Waking up early was never really one of my strengths. Coupled that with the fact that I had an exciting first day full of activities in Batan. and you can imagine how hard it was for me to wake up that second day of my trip to Batanes. I had no other choice, of course. So to the shower and breakfast table it was for me.
Just a small recap. I was on a photography workshop trip to the province of Batanes in April of 2008. The 4-day-3-night workshop was arranged by one Mandy Navasero, a photojournalist. That day was my second day of the trip. On our first day we traveled around to a few places in Batan. This is the main island where the provincial capital of Batanes, Basco, is located. There are about 10 islands in the province, and Batan is one of the only three inhabited islands. On that second day we would be traveling to Sabtang, another inhabited island in the province.
I can barely remember our jeepney ride down to the dock in Basco where a boat that will take us across the narrow sea to where the island of Sabtang was waiting for us. The sun was still low in the horizon by the time we boarded our boat. As we cast off and started going towards the island of Sabtang, however, whatever sleepiness I had left in me got driven away completely. It was not because all of a sudden I was excitedly anticipating our trip to Sabtang. It was the waves. The seas surrounding the islands of Batanes were wild and untamed. Most of our 30-45 minutes journey was filled with most of us praying and hoping the boat wouldn’t capsize. On top of that I was also trying to keep my breakfast down the whole time. One of my group members offered me a mint candy, probably after seeing my pale face. Surprisingly (and thankfully), it somehow helped drove my nausea away.
San Vicente Port
After enduring that roller coaster of a boat ride, we arrived safe and, well, relatively sound in the island of Sabtang. Our boat docked at a small port called San Vicente. As soon as we were on dry land, a friend of mine promptly hurled out his breakfast. It was a rough ride, and I probably would have had further trouble keeping my breakfast down if not for the mint candy. Our guide and photography mentor Mandy told us to take five (or maybe it was ten or even fifteen, I can’t really remember) before we head off to our next destination. Most of us were a bit shaken after the rough boat ride. But it was not long until our spirits were lifted. The sky was clear and bright blue with a spattering of beautiful cumulus here and there, a stark contrast from the cloudy and overcast sky from the day before. Some of the group members and I used the resting time to stroll around the port and take some pictures. A lighthouse could be seen in the near distance, and there was also an old church building in the area.
After our short break, Mandy gathered us to head off to our next destination. A jeepney was already waiting for us in San Vicente to take us around the island.
The sky was clear and bright blue with a spattering of beautiful cumulus here and there, a stark contrast from the cloudy and overcast sky from the day before.
At this point, it would probably be proper to first give a small introduction about the island before I move on. Sabtang, as I have mentioned before in my previous post, was one of the only three inhabited islands in the province of Batanes. According to its wiki page, as of 2007 there were only 1,465 people inhabiting the island. It has 6 ‘barangays‘ and they are: Chavayan, Malakdang, Nakanmuan, Savidug, Sinakan, and Sumnanga. Its location was to the southwest of the island of Batan, separated by only a little more than 3 km boat ride.
Just a side note: if you go to Google Maps and try to look for ‘Sabtang Batanes’, you will find the island but you won’t find any of the locations I mentioned above marked on it. The roads aren’t even shown on the map, no matter how close you zoom in. I remembered back then when I visited the island that I had a feeling as if I was traveling to a place that is ‘off the map’. Now, looking at Google Map and the lack of roads and location markers on the island sort of brought back that feeling. The island of Batan, in contrast, has all the roads and the locations laid out in Google Map.
Luckily, someone from the website www.ironwulf.net was kind enough to post a map of Sabtang along with the key places. You can see the map below.
A Beach Village (The Village of Savidug)
Batanes was a harsh place, weather-wise, so its inhabitants made sure their abode could stand against wind and storm.
After San Vicente, we boarded our jeepney and headed towards our first destination: Savidug. It was a small village not far from San Vicente port. We got off our jeepney and started exploring the streets among the houses there. The town was located next to a sandy beach. However, the beach was not the highlight of the village. It was the houses. The houses we found there were all made of lime and stones and the roofs were covered by some sort of grass called ‘cogon’. Batanes was a harsh place, weather-wise, so its inhabitants made sure their abode could stand against wind and storm.
I was traversing the streets of Savidug when I came upon Mandy and some of the group members conversing with one of the locals at the veranda of one of the stone houses in Savidug. She was quite an elderly woman, and during our conversation she told us that she used to be a singer back in the day. Mandy told us to go ahead and take pictures of her, practicing our portrait photography skill. She also asked us to compensate the lady for the photos we took. This was, in my opinion, understandable and pretty much acceptable.
At the far end of the long and narrow village we came upon a house whose roof was being patched with coron grass by its owner. A ladder was propped against the side of the house. Mandy, never tired of giving us photography pointers the entire journey, asked her beautiful young daughter to stand on the ladder rung and pose for us. She then instructed us to take photos of her daughter. We took photos of her standing and posing on the rung. It was apparent that she was feeling very uncomfortable about the whole thing (you can see it in her awkward poses) and was not too happy about her mother’s request. In my opinion though I think she has the potential to be a model though: tall, slim-figured, and a face with beautiful features.
