Just like riding a boat (to Sabtang Island, Batanes)

I wasn’t looking forward to the boat ride to Sabtang Island.

One of the three inhabited islands that make up the province of Batanes, Sabtang captures what most travelers imagine Batanes to be–towns lined up with traditional stone houses, unforgiving cliffs overlooking raging waters, rolling hills, white beaches, and a pastoral charm that easily lends itself to getting off the grid.

“You have to go,” a fellow guest in Fundacion Pacita told me and my companions the day before. He had just returned from Sabtang and was regretting his choice of not spending more time in the island. And it’s just a 30-minute boat ride from Batan. I wasn’t too sure about the use of ‘just’. Since you need to cross the waters where the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea crash onto each other, we’ve been warned by locals that the boat ride could get rough. It’s the reason why around 1 pm, the last boat from Sabtang going back to Batan departs.

“Just breathe in when the boat heaves, breathe out when it drops,” a friend advised me. I’ve had more bouts of seasickness than I care to remember and I didn’t want to end my Sabtang day trip hurling over the boat. True enough on the afternoon ride back, the waves would forcefully lift the faluwa (the local motorized boat) and then carelessly toss it back down. Cue the screams and nervous laughter of most passengers, including myself. Eventually, we all fell quiet. The waves were unrelenting. I was breathing in and out along with the motion of the faluwa, and while my stomach still felt it would get left behind in my throat, I knew I would get through it without having to eject the Ivatan lunch I had earlier.

And yes, fellow guest was right. You have to go. Every visitor of Batanes must go to Sabtang. Here are a few reasons why.

Morong beach

One of the most recognizable images of Batanes, the Mayahaw Arc

When we reached the Port of Sabtang, from the Ivana Port in Batan, our tricycle driver-slash-tour guide was waiting for us. (You can make arrangements with your guesthouse or hotel for a tour in Sabtang. Or bring your own bike across the island and explore it via your two wheels, which I saw a few people do.) Our first stop was Morong Beach. This white pebbly sand beach is home to a distinct rock formation known as the Mayahaw Arc.

For as long as I could remember, the image of the arc was one of those that stuck with me when my friends showed me pictures of their Batanes trip almost two decades ago. And it’s always fascinating and humbling being able to stand in front of a place you previously only held in your thoughts. Continue reading

One fine day and ‘A Year in Batanes’

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Batanes. If you live in the Philippines, chances are that name can evoke beautiful, unspoiled pastoral images of rolling hills, rugged mountains, an unobstructed expanse of sky and water, and an idyllic way of life. It’s the northernmost island province of the Philippines, separated from the rest of Luzon where the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea meet. Because of its location, Batanes gets a ceaseless beating from the strong winds and typhoons during monsoon season. It’s one of the more remote spots in the country and like most fellow Filipinos, it’s a place I’ve always want to see.

Early this March, I found the perfect excuse to go. We launched in Batanes Asa Ka Awan du Vatan (A Year in Batanes) under Firetree Press, the small book publishing house I am a part of. The book can be a travel journal of sorts, but it’s really more of a precious collection of watercolor paintings by Victoria Abad-Kerblat and different Ivatan artists with a month by month guide on the rich heritage and traditions of Batanes.

The day before the book launch, my colleagues and I got to make our way around Batan, the main island of Batanes, where the provincial capital of Basco is located.

Continue reading

Slowing down in Zambales

Almost a month ago, I went on a travel assignment north of Manila to a couple of provinces. The theme was nature and adventure and if you’re coming from Manila or Clark, there are a lot of choices just a couple of hours away, from Pampanga and Tarlac to Zambales. (Update: Here’s a link to that  magazine article)

I finally tried to learn how to surf. Tried. But I think I ended up mastering the art of falling into the water. Get on the board and then fall again. Which was a far cry from another water activity I tried the day before, the bandwagon, where I refused to fall at all. It appeared to be a breeze–just sitting down on an inflatable couch while it gets pulled by a jetski–but I ended up screaming my lungs out, holding on for dear life so as not not to get thrown off into the water, and wondering what the hell was I doing. It’s no surprise that what I most appreciated in the trip were the times I ended up having to do nothing. Oh, age. You make me want to just chill, stare at sunsets, and maybe have a massage.

In the small village of Pundaquit in San Antonio, Zambales, you can do some of those things.

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The beach in front of Capones Vista Resort in Pundaquit in San Antonio, Zambales

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Cove

Peace and quiet in a cove near Capones Island

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People stopping by to catch the sunset

Sunset watchers

Stare at sunset

There’s always a beautiful sunset just waiting at the beach

End of the day

End of the day

Six things to do on a road trip down Southern Cebu

When we made the recent trip to the island province of Cebu for the Sinulog festival (one of the Philippine’s biggest fiestas–read: street party–and annual religious festival in honor of the Santo Nino or Child Jesus), my husband and I and a couple of our friends also made a three-hour trip out of the city to the southern town of Oslob and made some other stops on the way back for some good lechon (roast pig) and chicharon (pork cracklings). Because why wouldn’t you stop for lechon and chicharon?

1. Swim with the whale sharks. Like the sleepy Sorsogon town of Donsol, Oslob turned into a tourist destination, primarily because of the whale sharks that frequented its waters to feed. But unlike in Donsol where you have to search for them, the fishermen in Tan-Awan in Oslob hand-feed the gentle giants and lead them close to shore for the tourists to have an easier access to them. And there are three ways to see them, dive (P600), snorkel (P500), or just stay in the boat, (P300) because the whale sharks tend to stay close to the surface as the feeder throws uyap (shrimp) to feed them.

Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino

One of the whale sharks in Oslob. This and the other one we saw were relatively smaller (but still amazing to behold) than the ones in Donsol (Photo courtesy of Mike Aquino)

Personally, I prefer the practice of whale shark interaction in Donsol. There’s no guarantee that you’ll see a whale shark and capture that Instagram-worthy shot there–because they are after all supposed to be still in the wild–but it seems there’s less impact on their migratory nature (the whale sharks in Oslob, we’re told, are there year-round). Our friend who writes for About.com and was with us during the trip has a different take on it here (and a more helpful guide). Continue reading