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30.05.2011; Memorial Monday; 20:32

Latest decision: Go on 80% raw food diet. How’s the journey: Quite difficult as I hardly cook, but I must admit I’m getting there. I may not be a raw foodist yet, but being a pecto vegetarian for an indulgent sisig monster deserves a woot. 

Dear Niwee,

It is funny how a dream-come-true gives birth to another dream. I once vowed that I won’t seek “greener pastures” until I’ve kissed the earth in Batanes. Now that I get constantly reminded of my unforgettable experience in that paradise each full moon, I know that she deserves another visit. Itbayat and other towns in Sabtang Island are yet to be explored. Still, I won’t mind retracing my steps in Basco and Sabtang – by myself, with a different group of friends or with a significant other. Words can’t really describe its beauty. Throughout my stay, I entertained the thought that the Portuguese probably meant to name Batanes as Formosa. Forgive me and my ignorance, Taiwan.

Sabtang Island

The 45-minute falowa ride from Ivana port to Sabtang Island was an eye-opener. For someone with no motion sickness at all, I realized that it can happen to anyone. Being seated in the middle allowed me to see the continuous rise of waves that went higher than our falowa on both sides and the best friend barfing beside me. It made me wonder if the rides prior our past-8:00am trip were calmer and what I would give for that to happen again while we were crossing the seas. Before we took the falowa ride again the morning after to return to Batan Island, I remember asking if I can just take the zipline instead. But, hey, it’s part of the Sabtang charm. Tourists have no other option but to survive it. Fancy an audio-visual presentation?

Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?!
The nearer you get to the Sabtang Lighthouse, the less dizzying it becomes. For me, at least.

This island is known for its heritage towns, namely, Savidug and Chavayan, where sturdy stone houses can be found. The roofs are made of layers of vuchid or dried cogon leaves (typically changed every 20 years!) and walls are truly thick to withstand furious winds and incessant rains that frequent the islands. We noticed that the Ivatans’ doors are typically located on the side and have an arch-type top. As if they actually use it. Yes, it seems the locals never bother to close the door behind them.

Now you see us…

…Now you don’t!

Ako na! Ako na ang babae sa bintana! Ako na!

The best view in Sabtang, according to our guide Kuya Chris Cataluña, is in Duchid Hills or Chamantad-Tinyan Sitio. A slow descent in the hills would lead to the breathtaking view of the shores below. It was a spectrum of green, blue, white and everything that soothes the tired eyes. If the orchestra of calming winds and splash of seawater ahead can’t make you start crooning ♪♫ The hills are aliiiive with the sound of music… ♫♫♪, I don’t know what else will.

The view on top of Duchid Hills

The look of happiness!

Sabtang is also home to the idjang or the fortress that serve as look-out point and evacuation site among the ancient Ivatans and Lime Beach where they obtain the lime they use for their stone houses. Like I mentioned in my prior entry, they now have to purchase their materials for house-building. Make sure to look for the Sleeping Beauty! 

Idjang

Lime Beach

Ivatan women wear vakul as protection against the sun, rains and other elements.
Tinry ko lang, including the basket.

After enjoying a sumptious banquet for lunch, we decided to combat baboy syndrome and burn the luñis (Ivatan adobo), Tagalog adobo, steamed coconut crabs, chopseuy, seafood soup, fish, turmeric rice and biko by the beach. The quite unwelcoming waves did not abate our desire to commune with the underwater gods. Although it kept on pushing us back to the shore, we surrendered happily. A walk along the sand can make you discover fishing-related apparatus in Taiwanese characters. Kuya Chris also made mention of vintage glass balls in various sizes that reached this shore from Taiwan. Ivatan kids used to make a toy out of these balls, now they are being sold as souvenir items.

The naturally sculptured arch as backdrop in the Nakabuang Beach

 It didn’t take a rocket scientist to understand why the locals called it Nakabuang Beach. 

The weekend before the flight, Batanes was on tsunami alert. With my recently sprained knee and resulting inability to run yet, I froze upon hearing the news. Shortly after I felt relieved when the warning was lifted, I was in panic again. The supermoon warning came on centerstage, threatening to cause higher-than-usual tides, earthquakes and typhoons during our actual stay in the islands. Little did we know that we were in the best place on earth to marvel at the supermoon.

No clouds, no light pollution. Great view, great friends to share the moment with!
It was about past 20:00, yet the moon’s reflection on the water seemed like the sun’s!

The supermoon the following night Taken while we were in our homestay in Ivana, Batan Island. 

 

***

Batan Island

We spent the next 3 days in Batan Island. While most tourists stayed in Basco, the capital, our party of 5 was grateful that we stayed in Ivana which happens to be 14 kilometers down south. I remember waking up early on a Monday morning (partly out of guilt and curiousity for the gong incident the previous night) to take a lazy stroll along the beach behind our temporary ancestral house. I ended up doing a highly not-so-recommended looong walk past the Spanish Bridge up to the Vicente Port and back. How could my knees complain if this moment allowed me to witness the far-from manic Mondays the town enjoyed? The motorists were either on foot or on bicycles, the honks were friendly hellos and the parking lots were a display of colorful bicycles that made me wish I know how to pedal. It was a miracle how my joints found delight during that 40-minute saunter when it tends to curse me after a 10-minute workout. Aaaah, that’s what Batanes can do for you.

What else is in Ivana? There’s Dakay’s House, otherwise kwown as the oldest abode in Batanes, San Jose de Ivana Church and Honesty Coffee Shop. 

Built way back in 1887 and with the track record of surviving a strong earthquake before, this is the oldest house in Batanes. Believe me, the walls were super thick! 

