Sabtang Revisited

I once walked the entire island in two days. That was when there was no transportation except for a pick-up truck that took our backpacks to Sumnanga, halfway around the island and where we spent the night. Ten years later, I spent the night in the School of Fisheries in Centro and still call it rugged. Fast forward to now, and all it took was half a day to visit all the famous sights.

transport-around-island(via this…)

The only way there is still by falowa (a boat without an outrigger, used by the Ivatans to ferry around the islands)

falowa

but it can now sit 70 (some even more), making Sabtang more accessible. And so the island is packed with daytime visitors (like us… sigh).

tourists

Various developments noted and yes, the old rugged Sabtang may have been lost forever, but it still manages to exude its very own charm…

LighthouseThe fairly new light house (it was in the middle of construction when I was last there some ten years ago) standing tall as you approach the island.

coastlineThe beautiful coastline as you approach Savidug

charming-house

typical-stone-house-with-cogon-roofTypical stone houses with cogon (grass) roof.

stonehouse-mountain-backdrop

mountain-backdropThe mountain backdrop adding to its charm.

chavayan-housesHouses in Chavayan

savidug-ruinsThe ruins in Savidug

country-lifeScenes of everyday life in the island

little-island-girl

IMG_6971

chamantad-cove-tinya-viewpointChamantad Viewpoint

morong-beachMorong Beach

mahayao-arch

mahayao-arch-2The famous Mahayao Arch in Morong Beach

lunch-at-morong-beachLast but not the least, lunch at the beach before heading back to the main island of Batanes.

 

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New Year Cruising

“The moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise. It is not that we seize them, but that they seize us.” — Ashely Montagu

 New-Years-at-High-SeaCredits: JSprague Digi in Deeper course materials

This year, 68 of my family members from all over flew to Singapore for a grand reunion. For the first time, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins took the time and effort to fly from all over and spent New Year holidays together, on the high seas to boot.

mariner's-of-the-seaInside Royal Caribbean’s Mariners of the Seas

A perfect venue, truth to tell, as none of us could go very far—not saying though that the ship isn’t big and off-shore excursions aren’t aplenty. It was contained enough to allow us to catch up.  Some met each other for the first time.

new-year-in-patongFireworks before the New Year in Patong Beach

It was an experience I surprisingly enjoyed. Being the traveler that I am, I thought that this was merely something I had to do, an obligation of some sort. The destinations were nothing to rave about but the togetherness was awesome. It was something unexpected… Which are usually the best, yes? You know what they say— “the things you don’t see coming tickles you the most.”

Port Klang

So the destinations weren’t great, they weren’t total disappointments either. Our first port of call was Port Klang. What is there to see in Port Klang, the principal port in Selangor state of Malaysia? Nothing much though we heard that it is a haven for local foodies—good enough for us (by us I mean my immediate family).

bak-kut-teh

Seafood aside, Klang is famous for its Bak Kut Teh, in fact they say that this pork rib soup which has become a staple in Malaysia, Singapore and some parts of Indonesia started here. Considered a breakfast food, BKT, as locals call it, is pork ribs (or other parts of the pork meat) slowly simmered in an herbal broth.

restoran-bak-kut-teh-facade

Across the AEON Bukit Tinggi Shopping Center, about 30 minutes away from the Star Cruises Terminal, we randomly chose Restoran Bak Kut Teh. A small shop sans the fanfare – open air and round tables and stools to sit that serves (in my opinion) quite a good and (I assume) authentic BKT.

restoran-bak-kut-tehFood tripping with the family

The Bak Kut Teh has an herbal taste (of course), salty with the hint of sweetness; meat was falling off the bone. Extremely enjoyable with soy sauce, garlic and a bit of chopped chili.

Phuket

Next port of call was an overnight in Phuket. Arriving Phuket at 11AM, it was too late to do much so we decided on a late lunch in Old Phuket Town and a massage after. We took the tender to Patong Beach and haggled with one of the many vans peddling their services to take us to town.

old-shop-house

Old Phuket town shines with personality with its rich history. In this old quarter, you will see beautifully ornate old shophouses, quaint cafes, Buddhist and Chinese temples, and some grandiose Sino-Colonial mansions once occupied by Phuket’s tin barons of years ago.

