Monday, April 25, 2005

The Great Sabtang Adventure!

Sabtang lies southwest of Batanes and it is a smaller island than Batan. Because of what people in Basco were telling us, we decided to go to the island and check out what really may be there to see. We were told the beaches are better and the stone-houses are in better abundance. They assured us that the stone-houses there were built still the way they were built like years ago – unlike in the more “urban” towns of Basco, Mahatao and Ivana where the houses already incorporated new styles, concrete balusters, jalousies and balconies plus even different hues of Boysen paint!

So one early morning, we “stylishly” departed from the resort in a shining new Mitsubishi Adventure courtesy of our new-found friend, the bank manager. We were herded to the little strip of a beach across the street from the Ivana Church. This was the jump-off point to Sabtang, where everyone must take a boat-ride across the deep and dark sea waters of the Sabtang Channel. This is part of the area where the Pacific Ocean meets up with the South China Sea! And we were told that during the crossing, we might even chance upon some whales passing by or playing around. Exciting!

How should we cross?!
Upon seeing what kind of boat it was that we were supposed to ride the big ocean crossing, all of us were taken aback. Of course fear was not just in the air but literally pierced my bones. Everyone in the area (including women and children) were telling us that the sea was rather calm that day. But we could see what kind of calmness it was they were referring to. If this was calm, I did not want to see whatever they call rough seas! None of us are seasoned sea travelers, so we decide (not the women and children) when we should be afraid or not! And this time we were! The dark-blue sea moving up and down was for me like a hungry giant ready to devour any boat.

So what about the boat? We were riding a “Falowa”! There are (principally) two types of boats that ply the route to ferry passengers and cargo. One type is the Falowa and the other is the “Sarao”. Yes, Sarao and spelled like the jeepney name!

The Falowa is a plain boat, not an outrigger boat. Having been too used to riding the many outrigger boats in the Visayas and Mindanao – even Cavite, Batangas and Sorsogon, this Falowa was a real shocker to us! Yes it was big enough. But there was no “katig” – the usual bamboo outriggers that we all know serve to make boats steadily afloat. Crews and other people in the area told us that this kind of boat was even safer than the usual banca with bamboo outriggers as those could be broken in the waves. Then I silently debated “See?! Therefore, the sea is rough since they say it can break a katig”!

Well, true, the Falowa was wider than a normal motorized banca. And they assured us that the roundness of the boat’s bottom and its usually wide spread in relation to its length made it a safer option for tossing and turning in high seas. Geessh, I was okay to hear the word “toss” but had to hardly swallow my saliva at the word “turn”. In high seas? No way!

Looking at a Falowa, it is actually like a big cousin my little tubby boats back home. For an even clearer description, a Falowa is just like the normal speed-boats that we see in beaches. And for those being used to cross the Sabtang Channel, they are bigger at about three meters (or less) in its widest portion and about 6 (or less) long. But this is not made of fiberglass. It’s made of wood! And there are no fancy aluminum handrails nor fiber-glass seats. Wooden planks are laid across the boat’s width to serve as rows of seats from front to rear. Engine is at the aft-most section – just like a speed boat’s.

People there pointed to us that the Sarao (docked nearby) was not plying the route that day. So the only choice was the Falowa in front of us. To my mind, as if the Sarao was anything better! It was nothing but a Falowa with some kind of housing in its middle for shelter! How does it become a better option if I was talking about the waves? Gosh!

Some people in the area said the trip was 30 to 45 minutes, the boatman said 45 minutes to one hour. The clincher that rekindled my fear anew was when a co-passenger said that Sabtang (which could be clearly seen from where we were) was just 5 kilometers away. Hah, even if we crossed the channel in 30 minutes, that would have meant we were traveling at 10kph! 10kph? So fear was on my spine again! That meant the sea was really rough for a boat to travel in such a torpid way.

Anyway, after a short discussion, we all agreed to go on with the crossing to Sabtang Island in a Falowa with capacity of 20 persons that will take us 30 minutes to an hour in a 5 kilometer distance of indigo-colored and “calm” seas! I literally muttered: “God help us”!

