Monday, April 16, 2012

Backpack Photography: Back to Batanes for a 3-Island Hop

Batanes - Sabtang Chavayan Nanay Fely in a Vakul
Chavayan's Nanay Fely wears a Vakul on her way home
Batanes may be just a two hour flight from Manila but it took us nearly two years and a lot of uphill climbing to go back.  We are so enamored by the place that we dreamed of conducting not the usual Batan with a side-trip to Sabtang tour but a real 3-island hop.  It would be nice to give our Backpack Photography participants a chance to visit all three islands and see for themselves the magic we saw and hopefully, captured, when we last visited.  Dreaming the trip is one thing.  Making it happen took herculean effort.  But seeing the smiles of our tired but happy participants was well worth it.
Batanes - Savidug Liquor Price Sign
Faded signage in Savidug
First day hop.  Knowing the fickleness of the weather even during the height of summer, we immediately hopped on the falowa (flat-bottom boat with no outrigger) to Sabtang after dropping off our bags at DDD Habitat, our home in Batan.  We caught the boat at Ivana instead of San Vicente at mid-morning, with the overcast conditions quickly shifting to sunny. It turned out that luck was on our side as it had been raining the past two weeks, our trusty guide, Joaquin, told me on the ride to port.

On to Savidug. For the 45-minute boat ride to the port in Sinakan, we had life vests on making the experience a hot and sweaty one.  Nevertheless, it's a welcome safeguard implemented by the Coast Guard.  After registering and eating a snappy breakfast, we went off to Savidug to see the rows of stone houses.  Some were in a state of restoration, albeit not so faithful to the traditional Ivatan stone house (some with very obvert modern touches) which may explain why the heritage site status continues to elude this town.  Nevertheless, it is still beautiful in a quaint way and it feels good to meet familiar faces.
Batanes - Sabtang Tiñan Photogs on the Rocks II
Our participants literally had a field day shooting and admiring Tiñan
Oooh'ing and aahh'ing at Tiñan.  It was midday by the time we stopped over at Tiñan, the sun in full force overhead.  It was tempting to admire the view of towering cliffs and verdant hills dramatically tapering to the rugged seashore from the relative coolness of our jeep.  But it seems a sacrilege to do so.  Before long, everyone went down the slopes and risked sunburn to ooh and aahh over the views up closer.

Coffee and coco break at Chavayan.  We met up with Aling Fely, the daughter of the oldest resident of Sabtang, 105-year old Mang Marcello Hostallero in one of the houses in Chavayan. Mang Marcello isn't your wizened centenarian, folks, but rather up-and-about, using a sharp knife to whittle stalks and make baskets in the shade of their house.  Aling Fely intimated over a round of fresh coconut juice that one of his father's secrets is a brew made from a local plant.  We tasted it in between sips of the coco juice and find it tasting like a cross between flavored tea and the fruity palek, the local wine made from sugarcane.
Batanes - Sabtang Nakabuang with a View of Iraya
Nakabuang Beach with a silhouette of Mt. Iraya
Lunch with a view.  Lunch had to wait until around mid-afternoon but boy, it was worth it.  The wonderful view of Nakabuang arch and beach as well as the silhouette of elusive Mt. Iraya in the distance were a wonderful complement to a sumptuous lunch of grilled lobsters, marlin, and a most memorable serving of Luñes, the local version of adobo. The dish, with its strong accent of gata (coconut milk) mingling with the nice saltiness of the pork, will be remembered with fondness for the duration of our trip.
Batanes - Rolling Hills Sunset Post
Hesitant sun over at the rolling hills of Vayang
Crossing back to windy Batan.  While it was tempting to take a splash to stave off the afternoon heat, we had to go back before it gets really windy and the channel between Sabtang and Batan becomes treacherous.  The waves were more temperamental on our way back to Batan, prompting us to double check our Bonamine stash.  Good thing I was enjoying Joaquin's tidbits of trivia about the etymology of Ivana, the importance of the church (the second oldest in Batanes after St. Dominic) that the ride was over before I realized it.  Little did we know that the short boat ride is just a precursor of things to come.   Thirsty and famished, we had a mandatory inspection of the wares of Honesty Coffee Shop before setting off to admire the newly-painted church of Ivana.
Batanes - Rolling Hills Group Shoot
Shooting on top of the hill
We took our sweet time admiring the rolling hills of Vayang for sunset (beautiful even with the hesitant sun hiding behind a bank of clouds even before it can make a pompous exit) prior to repairing to the restaurant by the Naidi lighthouse for dinner.  By that time, the wind has picked up speed, going from 8 miles per hour to a blustery 32.  This prompted us to bring out our jackets and move inside as the clouds blocked the starry night sky, the wind  upended Monobloc chairs and blown table cloths off.  Hmmm, we were set to cross over to Itbayat over 21 nautical miles away, the next day.  Will fate keep us on course for our 3-island hop or make us reconsider our plans?

Batanes - Itbayat Chinapoliran Waiting for the Boat Notes:  Lagalog thanks Seair, especially Messrs. Nik Gitsis and Leo Gimeno as well as InFlight Magazine's Monica de Leon for helping make the trip possible.  Many thanks, too, to DDD Habitat and Noemi for being our gracious host in Batan.

Next on Lagalog:  Crossing over to the coral island
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