A Bend in the Road (Chamantad-Tinyan)
After spending about a little more than an hour in Savidug Mandy ushered us to our next destination. Our rented jeepney went through the small and winding road of Sabtang. The road mostly went along the coastal area of the island so the sea was always in sight. It was narrow and was not asphalted. The journey to our destination did not take long. Our jeepney finally stopped at a bend in the road. There, on one side the hill sloped gently up towards the sky and on the other side it rolled gently down towards the sea, and ending abruptly at the top of a high grassy cliff overlooking a natural cove with white sandy beach and beautiful-colored lagoon inside it.
The rolling hills that laid between the small road and the sea mostly have gentle slopes, but there were some tricky spots where we had to really pay attention where we step on. The winds can be strong as well in this area so we really had to be careful hiking and navigating our way around the hills. There were a lot of goat and cow dungs as well as they roamed freely to graze. Still, even with all of these things we really enjoyed our time there. We spent a long time exploring the area as the panorama there was simply breath-taking. Mandy didn’t have to remind us to practice our photography as most of us were happily snapping away immediately after we arrived at the location.
At the top of the steep hill overlooking the cove most of us sat down and get a bit of a rest after the walk from the road. Some of us were still busy taking photographs at first, but after awhile we all got down and sit, either on some of the big rocks that can be found around the hills, or down on the grass. The sky was clear, with a smattering of clouds here and there. The windy air was fresh, with a hint of fresh grass in it (and a bit of dung smell). There was a constant sound of waves crashing against the outer part of the cove. The sea stretched as far as the eyes can sea, towards the horizon. And there were beautiful rolling hills all around us. We all just wanted to enjoy and drink in the whole experience of just being there, out in nature. This is something that no amount of photographs can really convey. This place was really one of the highlights of our trip to Sabtang.
In short, it was an amazing experience.
We all just wanted to enjoy and drink in the whole experience of just being there, out in nature. No amount of photographs can really convey this.
Alas, most of the good things in life must come to an end. And so after spending about an hour or two in the area Mandy called us to gather back at the jeepney to move on to our next destination.
During the ride to our next destination, I ran into one particular difficulty: I was running out of space in my memory cards for my camera. I had two memory cards, and both were full. Thankfully, a colleague (and a great photographer, by the way) offered me to use his external hard drive to store my photos. The device was not your usual external hard drive. It is basically a special hard drive casing with a monochrome LCD display and slots for CF card and SD card. Inside the casing, a regular laptop hard drive could be found. That device was a life saver, and one that I found later on to be a necessary tool for traveling photographers especially those that shoot in RAW format (RAW format took up large space, even when compressed). Whenever your memory card is full, all you need to do is to to plug it into the device and it will automatically transfer all the photos in the memory card. You can even set it so that once the transfer is finished the device will delete all the photos in the memory card so it’ll be ready for use the next time you insert it into your camera.
A possible scenario: you can plug out your memory card from your camera, transfer the photos to the device, and while waiting for the transfer you can use your backup memory card so that you don’t have to stop taking photos. Once that backup memory card is full, again just transfer the content to the device and use the previous memory card (whose content has already been transferred). Rinse and repeat as necessary.
Anyways, enough with my photography on-the-field tips and tricks. Let’s move on.
A Well-Preserved Village (Chavayan)
The village’s traditions and way of live seemed to be very well-preserved. It also seemed to me that they had very limited contact with the outside world. Even so, I found them very warm and welcoming towards us.
The lime road took us to another small village. Just like Savidug, the houses were built using lime stones. However, Chavayan seemed bigger; and unlike Savidug, whose location was right next to the beach, this traditional village rested nearer to the foot of a small hill while the beach and the sea were always in sight. One very special thing about the village is that according to Mandy it was a nominee for UNESCO World Heritage site. After a short time walking about in the village I could understand why. The village’s traditions and way of live seemed to be very well-preserved. It also seemed to me that they had very limited contact with the outside world. Even so, I found them very warm and welcoming towards us.
Another thing that I found interesting was that a lot of the women can be seen wearing some sort of a headgear called ‘vakul’. It is their traditional headgear made out of some sort of a hay-like plant. The material seemed to be the same as the one used by the villagers to cover the roof of their houses, but I might be wrong.
We took our time resting in and exploring the village. We met some of the locals and took pictures of them and with them. The children were especially very welcoming, ready to pose for our camera.
Afternoon came, and again Mandy called out to us to gather near the jeepney. The sun was high in the sky, and our next destination would also be the place where we would have our lunch.
Beach Lunch (Nakabuang Beach)
However, the cream-colored sand; the blue-jade green sea; and the clear blue sky made for very interesting color combination that was easy on the eyes and produce very good photos. Most importantly though, they calmed the soul.
Our jeepney went off the main road and into a small dirt path that lead towards the beach. It stopped nearby a spot where the dirt path and the vegetation gave way to white sand. To the far right of the beach we could see a large rock outcrop sitting between the sea and the beach, constantly battered by powerful waves. Closer to the left we saw a large natural rock arch. The space under the arch was quite large. It was actually large enough to house the four large dining tables that we saw when we arrived there. We realized then that that was where our host was taking us for lunch. Seafood and coconut water (that we drank straight out of the shell) was in the menu for our lunch that day.
