Siargao has always been a dream for me, one that evokes pictures of palm trees, waves, and surfboards in my head; or a two-syllable word that rolls lazily in my tongue, lingers there with a dash of sea salt, and then escapes my lips in heavy, questioning sighs. Will I ever set foot on that island?
Deep down I knew that wishing was not going to get me anywhere. There had to be some planning and saving up that had to be done. Couple that with persistence despite the resistance, and true enough after all the empty promises and as our number of adventure-seekers got hacked down to just a handful, by hook and by crook, we finally saw the sun shine on the beauty that is Siargao – on a shoestring budget!
MVP LQP – the “buwis-buhay” ferry ride to Siargao. We left Butuan at 1 in the morning and reached Surigao by 3:30AM. When we got to the port, it was a circus! The crew was overloading the ship with people, cargo, a coffin, and more people, that we had to sit on the walkway where only several meters of footpath stood between us and the ocean. While the holiday surge of a situation scared the wits out of us, this was normal for frequent visitors and locals. The upside of our seating though was a marvelous firsthand view of the islands, the water splashing into a thousand gems as the outrigger lapped the waves, and the golden sun painting a beautiful morning horizon.
After 3 hours, I finally saw paradise. I wanted to get down on my knees and cry, the way victors do when the game was over and the grandest prize was won. This was my personal fulfillment as a young professional.
Our first accommodation was Jadestar Beach Resort. It was pretty good and cheap at only Php1,500.00 / night for 5 of us. Plus Ate Anita, the proprietor, was very warm and addressed our every need as much as she could – she even rigged a pump boat for our island hopping tour.
Naked Island was your typical sandbar, and I for one, have seen ones like this so it was a run of the mill. When we docked on Daku Island, I was amazed by the pristine waters surrounding the islet. Its shades ran an electric blue, sparkling turquoise, and glistening, pure transparent cerulean – those of which I only saw on Pinterest or Google. Daku was a barrio of towering coconut trees, washed out cottages, and sand so obscenely white you would come out a stark contrast no matter how you thought glutathione has faired out your complexion.
The third and last island of our tour was Guyam Island. Here I saw the cutest, fuzzy and curly haired kid playing with some other island children, who I was certain, was half bred. He was a mini Jaden Smith.
As I explored the place, I came across jagged rock formations, fallen coconut trees that must have been beaten down by strong winds, and a landscape of ruins that when coalesced, created a poignant scene of magnificence that stood above the wreckage. That is how one should look at life; one must see through the dark and gloomy days until the silver lining emerges in the perspective. This was my favorite island.
After washing up, we hiked to the town proper for barbecue and cold drinks. After our early dinner, we walked to the boulevard where a rickety, wooden footbridge stretched out to the sea. As we traced the bridge, we saw the setting sun throw a yellow-orange haze over the island, and for an instant everything was in a golden suspension. The boats that buzzed in and out during the day were now resting on the mirror-flat water. An indefatigable inner peace stirred up within me as I tried to take everything in, but I could not fathom this feeling of absolute serenity and completion that finally I was here in Siargao, I was breathing, thrilled to be alive at that moment. This must be how it feels like falling in love – all together in one bold awakening.
I have grown a hatred for counting, especially on our second day in this bliss, I was aware that my hours here were numbered.
As we left Jadestar, we searched and compared resort prices near Cloud 9, Siargao’s world-renowned surfing district, and finally bunked in Patrick’s On the Beach. When we were settled, we quickly went off to look for a surfing instructor and catch some waves. We did not want to waste time, but when we checked our watches, it was barely 9AM; time in Siargao was sluggish and our city life hype did not match the laidback climate of the island.
Our tricycle driver led us to Ian, a surf instructor who subsequently became our tour guide. He led us around the Cloud 9 strip where the surf shops sold and lent out surfing gear. There were cheap backpacker-friendly accommodations I took tabs on, and there were bikes that were rented out for one full day. Our haggling skills were put to the test because board rentals cost Php500.00 an hour, and an instructor’s fee was Php300.00 too. It was a good thing Ian allowed two students for an hour, so we could share the rate. He also gave us the idea to rent the board for half the day only since ideal surfing tides began at 12 noon. Hippie Surf Shop was all but kind enough to lend us their boards at such low prices.
At the tower, we saw a storm looming in the skyline, and while we waited for the best surfing time, we ate at a burger shack nearby. Midway through our lunch, the sky gave up and rain poured down on everything. I thought I saw my surfing dream dissolve in the pelt, and as the downpour relentlessly washed out the view of Cloud 9 my high hopes became puddles of mud. But miraculously after our meal, the sky lit up and so did my soul. I did not want to let go of Siargao unable to surf its waves.
Approaching the infamous Cloud 9 boardwalk with real surfboards made me feel like walking on cloud 9 – literally and figuratively. I was all excited and nervous and light-headed learning the basics of the sport being an aspiring surfer myself. As we climbed down the stairs to the water, more and more surfers were arriving at the scene. The waves rolled and crashed, and I admit I was intimidated by it. At the same time I wondered why it seemed to be only us having lessons while pros flew and skidded by the background.