Raya

In the middle of town, on New Dibuk Road is a two-storey Sino-Portuguese house converted into a restaurant.

green-tint-windows

Tinted glass windows and wooden shutters, hard to find Machuca floor tiles,

Raya-interior

stairs

rustic ceiling fans, vintage posters, a wooden staircase,

old-bar

and an antique bar, this old house exudes old colonial.

raya-dishesL-R: Pork with Kafir Leaves; Deep Fried Sea Bass with Shallots and red chilli in Tamarind-Lemongrass Sauce; Green Mango with Dried Squid Salad

The food, known to be THE Thai restaurant in Phuket; its specialty is said to be the Crabmeat Curry served with rice vermicelli. Being a sucker for all things crab, this was a definite winner. Big chunks of crabmeat and the strong curry muted by the addition of coconut milk produced a subtle creamy curry dish. The deep-fried sea bass with shallots and red chilies in tamarind-lemongrass sauce and the pork with Kafir leaves were fantastic too. When in town, do visit Raya Restaurant if you can.

We could and should have walked around town, but we opted instead for a massage. We could and should have gone to the spa just around the corner from Raya. On a previous  trip (a post I still owe) the boutique hotel I stayed in offered a discount at The Raintree Spa when booked through them.

RainTree-Spa

It was most satisfying, in all the right ways—service, skills, and ambiance. I should have known better than to indulge our driver but, hindsight is always 20/20, so yeah… We could have saved the 30-minute drive to the spa he recommended (name and place I won’t even bother to tell) and used it to walk around the charming old town instead. And to think, I convinced my whole family to that massage.

Koh Phi Phi

Thank goodness for Phi Phi Islands.

Phi-Phi

Praised as one of the most beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia, thanks to the film “The Beach”.

white-sand-beach

A 45-minute bumpy (because we decided to sit in front) speed boat ride from Phuket, the Phi Phi archipelago comprises 6 islands boasting of white sand beaches, stunning limestone cliff and turquoise water, many parts ideal for snorkelling.

snorkling

tourists

Popular with backpackers even before the movie, but the world seemed to have flocked here after the film was shot in 1999. In spite the crowd, the limestone outcrops that swept the archipelago still impressed.

phi-phi-2

Siayan

We scrambled through rocks, walked through pastureland until we reached a beautiful beach.

As with Y’ami, a shore entry wasn’t possible.

The boat took shelter at one side of the island, hidden by a cove of volcanic rocks; the boat is safe there for the night.

We, on the other hand, had only a tarp to shelter us for the night.

If it rains, we’re doomed.  And as thunder rumbled and lightning flashed through the night, deep sleep eluded me.

Siayan Island is about 1km in diameter.  It is 164m high and is considered an inactive volcano hence the rocky path to the beach.

Lying about 8 km north-northeast of Itbayat, it is just an hour away from the farthest inhabited island of Batanes.

Itbayat in the distance.

The water can become turbulent however and our guides took precaution and insisted we stay the night in Siayan.

When they said that the island has a water source, I had in my mind a stream tucked away in a forest somewhere.  Instead, it is more of a concrete rain catchment built on top of a hill.  The water stored there is only for bathing, not for drinking.  We took turns rinsing ourselves and I should add that the view on this hill is spectacular.  I meant to take a photo but unfortunately never got around to doing so because I don’t normally bring a camera with me when I take a bath, do you?  So I keep forgetting.

Dinner and bedtime was early because we were tired from the day’s excitement and there really wasn’t much to do after dark.

Breakfast Feast prepared by our guides.

The walk back after breakfast was another struggle – going down this time.

Definitely not a walk in the park.

A glimpse of our boat from the top.

Back in Paganaman port, we walked up steep steps (with our stuff) to the road where our truck will return for us.

Waiting for our ride.  Tired from the journey and the sleepless night.

A grueling trip worth all the experience.  Will I do it again?  Perhaps not back to Y’ami, but to other unexplored territories, hell yes.  As I always say, I’ll do (almost) anything at least once in my life.

A Trip to Y’ami: Philippine’s Northernmost Tip

A truck waits for us at the corner of Nanay Cano’s house.

It will be taking us to Paganaman Port where we will embark on a trip to Y’ami Island.   The northernmost island of Batanes, it is closer to Taiwan than it is to Aparri.  An idea I never really took seriously until an email came my way one day in March.  “He wasn’t joking”, I thought.

We had to trek down to the port with our drinking water and overnight kits.  It was a long way down.

There it was waiting for us at the landing.  The boat, also called a falowa that Nanay Cano arranged for us was unbelievably small.

Could it really bring us safely to Y’ami on treacherous waters?  The sea was calmest in May, which was why this expedition happened then.  So along with treacherous waters is scorching sun.  That boat has no cover whatsoever.  So I ask myself for the nth time, how far do I go really?  Is this so-called adventure worth the trouble?

