Batanes Day 2: Touring Sabtang (part 2) – 12/09/09

Most blogs are near-unanimous in referring to Chavayan as the town that is closest to what the old Ivatan culture was like before the onslaught of modernity hit Batanes.  Even the province’s official website recommends staying overnight in this old village to complete one’s Batanes experience.  It is on the strength of this recommendation that I initially wanted to find lodgings here for the night.

The Chavayan town marker

The town, however was something of a disappointment to me.  While the architecture of the homes was what I expected, there was far too many homes abandoned and crumbling to the ravages of time and neglect.  The encroachment of modernity also lessened the charm of the place with the overhead power lines and sattelite dishes dotting most homes, as well as the building of modern-style houses.  I personally had a hard time shooting the houses at an angle that would hide the power lines.

A row of traditional cogon-roofed stone houses

I also found Chavayan to be a very sleepy town, which is only a few desertions away from being a ghost town.  I later on learned that the village has a population of less than 100.  That is why I did not hesitate to take pictures of people, lest they go back into their houses and I won’t see them again.  And I didn’t even see any vakul-clad women walking around – which is quite understandable since it was already nearing noon when I reached this village.

Some locals by the village plaza

Chavayan is the site of the only remaining church in Batanes that has a cogon roof.  It used to be that the larger centuries-old churches in Batan and Sabtang also had cogon for their roofs, but they eventually switched to metal roofing by the 20th century.  I’m thinking that since this church is actually just chapel-sized, it’s easier for it to retain a cogon roofing.

The Chavayan Church

One funny thing about the Chavayan Church is that once one steps out of it, one will immediately see a seemingly obscene rock formation in the distant mountains.  Here it is:

Which upon looking closely….

The locals are apparently proud of it.  It’s nice that this old village hasn’t lost its humor. ;-)

It was apparent that I won’t be staying here for the night as there was apparently no compelling reason for me to do so.  I was thinking that I would be experiencing the local culture, but apparently what was in store for me was a display of how culture slowly dies due to the unavoidable march towards progress.  Thus, we made our way back towards Centro.

The roadside view on the way to Chavayan

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Chavayan is actually the southernmost village in Sabtang and as I mentioned in the previous blog, we actually passed by the likewise-old village of Savidug.  It is then our next destination before we get back to Centro for our lunch.

An old house by a tree in Savidug

I found Savidug to be just a few notches livelier than Chavayan.  Still a sleepy town by Metro Manila standards, but what I liked about it was that the homes were better-maintained.  There were however still some scenes of neglected homes that were left to decay and crumble, with only the sturdy stone walls left standing.

a row of abandoned houses

We asked around and apparently the lots where the houses are standing still have owners, who are most likely residing in the more populous Centro.  There have been efforts by the government to subsidize the maintenance of these old houses but so far, nothing has resulted beyond the planning stage.

a Savidug local

It is a misconception to say that the use of concrete with stone and coral is an indigenous Ivatan innovation.  It was actually the Spanish that introduced the use of concrete in Batanes.  Prior to the development of these old stone houses, Ivatans lived in huts made of wood and cogon. What we therefore see now is still an entirely Ivatan style of house-building, but with the adoption of foreign technology.

There are, however far older dwelling places than wood and cogon huts that the Ivatans lived in before they settled in villages near the shore, and these are the Idjang.  These are ancient hilltop fortresses that were built on natural rock formations when the first Austronesian tribes settled Batanes coming in from southern Taiwan (the indigenous people of which are culturally related to the Ivatans and still maintain language similarities.)

The Savidug Idjang

There is an Idjang near Savidug that still maintains a visible form.  I wish I had the time to explore it.  As it is, I was running late for lunch and I still had two more towns to explore.

So we drove back all the way to Centro to have lunch at the Elesterio Canteen before embarking onthe second half of our tour of the island.  I was also excited to finally get a taste of the famous Coconut Crab, but was kind of disappointed when I saw that it was already chopped up.  In hindsight, I realize they actually did me a great favor because I don’t really eat crab and I wouldn’t know how to get to the soft parts under the hard shell.

Coconut Crab (chopped)
Coconut Crab aligue

I actually have a digestive disorder that gives me stomach pains whenever I eat crab or shrimp.  So I was in fact taking a risk in eating the Coconut Crab.  It turns out that for this particular instance, my condition did not act up so I had a fairly enjoyable time eating.  Milfa (Elesterio) – the canteen proprietess – prepared a feast for myself and Joaquin that aside from the crab included fried Dorado fish, dried pork adobo, one bandehado of rice and unlimited bowls of Coconut Crab broth that perfectly complemented the meal.  All of these would be enough to fill the stomachs of 3 grown men, and they were all for only P300 (!)

After lunch and before leaving to continue our tour, we made arrangements for our dinner once we return in the evening.  We were once again given a choice of viands.  This time, I chose lobster.

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