Batanes Day 2: Arriving at Sabtang (part 1) – 12/09/09

I woke up at around 3:30 am on my second day in Batanes owing to the fact that the jeepney that would bring us to the port of San Vicente leaves Basco at around 5:30 am.  By 4:00am, I was already outside my inn and doing some stretching exercises while waiting for Joaquin.  Later on, he showed up and we made our way towards the jeepney stop.

Basco during the wee hours of the morning is very, very silent.  Whereas a typical Metro Manila town would still have a few vagrants walking around, or maybe a few drunkards singing a short distance away, Basco is so quiet to the point of eerie.  There’s no sound, and no movement, except for the rustling of the leaves from the wind.  Heck, if ghosts existed in Basco, I doubt that they were even there. So it’s just like a ghost town – but without the ghosts.

[Here's how the jeepney system works in Basco in the early morning:

Since jeepneys there don't have a fixed terminal (unlike their local TODA) a jeepney would start circling the town using mainly the Castillejos and Abad streets.  Occasionally, it would honk it's horn to announce itself to potential passengers.  After 30 minutes, or once it has accumulated enough passengers, it would then exit to the National Road on it's way south of the island.]

This exit to the National Road at the end of Abad St. just happens to be exactly where the front garden box of Shanedel’s Inn and Restaurant is located.  And this is where Joaquin and I were seated while waiting for the jeepney.  (It was a short walking distance away from my inn.)  While waiting, I purchased and ate 9 pieces of piping-hot pan de sal from a kid vendor on a bicycle.

Anyway, the reason why we needed to get to the port of San Vicente was that it was where we would be able to board a falowa (boat) that would to take us to the island of Sabtang.

view of Sabtang island, as seen from the port at San Vicente

The island of Sabtang is the smallest inhabited island in the Batanes archipelago.  Since it is fairly near the main island of Batan (a mere 45-minute boat ride), close cultural, commercial and familial ties exist between the inhabitants of the two islands – unlike the faraway island of Itbayat (which, although part of Batanes and peopled by Ivatans, has a markedly different language.)

Although the boat normally leaves at around 6 or 6:30 am, we had to wait for a couple of hours more before we were finally able to board and set sail for Sabtang.  The reason for the delay was that there was not supposed to be a ride going to Sabtang owing to a local superstition regarding the supposed bad luck it brings whenever one sets sail on or near the feast day of the patron saint (the Immaculate Conception).  But since a lot of people wanted to go from Sabtang to Batan, a late trip was made and consequently, the trip going back to Sabtang using the same boat was also delayed.

view of from the rear part of the falowa while en route to Sabtang

So we finally set sail for Sabtang on the falowa.  I was seated on the rear edge of the boat, which Joaquin claims to be the best seat in the entire boat.  What was interpreted by experienced navigators as smooth seas was actually quite wavy in the middle of the trip.  I could only imagine how it is if the seas were actually rough.  Unlike the more-familiar outrigger-type seacraft found all throughout the Philippines and Southeast Asia, the falowa of Batanes is quite different in the sense that it is wide, round-bottomed and has no outriggers.  All boats in Batanes, regardless of the size, are constructed this way.

(Prior to all of this, I was so scared of the boat capsizing so I made it a point to ziplock all of my gadgets and put them all in a trash bag before packing them in my backpack.  Later however, after it became apparent that the boat was in no position to capsize, I had enough guts to take out my camera and shoot pictures while at sea.)

The Sabtang Lighthouse

More than the view of the town itself, one would see the Sabtang lighthouse as one approaches the seaport.  This lighthouse is not as aesthetically pleasing as the one in Basco  (in fact, it was being renovated during the time I was there) but it does cut an imposing figure as the cliff it stands on is much closer to the sea.

Disembarking at the Sabtang port was a lot easier than expected.  Various blogs are unanimous in saying that a falowa would have to dock at a shallow part of the shore and passengers would have to get their feet wet in knee-deep water just to walk to towards the dry land.  Fortunately, the new port (funded by Japanese official development assistance) is now operational and so we passengers were able to disembark very easily without getting our feet wet.

The Municipal Tourism Office

After paying P50 each to the boat “conductor”, we slowly made our way to the Municipal Tourism Office to pay a tourism fee of P100.  (This fee only applies to non-Batanes residents.)  The employees were kind and offered helpful tips on how to go about traveling within Sabtang.  The office actually had rooms that they were renting out for P300 a night with clean bathrooms and running water.  I did not immediately get a room because I was hoping that I’d get to stay overnight in the far-flung village of Chavayan (more on this later), so Joaquin and I just informed them that we will just drop in if we change our minds.

