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.
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.
Though the water is clear and tempting, the surface is rocky. Still the beach is a good place to rest, but if you only have half a day for Sabtang, you won’t really get to stay here and work on your tan.
Sabtang is still home to many preserved old Ivatan stone houses. Traditionally made of limestone, these houses, with their meter-thick walls and cogon grass roof, were built to withstand the many typhoons that pass through the province every year. You can find them in most barangays of Sabtang, including Savidug and Chavayan.
Savidug, with a row of palm trees facing the beach has relatively bigger roads. The guides take most tourists here for their snack and lunch breaks. Here, we went around the different stone houses and our guide even showed us the stone house where he lived. A stone house is traditionally just a one-room affair where the Ivatans receive guests and at the end of the day sleep. There’s a shed underneath where they keep the animals in the event of a storm. The kitchen and toilet and bath are two separate structures outside.
Chavayan, which is farther away from the port, seems like it’s situated at the “end” of the island with a mountain rising behind it. The streets are also smaller here and while a few locals set up some tables with a few souvenirs when tourists come during the day, the atmosphere remains bucolic.
In Chavayan, there are also home-stay options should you miss the last boat ride out or prefer to spend more than a morning in the island. (The Heritage Building or the National School of Fisheries also offer room accommodations.)
Traveling in between Savidug and Chavayan, you can hardly miss the Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint. The rolling hills where goats and cows graze offer a stunning view of the sea below. From the road, where a couple of stalls have set up shop, you can follow the trail down and up the hill to take in the expanse of sea and sky. I could have stayed here for hours. I would just need a book and the good sense to stay out of the way of the grazing cattle.
A month after I returned from Batanes, my husband and I got the news we were finally matched for our adoption application. And within a few days of such wonderful news, we finally met our baby. For the past three months, we have been thrown into a new kind of adventure. The kind that makes you drop almost everything (Oh, I have a blog to update? I should get out of my pajamas?) because there’s this little person constantly needing your time and attention. The baby has taken us figuratively to places we never knew we could go to (hello, mountain of diaper changes, trail of bread crumbs and fruit nibbles, city of cries and wails) and sometimes when it gets a bit overwhelming, I think of that boat ride to Sabtang. I breathe in and out. Let those waves of helplessness and oh-my-God-parenthood-is-hard realizations just pass over me. I always get to shore and my baby is there laughing, smiling… and making the sign for his mommy to make some more milk.