Thursday, July 9, 2015

Exploring Batanes: Sabtang Island

We were so pooped from the first day's shenanigans that we couldn't believe it when our tour guide, Dennix, said he'll pick us up at 6:00am for Sabtang. Are you kidding?! Hoo boy. But by some miracle we were up and about and done with breakfast a little before 6am, thanks to Christa being our alarm clock and waking us up at 4:45am.

The reason we needed to be up so early is because the day's activities are based on the faluwa schedule. The faluwa is the local boat (ferry, if you will) which takes tourists, locals, merchants to Sabtang Island. There are 10 islands total in Batanes but only 3 are inhabited, and Sabtang is one of them.

The whole trip takes approximately 30 minutes and from here you can already catch a glimpse of Sabtang Island in the horizon. If I remember correctly each faluwa can accommodate 80 people. 

I got a little queasy during the ride even though the waves were a little tame. FYI, Sabtang is a small island with a population of only 1,637 people. 


Our first destination was also the most popular, Morong Beach. It's the only white sand beach in Batanes, with tamer waves, and less coral. It's very conducive for a swim but we had a long day ahead of us so we trudged on.

trying to part the sea?

I noticed there were some littered trash and plastic bottles but Dennix reassured me that they do a coastal cleanup monthly. Most of the trash were from the Taiwanese who dock in these areas, or from tourists. Ivatans (locals) try very hard to maintain the integrity of their surroundings. 


Ivatan houses are made of crushed coral mixed with rocks and takes years to build, mainly because you have to accumulate a lot of corals first in order to create the structure. These stone houses are very sturdy and are made to withstand strong typhoons. 

Though so many of the traditional houses are already in ruins and are in the process of being restored, they're still a sight to behold. 

this is Sinadumparan
My Mom was giddy while walking the narrow streets of Savidug, she always likes to see how the locals live and wants to be immersed in their culture. So you could say this was her favorite part of the whole trip.

There are 3 types of houses in Savidug:

  • Maytuab - stone house with four-sloped thatched cogon roof
  • Sinadumparan - stone house with two-sloped cogon roof
  • Jinjin - made of wood and cogon

All the houses look almost identical with beautiful distressed doors that I mentioned in my previous post (and keep mentioning on Instagram). I was told that Ivantans create separate houses each for their kitchen, bathroom, and sleeping quarters. This serves as a contingency plan in case one catches fire, and you know how long it takes to build another house in case of a calamity.

I feel lucky to have visited Batanes during the off-peak month of June because we were able to casually walk the narrow streets of Savidug, take photos of houses, locals, even chickens and dogs without having to deal with so many people. We were also not rushed by our tour guide (we booked an exclusive tour) so we could explore more.

Being tasked as the photographer for the trip (this always happens as I'm always the one who wanders off in the family), there are only a few photos with me in it. This candid photo is one of my faves, taken by my achi.


Ivatans are devout Catholics and there is always a chapel or church in every municipality no matter how small or distant. Masses are not regular here as the priests have to travel all the way from Basco. Still, we were happy to visit and pay homage in each and every one.

Beside the Church was an abandoned building and we decided to explore the insides and take photos. I loved the door instantly, but my sister and I noticed a very eerie feeling when we entered. Turns out, this was previously a beaterio (religious convent). We immediately left after the photos were taken.


Another trek up the rolling hills was in order, and I couldn't wait to take some photos! The sun was blazing but I loved it (anything to get a more intense tan, I suppose).

A gorgeous panoramic view of the ocean, this part was breathtaking! If you find some hills that are too steep for your liking, the key is just not too look down -- very hard for me because there were goats and cows chilling by the sides of the hills and I wanted to take photos!

These pretty little Ivatans were resting in one of the huts once you ascend from climbing up and down the hills. You can catch your breath here, have fresh buco juice, buy pasalubong, or chat with the locals. 

