Batanes (Sabtang Island): How do you tame the waves?


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Asia » Philippines » Batanes » Sabtang
March 25th 2011
Published: May 22nd 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

First Part : Batanes (Basco City): Lovely Place of Wind and Drizzle

It was another early start of the day, up by dawn to catch the 06:00AM Falowa to Sabtang. It was steep cliffs, sharp curves, and varied mountain scenery on the way to San Vicente port, with our constant companion the cold wind and drizzle. Below the cliffs are the harsh waves crashing to its base forming white foams and turning noticeable blue (in much of my fascination) as they hit sharply to the rocks.

The boat ride to Sabtang Island was thus far the most exciting part of the trip - seated in an Ivatan Boat called Falowa (an oval shaped motorized passenger boat without the outrigger) with around 15 other passengers, we were shortly greeted by waves double the size of our vessel, if not triple! Coming face to face with waves seemingly like a wall about to collapse on my face was more terrifying than the idea of riding a roller coaster, it was hard to breathe. Our boat wasn’t cutting through the waves, it was sailing atop of those enormous waves, floating down the trough, then up, and down, and up, and down, and up just like in those comic cartoon movies, but this time it was for real and it was not amusing one bit! My heart was beating wildly, hands were feeling numb, and I had this thought of just jumping off the boat just not to prolong the misery, which I know wasn’t the best idea. I was expecting a huge ferry and I certainly did not sign up for a possible cause of heart attack. The only comforting though during the time is the fact that Ivatans are known to be competent seafarers, so I just closed my eyes, held back tears, breathed in, and breathed out...

Feeling pretty sick, we did dock at Sabtang Island safe and sound, shaken but still dry nonetheless. In my head I was down on my knees giving the dry land one big sloppy kiss, just too shy to actually do it.

Sabtang is an inactive volcano island, we have originally planned for a day trip but after the boat ride I guess it was just right to rest our hearts for a night. We have opted for a homestay at Ate Jen’s relative, Kuya Rudy. He will also be our guide and his motorcycle with an attached plain steel side car will be our ride around the island, it hurt our butts but compared to the boat ride, I couldn’t complain.

Shortly after our arrival Kuya Rudy took us to our lunch which consisted of fried flying fish (our first of so many), coconut crab (my first!), lobster, and pako (Fiddlehead Fern) cooked in coconut milk. Though before I could start happily munching on our lovely meal, I had to get some air and walk the motion sickness off. Thankfully the cool wind provided some relief this time.

Before starting the tour, we were taken to a house of an elderly gentleman who had long been making Palek (Ivatan Sugarcane Wine) where we ended buying a couple of bottles filled with the native wine specially selected from the good man’s many jars of fermented juice. Then we were off with the tour starting with the furthest village, Barangay Sumnanga located at the western most side of the island, then Barangay Nakanmuan, Barangay Malakdang, Barangay Sinakan, Barangay Savidug, and lastly, Kuya Rudy’s home at Barangay Chavayan.

Amongst the six, Sumnanga was the hardest to reach with its rugged dirt road reachable only by motorcycles. Not much tourists are able to make it here, perhaps because of the difficulty of transportation. It is a very peaceful coastal community of mostly fishermen. A family who kindly allowed us to use their toilet had baby goats for house pets, adorable ones. The nearby uninhabited Dequey Island located at the northwest point of Ivuhos Island (also Ibugos / Ibujos / Vuhus / Ibahos), can be seen from Sumnanga. Kuya Rudy told us that farmers would take their herd to Dequey Island to graze and come back for them after four weeks or so, some would already have given birth to offspring but the farmers would still know exactly which ones of the offspring are theirs.

It was more of the beautiful mountainside and rugged cliffs on the way to Nakanmuan; we had to watch out for falling rock debris caused by grazing goats that somehow manage to climb such steep hills. We made a stop at the white sand Nakabuang Beach and Natural Arch, initially wanting to go swimming but it was rather cold, windy, and the sea was too unstable.

The Sabtang Lighthouse between Malakdang and Sinakan was already closed when we arrived, but the view from the top of the rocky hill didn’t fail to occupy my attention.

Walking around Savidug was like strolling around an open-air museum. The well preserved century old stone houses made of meter-thick limestone walls, corals, rocks, and cogon grass (for roofing) stand next to the small pathways through the village.

We also got to see how the endemic clothing of the Ivatans called Vakul (a headgear worn by women) and Kanayi (a vest worn by men) are made. These all-weather gears are made up of dried leaves of vuyavuy palm (specifically date palms) by Ivatans to protect themselves against the heavy rainfall and from the harsh summer sun.