So we thought we were ready to depart. But, omigosh no we were not! We saw our Falowa being loaded with 6 big tin-drums. They must have been heavy as the crews had a hard time rolling them unto the Falowa. We were sure the contents were either gasoline or petroleum or gasoline and petroleum! A boat-hand told us it was gasoline. Thank goodness they just loaded six of those as there were about 10 or 12 more waiting at the beach! Next came other cargoes like cases of soft drinks and beer, foodstuff and other hardware. Then people were called to board.

The Crossing!
The navigation was generally soft from departure to past halfway of the trip. That means our dear Falowa was just steadily gliding up and down as we perpendicularly cut each big fat wave. We were even merrily shooting pictures of the now-distant Batan Island, the sea views and ourselves. But about a kilometer near Sabtang, the boat was already pitching furiously. And we could see a barrage of white waves smashing unto the beach and some inclined pavement that looked like the wharf. Our boat noticeably banked leftwards and we recognized that the “captain” was avoiding those waves. Then he expertly maneuvered towards the sand and we felt the boat ditching in it. But as waves smashed from behind our dear Falowa would glide up and down like in a see-saw! This was even more dangerously felt when the men folk who were up front altogether jumped to the beach even as the rope was yet being secured to the ground by one of the crews. A good amount of seawater actually filled the boat from its rear end! But we were on ground and I didn’t care hehehe! Even if that Falowa was totally filled by water, it was just about knee to waist deep for anyone of us! I did hear the “captain” mutter some vindictives to the people who jumped off from up front.

Ah what an adventure that Falowa ride! And we knew we had to inevitably pass the same way later on going back to Ivana. But I told myself to think about it later, as meanwhile, I must consume whatever great things awaited for us to see and experience in Sabtang.

Centro and our “Limo”!
The town where we landed is commonly called Centro but we saw that its real name was San Vicente – and many people also refer to it as Sabtang itself since this is the only town in the whole island. A few steps away from the wharf is a church that looks rather ancient. Well, it should be! That is the San Vicente Ferrer Church founded in 1844. Its frontage is of bermuda grass so we thought we must rest there for a little while if only to recover from that nervous boat ride!

Oh we came prepared actually. The previous night, we had our new-found friend call his friend in Sabtang to arrange transportation for us. That call was between satellite phones! The message sent across was that we were hiring one of the only two jeeps on the island that serves as public transportation! So as instructed, we walked to a house a few steps from the church where we were served Uve fritters for a snack! Yum! Also as arranged, this is where we’ll be having lunch later. Then our “limousine” arrived! It is nothing but an aging red Ford Fiera! But it did well for our purpose.

The route we chose was going down southwards to Savidug, then Chavayan and onwards as long the roads permitted and/or as long as the fiera could ford! We were told beforehand that a part of the hilly roads on the western and northern part of the island were impassable still.

Savidug
Off to Savidug, the views were mighty panoramic. This was even grander than our “marlboro country” tour yesterday! Anywhere we looked was a pleasantly different sight than what we have seen anywhere in this country. Roads were high up on the hills, the seas were far below, trees were far in between or not present at all, low-growth grass everywhere, natural erosion, very narrow roads or pathways, cows and/or carabaos, breathtaking panoramas and that persistently blowing gentle wind. Ahhh vacation!

After the grand views on a downward winding narrow road by the cliffs, we finally descended upon a little village called Savidug. This village is at just a few feet above sea-level. But what an interesting experience!

While we were confronted by a dainty little round flower box that welcomed us to this village, humanity was at first nowhere in sight. But we continued on with what we the tourists expected to do – like run forth to the “welcome” signage-cum-flowerbox and pose for a photo-op! Then by advise of our driver, we had to roam around this little village on foot as the fiera won’t fit most every corner of this little barangay! He did advise us that he will go towards the other end of the village where we should join him to continue on with the tour. So walk and roam we did since we would have done so anyway even if he insisted on us riding his fiera around this little village!

Savidug has an interesting strip of white sandy beach along its entire coast but we never saw anyone enjoying the grand sun-sea-and-sand! Most of the streets in this little village are newly paved. And there is even this barrier commonly called in the Philippines as “breakwater”. For whatever reason (perhaps it was the advise of our driver) we headed left to the street nearest the breakwater. From there, anywhere we looked was just a perfect description of paradise – dark blue waters becoming bright green towards the white shimmering sands. We could see the main island of Batan beyond. The breeze was a fine morning seaside freshness.

