One thing I took note of the last time I was in Batan was that there were a lot of spots I just breezed through, owing to the fact that I was aboard either a motorcycle or a bicycle. This time, I intended to tour Batan at a much more “leisurely” and laid-back pace in order to soak in the scenery and to possibly discover picturesque spots that are normally just passed by the usual tourist route. And so I plotted a roughly triangular path that would take me first from my starting point of Basco to the Valugan Boulder Beach, then to the highlands of Tukon, and finally to the Naidi Lighthouse to catch the sunset.
But first, I checked in at Ivatan Lodge and made friends with three local tourists who were also staying there. As I set out for the long hike towards the Valugan Boulder Beach, I encountered Joaquin Cantor, who was my guide the last time I was in Batanes. I didn’t recognize him at first because of his much longer hair and I was surprised that he still remembers my full name. After a bit of small talk, I continued on my hike.
VALUGAN BOULDER BEACH
I made the mistake of not printing out a map of Batan, and so once I reached the area outside of the main town grid, I just relied on my general sense of where the north, south, east and west are. I figured that as long as I kept going east, I’d eventually reach the Pacific coast of Batan Island where the boulder beach is.
Eventually, I came to a point where I thought I was getting lost because I’ve been walking for a while and saw no signs pointing to Valugan Boulder Beach. When I asked a passing child if she knew where the boulder beach is, surprisingly, she did not know. I then made a wrong turn to what I thought was a path that will lead me to the sea. Thankfully an old Ivatan woman just happened to be blocking the path because she was walking very slowly and by asking her, she told me that I should have continued walking where I was before I made the wrong turn and it would have led me straight to the Valugan Boulder Beach. I didn’t leave her right away and instead walked with her for a few minutes, trying to get a feel of how Ivatans think.
The Valugan Boulder beach was exactly as I remembered it. I imagine that it would be hard to change this particular landscape in Batan Island for the simple reason that it’s excruciatingly difficult to move the heavy boulders that are found all throughout the beach.
I did however have a chance to explore the southern strip of the same beach and was surprised to find out that there was a dramatic change in the composition of the shore. From large boulders in the northern end, there was a clear dividing line that separated them from the smaller loaf-sized stones found in the southern end. This was something I wasn’t able to see the previous time I was here.
“Tukon” in Ivatan simply means “hill”, and the name has come to apply to an entire sitio surrounding the highest point of these highlands in central Batan Island. Since this area is mostly made up of privately-owned fields, there is very little tree cover. This proved to be a difficult stretch of the hike given that I brought with me only a small water bottle and and the road from the boulder beach to Tukon is an upward slope. (Added to that, it was close to lunchtime already, and the noontime sun was scorching.)
Nevertheless, I liked this part of the hike because there were very few people passing by the road. And so for long periods, there was no human being aside from myself as far as my eyes could see. Very peaceful, despite the discomfort of the blazing sun. Oftentimes, I strayed from the road and walked on footpaths in the hills to explore hidden views, taking care not to step on fresh animal dung, and disturbing grasshoppers with every step on knee-length grass.
My main destination in Tukon is Fundacion Pacita and the PAGASA weather station at the very top of the hill. Along the way, I took the opportunity to get as close as possible to the Basco Idjang. Idjangs are hill-top fortresses that were the centers of communal life of ancient Ivatans. I will go more into the subject of pre-Spanish Ivatan culture in a separate blog post..
It started to drizzle when I was nearing Fundacion Pacita. (Note: It’s quite normal in Batanes to be scorching hot one moment and suddenly drizzling in the next.) It didn’t look like it was going to develop into a heavy downpour, but just as a precaution, I took out my poncho-type raincoat to protect myself. A few minutes later, the rain stopped and the sun was out again.
There were lots of construction activities going on around the Fundacion, both concrete works and woodcraft. Probably in a year’s time, there will be more buildings in this part of Tukon. Batanes is, after all, becoming less-isolated every year and tourism infrastructure is a necessary consequence of this development.