The scenic drive along the mountainside road to Chavayan provided more pleasing views of nature. It was the best panoramic view uphill at Chamantad-Tinyan before the downward turn to the small village of Chavayan. We had to struggle with the sweeping strong winds as we walk through the mountain ridge on the way to one of the hilltops. A beautiful white sand cove can be seen from atop, as well as the boulder lined shore typical to the island.

Since there was no phone signal down the Chavayan Village,
A bigger falowaA bigger falowaA bigger falowa

Sabtang Port
we had to stay at the Chamantad-Tinyan hilltop to wait for Kuya Benj’s scheduled job interview that day. The calls were getting cut and we had to constantly move around to find better cell phone reception, a phone call hasn’t been so challenging! The wind even grew stronger as the day light started to faint, and the small nipa hut where we were taking shelter at was being battered by the blustery weather. We had started sipping on our Palek to fight the cold, biting wind. By the end of the phone call the surroundings have gone pitch dark and chillier. Kuya Rudy came back on time later on to take us down to the village.

I had very little sleep during the night; I blame it to my very poor tolerance towards the cold weather. We didn't have heater for our bathing water and we slept on weaved nylon bed without mattress, and were only provided with 2 pillows & 3 blankets that the four of us had to share.

It was yet another gloomy morning the next day. The weather wasn’t looking any better and no Falowa(s) were allowed to leave the dock. The coastguards apparently decided not to let any boat sail but we waited by the port anyway, hoping for the weather to get better in the next hour or so – the huge waves didn’t matter much anymore, boredom kills too. We’ve seem to have run out of things to do, we didn’t had much choice since most stores/eateries were closed and we’ve run out of clean clothes to wear. We didn’t even have any place to have a proper meal at and were only able to buy instant cupped noodles and bread to fill our stomach. ‘Tis situation on the other hand gave me time to walk around the adjacent barangays of Malakdang and Sinakan and watch people do their everyday chores.

…neighbors collectively helping the next house set up their meter-thick cogon(Blady Grass) roof, chatty and giggly
…farmers with bolo knife (a large cutting tool of Filipino origin similar to the machete) tied to their waist, geared up for another day in the farm
…kids playing football
…kids in their sweater riding small rusty bicycles
…teenagers playing basketball
…bicycles parked in every house
…more bicycles parked in other houses
…no sight of PSPs and Gameboys
…the refreshing sight of kids running about, rolling on the ground collecting dirt, and playing kick-ball and marbles with the other kids
…an old man with his neatly sorted garlic and onions
…the same old man who apparently couldn’t hear anymore giving me the confused look when I asked if I could take his photo
…acknowledging nods, hellos, and good morning/afternoon
…a stroll at yet another rocky shore
…and the best part - my feet taking me atop a random hill that provided a splendid 360° view, more stone houses, and stone houses ruins

It was pleasant to see Ivatan’s contentment with their lives close to nature, with the time in their hands, not hurrying, not worried about being on the latest trend. Something felt surreal as I walk back to the port...

Later in the afternoon and with the increasing number of waiting passengers, the coastguards decided it was safe enough to leave port and so we went onto yet another heart-stopping boat ride bound for Radiwan Port in Ivana, the second time didn’t feel any better! It was starting to rain as we arrived…and the wind, of course. There isn’t a regular transportation schedule from Ivana to Basco, and while we
BlueBlueBlue

Brgy. Sinakan, Sabtang Island
were waiting for a Jeepney to pass by, a nice chap offered a ride in his pick-up, refusing to be paid when we tried to.

There was nothing more relieving than seeing the sign ‘Welcome to Basco’. We now have a deeper appreciation for our snug beds, soft pillows, cozy blankets, and especially the warm water for shower! We are definitely not complaining about our room anymore...

Third Part : Batanes (Batan Island): Where have my blue skies gone?


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The CoveThe Cove
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Chamantad-Tinyan Hill
The CoveThe Cove
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Chamantad-Tinyan Hill
The CoveThe Cove
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Chamantad-Tinyan Hill
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View from the top

Chamantad-Tinyan Hill
lovely spot!lovely spot!
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Chamantad-Tinyan Hill


24th May 2012

Great blog and pics, thanks. Makes me want to return to the Philippines and start with the Batanes! Your description of the boat ride brings back terrifying memories of inter-island small boat rides!
31st May 2012

Thanks Ed :)
That boat ride I won't be forgetting, but Batanes is so worth it :) I think you'll like it there!...not much tourists...not even local ones, but I'm not sure how long it'll stay that way.
26th May 2012

Nice blog and beautiful photos. I hope despite the new interest in tourism, Batanes will stay the same for generations to come.
31st May 2012

Thank You :)
I really hope so too Kuya...Batanes is a jewel
31st May 2012

Batanes Trip
...nice blog, enjoyed reading it... Thanks for considering our Province Batanes!
31st May 2012

thank you for the kind comment :) i was more than happy to be able to get to Batanes!

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