I felt like my calves and thighs got a full workout, we were all sweating from the heat! Look at my Mom all covered up while I'm in a sleeveless top and shorts :P


More gorgeous stone houses await in Chavayan Village but we were here to visit the Sabtang Weavers Association, an organization of local women who weave the vakul (Ivatan headgear).

Here's an old well where locals get their fresh water, it's still being used today. 

hello, dog!

Vakul is what the locals wear to protect themselves from the elements. You can rent them for photo-ops for a small fee, think of it as a donation that will benefit the weavers.

I love talking to old people (although my friends will say, I talk to everyone) because I always feel they have so much history to share. My Dad who's a doctor in the province has a soft spot for them as well.

We ended up talking to Nanay Marina who just celebrated her 85th birthday. She has been weaving vakul by hand for 5 years. What's the secret to her long and healthy life? A daily intake of resh veggies which she grows nearby. Amazing :)

This what the locals jokingly call "Chavayan-as," a pair of weaved slippers. This was pretty darn clever and I wish they had it in my size!


As most chapels and churches in Batanes are either made entirely out of stone or cement, the Chavayan Chapel is the last remaining one that features a cogon roof. It's also called Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel. 

It's always very humbling to be inside local churches, and we give donations whenever possible. You can also write down your wishes and devotions here. 

And then it was time for lunch! The tour guide promised that we could swim for an hour so we were so excited. 

The meat and veggies in Batanes is always very fresh and juicy, and notice that yellow rice? They mix turmeric with their rice which gives it a rather delicious and full-bodied taste. We bought a small jar of turmeric and we shall try to duplicate this at home. 

We had lobster of course but forgot to take a photo -- we were too hungry to bother! But the star of the meal were the kalingking (sweet potato fritters) similar to this except less arnibal and more sugary syrup (source):

You know me, I normally I don't care for sweet potato (locally known as camote) but these were exceptionally good. Imagine fresh sweet potato strips fried til the sides are slightly toasted, then drizzled with light syrup. It really makes for a finger-licking dessert!

If you plan to swim in Batanes, let me tell you that you would need aqua shoes because most are reef beaches. The waters were pristine but of course nobody told us about the reef so I ended up with a wound on the sole of my right foot :(

And then it was time to head back to Batan Island. The faluwa rides are pretty limited so we really had to abide by the schedule, lest we get left behind and stay one night in Sabtang. 

I was asleep during the ride back -- I was too sleepy, too pooped out, and the weather was too hot (albeit windy). My Mom woke me up as we were about to disembark.

For dinner, we opted to try the food at Octagon. When eating out, please make reservations in the morning and order in advance to make sure they have coconut crabs and lobsters. Most of the food here are freshly caught, plus there are sometimes rotational brownouts so locals don't really stock food in the kitchen.

Octagon is a beachfront restaurant where you can enjoy fresh seafood with the ocean waves in the background. It's best to come here for dinner as it can get really hot during the day, there are no fans nor is it air-conditioned. 

June 21 was Father's Day so we had Cheesy Lobster, Coconut Crabs, Kare- Kare, Beef Sinigang and invited Dennix to join us. I love that locals here are so courteous and unassuming, they are also very grateful, and are eager to share the history of Batanes to everyone.

We really made a point to eat coconut crabs and lobster at every meal, while the locals shunned them and opted for veggies. Eating seafood is very normal here (and very cheap, too!) so they were really surprised that crabs and lobsters were high on our "to-eat"list. I told them lobsters fetch for around Php3,000 in Manila, while in Batanes they go for a mere Php150/100g. 

So that's it for day 2! Stay tuned for more stories to follow, just click on the image "Adventures in Batanes" on the left side to get redirected :)

*Our exclusive tours were booked through DDD Habitat
Rates: Php 25,000~ for 4 pax inclusive of:
  • Siayan Room (good for 4)
  • duration: 5 days 4 nights
  • package tour (guide + driver) 
  • lunch during the tours

To get in touch with our tour guide, contact: 
Dennix Cantor: 0948-2048358 / 0916-3214303

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