After we had hungrily devoured our meal (it had been a very tiring day) and had taken enough rest, as always we started exploring the location. I would say that the highlight of the place, aside from the large natural rock arch where we had our lunch, was the beach. The sand didn’t have a fine grain, so it would hurt a bit if you walk barefooted. However, the cream-colored sand; the blue-jade green sea; and the clear blue sky made for very interesting color combination that was easy on the eyes and produce very good photos. Most importantly though, they calmed the soul.
After an excellent lunch with an excellent sea view, it was time for us to head towards our next and last destination in Sabtang: the Sabtang lighthouse.
Another Lighthouse Visit (Sabtang Lighthouse)
We tried to take all of those in as much as we can. It’s not everyday that you get to be as close to nature as this.
I already spied the lighthouse as we arrived in San Vicente port earlier in the day. But it was only in the afternoon that we got to visit and take a really closer look at it. The lighthouse stood on top of a high hill that overlook the sea. From that high hill we could easily look down towards the port of San Vicente in the near distance. To the left below the lighthouse another natural cove can be found, where the waves broke against the rock outcrops that stood like guards on the left and right side of the cove.
By this time I couldn’t remember whether Mandy still bothered to give us photography lessons. She seemed to be enjoying the view as much as we did. Our group walked about the grassy hill for a bit, taking photos all the while, before settling down on a patch of dung-free grass and just enjoy the view and the fresh windy air. Unlike the first day, our second day was sunny, bright and cool. We tried to take all of those in as much as we can. It’s not everyday that you get to be as close to nature as this.
The afternoon was growing late, and Mandy wanted us to be back in San Vicente and board the boat back to Batan as soon as possible. If we board the boat late, we would probably have to deal with rougher sea than the one we dealt with in the morning on our way there. We still had time for a group photo that we took right under the lighthouse though.
Old Lady Lola and The House of Dakay
Mandy explained to us that Lola was some sort of a local celebrity as she had been featured in a few magazines in the past, one of them the Reader’s Digest.
The boat ride back was rough. But it was not as bad as the one we endured earlier in the morning. The same colleague of mine once again dumped part of his meal just off the port in Batan as soon as our feet touches land. It seemed that seafaring was not part of his forte. We waited until he settled down a bit before we board our jeepney. It seemed that our journey to the island of Sabtang and its locales were not the only items in the itinerary for the day as our jeepney actually drove towards a different destination rather than returning to our lodging.
We arrived at a small collection of stone houses. Mandy took us to one very old-looking stone house and introduced us to a kind and quiet old woman. Her name was Lola Unday. Mandy explained to us that Lola was some sort of a local celebrity as she had been featured in a few magazines in the past, one of them the Reader’s Digest. The house she lived in also happened to be about 100 years old and never been renovated. It had withstood countless typhoons and earthquakes. It was well known as the House of Dakay.
After having our photoshoot session with Lola, Mandy asked us to go back to the jeepney to head towards our last destination for the day.
Honesty Cafe at The End of the Road
You can pay whatever amount you want, or you can even choose to not pay at all.
The coastal road that we traversed on ended near a modest pier and a small collection of stone houses. As we got off our jeepney we could see children playing in the water near the pier. They were swimming, jumping, and tumbling along with the waves that came crashing towards the small beach near by the stony pier. It was amazing how they were playing with careless abandon, as if there was no care in the world.
Children stood at the edge of the pier, waiting gleefully for the next wave to break against it, making water curtains that rise high and crash down on them.
We got out of our jeepney and went to the stony pier to enjoy the wind and the sight and sound of children playing in the waves. Mandy was right to hurriedly take us back to Batan as the waves grew bigger and stronger as the sun went down. They crashed against the stony pier, making beautiful curtains of water every time it broke. Children stood at the edge of the pier, waiting gleefully for the next wave to break against it. Water curtains rose high and crashed down on the giggling and laughing children. I stood on the pier, enjoying the wind and, of course, taking pictures of the children happily playing in the water and on the pier.
At the very end of the road stood a stone house with a very intriguing sign hanging outside its door. It said ‘Honesty Cafe’. We went in, curious as to what kind of cafe it was. It turned out that just like any other cafe, it sold food and drinks. The twist here was that you can drop whatever payment you want in a designated basket for whatever food and/or drinks you take. Items were tagged with prices, and the cafe was not manned. You don’t see staff guarding the food and drinks being sold there. You can pay whatever amount you want, or you can even choose to not pay at all. In the end I didn’t get anything there, but I still found that the place offered quite a unique concept.
That was the end of our second day in Batanes. As the sun was setting the jeepney took us back to our lodging. Our kind host has prepared us dinner and there was another photo discussion. We ended the day by turning in for the night. The next day would be our last full day in Batanes.
I will write a post of that last full day. In the mean time, do enjoy the photo gallery below. 🙂