The summer solstice extended the days in the country. But here in Batanes, the days felt a lot longer. 4:11 AM the sky was already showing shades of blue. The milky way slowly dissolves into the sky over at Mt Riposed. The purple glow brightens and unveils the landscape. We were at the sunrise point of Rapang Cliffs. I climbed on some sharp limestone rocks to get a better view near the cliffs. As soon as I saw the view behind the high rocks, my jaw dropped in amazement. I never thought Batanes could mesmerize me anew, but the landscape near the northern edge of the country just did.
Back in Itbayat
Going back to Itbayat, Rapang Cliffs was on top of my things to do. I had been to Itbayat several times already and haven’t been there as well as to other places on Batanes largest island. Itbayat is an expensive place to go around in. Aside from the sites being far apart, transportation and commodities cost a lot more. The reason, they are transported from Basco so goods are weighed in with additional cost. Same for the fuel. One major change since I last visited here is that electricity is now 24 hours and most of the roads are paved now. Electrical wirings are also being laid out underground which is practical to avoid falling electric poles during storms.
Cano’s Lodge and Jojo
I go back to the familiar homestay of Nanay Cano. I remember her clearly as I had stayed here three times already. She no longer remember me though, which I could understand from the many guest she had. Nanay Cano already have a script for guest, showing her map and insightful info about Itbayat which she knows at heart since she was a tourism officer here before. But since I’m a previous visitor, I somehow interrupted her flow. I let her indulge a bit on her interesting trivia again which I remember I heard before but still found fascinating.
Kuya Jojo Labrador drove me to the homestay from the port using his ever reliable 7-year old bike. I contacted him as my guide for this trip. He came in highly recommended from friends at the Yaru Gallery. He has also guided several photographers here. So he won’t have that confused and wondering look when I ask him we go to Rapang Cliffs in the dark.
Trek to Rapang Cliffs
True to his word, Jojo was already at the gate of our homestay by 2:30AM. His bike that has recently gone through a tune up from his trusted mechanic got some new parts that extended its life and reliability. Ascends and downhills are steady but I must commend Jojo’s skill in motorbike. I had my share of motorbike accidents but he makes it look easy.
The road to the jump-off for Rapang Cliffs is narrow but already paved and has a deep descent before we reach a wooden gate. From there, it was hike all the way. In the darkness, I could make out the height of the trees. They were tall, about 20–30 feet high. The dirt path was stony and some portions where soil and grass meet were squishy. I just followed Jojo’s lead, going up and down and around rocky paths. It wasn’t that hard. More like a long walk. At some point we encountered a large crab on the trail. I joked to Jojo that we have food here. Immediately he tried to catch it. Found a rope from his bag and tied the crab that it can’t use its pincers nor move its legs. He shoot it in his bag and we went on.
We were early at the sunrise spot. An estimate from my GPS tracker, it took us 1 hour and 17 minutes to reach the spot where we are now. That’s 1.9km from the jump-off point. Jojo decided to take a rest since he attended a wake the night before. I tried shooting what’s left of the milky way above Mt Riposed before moving to the spot near the cliffs.
Upon seeing the landscaped hiding behind the rocky walls, I was filled with wonder and amazement. The same feeling of seeing Batanes again for the first time. The vast fields of sloping greens stretching to the pacific ocean. The landscape interrupted by the rugged wall where I sit in awe. Everything was bathed in purple hue light gradually warming up as the sun rises. I could see the far island of Mavulis and Siayan on my left hoping one day I could visit them. On my right, a knife-edge like cliff leads to the enchanted D’nem island.
Sound of the Stone Bell
I almost got lost in the moment of sunrise there. I realized there were more to explore. We made our way down to the landscape below. From a lower vantage point, the Rapang Cliffs looks like a giant hand giving a high-five to the sky with small fingers wriggling out. Jojo say it’s where the place got its name “Karaparapangan” which means fingers.
We followed a single-man trail along the grasslands that lead to the stone-bell. It looks like they were intentionally put on top of another stone. It’s fascinating how it produces a bell-like sound. Jojo tells me the farmers use it to call their cattle. Prior to that, I read that earlier times, they use it as warning for incoming invaders. For Jojo, it was a play thing for kids. They would throw large stones from up the cliffs competing on who makes the loudest sound when it hits.
Rapang Trail in Light
The vastness just makes me feel like a speck in this landscape. The morning sun making the shadows deeper, making the place more alive than it is. Verdant to its limits. we made our way around the spike of the cliffs to get behind it and passed by this small watering hole where grazing cattle and horses hydrate or dip. Then we climbed up to the highest point of the cliffs. I was fighting my knees not to turn jelly while looking down at the cliff edge. A limestone wall covered by plants. Yet I found myself sitting by there again as per instruction from Jojo who also seems to know the best angles to take. Enjoying the view 400 feet above sea level.
We walk back to the trail we went and at some point was surprised on the views we passed by. This includes the cliffside walk where we looked down on a small beach caused by an erosion. The site is called Kaxobcan. The water was inviting blue but swimming near the beach is not allowed as land may erode anytime. I would have freaked out if I saw this trail in daylight.
The sun was getting high. It was a good decision to hike here early. I can imagine how it would be for mid-day visit. Rapang Cliffs re-awakened what I love about Batanes, its rugged otherwordly beauty near the northern edge of our country.
Rapang Cliffs and the Stone Bell is a natural park. A guide here is a must as the area is so vast it’s easy to get lost. I highly recommend Jojo Labrador (+63920.660.3801) a highly experienced guide familiar to photographer quirks. If he’s not available, he can recommend the other four guides on the island who are also highly capable.
Fees: Guide fee is Php 1,000 per group of 1–4. It is cheaper to go by group as individuals would have to pay full amount. A separate transportation fee of Php 500 for a single motor bike per person. Going and return from Mayon Centro, Itbayat.
Tips for hiking Rapang Cliffs:
- I recommend mornings to catch the sunrise and the light is less harsh
- Hike back and forth can take 5–6 hours depending on the pace. It is possible to hike early morning and be back in town by 7 or 8am to catch the boat back to Basco.
- Wear good footwear. Flip-flops are not recommended.
- Bring torch or flashlight for early hikes.
- Bring at least 1 liter of water and trail snacks
Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.