THE small village of Chavayan in the island of Sabtang, Batanes province, is not your usual tourist destination. Getting there is not easy. You have to fly, make a land trip, cross the untamed channel on a boat and then possibly walk eight kilometers (if no transportation is available) to reach this remote village.
Tourists who are used to modern comforts may be disappointed with Chavayan. Everything in the village looks old and feels rural.
The Spanish mission came to the island of Sabtang in 1845 and built a church, convent, school and courtyard. They also taught the locals to build stone churches that can withstand strong winds and typhoons.
Many of these stone houses built during the Spanish time still stand in Chavayan. Except for a few modern structures, everything else in the village looks like they are frozen in time.
Even the people still live the way their ancestors lived for many centuries. They are descendants from the Austronesian race who migrated to the islands 4,000 years ago during the Neolithic period. They were seafarers and boat-builders. Modern Chavayanons are still mostly fishermen.
The village population is around a hundred people. It has been this way for many centuries. Except for fishing and farming, source of living is very scarce. There is no school, and those who wish to study have to walk eight kilometers daily to attend classes at Sabtang Centro. Most of those who finish high school take the boat out of the island and never come back.
There is now electricity in Chavayan but it is available only from 6 pm to midnight. Mobile phone signal is very weak. There is no market – all supplies come from Sabtang Centro.
Travelers who come this way will find nothing but old houses, empty beaches and shy people. But these are what make Chavayan so charming and attractive.
How to get there
There are daily flights from Manila to Basco via Philippine Airlines. Round-trip airfare is expensive especially during peak seasons.
From Basco, get on a jeepney or a tricycle to Ivana. The trip takes about 30 minutes and costs about P50. From Ivana, take a falowa to Sabtang. Falowa is a large Ivatan boat without out-riggers or “katig.” It is designed to withstand the rough waters surrounding the archipelago. The boat fare is P75 and crossing time takes between 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the sea condition.
Upon arrival in Sabtang, all visitors are required to register at the local tourism office and pay the P200 environmental fee.
Most of the visitors to the island go there on a day-trip and visit all the attractions: Savidug, Sumnanga, Morong Beach, Nakabuang Beach, Sabtang Lighthouse and Chavayan. A cogon-roofed tricycle with driver-guide can be rented for P1,000 for a day to visit all these attractions.
However, for those who wish to go to Chavayan directly, the same tricycles can be hired at P500 for a round-trip.
The best way to get to Chavayan though is to walk. It is only eight kilometers from Centro. Walking allows visitors to make a brief stop-over in Savidug, check out the ancient fortress called Idjiang, and visit the Chamantad-Tinyan viewpoint before finally reaching Chavayan.
What to see, what to do
There are plenty to see and things to do in Chavayan.
Right after the Chavayan welcome arch is the Tinyan Viewpont. Here visitor can follow the foot trail across the rolling hills to a viewing area to get a magnificent sight of Chamantad Cove below.
The winding road going down to the village is in itself also an attraction. As one descends from this road, one can get a good view of Chavayan sandwiched between a beautiful mountain and a stunning bay.
As one enters the village, he or she will get a closer look at the vernacular houses. Most of them are over a hundred years old and made from a meter-thick coral stones. They have small doors, and even smaller windows to protect them from winds and rains. The roofs are made of thatched cogon to keep the inside temperature cool during daytime and warm at night.
A small chapel is located at the end of the road. Visitors staying in Chavayan are encouraged to join the daily community prayer held here every 5:00 in the morning. A metal tube is ringed at 4 am and 4:30 am to wake up everybody.
A community-based Sabtang Weaver’s Association house is open every day. Here one can watch the local residents make the traditional vakul, an Ivatan headrest made from vuyayuy palm. They are sold for around P500 each, but one can rent them for photo-ops for P20. They also sell local slippers made from abaca. They are quite a steal for P50 a pair considering that they are the local version of “Chavayanas.”
Where the road ends, a foot trail leads to hill that leads to secret boulder beach. Here one can enjoy the cool, clear waters. It is also possible to follow the trail going up to the mountain as it descends to the next village of Sumnanga.
Where to stay, what to eat
Travelers to Chavayan will be surprised that there are three or four houses here offering homestay. No prior reservation necessary. All one has to do is to show up in Chavayan and ask around for available places to stay overnight.
Rate is fixed at P150 per person and one gets a chance to stay in a century-old house. Be warned though that accommodations are quite basic – you get a mat, a pillow and a blanket and you sleep on the floor. Ivatan houses have no beds. Toilets and baths are located outside.
There are no dining places in the village, so one must make arrangement with the owner of the place you are staying to prepare a meal. Meal costs around P150 per person, and it is composed mostly of rice plus flying fish or dorado cooked inihaw (grilled) or sinigang. If you are lucky, you will be served with coconut crabs or lobsters.
But the best experience one can get when staying in Chavayan is going out on the beach at night, listening to the sound of the waves and sleeping under the stars.