Livin’ La Vida “Local” in Sabtang


Before my much-awaited, long overdue trip to Batanes, I already had years of backgrounder from the Ivatan himself, Bhing’s Tatay. Over lunches together he helped sew the fibers of my imagination on how life in Sabtang truly is.

And so when the day arrived to leave Manila for Sabtang, I had preconditioned myself to spending 6 days there.

Simple. Stark. Spartan.

Cool.

But first, what was in my bag that departed Manila?

  • sunblock
  • a pair of flip-flops
  • my lightweight Saucony walking/running shoes
  • light sleepwear
  • basic tees, shorts
  • hat and sports cap
  • small toiletries, camera + 2 lenses, tripod, action cam with chest strap, chargers and phones.
  • a JACKET?! Yes, even during the summer. The wind was crazy cold up the hills when the weather suddenly changed.
  • more importantly – CASH. Sabtang does not have automated teller machines. You transact strictly with cash or gratis (lol).

Sabtang Port

As we set foot on the island after the fallowa ride with the bags of cement, there was an apparent shift to the maze (like that in The Maze Runner). Men, women and even children at the port politely nodded at us with timid smiles.

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And then at a glance, there was an ensemble of a bare, unpainted port and a vast landscape of the lighthouse on a hill, the blue sea, the quaint Ivatan stonehouses with cogon roofs and the off-white to beige, San Vicente Ferrer Church. Things you don’t get in Manila in one sitting.

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In an instant what was in front of me seemed to be a microcosm of Sabtang. But there was more to that.

Since my luggage casters (or was it my untoned arms?) were probably not built to last a 5-minute uphill trek to our host’s abode, we hailed an ingeniously remodeled tricycle to take us all to our home. Unlike in most situations in Manila the whole 54-kilo 5-piece luggage plus Tatay’s weight did not require bargaining powers. In Sabtang, the tariff rules. No pluses, no tipping.

We arrived at Tatay’s ancestral stone house hungry. Steamed coconut crab, lobster, rice,  fish in hot soup with vegetables were our welcome treat. We dined al fresco fanned by the unpolluted Sabtang breeze. I  jumped up and thoroughly washed my hands as I enjoyed the fare, metal-free.

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We lodged our stuff in a bedroom. Well, there was only one bedroom. All the rest of the house are the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, the storage room where firewood, onions, flying fish and garlic were kept to dry. The bathroom/toilet is about 10 steps away from the house. And we’ve been warned – water supply is cut at night, electricity is shut off from 12 midnight to 6 AM, there’s no bulb or lamp affixed in the bathroom. Tatay joyfully packed a flashlight to share. We didn’t go looking for a shower because we knew there was just a pail and a dipper to use. No sweat! Plus, Bhing is a dipper fan, hands down :).

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If at this juncture this whole thing puts you off, then it is important to know that Sabtang may not be for you. To add, there’s no Internet and phone signals are weak. Well as for me, I got even more pumped up. This is the life that I sought.

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We followed our semi-plotted itinerary, but some parts of it were unplanned. Moreover, the daily walking came out with surprises which we eventually got used to – we reciprocated the nodding-and-smiling of the Ivatans with every single encounter.

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We got used to the rolling hills, the consistent breathtaking views, the fresh seafood, the organic and naturally sweet root crops, the diligent people, even the hard wooden floor we all slept on.

Bruce

From appreciating the street life of one barangay after another to watching 80- to 90 year-old lady farmers with their baskets, the turquoise water, the up and down hilly roads, our bodies automatically adjusted to retiring at 9 PM.

Hand woven Baskets

The mayor, Max Babalo, seemed omnipresent. We’ve seen him drive a jeepney to tour visitors, patted someone’s shoulders once in a while (including mine), lasted the whole day festival and mingled with the people. In Manila, that’s a rare sight!

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For 6 Days, Bhing and I immersed ourselves with the pristine, unsurpassed beauty of the island. We had the privilege not every Ipula (non-Ivatan) could have.

Carabao Siesta

I’ve never felt so full of life. I laughed with the Ivatan kids, greeted the locals as if we’ve known each other, ate naturally grown and caught food, walked under the sun to watch the festivities, sipped unlimited coconut juice from the shell.

Hannah

On the night before our departure back to Manila, takeaway flying fish, onions, garlic and root crops came parading into our doors. All from the kind hearts of Tatay’s Ivatan kindred to take back home.

The Farmer

For 6 days, we found ourselves not needing the Internet, not reaching for the TV remote, not agog with receiving Whatsapp or Viber messages. We were simply soaked up with the splendor and austerity of the place and culture that is Sabtang.

~ Alesah

If you’re looking to see things to do in El Nido, Palawan, you can check out one of my blog posts at the Australian travel site, Gourmet Getaways. Read about Fishing in El Nido here.

 

 

Batanes with no Internet

How I Spent 8 Days in Batanes With No Internet


It all started 10 years ago when Bhing’s father who is an Ivatan (being born and raised in Sabtang Island, Batanes) was telling me stories about what it’s like in Batanes – the neverending landscape of hills, white sand and turquoise waters surrounding the islands. The Ivatans, he recounts, are humble, honest, indefatigable people. And then I remembered that 1991 flick, “Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit” where the mystique of the setting harmonizes with Tatay’s description of the place.

After so many years of hopeful plans, finally the trip materialized. Batanes had been a dream destination to wanderlusts after having traversed Boracay, Bohol, Cebu and Palawan. But Batanes is two-in-one – it’s both a place and CULTURE.

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I spent some time to research a little bit about Batanes. The only setback was that there was little to no Internet, especially in the island of Sabtang. And my mobile service provider’s signal has been reported to be poor, too.