Right beside the breakwater was the newly paved street that is no wider than could fit a single vehicle. Walking by this street we stumble upon a cluster of stone-house ruins. There were about two blocks of them or about 20 or so houses. Being unattended, the roofs of these stone-houses seem to have been blown away through time. The sturdy stone walls do steadfastly maintain their ground and obviously for a long time now since grass has already grown on what might have been the floors of these abandoned houses.

While they are not that grand to the sight as the Coliseum or the Angkor Wat, these ruins are still a fine place to roam around if only to know how sturdy stone-houses are built by Ivatans. Rummaging through what have been the insides of those houses, we also got to understand more about life in this windy place.

After the ruins, we walked onwards to the real stone-houses still standing and habited. These houses that lined the inner side of this newly paved street would have been easy prey for the wind and/or the big waves to destroy if not for the breakwater that lined the other side. Perhaps the ruined stone-houses were vacated when this fairly new breakwater was not yet up. But as we walked around, there was never a hint of calamity. In fact, the frontages of all houses were uniformly lined with Bermuda grass and dainty little flowering plants. Oh, only a few of them had windows!

And what a realization, I discovered that all of these “front-row” houses (facing the open seas) had a total stone-wall height of less than 6 feet! How did I measure that? Well, I am exactly 6 foot tall and in every house I visited, the tip of their thatched roofing were always touching the tip of my chin! And, the top of each door was always at the height of my chest. But when we enter any of them, it was spacious! The roofing tapers upwards to the center of the house at about 7 or 8 feet. We came to know later that people in this village saw to it that the nearer they are to the edge of the water, the lower (in height) their houses should be. That is to avoid being in the way of the winds.

Oops, did I say we entered any of them houses? Oh yes, we did – and without asking permission from the owners – since they were nowhere to be seen! Our driver advised us that we could do so if we wished, with a reminder to just shut the doors the way we found them. Shut meaning just close them as there are no locks anyway. Here is a part of the country where honesty and trust still reigns supreme! It felt really good to know that people trusted even us visitors.

So how does the inside of those houses feel like? Literally and figuratively “cool”! The stones probably help to retain the previous night’s lower temperature such that, even at midday, the insides of these windowless houses are surprisingly cool. No need for air conditioners or electric fans! House arrangements are minimal. For those that have separate rooms, dividers or walls are usually made of wood. And we noticed that some stone-walls have rounded cavities that either served as shelves for various things or even as cooking corners or even a lababo! Quite interesting!

Moving onwards we stumbled upon a little playground. This one is not a plaza as is common anywhere in the country where you see a basketball court donated by a mayor, councilor or congressman. What we saw here was just a little bermuda-grass-covered playground for little children where there are monkey bars, swings and see-saws. But the centerpiece that caught our attention was something that looked like a white stone carved to become a plaything for the kids. This thing was about 5 feet long by 3 feet at its widest. We could not really make out of what it was or how children would play in it or with it. We just know it has a smooth finish with rounded cavities where children could probably sit and imagine they were riding a boat or an airplane. But oh golly gee! We found out later, that thing was what remains of a whale’s skull! And yes, it was placed in the playground for whatever play-purposes the children can think of!

Leaving the playground, we went to explore the inner streets of this little village. Oh! We noticed that the back of each row of houses is actually another street! That means two things! First, these residents can have two addresses – by the street in front of or at the back of their houses! Cool! Second, these residents cannot just throw their trash “behind the house” – since it is another street!

As we moved inwards, we noticed that houses became taller at one-and-a-half storey to even two-and-a-half storey. Now… don’t panic yet about the “half” thingy! I can explain that.

Yes dear, the normal Ivatan stone-house (those that are not up front by the sea anyway) would usually be 1.5 floors high. Here’s how it goes:

The floor of the house is usually elevated to about waist-high. So it leaves a space between the ground and the main house. This lower space is not where the residents live, it serves as living quarters for house pets and/or farm animals like dogs, pigs or chicken. It is also where the farm implements are stored. Well, yes, instead of the farm animals you will sometimes catch a hammock strung between posts down there. It’s a cool place to be during lazy afternoons!

