The New Harbor

by Lad Argonza

The Ivatans have a deep connection with nature especially the sea.

It has always been easy for us, locals, to associate our life with sea through livelihood, archaeology, beliefs, traditions, and rituals. With the help of various types of sea craft such as tataya, lampicaw, and faluwa, the sea is a great means of transportation and source of food. Kapayvanuvanua is a ritual ceremony performed by fisher folks at the very start of the paypatawen season to ask for abundant fish catch. Boat-shaped grave markers are believed to transport dead souls to another island known as paradise.

Yes, the sea offers life for every Ivatan. But it also claims a lot of lives, mostly Ivatan fishermen lost at sea. Sometimes, parts of their boats wash up on the coast of the archipelago. Fishermen drifted and were found in nearby countries. Sometimes, bodies never returned. Julio Balanoba who was sailing from Babuyan Islands drifted alone in Ryukyu Island, Japan after eight days of floating in the Pacific Ocean.

Despite these unprecedented catastrophes, I didn’t let it stop me from sailing to Mavulis, the northernmost uninhabited island of the northernmost archipelago of the Philippines, at the age twenty-two. I have always loved to listen to fishermen rhapsodize their seafaring experiences. And as a young Ivatan heritage advocate, I knew that passion was my ticket to explore my home archipelago.

It was mid-August this year, a few days before Typhoon Ineng (international name Goni) hit Batanes. I made my seafaring debut that lasted two long days. That time was no joke in sailing to “Norte,” as locals refer to the northern uninhabited islands of Batanes, due to unpredictable and storm-prone weather, with wind direction wavering so much like the waves.

I knew that the moment I jumped into the deck of the fishing boat, I already conceded my destiny to the hands of the tataya captain Joeckel Caan. The boat ride north was meaningful yet intimidating. In the M/B New Harbor, a single-engine tataya fishing boat, it nearly took us five hours to reach the island from the Paganaman Port of Itbayat. In fact, it was an hour longer voyage compared to Basco.

During the trip, I swore all the butterflies of Batanes inhabited my stomach. We passed green coasts and oceanside cliffs. Then, at some point, there was far sight of land. Always accompanied by vast sky and immense, blue water of South China Sea. I did not get seasick but I had childhood memories of seasickness. In between prayers for safety, I caught seawater in my palms for inner peace, as if I met the waters of Batanes often. With clear skies and sun out, I had no shield from sunburn. Still, I embraced the sun in all its glory.

My journey to Mavulis changed me and gave me new perspective. It put fire in my soul. Never in my life have I experienced the fulfillment that I encountered en route to the island. After the trip, I never looked sailing the same way again. I also think the trip was an opportunity to note a prime attribute. I believe the essence of Ivatan seafarers is something locals forget to appreciate. It’s about seeing the situation firsthand and about paying more attention to the environment and being present to your fellow Ivatan.

The experience is not a millennial milestone. This is a new way of reinforcing the Ivatan identity on me. That, as an Ivatan, I should know Batanes and its people. I shouldn’t be afraid of her landscapes and seascapes. And I should love her more than any archipelago on Earth.

Catastrophes are inevitable but I will continue to expand my sea voyages. That Mavulis trip? That was a heartening one. Of course, the captain didn’t name the boat as New Harbor for no reason. And how we spent the night and got back from Mavulis? Now, that’s another story.

Text by Gladys Mae Z. Argonza
Photos by Paul Quiambao and the Writer

A little learning is a dangerous thing.”

Alexander Pope