It was five in the morning and the fowls were doing their morning throat exercises. After fifteen minutes of frostiness on Basco streets, we heard the sound of happiness. Our jeepney. It stopped in front of us. We peeped inside and saw that it’s jam packed; human souls up to its access door. Certainly no room for us. And then it struck me. Topload. Our frail and cold bodies pushed its way up to the roof. We had to find a way to sit fittingly with the stuff stowed there. He sat on a tiny space as I firmly sat on a native woven chair which was tightly tied on the roof. Very sleek. Like a princess on a homecoming thing, well not.
After our DIY Batanes North Tour and our Batanes South Tour (Batan Island), the next plan was to conquer Sabtang Island. Again, I never researched prior this trip so I didn’t know what to expect. And almost everyone we asked told nothing but wonderful things about the place.
As the sun was slowly creeping into the sky, we waited with some locals for our assigned boat. It was cold. I was totally wrapped with everything I could cover myself with. And then we had coffee. And then I
stole had a quick bike ride. And then chatted
with some Sabtang locals. And then our boat. Our falua arrived at seven in the morning and we boarded twenty minutes
|cold and waiting|
I heard so many horror stories about the falua ride. But after experiencing the Babuyan Island’s wildest 7-hour boat ride, I know I’ll be fine. We paid 75 pesos each for the 45-minute ride. The waves were ok. Well, it’s comparable to Zambales’ waves. I slept all throughout.
We didn’t avail of the tour packages for Sabtang Island. We asked around Basco and got hold of a trike driver’s contact number that will be our buddy for the next two days. Kuya Rudy was patiently waiting for us at Sabtang port. I saw him and immediately felt that it was him. I instantly noticed the trike we'll be using for the trip, the motorbike was the usual one but the sidecar was pumped up with cogon grass roofing. The same thing they use in their traditional stone houses. Very cool.
|Kuya Rudy Gecha |
First stop was the town’s Tourism Office near the port. Apparently, we need to pay 200 pesos each for the environmental fee. We weren’t informed about that beforehand. But then it’s for the upkeep of the island and there were no entrance fees everywhere so that was ok.
We moved on to the San Vicente Ferrer Parish or the Sabtang Church near the Tourism Office. Gazing the facade of the church, my buddy told me that somebody opened the church’s door for us. It was the parish priest. Donned with a simple shirt and pants we were honoured to have a private tour around the church by its head.
What was outside was more fascinating. The ruins of the old lighthouse and the convent were the most interesting parts. The priest also showed us the Sabtang Ecclesiastical Museum and Prayer Room; it houses the parish’s old stuff. A few santos and figures of the church were there. Old documents and articles were also exhibited. I was delighted to visit the church and meet the priest. He was saddened that some travelers would just visit the façade and take photos of it without digging deep into its core.
As we moved on with our tour, me and my buddy can’t help but just express our admiration on the perfect view around the island. I quirked;
Kuya Rudy, alam mo ba kung gaano kaganda ang lugar n’yo?
Kuya went on with a smile and told us that he’s used to it ever since.
Little Hong Kong was our next destination; a fishing village in Barangays Nakanmuan and Sumnanga - a very quiet community of fisherfolks. We left our trike somewhere and explored. Rows and rows of traditional Ivatan stone houses with cogon grass roofings, old folks doing their everyday usual stuff and loads of docked boats on the shore.
|such a strong woman|
The sun was nowhere to be seen but it added some mystery to this quiet milieu. Very quiet. So quiet that I wanna lay down somewhere and just chill. But we needed to move on.
The view going to the next destination was wonderful. We had so many stopovers just to relish the moment of amazement. We needed to convince ourselves that everything is real and happening in front of our eyes. I’m just lost for adjectives here.
|me wanna jump and run and swim|
Mahayaw Arch in Morong Beach (Barangay Malakdang) is one of the most photographed spot in Sabtang Island. The moment I heard the word “beach” I was ecstatic.
It was lunchtime and a restaurant serving local stuff was in sight at the Morong beach. It usually caters to guests who availed the tour packages. But then they accommodated our request to dine. A meal was around 300 – 400 pesos per person. We asked if they could prepare a meal allotted for one person to be shared by me and my buddy. They obliged. Also, they provided Kuya Rudy with his own meal. Nice.