No one spoke a word when we reached the landing.  One by one, we got on the boat with much effort.  The water was rough, making it difficult to mount.  It was the biggest fishing boat on the island, we were told, costing us a mere P6,000 for the 2-day journey.

Looking back at Itbayat.

Composed of 3 major inhabited islands, Batan, Sabtang and Itbayat, Batanes also has smaller uninhatbited islands.  These are Siayan, Di-nem, Dequey, North, Mavudis, and Y’ami (also called Mavulis by locals).  Y’ami being the farthest, we will pass all these islands on the way.

The plan was to drop off our stuff at Siayan, the island closest to Itbayat.  Because Y’ami has no water source, we will stay the night at Siayan before heading back to Itbayat the next day.

The water became quite rough at one point, I wanted to get off with our stuff in Siayan but as fate would have it, the captain (they actually call him piloto) decided that we were light enough to travel the long haul.  Stopping at Siayan would take up time (you’ll soon find out why) and he’d rather be out of the water before late afternoon. If truth be told, the rough sea exhibited how capable our captain was and that there was nothing to fear.  One of us noticed that they only have one engine.  “What happens if the engine breaks”, he asked.  They shrugged, “we will use the sail”.  Simple as that!

Am I glad there was no need for that.  Needless to say, the journey to Y’ami was grueling with me getting perhaps the lousiest seat – the middle seat with nothing to hold on to.  I slip and slide as the boat ride the waves.  The fiberglass boat is slippery when wet, leg room was limited, the sun scorching…

But the scenery along the way somewhat eased the uneasiness.

Three hours after we left Paganaman port, we see Y’ami in the distance. As we approach it, we realized that getting off was a problem.

The water was too rough for a shore entry so we anchored far from shore and waded to the island.

“This better be worth it”, my thought balloon goes.

Under those rocks we found shelter from the scorching heat of mid-day sun.
And there we had lunch.

Trekking to the other side of the hill where there is some sort of landing, albeit on sharp rocks.

The island is beautiful, pure, unspoiled.  Sadly though, we saw a baby shark with its fins cut off from a fishing boat.

Except for some fishermen (including the corrupted ones) taking a break from fishing, hardly anyone sets foot in this uninhabited island.  It is, after all, a long way from home.

El Nido: Island Hop Day

“The best island destination of Southeast Asia” was how National Geographic Traveler Magazine sized up El Nido in its November-December 2007 issue.  And has since been dubbing it as one of the best travel destinations.  Alex Garland’s “The Beach was inspired by El Nido, many say.  The Amazing Race, Bourne Legacy… it’s becoming a Hollywood favorite as well and for good reason.

Majestic karst limestone formation, enchanting lagoons, marble cliffs, lush forest, white sandy beaches, clear blue waters, wonderful marine life… all these epitomizes the Philippines’ so called “Last Frontier”.

Shops along the main streets of the town center offer the same A to D island-hopping tours.  To be in El Nido and not do these tours is like going to an ice cream parlor and not have ice cream.

It is after all the gateway to Bacuit bay—

an exquisite nature gem scattered with limestone islands with stretches of white sand beaches and hidden coves.

Mang Rudy promised a good lunch in his tour and so, together with the French friends we met coming to El Nido, we booked a tour with him.

Tour C— because it was my favorite tour the last time and because the our French friends wanted to see “Secret Beach”.

First on the agenda was Hidden Beach on Matinloc Island and the farthest from town.

Beautiful beach with lush vegetation hidden behind towering limestone cliffs hence the name.

We did some snorkeling but didn’t step foot on the beach.

Matinloc Shrine, our next stop, is on one side of the island.

The shrine is a two-storey building towering in one corner and a concrete gazebo at the center of the site.  Abandoned, the shrine is not in good condition but remains part of the tour— most likely because of its remarkable scenery.

In front of the building stands a limestone cliff with a stunning view of the nearby Tapiutan Island and other beaches of the island.

One has to climb the cliff to see the view while relatively easy; the sharp limestone edges can easily cut.  So be careful.

A beautiful tiny cove, Shumizu Island, which we had all to ourselves, was where we stopped for lunch.

While the food was on the grill, we enjoyed the sun, sea and sand.

Lunch was a wonderful feast of grilled chicken and squid alongside a refreshing cucumber and tomato salad.

Thank you Mang Rudy, we were not disappointed.

Matinloc Island has a Secret Beach.

Inside the steep rock wall is an enchanting beach inaccessible by boat.

