Subdued: 24 hours in Sabtang

“Spend a night in Chavayan!” said Christian, who had just arrived in Manila that day after spending several ones in Batanes. I was bugging him for a few insider tips, but secretly hoped he would leave out the part about crossing the Balintang Channel to reach the island where the little village of Chavayan is located. You see, stories of Sabtang and the infamous waves faced during the 30-minute boat ride getting there frightened me.


With a vakul on my head and a kanayi wrapped around my body

I winced when he mentioned Sabtang. Since I cannot swim to save my life, one of my biggest fears (see also: big wave capsizes boat, passengers drown in the ocean) was playing on loop in my brilliant, paranoid head. But my friend insisted, adding that if I wanted to immerse myself in an authentic Ivatan environment, that is where I needed to go.

On our second day, Kuya Jun picked us up from our guesthouse at an ungodly hour and drove us to Ivana Port where we waited, inside Honesty Coffee Shop, for the faluwa to arrive. 30 minutes later, I found myself about to hop on the medium-sized boat that would transport us to the smallest inhabited island in the Batanes Group of Islands.


He who maneuvers the boat on top of the faluwa. I wonder how he does it in rough seas.


Hi kuya, I can trace through your butt crack but carry on.

The open sea was waiting for me. “Bring it on.”, I whispered to myself, before remembering how Pi challenged the storm that eventually led to their ship sinking down Marianas Trench. Luckily, the waters were subdued that morning I even got the balls to climb up the faluwa’s roof and ride the rest of the trip without holding on to anything. I’m so hardcore. Continue reading

Dios Mamajes: Batanes photo diary

My trusted camera, a two-year old Canon G12, made a gut-wrenching sound as it made collision with the cold, hard pavement 30 minutes after we landed in Basco Airport. Of all places, the tragedy had to happen in Batanes, one of the most photogenic places in the archipelago. It was a malfunctioning mess for a good 60% of the seven days I was there, but in the few moments that the device cooperated I managed to capture bits and pieces of this beautiful province.


‘Dios Mamajes’ is a phrase to express gratitude in Ivatan language and literally translates to ‘God bless you’

Its green fields and hills are filled with groups of goats…


… or cows which are left alone for days tied to wooden pegs.

Continue reading

Alone in Bantayan Island

My feet treaded the beach, my black flip flops standing out in contrast to the white sand that covered the entire stretch of Santa Fe’s shore. It was a familiar place, having spent a day frolicking on the exact strip with a bunch of crazy people a couple of years before, but this time I was standing there alone. I was back in Bantayan.


Santa Fe’s white sand bar stretched for several meters

When I think about it now, the old me would’ve never considered coming to this place all by myself. After all, when one thinks about going to the beach, it usually involves a party involving at least three heads, unless you’re with a significant other. But a lot has changed in the span of two years and the thought of traveling for hours and getting to this place by plane, bus, and boat no longer bothered me.

After the ferry docked at the port of Santa Fe, I immediately looked for a pedicab/padyak farthest from the pier that would take me to a resort, snubbing the habal-habal drivers who were touting everyone. You see, I hate touts and will make an effort to avoid any contact with them. Eventually, I found a nice man, Kuya Rowell, who also offered a personal tour of Bantayan for the following morning. It was a bit scary, and a breath of fresh air, to interact with total strangers who knew nothing about me except for the fact that I came from the city. In a way, it was sort of liberating.


Bantayan’s main mode of transportation for the traveler who wants to save some cash and time.


Pedicab drivers can be at the market near the port of Santa Fe. They can take you directly to the resort.

Even though I initially set a small budget for an overnight stay in Bantayan, I had no other choice but to shell out P1,700 for a room good for two people. The rate is pretty much the same at other decent resorts anyway. At first I thought it was a bit steep for my initial plan of spending less than a thousand pesos for a room, but after the trip was over I realised it was a small price to pay for having a wonderful time at that island. Comfort now beats the budget. That or I’m just getting old. Continue reading

Friends in high places

According to a stranger’s calculations (which I overheard at camp) it reached a freezing -2 degrees during the night we were attempting to sleep as comfortably as we can at one of Mt. Pulag’s peaks. Even with a proper mountain tent, a sleeping bag, and what initially seemed to be sufficient layers of clothing, the cold still crept it’s way to my skin. Unlike Elsa, the cold bothered me pretty damn much.


Party of five with our Trail Adventours guide, Brennan

Growing up in a tropical country where I spent most of my life getting toasted under the sun, my body was not built for temperatures dropping below freezing point. Unlike the privileged teenage girls near our tents who ewwwed at the sight of the public latrines at the campsite, 24-hour air-conditioning was never part of my lifestyle.


Tiny silhouettes of climbers enjoying the clouds on a closer peak. #jealous


Anna checking for battery life. For some reason, the cold drains the power swiftly than usual.


Some people opted not to climb the highest peak in exchange for a closer look at the vapor nomads

So it’s no surprise that one of my most horrific travel moments was the first twenty minutes after stepping out of our tent at 3:00 in the morning. My extremities trembled involuntarily. But despite that traumatic night, I had good enough reasons for returning to Pulag. Continue reading

On toploading the Cordilleras

“Kuya, pwede po bang sumakay sa taas?”, I asked the driver of the jeepney who was sitting by the sidewalk right across his weathered vehicle. He nodded. I threw my fist in the air.


Fields of green. The best view of my 2013.

I am a self-confessed top loading junkie. While other people get their adrenaline fix surfing waves or scaling mountains, I get my rush riding on top of a moving vehicle. It may not sound as exciting, but it’s a natural high that I only get whenever I visit the northern provinces. Not even their organic stimulants can get me as ecstatic. Believe me, I tried, and everything went downhill from there. So if there’s an opportunity to sit uncomfortably on steel bars with sacks of rice and rock with the root crops, I would grab it in an instant.


Victor Baculi. Former headhunter and tribe leader who now spends his days guiding tourists around Kalinga.


Best viewed before harvest season where the rice paddies sport differing shades of green.

Especially up in the mountainous regions of Luzon where the landscape remains untouched and the only signs of progress are the paved roads connecting tribal villages together and a few foot bridges that hover over the Cagayan River’s numerous tributaries.

It has become sort of a spiritual thing for me. For some reason, every time I find myself feeling existential and/or escapist I would seek out the comfort of a mountain view. It makes me appreciate the bigger picture. When you look at all the pieces from far away, you see just how beautiful things are… flaws and all. You see how the imperfections compliment the other pretty elements and how they make up something more grandiose. I love that about nature. It sort of reminds me that I don’t need to become someone else in order to be part of something great. Continue reading

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