Sabtang. Batanes Group of Islands

According to a travel book, travelling to Sabtang from Basco increases the feeling that you’ve left the Philippines. And according to what we had experienced, and no matter how hard it was to reach the island, Sabtang is really worth the visit.

The Sabtang Island Tour is a one whole afternoon of travel and tell. It is a visit to a jewel of equal, if not more, importance as Batan Island because of its relatively intact Ivatan culture, extremely amazing sceneries, well-preserved heritage sites. Sabtang Island is a charming destination.

The call time was 6am. We made sure to have our breakfast taken early. The van left Basco and took us to the town of Ivana, at its port where a falowa was waiting for us. The weather was fine, but the waters gave hint that the trip may not be that smooth and calm. Our tour guide mentioned that the waves from the previous days were very rough that the falowas were not allowed to leave port for Sabtang. We were lucky that we picked a Thursday for the Sabtang Island Tour.

The lonely falowa (outrigger-less boat) waiting for us at Ivana Port
The lonely falowa (outrigger-less boat) waiting for us at Ivana Port

Crossing the waters between Batan and Sabtang is nothing less than exciting and unforgettable. The amount of time to reach Sabtang is about 35-45minutes depending on how considerate the waves are or how high the falowa swings from side to side, or front to back. We were required to don lifejackets before we were made to hop into the falowa.

The masters of the falowa. Experts of the Batanes waters
The masters of the falowa. Experts of the Batanes waters

So fasten our lifejackets, we did, and the falowa began its journey to the charming island of Sabtang. As explained to us, the islands of Batanes are situated in the middle of the clashing waters of the Pacific Ocean and the West Philippine Sea, which is also known as the South China Sea. Falowas do not have outriggers, as such the boats are made to ride with the waves. And so, we had an extremely exciting yet scary adventurous ride towards Sabtang.

As the falowa is nearing the island, standing high at the near right of the port is the picturesque lighthouse on a cliff.

A beauty about to unfold. Parola at Centro, Sabtang
A beauty about to unfold. Parola at Centro, Sabtang
The type of tour vehicle common in Sabtang Island
The type of tour vehicle common in Sabtang Island

Unlike in Batan, the tour vehicles in this island are not vans, but trucks with a hut top. I thought that we will be riding such but the tour guide has arranged for us a jeepney. Before the Sabtang tour started, visitors need to register at the municipal tourism information center. A briefing was done by our tour guide on the places that we will be visiting.

Romy, our tour guide, making a briefing about Sabtang Island
Romy, our tour guide, making a briefing about Sabtang Island
A stone and lime structure at Centro, Sabtang
A stone and lime structure at Centro, Sabtang

The tour’s first stop was the Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint.

Chamantad Tinyan Viewpoint: A Photographer's Cove
Chamantad Tinyan Viewpoint: A Photographer’s Cove
Ivatan Hut: Souvenirs and Refreshments available.
Ivatan Hut: Souvenirs and Refreshments available.
The Ivatan Frame
The Ivatan Frame

Let some of these pictures do the talking.

Wonderful Batanes, Beautiful Sabtang
Wonderful Batanes, Beautiful Sabtang
Magnifique Sabtang
Magnifique Sabtang

This site is a photographer’s delight. The smooth rolling hills lay contrast to the rough rocky edges. It’s a mix of mostly green and gray, clashing with the blues of the sky and sea. At this viewpoint, a couple of thatched structures sell souvenir items and thirst quenchers like the fresh buko juice and water. They also have vakul (local headgear) and baskets for rent, if you want to have photos of you wearing it. Vakul is made of fiber from a vuyavuy palm which is endemic to Batanes.

Equally amazing is the view from the south end of Chavayan.

Chavayan Seascape
Chavayan Seascape
Chavayan way of life: Fishing
Chavayan way of life: Fishing

The village of Chavayan was nominated for inclusion to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites because of its preserved old Ivatan stone houses. Much of these houses were built using stones and lime. As explained, the method of building this kind of houses was taught by the Spaniards. The Ivatans adapted the technique and built sturdier houses to protect them from typhoons and strong winds.