The only way to enter this secret beach is through a small crevice, which during high tide is submerged earning its name.  When submerged, one has to swim through the crevice underwater making the reveal more dramatic, truth to tell.

This particular beach is said to have been the inspiration to Alex Garland’s “The Beach”.  It is easy to understand why.

Inside those walls is another world, a secret paradise, if I may call it that.  It is a sight to behold and this, dear friends, is why Tour C became a favorite.

Fronting the Matinloc Shrine is Star Beach.  I particularly love the rock formation in front.

The reef nearby is a great snorkeling spot owing to good coral beds and the abundance of marine life.

Capping this tour is a stop at Dimalicad Island, better known as Helicopter Island because of the shape it resembles from afar.

The long stretch of sparkling white sand beach makes it ideal for lounging around with a good book or sunbathing perhaps.

Although the water beckons for a swim, the waves can be strong for some.

They couldn’t have chosen a more perfect cap for the day.

Swim. Snorkel. Fish. Eat.

Around Port Barton, San Vicente – a small fishing and farming village blessed with so much unspoiled beauty and the best way to catch a glimpse and have a feel of the island is to book an island hopping tour.

Tour comes with food and drinks — in this case fresh buko juice.

The first agenda was Bigaho Waterfalls. A charming enough waterfalls that cascades to a pool that is big enough for swimming.

From Bigaho town, it is a 10-15 minute walk that started flat and even and gradually turns into rocky (and a bit slippery) steps leading to the falls.

The water was refreshingly cold and on a hot summer’s day, it was a welcome treat.

Beautiful despite the rains.

The most part of the island hopping tour (which we booked with the resort) was snorkeling and rightly so.

San Vicente (or Palawan for that matter) is blessed with beautiful underwater landscape that one could end up a like a prune (texture and color) delighting in its wonderland if you do not watch it. Here’s more proof:

The next day, the kids still wanted more, and more was what we got. We set out to a different area and snorkel some more.

The second day was better in terms of fish spotting as we saw a baby eagle ray (bottom-middle) and a stingray (bottom-right).

Today’s lunch venue was a far cry from yesterdays.

Privately owned and a friend of Mark’s, we got to step foot in this beautifully landscaped lot, tempting us to take our sweet time over lunch.

Before the end of the day, we also tried our luck on fishing. Caught a handful of tiny besugo (sea bream), which we devoured over dinner. Fried Besugo. Yum!

Since the ’80s, I’ve heard about the rustic beauty of Port Barton… I wish I had not waited 2 decades.

A Preview of the Caramoan Islands

December and a typhoon looming at that is definitely the wrong time to explore the islands of Caramoan.  This however did not stop us…  “no guarantees”, we were told.  Do you believe in the power of prayer?  The weather held up for the most part.  We were limited though to 3 nearby islands, the waves were strong thus preventing us from exploring more islands much less snorkel.  But for bad weather, this was answered prayer.  Presenting the three:

Matukad Island

Beautiful stretch of powdery white sand beach walled with limestone cliffs.

At one end of the beach is a cliff that many climb to view the lagoon hidden behind.

Thought it would be wise of me not to climb that cliff due to a back injury I was nursing at that time but it did not stop me from being envious of friend S who got to see the lagoon.  Perhaps to make me feel better, she said I’ve seen better…    🙂

Hunongan Cove

This private cove beside Gota Village was developed to house the booted-out contestants of the Survivor series – what a nice reward, me think.

They have 14 pretty cabana that were not operational at the time of our visit – repairs were being made perhaps also in preparation for the next “Survivor” ocular.  Lunch was served there hence the visit.

Like Matukad, it has a stretch of powdery white sand and it being a cove is blessed with a much tamer shore.

Also like Matukad, it is walled with limestone cliffs but unlike Matukad, this does not have a lagoon anywhere.

Philippine Eagle

It has a regular visitor though whom they feed when around.

The caretakers opened a cabana, which I assume would be typical, for us to take a look.

This will cost P6,000+ a night if they were operational.  No thanks!  Our charming cabin at Gota Village albeit more basic was P3,500 a night only.

Minalahos Island

We were supposed to head back already but were curious with this one particular island with beautiful jagged edge formations so we stopped to take a look.  Glad we did.

The cliff was easy enough to climb and we were rewarded by a stunning view of the other side.  The boatman said that during calm days, it’s a good snorkel and kayaking area.

With the little that we saw, I can deduce that Caramoan is indeed a remarkable paradise that reminds of Palawan and even to a certain extent, Halong Bay minus the junks.  No wonder it has become the choice of many Survivor franchise.  The place is quite enchanting.