Wiped out – I was wiped out by the waves. But the more battered and bruised I got, the more determined I became. After all this was what I wanted, and Ian was aware of that. I do not want to declare that in my half hour with an instructor, I failed because I could only maintain my balance for a millisecond. I was fulfilled because I did try to get on my feet despite the rough waves. I tried and fell, tried and fell. When my time was up, the instructor was generous enough to give me five more rides, and it was only as we exited the water that I noticed my reef wounds – everywhere. They stung but the pain was a delicious, benign kind of pain. My whole body was tired and heavy too, and that for me meant I really did something out there with the waves. And what an honor it was to have somehow shared the waves with the Vans Cloud 9 Masters Open Division Champ, Piso Alcala! I literally surfed with the pros.
Our surf instructor gave us quite a shock as he led us to their sari-sari store. At 24, he and his wife Nene, put up a business from his competition winnings and surfing clientele. It was quaint and orderly and inspiring. After about an hour’s rest and some souvenir shopping, we went back to the boardwalk and now it was abundant with tourists seeking for adventure. The sea was flooded by those who paid for lessons, and as I watched, I was struck by the sight of well-balanced tourists who stood on the board for a good 5 seconds. It made me insecure because I was not able to hold my composure for even a second, and here were these tourists acing the balancing act. And then I realized the waves were calmer at that late hour of the afternoon, thus it was easier to practice. No wonder why first-timers dominated the view, and not so much of the experts were seen. Since that was the case, I took pride in the fact that I rode the same waves the masters rode themselves, no matter the struggle.
Ian egged me on to surf again on calmer waters, and he helped me get a board at Php100.00 and said I could pay him according to my conscience. This time I was stable for at most 3 seconds. I was so stoked I wanted to do it over and over again! I knew my body was tired but I pushed and paddled because there will be no more surfing for me when I get back home. During dinner, Ian and Nene took very good care of us as they grilled food and offered their place to us. We felt so much at home and taken care of we did not want to leave. But we had to.
Since it was undeniably our last night in the island, we went to look for a place with reggae music to chill out. Sadly, though there weren’t any playing in the bars, we happened to walk into Sabali Souvenir Shop, an artsy souvenir shop just adjacent to Patrick’s, where we were greeted by JR and Manu. As we were awestruck by the materials on display, I let out a sighing comment, “Kanindut ba diri uy,” and as if taking that as his cue, JR was quick to reply “Nindut noh? Di na ka ganahanan muhawa,” Inadvertently, as if reading between the lines of my sentence, and understanding the exact sentiments I felt towards the shop and the whole island though indirectly let out, this remark became a conversation starter for us. We learned that JR was a musician who played regular Wednesdays at Nine Bar, and Manu was the artisan who ran the shop and crafted all the merchandise himself. These two were raw, underground talents who left their normal, comfortable lives in exchange of the real life in Siargao Island. After some meaningful small-talk, we left and crossed the street to another store that was a stone’s throw away. This time it sold garments from Thailand, ones rarely ever seen in the mass market. JR, the same JR from the previous art shop, welcomed our surprised faces because he was also the storekeeper here. He was sorry for us since we did not and could not catch them perform because we had day jobs to keep, so he got to his guitar and played us the reggae songs we have been yearning to hear, for free! When you befriend the locals, they treat you well and give you an impromptu show in good spirits. He was impossibly kind and wore this infectious smile.
Our group hung around JR’s store longer than necessary, and we took to talking about our lives. JR was pounding with energy and good vibes as we learned more of how he reached the island. We got to know his radical ideals on life and see his eclectic lifestyle. He was currently reading “1984”. What stood out about him was his bravery for walking away from a decent seafaring job because he knew that that identity was not his, and money wasn’t all that mattered. “Ikaw na? Dili na ikaw,” his brother, also an escapist musician, frequently threw at him then, and true enough he departed from the person who he thought he was, and embraced his true being. This challenged me to think out of the box – to go over my life and look for myself in the ruins of all the facades I have built. The way I see it, life is about wildly pursuing your passions and fulfilling your dreams. Life is about genuine human connections and making the effort to let them last. Life should be lived in your most quintessential self. But when will I be fearless enough to escape and recklessly chase the butterfly fluttering farther and farther away?
I fell easily for our conversation. Everyone in the room became an ally, woven by a primordial form of kinfolk’s affection and belongingness, similar to that of prehistoric men who took shelter in caves from the monsters lurking outside, and relied on each other’s strength to survive. The store was our cave, and we were kin.
We didn’t notice the time and if it weren’t for Mark, JR’s friend, we would not have noticed it was already 12:30AM. It fancied me that JR introduced us as his new found “higalas”. Mark was an oddball, because until he opened his mouth and spoke fluent Surigaonon with perfect diction to boot, we would have thought he was just another lost foreigner in the island.
Meeting these amazing people has been magical. I have collected stories and experiences as everything has been so enchanting since day one, and I now understand why the world chooses to get rid of their former selves and live here. It is hard to leave Siargao, this bewitching island full of hopes and dreams carried out in the rolling waves that never cease to kiss the shore again and again. Time here is dangled, and you do not have to bother catching up because you know eventually the constellations in all their stellar brightness, will blanket the island to sleep, and it will be awakened again by the mighty sun.
I am thinking of moving to Siargao to live “the dream”. After being everywhere, finding Siargao is like finding myself – like deciphering my destiny in its most tangible, viable form. I could practice my surfing skills, put up a quaint reading café, and be the island girl I always long to be. One day I won’t have to wake up anxious to catch the first ferry trip back to the mainland. I do not have to be anywhere but here, and I might not ever fully recover again when I leave. But until that time comes, until I will finally have mustered the courage to go against the current, Siargao will always be a sweet escape.