four liters of palek back home. Come on, where else could you buy this much booze for P50?
When we got to the guesthouse, we discovered that the food we brought all the way from Basco, which Kuya Romy’s thoughtful wife prepared for us, has gone stale. It was late at night and stores were already closed so we didn’t have much of a choice. At the risk of food poisoning, we devoured everything and followed it up with a shot of palek. I figured the alcohol might just kill off the nasty microorganisms on the panis na kanin at ulam. My understanding of pathology is crude at best and fatal at worst. Thankfully, we didn’t die and our tummies were fine. On to Itbayat: Day Two.