Fishing and Nature intertwined in Chavayan
Fishing and Nature intertwined in Chavayan
Time is at stand still in Chavayan
Time is at stand still in Chavayan
Old stone houses of Chavayan
Old stone houses of Chavayan
The Chapel of Sta. Rosa de Lima retains its stone and lime structure.
The Chapel of Sta. Rosa de Lima retains its stone and lime structure.
An old narrow way. Rows of houses made of stones and lime. Roofs made from cogon grass
An old narrow way. Rows of houses made of stones and lime. Roofs made from cogon grass
Bikes are relatively popular in Batanes
Bikes are relatively popular in Batanes

The traditional houses are in various shades of gray. Visitors are advised to wear something bright and colourful so to contrast with the stone houses. At the other end of the village is the hut of Sabtang Weavers Association. Ivatan women showcased their woven products and sell them as souvenirs. In a separate hut, the Tatus or coconut crabs are being sold.

Sabtang Weavers' Association. You could buy the Ivatan Vakul here.
Sabtang Weavers’ Association. You could buy the Ivatan Vakul here.
The now-endangered Tatus or coconut crabs
The now-endangered Tatus or coconut crabs
Coconut crabs for sale in Chavayan
Coconut crabs for sale in Chavayan

We passed by a spot near a beach halfway from Chavayan and Savidug. The guide pointed to a structure on a hill which they called as Idjang.  Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Idjangs, or stone fortresses, were used by the Ivatans to protect themselves from other tribes. Unlike other fortresses, the Idjang is not a hallow structure.

A temporary lake after a few days of heavy rain
A temporary lake after a few days of heavy rain
At the top-left section of the photo is an Idjang, a pre-Spanish fort-like structure defended and protected by the Ivatans
At the top-left section of the photo is an Idjang, a pre-Spanish fort-like structure defended and protected by the Ivatans
The green dark patches are used to be lime kilns. Ivatans where taught how to cook lime which was used to "cement" the stones of their houses
The green dark patches are used to be lime kilns. Ivatans where taught how to cook lime which was used to “cement” the stones of their houses
Lime kilns beside a Sabtang Beach
Lime kilns beside a Sabtang Beach

We move on to the village of Savidug. Similar to Chavayan rows of old Ivatan stone house are still standing, some abandoned, some lay in ruins and some are standing next to houses of concrete. We were led to the most photographed house in the village. This house is right beside the Chapel of St. Ignatius.

The most photographed house in Savidug
The most photographed house in Savidug

Then came lunch. From Savidug,  moved to a part of the island on a beach where we would take our lunch.

The Lunch site at Morong Beach
The Lunch site at Morong Beach
Say Hi to the Lobster
Say Hi to the Lobster

In these huts at Morong Beach, seafood was served. Coconut crabs were a bonus treat.

Tatus, or the coconut crab
Tatus, or the coconut crab
Lobsters are popular in the island.
Lobsters are popular in the island.

At Morong Beach, a layer of green vines and grass crawl towards the white sands. It’s as if it’s leading you towards the sound of the crashing waves. Morong Beach is where you could find the natural arc.

A creeping carpet of green on Morong Beach
A creeping carpet of green on Morong Beach
Mahayaw Arc: An iconic natural beauty
Mahayaw Arc: An iconic natural beauty

This is the Mahayaw Arc. It is said to be the iconic symbol of Sabtang Island. It is a natural beauty carved out by water, wind and the elements.

Under the shade of the arc
Under the shade of the arc
A wonderful work of nature
A wonderful work of nature

Visitors should not miss out on this spot. The beach is also one of the few beaches where tourists can actually take a swim or frolic.

Morong Beach was the final place we visited in Sabtang. We needed to be at the port before 2pm as advised, for the seas may turn rough much later in the day. Our jeepney took us back to the port of Sabtang where our falowa was waiting for us.

A glimpse of the light house as we leave for Batan Island
A glimpse of the light house as we leave for Batan Island

And as we left the island of Sabtang, we lay our eyes on the lonely but picturesque light house again, staring and taking pictures it in much similar as the time when we approached Sabtang.

And as we about to deal with the fury of the crashing seas, we say our thanks for seeing with our very eyes, the beauty of that island which is really, a jewel of its own.

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