One more trivia! Notice in that picture above, the street names are not on posts (as you would commonly see in other places) but "engraved" on the walls of the corner houses! Interesting!

And here was an even more educational twist: as we rested in front of a sari-sari store to quench our thirst from the mid-morning heat, we chanced upon a jolly old lady who greeted us “good morning” and promptly asked us if we were foreigners – in straight English. And still in her straight English (even if we were answering her in Tagalog) she proudly invited us to see her home. Without even answering her, we trooped to where she was leading us. Probably in excitement, she was half-running the way to her house and of course we did too. It was like as if we were midwives rushing to see someone who was about to give birth hehehe! This as the jolly old lady proudly told us things about the place.

When we reached her abode, we were a bit surprised to stumble upon a modern-looking building. Well, it still had the traces of a stone-house, but being located some distance from the shore, she probably decided it was alright to renovate and build a standard two-storey house like we could see in metro manila. All that was needed actually were some brightly colored paint and it could have been like many of the fabulous two-storey buildings all over the country!

By her stories, we came to know that only she and her husband lived in this house. She was 68 and her husband 70. And my goodness, she still could hop skip and run all over the place while her husband was out in the fields! 68 and 70 years old?! Golly!

My head was almost touching the ceiling (which is actually the floor of the 2nd level) and the house was just too expansive for two aged souls. But then again, she was too active and healthy and jolly and animated to be cramped in a small space. She showed us her big La Germania gas range and the equally big GE Refrigerator! The television set was 30 inches, there were two rice-cookers, a bread toaster, a GE Washing Machine and a GE flat iron. The two 3D electric fans were obviously not being used and the fan frames were even wrapped in lacey covers! Framed and laminated pictures of their children and the whole family abound in every wall and or shelf of the house. But when we asked where the children were, she mentioned one is in Laoag, another in the US and yet another is in London – all with their own families.

This is where we learned of a new word coined and used by Ivatans – “abrodista”. If your family members already permanently reside in a foreign land, they are “abrodista”. And she was quick to emphasize the clear distinction between that word and “OFW”. She even half lamented that OFWs are much better since they are just out of the country to earn a living but are still permanent residents of the Philippines. “My two children are abrodistas so they live there, acquire houses and cars there and create their families there. Coming here is just vacation”.

But the nicest to hear was she and her husband never even dreamed of leaving the place for good! At times she said, her children would succeed in inviting them to visit in those places. But, she insists that she must return to Savidug! Plus, their children and grand children only has this place in mind when it comes to finding a vacation spot anywhere on earth! And she is very proud about that.

True to her being an “unadulterated” Filipino, she brought out two loaves of soft bread (cake) which she said she baked herself on the big La Germania. The loaves had the smell, taste and consistency of a cake yes (much like what you find beneath the icing on any goldilocks cake), but I found it cute to call them bread since both were baked inside what looked like baking pans for loaf-bread! And we devoured all the slices of the first cake. But when no one touched the second piece, our dear host quickly reached out for a roll of foil wrapper, skillfully wrapped the cake and gave it to us saying “you can eat that along the way as you tour around this island”. Genuine hospitality!

Outside of her home, we were like teenagers boisterously posing for souvenir pictures with her. Then the husband arrived. Golly at 70, he looked like not even 60 to us. He was carrying heavy farm implement. When we were introduced to him, his first word (to the wife) was (in straight English) “why did you not get any drinks for the guests?” My badness we were really touched! But then we had to cap off the pictorial in their yard and proceed to Chavayan! Later as we rode on, we learned from our driver that the hospitable old folks are retired public school teachers.

Chavayan
The narrow gravel road to Chavayan starts with an ascent from Savidug, thus, most of the way, to our right were rocky hills and cliffs, while to our left were deep ravines but with exhilarating views of the sea and the beaches below – plus even the island of Batan beyond. We were like in a Marlboro country all over again. The vistas, with a constantly gentle breeze and bright mid-morning sun could not be easily captured by our still–pictures and videos! This was a different kind of high!