Being welcomed inside Lola Florestida Estrella’s spacious home. She is already in her 80’s. 

San Jose de Ivana Church is situated across the Vicente Port. Kuya Chris mentioned that there was this one Dominican priest who said prayer in Latin to prevent abundant harvest among the fishermen. That way, they will attend the Mass. They don’t start the Mass promptly either if they notice absenteeism in the pews.

Ms. Djoanna San Jose and the San Jose de Ivana Church. Do I hear wedding bells?

Take the honesty test in this unattended coffee shop! May your tribe increase!

En route to the pastureland of Racuh A Payaman, you will see the inseparable presence of the mountain ranges and seashores along Songsong Town and the defunct US Coast Guard Station. The former is commonly known as the ghost town for its abandoned stone houses ensuing the tsunami that caused havoc in 1953. Thanks to these high slopes, the residents can esily detect oncoming calamities as such and flee right before the waves swallow them into oblivion. 
 

The view just keeps getting better!

Greens here, there and everywhere! 

Meeting place: on the top of the world!

Foreigners dubbed Racuh A Payaman as Marlboro Country for its staggering resemblance to the latter. This scenery, I think, often makes people go “Ang ganda! Parang wala ka sa Pilipinas!” that makes my blood boil and want to go on bitchslapping spree. But how can you stay indignant wih such an arresting sight ahead of you? We even spent our lunch break that day overlooking this. Ommm..

Pan to the left and you can see the Mahatao Lighthouse.
From this vantage point, too, you can see Pacific Ocean and South China Sea on opposing ends.

Leave it to our people to make something functional as hedgerows to have a spellbinding effect on you.

It’s no secret that I’m a complete sucker for lighthouses. Even before I saw Mariah Carey‘s “My All” music video and the film A Very Long Engagement and associate such seaside sentinels with sensuality. Batanes boasts of 3 main lighthouses, namely, Sabtang, Mahatao and Naidi; it is notewrthy to mention the oldest and tiniest near San Carlos Borromeo Church and the one in Duchid Hills that didn’t push through. Among the three, I only got to see the one in Naidi Hills up close. However, considering that they are patterned after one design, it somehow convinced me that I’ve been to the other two. To my disappointment, we were not allowed to climb up and see the view from there.

The staff of the nearby Bunkers restaurant invited us to the sunset buffet when we arrived. As pathetic as it may sound, I can not afford the P600 price tag for this rare gastronomic experience. My friends spent the rest of the evening consoling me that it was not yet time and I was probably destined to make such memory with somebody special instead. Luckily, we made prior plans to conclude the evening with do-it-ourselves kitchen magic and drunken light painting. Looking back, I still feel guilty for being a show stopper.

We were still in the vicinity when we felt the earth tremor below us for about 10 seconds. If my poor memory serves me right, it was about 3.1 scale. When we heard the vendor say, “Pagdating dito ng tsunami, pagod na siya!”, I instantly felt better. If we were meant to evolve into fish food overnight, then so be it. I would even urge my buddies to strike the best pose they learned from America’s Next Top Model that they were so fond of. Show Pompeii what we’re made of! I imagine my own pose would have to involve my dying cellphone while I deliver that I’m-in-Batanes-NOT-Subic confession to my parents.

 Imagine how the Naidi Lighthouse unlocked the gates of my fantasies.

Who needs sunset buffets when you can do a looong pause and watch the sun’s descent with friends? Right?

We also learned from Kuya Chris that Batanes is hardly any typhoon’s default destination. Remember how weather reports normally name-drop the province, its signal number, temperature and other details? Turns out Batanes, as the topmost group of islands in our area of responsibility, serves as reference point. Can you do me a favor and tell all your friends?

 Check out the sunshine counter (forgot the jargon) in Radar Tukon.

Ooooh! Rocket science! See the burnt paper?

While most residential stone houses are situated in Sabtang, there are beautiful establishments in Batan that we had the opportunity to visit.

The newly-opened Vatang Grill & Restaurant. A la carte meals start at P100.
Our group’s lunch amounted to P300 per head. Make sure to ask for the cuttlefish!

The mayor had this Church built on Tukon Hills so the elders need not to go down to the center anymore.
Wait, Tukon Hill is redundant. Tukon is Ivatan word for hill.

Inside: it showcases the life-size paintings of the patron saints of each town on the ceiling.
All painstakingly done by local artists.

Basco Airport

 The runway gives the best view of Mt. Iraya. When it erupted in 1950s, this volcano spewed a great number of stones to the neighboring Valugan Bay / Balugan Boulder Beach.

It’s rather safe NOT to swim and just sit down and enjoy the relaxing tunes of the incessant collision of the waves and stones.

Phew. That’s such a lenghty and photo-heavy account of this traipse! I hope it also serves as an invitation for you to cease and desist obsessing about international destinations for the meantime and start plotting your itinerary in a domestic destination like Batanes. Better yet, follow my footsteps and see Batanes! I know the airfare can be discouraging, but you can definitely afford it after 4 months of going cold turkey on mocha frappe. Come on, if a cheapskate like myself managed to tour around its islands, why can’t you do the same? What’s hindering you from doing so?

Before I allow the acknowledgements to start rolling, I’ll leave you with an aerial shot of this paradise so you can imagine how eager my heart felt  for my destined comeback. And I know it will happen! 

All photos by Toni Cruz.

***

Special thanks to:

Seair’s Sweet 16 Promo.
Kuya Chris Cataluña – 0999-553-2804
Ate Julient Cataluña – 0919-369-5341
Sabtang Municipal Tourism & Information Office – P600 per night
Hidalgo’s Ancestral Home – P1,500 per night. Contact Ate Juliet.
Ukay ukay shops for my outfits.

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