(I will make a separate blog entry with tips on how to go about touring Sabtang, as well as Batan.  For the sake of continuity, I will go on with the narrative.)

At the entrance to Centro with fellow tourist Erwin

It bears mentioning that I made friends with a fellow tourist named Erwin Maique, whom I actually got to know in the port at San Vicente and who was on the boat with us going to Sabtang.  Erwin does not have a tour guide and instead rented a motorbike, which he used in touring Batanes.  He had to pay an extra P100 to have the motorbike boarded on the falowa.  Unlike me, Erwin immediately rented a room at the tourism office and almost immediately after went on his way to tour Sabtang.

The Sabtang Church

As a municipal entity, Sabtang actually covers its entire island (unlike Batan, which has four municipalities.)  The place where the port is located is called Centro – this is where the municipal government offices, schools and the Sabtang Church are situated.  Adjacent to Centro are the twin baranggays of Sinakan on one side and Malakdang on the other.  One would think that Centro gets its name from the fact that it’s sandwiched between these two batanggays.

Walking around Centro while waiting for the “multicab” that we hired, I took advantage of the free time taking pictures of the surroundings and especially the Sabtang Church.  Joaquin and I also made arrangements with the Elesterio canteen to cook lunch for us.  (By the time we return to Centro after the first half of the tour, our lunch would already be cooked by then.)  I was given a choice of three viands but the only one that stuck to my mind was the Coconut Crab, so that’s what I ordered.

It took a while before the multicab showed itself, and I regret that i took out some of my frustrations by appearing irritated to Joaquin and his older brother, who happens to be the postmaster of Sabtang and who actually helped us rent the multicab.  By 10:30, the multicab appeared and we were finally on our way to our first stop – the old village of Chavayan.

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So we were finally getting started with the tour of Sabtang.  The multicab we hired is like a small truck with its back open.  Joaquin and I were standing at the back and hanging on to the metal railings, which is a very good position if one wants to have a 360-degree view of the surroundings while one is on the road.  However, the drawback is that it would be very difficult to shoot nice pictures using a DSLR, given the roads in Sabtang alternate between smooth and atrociously rough.  Good thing I could ask the driver to stop every now and then to take proper photos.

Hanging on at the back of the multicab

From Centro, we entered Brgy. Sinakan and followed the National Road all the way south.  Our destination was the two old towns of Savidug and Chavayan – both of which are famous for their traditional-style houses.  Of these two, Savidug is the nearer one, but I instructed the driver to take us first to Chavayan because it is the one which I deem as the more important stop.

Along the way, one passes by views of steep rocky cliffs, flat grazing lands, seascapes and even diverse fauna – both wild and domesticated.  I was particularly awed by the variety of birds that I’ve seen in Batanes, a lot of species of which I’ve only previously seen in Animal Planet or Nat Geo.  Throughout my stay, I must have seen at least three bayawak (monitor lizards) by the roadside.  It’s in Sabtang where I saw the first one.

The terrain also is notable.  It’s rare to see rocky mountains and cliff sides anywhere else in the Philippines.  In Batanes, they are everywhere.  And in my opinion – with my very limited exposure – I’d say that Sabtang has the most spectacular views of these.  There are no pure white sand beaches in Batanes.  What you see by the shore are volcanic debris with sizes ranging from a small stone to a boulder the size of an average Filipino house.  Everything looks so otherworldly and overwhelming.

It’s also in Sabtang where you will see what the locals call the “Sleeping Beauty” – a mountain formation that is actualy visible even if you’re still on the boat going to the island.  The land tour however, affords one a closer view.

Can you see her?
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Here’s a tip: On the way to Chavayan, one would pass by a welcome arch that at present still has no markings.  It’s this one:

This arch denotes the Chamatad-Tinyan Sitio.  Ask your driver/tour guide to stop here and get off your vehicle.  From the road, walk downhill to where the cows and goats are grazing.  Walk further until you reach the edge of the cliffs that show spectacular views of the sea and the mountain side.  Such as this one:

A near-typical view whenever the sea meets land in Batanes
or this one

Just be very, very careful as there are no handrails at all and one misstep could mean certain death at worst, or serious injury at the very least.

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