They say I should look forward to the journey from Batan Island to Sabtang. They say it is unforgettable. The waters between Batan and Sabtang Islands have a reputation of being rough, turbulent, frightening. This is where the currents of the vast West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and the even bigger Pacific Ocean clash. Sabtang is accessible via a 30-minute ride aboard the faluwa, the bigger traditional Ivatan boat. Like the tataya, the Ivatan dory, they do not have outriggers (katig), either. They say every ride is quite an experience.
I slept through it. Dang it! Blame the weather.
I arrived at Ivana Port as early as 6:30am. The balmy morning turned drizzly in an instant. From the port I could already see the dark clouds hovering over Sabtang Island. When we landed at the San Vicente Port in Sabtang, drizzly turned rainy. But the trip must go on.
I was greeted by our guide, driving a unique tricycle. In Sabtang, their version of the trusty tricycle has a cogon-roofed sidecar. Our first stop was the Tourism Office, where we registered and paid the P200 (USD 5) Environmental Fee. One can easily complain it is a steep rate, but considering that none of the attractions on the island collect entrance fees and that Sabtang will wrap and smother you with all kinds of beauty, I believe it is more than fair.
Tourists are encouraged to spend at least one night on the island for a fuller experience, but day tours are a good option for those who don’t have time on their side. However, given that the last trip back to Batanes is at 1pm, day trippers will find themselves staying shorter at each stop and haunted by the threat of missing the last boat.
We waited for the rain to subside a little, and when it did it was on! Here are the highlights of the tour.
WHAT'S COVERED IN THIS GUIDE?
1. Savidug Village
Savidug is one of the traditional villages in Sabtang. Three types of Ivatan houses flank the streets of Batanes: the maytuab, stone house with four-sloped thatched cogon roof; the sinadumparan, stone house with two-sloped cogon roof; and the jinjin, wood and cogon. Savidug harbors sinadumparan houses. The stone walls of these houses are all identical, but the doors and windows provide avenues for personal creativity. They add color to the otherwise monotonous structures.
No thanks to the sour weather, the streets of Savidug were almost empty. Every now and then, bikers passed by and chickens sashayed their merry way across the alleys. A woman wearing a vakul, the cogon-covered headwear, led me to St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel and the Old Beaterio, where two other Ivatan women were busy sweeping the grounds. Even in the rain, I could not help but have a picture taken inside the Beaterio.
2. Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint
Or simply Tinyan Viewpoint. Like in Batan Island’s Marlboro Country (Racuh a Payaman), a foot trail takes visitors across rolling hills to a viewing area. Rocky cliffs rising from the slopes of the hills, creating natural frames for the fantastic vista of Chamantad Cove below.
But the visual spectacle did not stop there. The tricycle sped in between the supple beach and the mountain edges, presenting a showcase of more of Sabtang’s most incredible landscapes. Even when the skies were not in the mood for the sunshine, the island’s colors were enough to brighten up our day.
3. Chavayan Village
When we reached Chavayan Village, the atmosphere was in good humor. A small dog dashed toward me and started nibbling on my shirt. Not the welcome I was expecting, but I would take it. I picked up my new canine pal and gave him back to the little girl that was running after him. It was only then that I had a good look at the village.
One narrow street weaves the small settlement, lined with sinadumparan stone houses. A tiny chapel and a house mark the end of the concrete road and the start of the sandy shore. Children in the street played a version of piko; those on the beach picked up sticks to help their parents. One corner lodged tataya boats, waiting for another fishing session. The sand here is far from fine but mixed with shingles and small pebbles. The waves, ferocious as usual.
4. Morong Beach / Nakabuang Beach
The sea is tamer at Morong Beach, fringing the other side of the island. Also known as Nakabuang Beach, it is a short stretch bookmarked by low, grass-carpeted hills. Its most prominent feature is an arch, called Nakabuang Arch or Mahayaw Arch (you pick), that has become an icon of Sabtang and Batanes as a whole.
There is a restaurant in the vicinity, which makes it a usual lunch stop. Our guide, however, took us to smaller carinderia near the port after the tour, where we had some of the most delicious dishes we’ve had the entire trip. (I missed the name of the place!)
5. Sabtang Lighthouse
Perched on a cliff just beside the port, Sabtang Lighthouse is the first man-made structure to greet you as you approach Sabtang island and the last to bid goodbye on your way back to Batan. The tower boasts a rubble masonry finish all the way to the gallery deck, which gives it a dominant organic appeal. A red lantern room crowns the round main tower, which is best viewed from the port where crashing waves take the foreground.
6. San Vicente Ferrer Church
If you still have time, step into San Vicente Ferrer Church, aka Sabtang Church. Standing just opposite the port, it is best left for last, while waiting for your trip back to the Ivana. The very first structure on site was a small chapel, built by the Dominicans in 1785. Since then, the stone-and-lime chapel has gone through waves of challenges: an abandonment when residents were force-relocated to Ivana after the uprising led by chieftain Aman Dangat in 1891 and a typhoon that destroyed its belfry in 1956.
The tour was short, barely lasting five hours, but it was a rich one. I wanted to stay and spend at least one night, but my flight was set on the next day. Batanes flights are NOT cheap; booking one spontaneously would triple the cost.
By 1:00 pm, I was already back at San Vicente port, ready for the journey back to Batan Island and excited to witness the notorious mischievousness of the seas.
Guess what? I slept through it again. I blame the tour. And the weather.
How to get to Sabtang Island: From Manila, fly to Basco. At the airport (or the town proper), take a tricycle to Ivana Port (P440 roundtrip, good for 2 persons). Board the faluwa to Sabtang (P70/head). At the port, tricycle tours are available for only P800 (good for 2 pax).
List of Expenses:
Tricycle Ride from Basco Town Proper to Ivana Port: P440 (good for 2 pax)
Faluwa Ride from Ivana to Sabtang: P70
Tourism/environmental fee: P200
Tricycle tour of Sabtang: P800 (good for 2 pax)