At one point we asked the driver to stop by the roadside as we could not help but go down and explore a part of the hilly landscape where nothing but grass grows. All we could see were hilly greens and ravines and the ocean beyond. Farther down in another mound was a lighthouse that became the object of our debate. Why call it a lighthouse when there was no house?! But that would have been absurd to call it a light post as it was not a post! It is actually a tall tower made of heavy metal framing. So can we call it a light-frame?! Not quite! It was like a scaffolding so should we call it a light-scaffolding?! The banter was on as we made our way towards it. And we did not realize it was rather far at almost a kilometer away from the road. At the foot of that structure, we noticed that there was a scattering of US-made little blocks of “something” that had markings indicating they were batteries! Oh! Remote as this place is, it actually is maintained so that it would never stop guiding sea farers at night. So we agreed to call it the “guiding light”!

Onwards, and now starting a descent towards the village of Chavayan, the scenes were even more picturesque but the gravel path a bit more tacky!

As we drove along a narrow strip of road with nothing but the ravines on the left and the rocky cliffs on the right, the driver shut the engine off and allowed the vehicle to very slowly roll downhill. I asked if we could walk alongside the vehicle and he quickly said “no sir, not allowed”. He even asked us to avoid any noise. We initially thought it might have been a place considered by the locals as sacred or “enkantado” or something. As we very silently ambled downwards at probably 1kph (or less), we realized the roof of our ford fiera was like being pelted with little stones. So all eyes grew alarmed and we initially thought there might have been rascals up the cliff who were wont to pester our trip. I was already shaking my head in disbelief.

Soon when we were at a wider part of the road and farther from away the rocky cliffs, the driver re-started the vehicle’s engine and we almost simultaneously exclaimed “what was that”? He calmly told us that because of too much dryness on some rocky parts of the hills (I think that’s “aridity”), the top layer is constantly eroding such that they come cascading downwards to the road when caused by as insignificant a thing as vibration from our voices or the vehicle’s engine. Then he allowed us to disembark and walk back to a safe distance away from that eroding cliff so we could watch what he was telling us. Golly earth! Even the slightest swoosh of the wind would send little grains of sand (and many little candy-sized stones) showering upon the road. Hmm, we thought it could have been an avalanche if there were bigger vibrations. So we silently took pictures and moved back to the ford fiera with mixed feelings. Why mixed feelings? Because we all knew we were to pass this way again on our return! Gosh!

But the sights beckoned such that the little eerie erosion experience was soon replaced with anticipation as to what we might encounter in Chavayan! And we were far from disappointed.

As our vehicle approached the village, we saw that like Savidug, as we enter the paved streets of the village, there was a little round flower box that had concrete inscriptions of the village name. Of course this was another photo-op! And, as in Savidug, our driver told us he will proceed to the other side of this village as we roamed around.

Still also like Savidug, the village was eerily silent. Five minutes into our roaming around the area, we still have not encountered any human being! Even dogs or chickens or pigs or birds! Wala! But all houses were not locked (there are no locks anyway) and some even had their doors open! At one point, three of us decided to choose a separate street each where we would walk along in a parallel pattern. As we did so, we could even clearly hear as we called to each other!

Voila! I saw a human being down a street and I literally ran towards her as I shouted to everyone this: “me tao dito!” Then all of my companions rushed to where I was. Yes, wherever they were, they heard me! When everyone arrived at the scene, I was already merrily chit-chatting with a woman who was barefoot and wearing the uniquely Ivatan headgear – the vakul!.

And as if all the angels in heaven have scripted a scene, this woman that I saw was actually crossing the street to flip some plants that she was letting dry under the sun. The plant is the Vuyavuy (looks like pine tree leaves but thicker in terms of the number of strands), and the very material that is made to become the headgear she was wearing – the Vakul! Oh golly our cameras whirred and clicked like no other!

This was quite a learning experience! The vakul is a headgear yes. But we learned that it is a special headgear to protect anyone against the sun, the wind and the rain! That is why it is usually long towards the back. So it becomes more of a cape with head-cover than just a mere head gear. Oh yes, the vakul is also called the “soot” [pronounced su-ot]! Anyhow, it also serves as protective “padding” for men and women when they carry their farm produce. Ahh this one is a little bit hard to explain but let me try. People in batanes usually carry their farm produce inside tall baskets called “yuvok”. Being tall baskets, the rightful way to carry them is put a strap on the basket such that the strap can be hung by the head. Since the stuff inside a yuvok will be heavy, and that the strap might just scrape the head, then the best padding or protection is the vakul.