While waiting for the food (and the crowd), we explored the Morong Beach. Mahayaw arch was first in sight but I went further. The long stretch of shore was impeccable. The sand was a little bit rocky but the water was so inviting. The endless view of the hills was also stunning. And I just couldn’t help it. I needed to try the waters.
|that famous arch|
Away from the crowd, I went into the Nakabuang cave and removed layers and layers of clothing. It was cold. But the rush in me didn’t mind it. I took a deep breath and ran into the shore just like a kid. I went straight to the waters and swam like hell. It was freezing cold. The water was great in spite of the strong current. I stayed there for a while and enjoyed that moment. Very refreshing.
|freezing cold water|
After the nice dip, we went to the luncheon area. We asked if we could dine on the shore but they declined, we were then ushered to our designated table. Our meal for one was huge. We had some soup, pork and chicken adobo, fish, squid, ferns and rice cakes. It was heavy. We had a hard time finishing it. Everything tasted ok but nonetheless it’s good.
|a meal for one shared by the two of us|
Siesta was on my mind. But we were in a hurry. And then we headed to the Sabtang Lighthouse. While on our way, we saw this lady who’s wearing the traditional vakul. So cool.
The Sabtang Lighthouse is your typical lighthouse standing on top of a cliff; a nice vantage point to get a perfect view of the sea.
Moving on, we stopped by somewhere along Savidug Beach. The Savidug Breakwater was promising. We saw some corals and fishes so we asked Kuya Rudy if we could probably have a quick swim. He indulged and we went on with our snorkelling stuff.
The water was nice and there were some corals and some fishes in sight. Too bad it was low tide and we couldn’t help but bump into the seabed with our snorkels on. Fail.
|braving the cold water|
The Savidug Village was our next stop. Again, rows and rows of traditional Ivatan stone houses were a common sight. It has this “urban village” feeling compared to the “rural” feeling at the Sumnanga fishing village. The lawns were perfectly manicured. The streets were empty. We constantly asked ourselves about the folks’ whereabouts. It was quiet. It was nice.
|where are they?|
We were walking along every street. Checking out different window designs, the stones on the houses and peeping inside some houses. It was creepingly quiet. It was nice.
|I am not eating you guys...|
And then the Tinyan Viewpoint. I asked Kuya Rudy if it’s the place where the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean meets, he said no. It was late in the afternoon and he told us that it is our last stop before our overnight place and that it will be the last time we’d experience a strong cellphone signal.
|we are small|
The strong gust of wind kinda prevented me to push further. It was cold. It was windy. And I was persistent. I went on as if knowing where to go. And then I saw the Chamantad Cove. It was jaw-dropping and awe-inspiring which reminded me of Nagudungan Cave in Babuyan Islands.
I didn’t mind getting beaten by the strong winds. All I wanted was to lie on the topmost part of the viewpoint and stay there forever. But then again, we had to move on.
|happy but it doesn't show (cold/chilly/frosty)|
Our last stop for the day was the Chavayan Village. This place is totally distinct from the whole island. No cellphone signal. No internet connection. No restaurants. No nothing. But in spite of it all, it has its own charm that’s screaming out without even trying. That strong and intact customs and mores are very evident from the whole community.
Kids playing on the streets were our first taste of the village. They have this huge container drum with holes which they rolled around the street with bursting laughter all the way. We didn’t quite know why they were laughing, and then we saw some kids getting out of the drum. And they exchanged places. Others were getting inside the drum while some were rolling it. It was so thrilling watching them having fun.
|cool and fun kids|
We then needed to find a place to stay for the night. We wanted to experience living inside an Ivatan stone house and the community itself.
We stayed in one of the “accredited” guest houses. We went to the appointed house and checked out what’s inside. An old school stone house with no divisions and the huge doors and windows was our home for that night. The toilet and bath were located at the bottom part of the house. So imagine us doing number 1 in the middle of the night. For 150 pesos per person per night we got a good deal. Or so we thought.
|our home for the night|
Moving on, we went out and checked out the village. Our feet led us to the school where we got to chat with a grade school teacher. Grades 1 and 2 students (there were seven) were in the same room and taught by only one teacher. The place has this rural feel where everyone knows everybody.
They spoke Chirin nu Ibatan, their local dialect. Even the kids converse in that language and we’re at lost talking to the them. It’s nice to know that everyone is somewhat resistant to the changes happening around them with the way they live. If you wanna experience the true essence of Batanes, you should visit and stay at Chavayan.
|we spoke different languages but we seemed to click|
For dinner, we were asked what we liked. We told them that we have some rice and canned stuff with us so cooking it was just our problem but we were asking if they could get some coconut crabs for us. They told us that they could prepare our dinner and get half a kilo of the crabs. Our meal arrived soon and the coconut crabs were the bomb. I’ve tried local lobsters and curachas in Babuyan Islands but these crabs were very tasty. It’s because they eat coconuts I guess. Its sweet and tangy taste lingered in my mouth. I could finish a whole piece. Ugh. So tasty.