Judging by the number of vehicles I see parked, it seems that there were guests around. I didn’t really try to enter anymore and just contented myself in admiring the surrounding view, as well as taking a few pictures.
Fundacion Pacita is built on a cliff facing the Pacific Ocean. At this altitude, the sea breeze is consistently strong. I hung around this area enjoying the fresh breeze to neutralize the heat of the sun. I could hardly help it too because my legs were getting tired and they seemed to have a mind of their own telling them to slow down.
As fresh as the breeze was at the Fundacion, the best place to just sit and stare at the windswept landscape was at the top of the hill at the PAGASA weather station. At this vantage point one can see both the West Philippine Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, while standing on the same spot. (I should note though that this is also possible to do in other parts of Batan, but Tukon seems to be the narrowest point of the island.)
My last destination in Tukon was the Tukon Chapel. This quaint and charming building was commissioned by the Abads for the wedding of one of their children. Just like the Fundacion Pacita, it follows the same architectural pattern of the traditional Ivatan stonehouse, but with some modifications. I wanted to return here because the last time I was here, I was not satisfied with the photographs I took of the chapel. This time, I made sure that the position of the sun is just right and that I’d apply a few tips I’ve learned in photography since that time.
Thankfully, the road was all downhill going back to Basco from Tukon. By this time, I was very thirsty and hungry as my drinking water has long ran out and lunchtime passed by without me eating a morsel of anything. And to make matters a bit “worse” it began to rain for a few minutes – moderately stronger than the earlier drizzle – which stopped at the very moment that I’ve finished wearing my raincoat. I had no choice but to fold and pack it again and walk the next 3-4 kilometers to the nearest store in Basco for food refreshments before continuing the hike to the Naidi lighthouse to catch the sunset.
The expected short stopover stretched to close to an hour partly because I had a long chat with the owner of the store in front of my lodging house from whom I bought softdrinks and some hard boiled eggs. I also went back to my room to put there stuff that I didn’t think I’d need for the hike to the Naidi Lighthouse. When I finally set out, it was past 4 pm already, and I’d surely make it in good time to the lighthouse by sunset.
The hike to the lighthouse turned out to be just 15-minutes long from my lodging house. The sun was still far up the horizon so I explored the immediate surroundings to pass the time. The reason why I wanted to catch the sunset here is because the lighthouse’s best angle faces the west. The last time, I visited this place it was just around noontime, and although I was satisfied with the quality of my shots then, I wanted to shoot the lighthouse in a much better sun position.
There are three unfinished structures near the lighthouse, and in exploring them, I espied a group of teenagers having a drinking session. I read from somewhere that alcoholism is on the rise in Batanes. This would certainly be a topic for a future blog. For the meantime, I politely declined their offer to have me join in their drinking session.
Later on, I was joined by 2 other tourists (a married couple) and Richie, one of my fellow guests in Ivatan Lodge, who also hiked all the way here to catch the sunset. Richie and I spent a lot of time talking about our travels and he also told me about his visits to Sabtang and Itbayat just days before. I could only hope that I would have as rich an adventure as he has.
We took care to leave the lighthouse when there was still some daylight because a stretch of the road is not lighted. Some 30 meters before reaching Ivatan Lodge, rain caught up with us and we made a run for it. Whew, what a productive first day!
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This entry is part of the Batanes II series dated September 10-14, 2011:
1. Return to Batanes (a prologue)
2. Hiking in Northern Batan
3. Preview: Mt. Iraya
4. The Back-breaking Mt. Iraya Climb
5. Mahatao’s Lighthouses: Setting the Facts Straight
6. Stuck in Batan: New Sites & Sentimental Favorites
7. In search of Batanes’ prehispanic past
8. The 2-lie system of SEAir’s Manila-Basco flights (a warning)
9. Everyone’s kinder in Batanes (even the tourists.)