The vuyavuy is a vine. They pick the leaves – which are more like fronds, dry them out under the sun, “comb” them to become finer strips which are then sewn to the framing of a vakul. How so? Well, just imagine you were roofing a hut with cogon grass! That is how they do it! Only the vakul is a mini version!

When we had our fill of education about the Yuvok, the Vuyavuy and the Vakul which is the headgear of the common Ivatan who are fond of Uve here in Chavayan and Savidug, we learn that our dear mentor, the woman I chanced upon, was actually a school teacher in the place! And oh! Ano va yan, lahat na yata ng vinavanggit ko contains the letter “V”! Ah Channel V will have a grand time in this place! Listening to them in their dialect would easily tell that the letter “V” is prominent in many of their words!

Structures in this place are almost the same as it is in Savidug. Houses nearer the coastal area were built very low. Fact is, as I talked to the teacher above, the house behind us had the rim of its roof just about my chest. One would have to crouch a bit when entering any house.

After thanking the school-teacher for that quick familiarization on the ways and means of/for/on/about a Vakul, we bade her farewell as we proceeded to roam around her village. As we did so, we noticed that on the other side of the street was actually a fisherman tending to his net. We casually asked him what he was doing and he promptly smiled at us saying he was “sewing” torn parts of the net. I did observe it was not just a very simple ceremony of sewing like closing or seaming gaps. He was actually creating or recreating the torn parts to become like the rest his net is composed of – the nylon lines forming little diamond squares where fish would become entangled if they dared attempt to wriggle through. One of us asked the fisherman about the length of this net he was tending to. His casual answer was “oh this is a small one, I am poor and all I can afford is 40 feet”. Hmm, we just looked each other and later compared our thoughts about how far 40 feet would be! And that is small!

As we moved along towards the center of this little village, we noticed we were trampling on an older portion of the locale. This part was not paved in our modern ways but the streets were “cobbled”. A more simple way to describe this is: the streets are made like they do their walls. Meaning all are made of stones secured together by a mixture of limestone powder and sand (like how cement and hollow-blocks do it in our more modern ways). One said the paving that secured all the stones together is adobe. But I only know “adobe” as software or a conglomeration of various kinds of software. Again, I had to be in Batanes to realize what the word “adobe” actually and originally meant! Gosh again! This area of Chavayan was for me by far the most authentic unique thing about the place. I was like transported into some kind of ancient Greek, Mayan or Hindu ruins. But this was a real village with real pebble-mosaic pavements and house-walls! Oh my country! We joked that this was not a place to bike around nor rollerblade, or walk in high-heeled shoes!

More surprises! When we reached the end of Chavayan, the narrow streets were still the same but the pavement was of the more modern cement as we know it. Oh and that is why the village was so eerily silent. At this part was located the village “plaza” where a basketball court cum volleyball court cum whatever else is surrounded by nothing but Bermuda grass and flowering plants or decorative shrubs! On one side of the street was even a finely crafted kiosk/hut they call a reading center. A volleyball tournament was in progress when we arrived. It was a game between red team and yellow team! And age-group competition seems not practical in this place of a few people. And we noticed the teams were composed of young and old players alike! One of them even joked (in English) “Folks, you better play well! Some people from Manila came to document this event”! And shifting to their dialect, he seemed to be saying “bukas, nasa dyaryo na kayo”!

The reading center… ooooh the reading center!

What a place to be! Its views were either the playing court or the vast seas. But the breeze here was lackadaisically conducive! So some mothers who were watching the games were having a good time lounging in this place, while just outside of the kiosk, some kids and not-so-young dudes were practicing their best volley shots in preparation for the next game! For a quick while, we even helped them scheme some tactical plans to hurdle that oncoming volley game!

