I hopped in the #44 tricycle side-car owned by Mael, my driver who’s a native of Sabtang Island, born and raised in Savidug, a village at the central coast of the island. As with any tricycle in Sabtang, they have modified the look to add cogon roof making it look more native and offers shade on the ride. Mael’s young daughter of 8, who’s obviously clingy of her father joined us as we head to Savidug Idjang, just 1.2km south of the village. Idjangs are stone fortresses found in Batanes and the Savidug Idjang is considered the most impressive among the four found throughout Batanes. I’ve always admired the drum-like rock outcrop from afar, wondering what it is like to be on top of it and see first hand the ancient dwelling place of the Ivatans. This time I stayed overnight in Savidug village to climb it. Mael said he could take me there as his family has a patch of land near the idjang where he takes care of his goats and often go up the place as part of his daily morning chores.
On Top of the Batanes Castle
The tricycle drove south along paved road and got off to a dirt path through a field of open greens. Parking under the shade, Mael took a container of drinking water for his goats, put in his shoulder and held his daughter’s hand while we walked. He dropped the container on another dirt path and said we’ll leave it there for now as we’ll go up the Savidug Idjang first.
We continued on the dirt path until we reached a stone path. This must be the ancient stone path I’ve read about leading to the Savidug Idjang. Mael said this has been here ever since he remembered. Large smooth stones of irregular shapes and sizes properly placed to form a pathway bordered by old-tree growths and occasional stone walls. The trees branches stretches forth as if reaching for each other on each side of the road. Their leaves offered shade to those walking along these ancient path. Many wilted fallen brown leaves found itself between the stone gaps. Somehow it felt enchanting just being there.
The trail continued on a moderate incline on the shoulders of the idjiang. Mael pointed me to the base of the fortress. The walls were already covered with roots but its still fascinating to see how they managed to cleanly curve these walls hundreds of years ago without machinery. The pathway continued on the other side where large field terraces, about 50–70cm high, descends down to a stream. Dr Eusebio Dizon of the archeology division of the National Museum, suggest that these agricultural land were used by the ancient Ivatans to grow root crops. The path becomes narrower and steeper with higher stone steps leading to the top. It’s not really high or difficult as I expected it to be. I remember a guide before telling me it would be tough to go up here and would require some ropes and rappelling skills to reach the top. But here we are, even Mael’s child had no trouble going up.
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Ferdz Decena is an award-winning travel photographer, writer and blogger. His works has found print in publications such as Singapore Airlines’s Silver Kris, Philippine Airlines’ Mabuhay, Cebu Pacific’s Smile and Seair InFlight. He has also lent his expertise to various organizations like the Oceana Philippines, Lopez Group Foundation, Save the Children and World Vision, contributing quality images for their marketing materials.