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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Treasure Find 23 -- Journey to the "Lost" Island of Sabtang (Da Best Sa Batanes part 4)


Batanes...blessed or cursed?  Its isolation from the rest of the country preserved its pristine beauty but at the same time somehow kept it away from progress and life's advancement. 

There's no doubt, Batanes is among the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful, places on Earth.  The prehistoric violence on Earth's soil and the province's eventual geographic location molded the magnificent beauty it possesses now.  As it's away from the the effects of too much modernization and the wrath of pollution, Batanes was able to keep its natural gifts and the peaceful way of life of its people.

But while they are isolated, some things are left difficult to do.  Going back and forth to Batanes is costly, on the average, one must allocate around PhP 30,000.  Sometimes, one may have the money but the goods are not available in the islands.  If the weather is not good, boats and ships won't dare sail the sea and go to their place to bring the things they need.

But for me, I love Batanes as it is.  Of course I do wish some progress in terms of transportation, communication and commerce but not to the point that it will lose the very reason why its loved by people... its one of a kind beauty, lovable folks and pride instilling heritage.

Batanes' Philippine Information Agency (PIA) representative Necitas Garcia Alconis said that Batanes has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  At first, the sites they were looking at were at 59, then it was narrowed down to 39, down to 12, until 5 remained.  These five were the Boat Shaped Graveyard in Chavayan, the Ancient Fortress in Idyang, the Ancient Settlement in Mahatao, the Hedge Rows and the Ivatan Stone Houses.

Batanes' Philippine Information Agency representative Necitas Garcia Alconis

For a long time, I've been fascinated about the Ivatan Stone Houses.  In fact, I take pride that Batanes possesses this kind of heritage.  If I'm not mistaken, this is the only pre-colonial structure, aside from Banaue Rice Terraces that stands still in the Philippines up to this time.  This contradicts the observation or theory that the Malay race / Austronesian ethno linguistic group (where we belong) by nature don't build long lasting structures.  The Ivatan Stone House is made out of limestone burned or cooked in fire for a long time.  They're put together using the egg white.  Ms. Alconis said, "The weather dictates the availability of resources, the kind of houses we built."  She further explained that the Ivatans invest on shelter, no matter how it costs.  "We can't afford to rebuild houses everytime a typhoon strikes.  We don't like spending too much.  When we build our house, minsan lang gumastos pero matibay (expense is one time but it's definitely durable). 

This fascination on Ivatan Stone House is one thing that led me to going to Batanes.  But Batan, the main island and where the province's capital Basco is, is not where most of the houses are.  They are in the island of Sabtang, which is almost an hour away from Batan using the traditional Ivatan Boat.  And on our second day in Batanes, we went on a journey to the so-called "lost" island of Sabtang!

Right after our breakfast at the hotel, we boarded our jeep and went to the San Vicente port where the boat going to Sabtang is docked.  The road trip was almost an hour but we managed to catch the boat going to Sabtang which is scheduled to leave at 10 am.  Mang Rogers, our tour guide, doesn't want us to miss that trip and take the next one as the water will be too rough.  

At the port, we signed up on the manifesto, put our life vests and boarded the boat.  The boat doesn't have any katig (side support) as it will be broken by the big and strong waves of the sea between Batan and Sabtang.  The boat is designed like the Viking ship, oval, to dance with the waves of the sea.  I was not afraid (except if the camera gets wet!) and even sat at the front side of the boat!

And then we sailed the sea.  I've been riding boats in my travels but this is the first time I had this experience.  The waves are really strong, and big.  I don't know if I calculated it well but I felt the waves are as high as 3 to 4 to 5 feet!  While our boat dances with the waves, it didn't stop us from documenting the sea travel and taking our pics!  I on the other hand made sure that I hold well to any firm part of the boat because when big waves approach, I sometimes hallucinate that I may be thrown out of the water!  :D  But as we were talking, we  told ourselves that the Ivatans have been doing this for centuries and before, they don't even have motors in their boats!  We were not afraid and we trusted them.  But of course, that comes with a prayer.  :)

And then finally, we saw land, and the big splash of water into it.  And then we saw the light house. We made it!  We braved the rough seas and we are now ready to land!  Nevertheless, we enjoyed the thrill and adventure of our sea ride!  Some were a bit dizzy but most of the adventurers were more than ready to carry on the journey!

