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Monday, January 16, 2017

MT. IRAYA: Philippines' Northernmost Summit

Mt. Iraya in Basco, Batanes, standing 1,009 meters ASL, catches every eye upon landing Basco airport in Batan Island. Due to its perpetual cap clouds, the forested mountain is moist all year round and it deprives most climbers the lowland view. Some say there's no clearing at the ever moist summit regardless of the season, thus, there's no summer in Mt. Iraya. Its trail is steep starting from its shoulder. Its summit is abundant with giant reeds. Batanes White viper is also endemic in the mountain. 


Batanes is the hardest and most expensive travel I had so far. Plane fare from Manila is as expensive as fare to neighboring southeast Asian countries. Its unpredictable weather condition may cancel trips anytime. 


Believe it or not, Mt. Iraya was my main reason of visiting the country's northernmost province. The rest would be sidetrips. It was my second attempt. My first was cancelled due to typhoon "Ferdie".

My heart leaped in joy when the plane took off from NAIA 3.


Upon leaving mainland Luzon, our flight got turbulent. Getting past thick cloud formations, vast ocean scared my eyes.

Later, I sighted an island with lighthouses, which I supposed to be Sabtang. Raindrops blurred my window. Clouds scattered everywhere. Turbulence. 

The sun shone a bit when we safely landed Basco Airport. Staff from different inns bearing guests names welcomed us. I and some guests were ferried to Marfel's Lodge. 

The weather was still hostile. Gloomy and drizzly. I inquired about climbing to Mt. Iraya. Ms. Marfel Fitero, the lodge's owner informed me that Mt. Iraya is not an easy climb. It is challenging and always slippery. She also doubted if there's an available willing guide considering it was already 9 am. But seeing me in already trekking outfit, she was really obliged to look for one.

While waiting, the kind staff offered me local porridge with glutenous rice balls and coco milk. Enough for breakfast.



In minutes, came Rey, my guide. We drove to Monica's canteen to buy our lunch. We then headed to jump-off just beside the airport compound. 



It was almost 10:00 am. We started hiking under dense forests. We were talking about political nonsense. 




I noticed he picked a wild gabi stalk, which he said an antidote to white snake bite. White snake? Wow, that must be beautiful. His photo of it amazed me. He said there's also a yellow one. 



Back when he was young, Rey was bitten by the same viper that made him sick for a week until an extract of wild gabi was rubbed on his wound.  

I was afraid being bitten. I wouldn't die so so far away from home. BUT I PRAYED I COULD SEE ONE...

When we reached the shoulder in almost 2 hours, the trail got steep. We followed the slippery water trail. Bush and giant reeds dominate both sides. We gasped our hearts out under gentle drizzle.
 





Nearing the summit, Rey suddenly shouted and pulled himself back. He almost stepped on a coiling white snake along narrow trail



So we really saw one! Was my prayer answered? I insisted to leave it alone first so we can take photos of it. I grabbed my camera and shuttered as many as I could. Rey even shot it closer with my Android. After many clicks, its tongue and striking pose hinted us to move away.

Three hours of trekking took us to the summit, finally!



Fogs were all around. Cold and wet, we took our lunch. We then explored the summit.




After almost an hour, we started to descend amidst chilling cold and moist fogs.




Surroundings got cleared when we reached down past shoulder.

We reached back the jump off after descending for 2.5 hours.


Before 3:00 pm, I got back to my lodge, tidied up myself and rested.


Before sundown, I rented a bicycle and pedaled my way to Naidi Lighthouse. 
 







THINGS TO REMEMBER:

1. Environmental Fee of P350.00 is required upon arriving at Basco Airport. 
2. Lodges/ Inns will coordinate mountain guide for you.
3. Guide fee is P1,000.00
4. Mountain permit is not required.
5. Trekking to Mt. Iraya takes around 6 hours to and fro.

OTHER TOUR PACKAGES FOR SOLO BACKPACKERS/ SMALL GROUPS:

1. North Batan Tour - P1,000 via habalhabal (for solo) or P2,000 via tricycle (for group of 3)
2. South Batan Tour - P1,500 via habalhabal (for solo) or P3,000 via tricycle (for group of 3)

OTHER HELPFUL TIPS: 

1. There are 2 ATMs in Basco, Batanes.
2. Lodges/Inns/Homestays are as affordable as P350.00 per room for solo and P500.00 per room for two.
3. Most  restaurants offer packaged meals for P200.00 per person.
4. Monica's Canteen offers turo-turo with P80.00 viand per serve.
5. The center town of Basco is so small that you can even walk from your lodge to lighthouse to airport even to Mt. Iraya jump-off.   
6. Bicycles are available for rent at P25.00 per hour.

LODGES:

Marfel's Lodge: 09178574493

PaƱisanan du Vatan : 09499873759, 09276416092

TOUR/ MOUNTAIN GUIDE: 

Rey Lagundino: 09980481412, 09776991852

HOW TO GET THERE:

PAL and Skyjet fly everyday to Batanes from NAIA Terminal 3.

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