Ah yes, there was an adult male sprawled on the bermuda grass just outside the kiosk! We asked why he was totally in deep slumber at that place and at that time of day. The casual reply was “he had been cheering all morning while drinking “ginebra”! So he was resting for now. Indeed he was! I could clearly hear him snore! When one of my companions asked why the poor drunk dad was not home to sleep, the answer was almost a chorus “why walk home when you can sleep as comfortably in this place”. Then a girl (probably 10 years old) said “gusto nya mag-cheer pag game na namin”. Then another adult said “don’t worry, we all do that here from time to time, this is not Manila, and he can sleep like that until tomorrow but still be safe”. In my mind I said “oo nga naman, safe talaga sya in full view and therefore guardianship of everyone”.

We proceeded to check out places and things beyond this place and we did not venture far. First, the road started to climb up into what might be another hill and another Marlboro country. But we remembered our driver telling us it was not practical for us (and the vehicle) to go beyond as the area was undergoing development which was impassable. So we reminded ourselves this was end-of-the-road as for now. Of course hindi kami mga tangang first time travelers to think that the driver was actually telling the truth! Why? Because immediately once we got into this village he was as excited as all of us and he quickly disappeared into some of those houses where there was drinking (ginebra) with some of the fathers plaing card games! But we unanimously allowed him to go on with it! Because we wanted to find out how life in Batanes really is! This is not a place where we should have expected portly drivers and attendants. Our driver was even more into the “am-going-there-if-you-want-you-can-come-along” attitude! And yes, that was fine with us. One important rule… just observe how cultures are and minimize imposing your consumerist mind. In this place, they probably are not even keen on the belief that consumers (like tourists hehehe) have rights!

But at the very end of this village, which was just a few steps away from the “reading center” and the “plaza”, we chanced upon a big metal-and-wood contraption that very much looked like sugarcane presses in Silay. You know, those rounded things being pulled by a carabao when the sugar barons tended to their sugarcane-juice harvest to be made into sugar? Something like that really! And we learned that while this thing was not a “juicer”, it was actually a roller when the fisherfolk would be dragging their nets to shore. People or cows or carabaos would start this contraption to turn so that the nets are pulled shore-wise!

O Chavayan! We enjoyed our brief visit! But where was Mr. Driver? We clandestinely learned from a kid that he was inside one of the houses, playing cards with some of the menfolk, and drinking Ginebra San Miguel! As if it was not obvious! But give the kids a chance to be heroes, they need that feeling of accomplishment! When we sent another kid to tell our driver that we were ready to go, the response was “he was about to come out”! All these at midday!

When our driver came, he smelled of “alak” but was sane enough to be still our driver and told us that "refusing the offer (to drink) would have meant there was no “pakikisama” on his part"! O sya sya, sige na nga! This was one very important little lesson for us here though! In these parts of the country, the tune is more into like “nakikiusap ka lang, so heed what he wants to do and be with it"! GANUN! Meaning, all of us inside the fiera had to find anything amusing just for us not to feel bad or impatient waiting for our driver who was in there having a ball! And yes, we were aware we contracted him for the service to drive us around, but just the same...

Back!
So we forded our way back – which this time seemed rather fast. Not that our driver was not careful but because it has been a common experience amongst us travelers – the way to a place for the first time is usually much nakakainip than the way it is coming back!

So we passed the eerie eroding place again. And yes, we again kept veeery silent and again heard the top of the vehicle receiving a shower of little stnes and sand. And then we passed the village of Savidug again! And everything seemed like a review of the grandest things we have ever encountered in the Philippines!

Upon reaching San Vicente (oh yes, that is the town proper of Sabtang) we were treated to a fine lunch prepared by our host whose house stand right by the kilometer marker that said KM 0! Of course that lunch was previously arranged by the satellite phone call of our newly-found friend from Basco last night! And oooh yes! After lunch, which was more like a merienda time since we roamed too much, we trooped to the wharf to return to mainland Batan. And the trip was not as rough!

Oh Sabtang! What a grand adventure! Indeed
!

1 comment :

  1. you described the beauty of batanes, including the hospitality of its people. very well. you are right: the screnery "could not be easily captured by our still–pictures and videos". I can relate to the all the things and feel the emotions you described. i saw the "big metal-and-wood contraption". i felt that all with the mountains, the sea and rocks that surrounded, i was trasported to Lord of the Rings.

    Plenty of "wow" memories in this very beautiful place. Too bad, it far and expensive to go to.

    Thanks to you, I was able to relive my experience in Batanes.

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