Sabtang Light House

Welcome to Sabtang!

Imelda Acidera tries the traditional Ivatan head gear.  Only Ivatan women wears this head gear.

Group photo op

From the port, we stopped by at the cultural office, and headed to the Savidug Ivatan Houses.  The first structures I saw were just remnants / walls of houses.  But it didn't stop me from exploring and looking for the the authentic and living Ivatan Stone Houses.  Until I saw the first house.  And I was speechless, I was starstruck.  From God given beauty to people's ingenuity, Batanes is just so blessed.  Like what Mandy Navasero said, the town is like frozen in time!  Going to Sabtang is not just a sea or land journey, it was a time travel as well!  And one by one, we explored the Ivatan Stone Houses of Sabtang!

One of the first houses I saw

Carmina of ADB Camera Club and foydi

After the long photo walk, we took a rest for a while and enjoyed our morning snack.  But as we were enjoying our time together, we were advised that there's a lot more to be seen in Sabtang.  So we headed to our next stop, the lovely Tinian Cliff!

After discovering the beauty of Tinian Cliff, we traveled the other side of the island to find the Nacabuang or Sabtang Beach!  And it was another treasure find!  The view is a painting in motion and the sea is a harmony of natural sounds.  After feeding our eyes, we were treated to a native Ivatan cuisine to feed our stomach this time.

The famous arc at Sabtang Beach

It was already 5 pm and we needed to go back to Sabtang Port to go back to Batan.  We were a bit late and it was raining so we were advised that the water will be rougher this time.  But again, we were not afraid.  We just sealed our things, to prevent them from getting wet or soaked in water.  This time, I failed to get the front seat so I took a seat insidethe boat.  For someone like me who wants to open his eyes to what he experiences, my seat then was a bit uncomfortable.  I got a little dizzy but I took off the cover of the side of the boat to get through. 

And after almost an hour, we reached the San Vicente port.  We survived!  :)  

But do you think it has been the last for our day?  Nope.  There's an old Ivatan Stone House right in Batan and we went there to see it as well and say hi to the owner.  It was owned by Frestilda Dakay and the house was built in 1875.

The House of Dakay

Ms. Alconis said that the problem right now with the UNESCO accreditation of the Ivatan Stone Houses is how they can really preserve these structures.  She mentioned that when a part of the house is damaged or destroyed, it's not being rebuilt through the use of traditional indigenous sources as it is too costly.  And the DENR (Department of Environment of Natural Resources) prevents the townsmen from burning woods to put the limestones under fire for a week.  Right now, some houses are repaired or rebuilt  with cement.  For UNESCO, the heritage site should be preserved well before they accredit it.  But for the Ivatans, they need the resources for them to preserve the structures.

And this somehow made me sad.  I hope the government and the private sector will be able to work together to save this national heritage.  The Spaniards in the colonial time have destroyed many of our artifacts and written literature (and even irresponsible Filipino merchants and hunters at present time have disregarded some national treasures), we should not let this happen again.  We have been a confused and lost people so we should not let the few remnants of our past which help solve the puzzle of our identity get lost or die. 

Sabtang is a lost island in the sense that it was able to somehow preserve its natural and classic beauty.  Getting there was a little difficult but I guess it was designed that way so that the place will be untouched and it can keep its magnificence; and that the adventurers who braved the seas can witness and appreciate it, and advocate for its preservation, as a prize for their courage and love for Batanes. 

This is the treasure I found in this journey to Sabtang.  And this becomes my Treasure Find 23!

And I was lucky to bring home an Ivatan Stone House!  :)  This is a souvenir I got from Aling Lydia of Hiro's Cafe.  Thank you once again Aling Lydia! :)  Who is Aling Lydia?  Watch out for her on my next blog post! :)

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