After which, we had some beer. Amazingly, they sell Red Horse beer there for 100 pesos/1 liter; kinda reasonable in that place. We immediately settled in our nest. It was cold and we need not any fan. The power went out at midnight. We could only hear the waves and the insects outside. We dozed off easily.
Our breakfast arrived the next day even without us ordering one. We were quite unsure on how this “hotel-like” service would cost us but we just indulged; a nice meal of fried fish and some eggs with coffee.
|the 400 pesos breakfast!|
And then we went out for another round of roaming around the village.
When it’s time for us to leave we asked for the total bill for our stay at the Marcelo’s House. And when I got hold of it I was in total shock. A 15-hour stay for two persons amounted at around 1,500. I checked out the itemized costs and was speechless for a while. The dinner was 600 pesos (no qualms about it because of the crabs) plus a service fee of 50 pesos (a 10-meter walk delivery service). The breakfast was 400 pesos (are you kidding me?) plus a service fee of 50 pesos. The lodging fee was 300 pesos and an electricity fee of 30 pesos. Whoa! We were in state of shock for a few minutes.
Big problem. We didn’t have enough money for we still have to pay for our trike ride to the port and all we could do was beg them to lower down the costs. We bartered our rice and got a total of 1,200 pesos for everything. Less than 300 pesos from the original price but we were still sad about it. Nobody told us about the meals and stuff and we were too clouded to ask when we arrived. Lesson learned; always ask, even how uncomfy it is. Just ask.
|the 1,500-peso shocker|
Kuya Rudy arrived to collect us and immediately told him about the situation we were in. He was disappointed as well and told us that he didn’t know about the meal charges and the other fees.
He said sorry for them which he shouldn’t have to. Anyway, we had fun in Chavayan village; especially the playing with the kids part.
We were at the Sabtang port an hour before noon. We had so much time before the falua boat leaves so we checked out the Poblacion area. A combination of old stone houses and new one covered the area. We had to try some special ice candies for sale in one of the stores. It was tasty at first until we get into the slimy part. We were laughing so hard on how to finish it.
|huge ice candies|
At 1:00 p.m. we were hustling our way to the port. The falua was waiting for us. The waves were much stronger than the day before. But then I slept all throughout the trip. Me and waters are best friends I guess.
Next big problem; getting out of Ivana town. If you availed a packaged tour to Sabtang Island this wouldn’t be a problem but if you do it DIY then you have to wait and wait for a jeepney to arrive. And so we did. We waited. And waited. And before we die in desperation we tried to hitchhike.
Luckily, a cement mixer truck stopped and let us in. Basco wasn’t his final stop but we agreed to get off to where his stop was. And it was fun. We were 10 feet above the road and the truck’s wide windshield gave us the perfect view. The driver was like, Ma’am pasensiya na po walang aircon. And I went on, Ha? Ano ‘yung aircon Kuya!. And then laughter.
|hitchhiking cement mixer series|
We got off on one of the zig-zag roads en route to Basco. Kuya said sorry and we told him we’ll be fine and thanks for the ride. Walking away, we saw a small truck and hailed it. Again, the driver let us hitch and stayed at the back part of the truck. A few locals were hitching too and it was real good fun. The nice view and some nice chat with the locals were some of our priceless moments in Batanes.
|hitchhiking truck series|
Worn-out but elated, we got off at Mahatao town to check out the Mahatao Lighthouse. We hired a trike for 100 pesos and went to the lighthouse we’ve been spotting from the Marlboro Country side. The lighthouse was nice. But the view from this side was really breath taking. Got no words again.
And so we went on again. Not knowing where to and how to. With empty pockets and full desire to wander and get lost, we went on.
Amazing view. Stone houses. Hitchhiking. Overpriced accommodation. Resistant community. Ice cold swim. Empty wallets. Happy moods. Surprises and challenges. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Sabtang Island is definitely on top of my happy places in the country. You have to be there to know why. Just go. Now!
Sabtang Island Tricycle Tour
Kuya Rudy Gecha
For 1 to 4 person/s
Half Day tour – 800 pesos
Whole Day tour – 1,500 pesosChavayan to Sabtang Port – 500 pesos