8 days without Internet? What to do? In Batanes, that’s never a problem :). This was my itinerary for 8 days of no mingling with the interconnected digital world.

My itinerary:

Day 1, Apr 23: Left Manila at 6:00AM. Arrived Basco Airport at 7:15AM.

Since Tatay had relatives in Basco, we were picked up and went straight for breakfast at the relative’s house. We decided to go around Basco in our last 2 days in Batanes. Most of our days would be spent in Sabtang and swore we would not leave without going in and around all 6 barangays.

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We took the tricycle (you can also take a jeepney ride from the National Road but there are only 2 trips early in the morning, which we missed) at 10:15 AM to Ivana port for a 30-45 minute journey. The fallowa (big boat) that leaves Sabtang to Basco is also the one that picks up passengers from Basco to Sabtang. Usual timings are 5:30 AM for the first trip. There are currently 2 fallowas taking passengers to and fro.

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When we arrived at the Port of Ivana at 11:00, the next fallowa ride was reported to be at 1:00 to 1:30 PM. Fortunately, our tricycle driver asked the cargo fallowa just about to leave the port if they can accommodate three passengers. So together with bags of cement, we cruised. Our timing was perfect, the waters were calm. So, seasickness had no room for any of us three.

At 11:30 AM, we hit Sabtang Sentro and took another tricycle ride (but you can walk, too!) to get us to another relative’s house. Our welcome lunch? Freshly caught lobster, coconut crab and fish, soup, vegetables, rice and wakay (camote). In Manila, we could have paid a fortune for the lobster alone. But here it was normal fare and it’s free if you caught it or someone gave you his extra 😉

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After lunch we started our walking adventure warm-up from Barangay Sinakan (1), to Barangay Malakdang (2). We climbed up the Sabtang Lighthouse, climbed further down from the lighthouse to find some secret beach and San Vicente Ferrer Church.

At 9:00 PM, we hit the floor. Yes, because we slept on a thin mat on the hard wooden floor, the Ivatan way.

Day 2, Apr 24: Visited Barangay Nakanmuan (3), had picnic at Ivuhos Island and slept on the sands of Morong Beach with just the moonlight and 3 small flashlights.

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Day 3, Apr 25: Witnessed the Opening of Festivities – ribbon cutting at Sentro with Agri-trade fair booths. Watched parlor games at the Sentro Plaza. Sentro Plaza is not a mall, but a typical provincial plaza where you see a stage or an open area, the parish church and local government offices. You need to be informed that in Batanes, there is NO mall. Which reminds me to remind readers to make sure you brought enough money. There are no ATMs in Sabtang. There are some in Basco, though. But then again, that’s a fallowa ride away.

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Day 4, Apr 26: 2nd day of Festivities, mountain trekking and visited Barangays Savidug (4) and Chavayan (5).

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This day was special to me. From the mountain top I saw two uninhabited islands of Batanes – Ivuhos Island from Day 2 and Dequey. And in the afternoon, I was in the most beautiful ride of my life in a tricycle. The narrow, meandering and hilly roads with sharp curves offset by a long strip of blue waters, white sand, charcoal rock formation and green hills to Savidug and Chavayan. You also get a glimpse of farm animals in odd positions and smiling people either walking or riding something – a vehicle or an animal.

Day 5, Apr 27: Attended the 1st Vakul Kanayi Festival program with dance showdown, rowing and other game, Kainan ng Bayan, and Balikbayan Night.

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Day 6, Apr 28: Streetwalking in Barangays Sumnanga (6) and Nakanmuan, witnessing a short camote digging activity, and swimming at Mayuray beach with some Ivatan kids.

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Day 7, Apr 29: Departed Sabtang for Basco on the first trip, 5:30 AM.

After lunch, we hired a tricycle to get around Batan Island (where Basco is part of). Today it was the North Batan Tour.

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Day 8, Apr 30: South Batan Tour. Dinner at Beehan in Basco with relatives who were on official trip for the National Museum.

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May 1: Depart Basco for Manila at 7:45 AM.

Expenses:

Airfare: 13,000 per pax, round-trip via Skyjet

Food: 2,500 for 3 (for those meals we chose not to be hosted by relatives)

Mineral water: 1,000 for 3 (yes, drinking water is expensive)

Pasalubong: 2,000 for 3

Tricycle fare: 1,500 for 3 (220 per way Basco-Ivana, 250 per way in Sabtang connecting barangays we visited)

Fallowa ride: 450 for 3 (75 per way per head, Basco-Sabtang)

North Batan Tour: 1,000 for 3 (tricycle). You can also join tours in a van, but if there’s just 3 of you and you’re not picky, a three-wheeled ride can be more fun and more personal.

South Batan Tour: 1,500 for 3. Same caveat as above.

Bigay-bigay sa relatives: 2,500

Tipping to Tricycle Driver: 300

If you don’t have relatives in Batanes, food is not that expensive. It’s just like in Manila where you can find budget meals to more expensive ones in Basco. In Sabtang, there are cafeterias where you could get a set meal for P100 to P150.

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There are no hotels in Sabtang, just homestays at a cost of P300 per head per night as of this writing. In Basco, you can go upscale private in Fundacion Pacita or as budgeted as P750 per room that can sleep 4 to 6 pax in Ivatan Lodge.

I would also like to share that though there were an action cam strapped to my chest, a mirrorless cam slung on my neck and a smartphone tucked in my pocket, there were instances I was so captivated I simply froze to savor the moment.

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It was only in Batanes where I came to a point to embrace life first, take some cam and video shots after, and then the selfies, last.

Batanes with no Internet

How I Spent 8 Days in Batanes with no Internet

So yes, for the eager, resilient and adaptable travel bugs, Internet is not a necessity to exist, to co-exist and to be in-the-moment in the nonpareil province of Batanes.