There’s a big difference between tourists and travelers. Tourists go to popular destinations, have their pictures taken and then leave. Travelers go to remote destinations to enjoy all the things these places offer, to learn, to experience and to feel the joy of being human in this world.
I always think of myself as a traveler. I go to where most tourists would not dare go. News of off-the-beaten destinations always excite me. Just like when I first heard about the island called Banton.
I read about it on the internet about 20 years ago. I was searching for ways to go to Romblon by sea. The website I visited mentioned about going by boat from Pinamalayan, Mindoro to Banton Island, and from there another boat to Romblon, Romblon. A stopover in Banton sounds so exciting.
Doing further search on Banton showed an island filled with many white sand beaches, Spanish fortresses and hidden caves. And the most interesting fact about the island is that tourists hardly go there.
I also learned about some interesting facts about Banton. It belongs to the three remote northern islands of Romblon collectively called the Maghili Group of Islands, the other two being Sibale and Simara. Its population remains below 6,000.
The island was the origin of the Banton cloth now on exhibit at the National Museum. Made between 1400 to 1500 AD, it is the earliest known warp “ikat” textile in Southeast Asia. This burial cloth was found in a wooden coffin inside a cave that also contained several ceramics.
The town of Banton was established by the Spanish authorities in 1622. The limestone fort of Fuerza de San Jose was built in 1640 to protect the island from the frequent raids by the Moros. The adjacent church of San Nicolas de Tolentino was completed in 1648.
The island shares the same dialect with Simara and Sibale. This is called Asi, a conglomeration of Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Ilonggo, Aklanon and Spanish. The three islands also share one peculiarity: all the residents have surnames starting with the letter “F.” When the Claveria Decree was issued in 1849, the local administrator in Romblon tore pages from the 141-page “CatalogoAlfabetico de Apellidos” and the three islands got pages 46 and 47 that contained only surnames starting in “F.”
How to get there
There are several ways to reach Banton. The quickest and most convenient is to fly from Manila to Tablas via Philippines Airlines (three times weekly). From the airport in Tagdan, take a van (one hour) to the northern town of Calatrava and from there take a two-hour boat to Banton.
An alternative is to take a ferry from Batangas to Calapan (two hours), a van from Calapan to Pinamalayan (one hour) and a boat from Pinamalayan to Banton (four hours). Regular boats travel twice weekly between Pinamalayan and Banton.
Another way to reach Banton is to travel to Marinduque and get on a once-a-week boat in Buenavista bound for Banton. It is also possible to travel to Banton via Lucena port.
In my case, I rented a fishing boat in Pinamalayan that took my group of intrepid travelers on a four-day island hopping tour to the Maghili islands. This alternative is rather expensive but it allows visiting the islands at a more leisure pace. It also allows approaching some of the island’s hidden beaches from the sea.
What to see, what to do
There are no four-wheel vehicles on Banton and the only way to explore is renting a motorcycle (with local driver of course) to circle the narrow trails around the island.
Start with the heritage sites located mostly around the town center. There’s the Fuerza de San Jose and the church of San Nicolas de Tolentino. Located also inside the church compound are the ancient campanile and the local museum.
The island is also dotted with white-sand beaches, from the popular Macat-ang Beach to the secluded Tabonan Beach. The beach in Mainit has hot spring water coming out during low tide. This is a proof of Banton’s volcanic origin. Around the island are other complete deserted beaches of Mahaba, Recodo, Togbongan and Tambak.
Situated between the boundary of Barangay Toctoc and Togbongan is the Guyangan Cave System that has several caves. On one of these caves is where the Banton cloth was found in 1936 by the researchers from the National Museum. This cave system is now included of the Philippine list of important national treasures.
But the island’s most fascinating attractions are its people. They have learned to live with what they island offers. They live by farming and by fishing, and only take what they only need. They are always pleased to see outsiders visit their island and are always happy to share whatever they have with their newfound friends.
Where to stay, what to eat
Lodging on the island is very limited. There’s the Municipal Guest House located near Fuerza. It has two bedrooms available for visitors. There’s also the available homestay at Fadri residence at PurokArlim.
But for those who wish to get closer to nature, they can go camping on any of the island’s white sand beaches. Just inform the barangay officials and they will be more than happy to assist guests find a nice place to stay.
For dining, there are several eateries around the town center serving fish and vegetable dishes. They are mostly cooked from the fresh catches of the day and cost ridiculously inexpensive.
But the best way to enjoy the island’s bounty is to buy fresh seafood from the local fishermen and cook them inihaw style, especially after going on a dip on the clear blue water surrounding the island. This is living on a paradise at its finest. And it makes waiting for 20 to see Banton all worth it.