A Helluva Faluwa Ride

Faluwa ride, Batanes
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I was hesitant to board the vessel despite the boatmen assuring me that it was safe and that the weather was just right to sail the naturally turbulent waters separating Batan, the island capital of Batanes, and the destination, Sabtang. But my desire to set foot on the island said to be gifted with so much beauty eclipsed my worries, and I finally found the courage to give it a go.

“The sail is an experience in itself you should never miss. It is safe.”

“And, if you get more luck on board, you may also spot a bunch of dolphins following your boat.”

Those were the words from my driver/tour guide as he tried allaying my doubts, which I suddenly remembered a few moments later while settling down on a seat on board a faluwa, the traditional boat of the Ivatans.

Just a few maneuvers and we were off to go.

Not long after that, I found myself holding on to my seat so tightly as the faluwa started to sway from side to side, braving the waves. Angry waves and unpredictable Pacific winds were rocking our boat.

Angry waves. Unpredictable winds. Anxious passengers.

Yes, above were just the three elements trying to keep the delicate balance of navigational harmony, which, to the eye of a first-time passenger like me, was almost at the edge.

But it turned out to be okay. Around 15 minutes into the journey, passengers learned to adjust and calmed down. Like me, the rest seemed to have gotten used to it. The fear changed to excitement, savoring the one-of-a-kind experience. A one helluva faluwa ride.

Faluwa ride in Batanes
Aboard a faluwa, a traditional boat used by the Ivatan people in Batanes, Philippines.

Faluwa, the traditional water vessel of the Ivatans, is an engineering marvel. At the port, I saw it somehow tilted. But on board this open-deck boat, I realized my observation of a tiny disparity in symmetry did not matter. The design was clever as it could deal with big waves. The wider-than-the-usual crossectional space seemed to have helped the stability as well. And suddenly, I thought, the boat best resembles the Ivatans – brave, innovative, resilient.

Brave – has learned to live well without depending so much on the mainland.

Innovative – as a typhoon path, for instance, they build houses from limestones and shells, which do not easily fall from the extremes of weather.

Resilient – has learned how to recover quickly after a disaster, whether a typhoon or a quake.

About 40 minutes into the journey, I noticed the boat changed steer – we were almost there. And after a few moments, we disembarked onto an unassuming port, greeted by the sweet smiles of the people of Sinakan.

Beautiful smiles – and me trying to figure out where to ask for anti-vomiting/ nausea drugs – prevailed during arrival. And there were no dolphins, I almost forgot.

A helluva ride.

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