Travel Blog #22 – Philippines – Siargao Island

We travel to the port of Tagbilaran by bumpy tricycle, take the boat back to Cebu, a local ferry across the estuary again to Mactan home of Lapu Lapu, a jeepney up the road, call my Dad for his birthday, some quick food at the mall and in a cheap but nice hotel near the airport we make a den and finish watching ‘Staircase’. The next day we fly to Siargao.

All the surfing on Siargao is congregated along the eastern coast, so we take a taxi from the airport on the west, along the General Lunaroad which bisects the southern third of the island to the eponymous resort in the south east and soak up the scenery on the way. It is typical of island life; with lazy palms by the roadside, coconut stalls, beach front huts and lots of farming. We plan to visit the vast mangroves to the east of the island one of our non-surfing days and also hope to travel north on the island to see rock pools, caves and waterfalls.

But first to explore the single strip road ‘resort’ of General Luna. We walk about and sort laundry and buy water, eggs, and bread. People rattle by on dusty mopeds with surfboards under their arms, flip-flops dangling, three or four people on one bike, smiles wide, no helmets of course. Dogs and chickens wander and scratch around. Coconut husks litter the ground. We hire a bike from a man who sells us the bread and eggs. He gives me the keys and I ask for helmets. He looks puzzled and shrugs –

‘There is no need to worry here about the police’

‘I’m worried about my head’ I tell him laughing.

He roots around under the counter, then in the back of the shack, and finally returns with a dusty black cracked helmet. One. I give it Helen and thank him. 

Online and in the guides ‘Kermit’s’ is cited as the hotspot for food and drinks , and one of the best surf school and excursion providers. They also do rooms and surf and yoga camp. It’s a cool and busy spot with a modern bar and surf shop too. We enjoy drinks and pizza, including a special ‘General Luna’ pale ale.

These two contrasts, the local shop and the surf camp resort, one shiny and contemporary, with familiar drinks and foods and comfortable facilities; one make shift and make do, stocked with local bits and allsorts; kind of sum up the area. It is still underdeveloped, retaining it’s lost surfer paradise charm, but it is developing and will get busier and shinier catering for the western tourist like me. 

So in between the local ‘Mama’s Grill’ and ‘Surfas Shack’ there are cool vegan spots like ‘Shaka’, Italian restaurants and coffee shops. There’s a new beauty spa opening and a number of yoga studios. At the moment it’s a perfect balance and I love it, quoffing coffee with the rest and loving the Hatha Yoga sessions and WiFi spots and world cup on the telly. Only time will tell if it keeps developing sustainably and if indeed that it what it needs.

Before a first surfing day our plan is to head North on the bike, to visit the Magpupunko rock pools; and view a famous vista of coconut palms, on the way. When up on the top road there looking out over the forest of trees you realise just how little of the island has been set up for travellers like General Luna and how much remains natural and it’s nice. The eyelash splash palm tree leaves spread and dotted and crowded together as far as the eye can see.

Magpupunko pools; a naturally formed series of lagoon like dips dot along on the coast line. At the beach at families gather and sunbathe and play in the pools. 

Fruit stalls line the track where we park up. It’s Sunday and it seems everyone is here for the day out. It feels Filipino and very fun. We plink and plonk through the rocks and pools chasing crabs and grabbing star fish, enjoying the scenery and soaking the sun. There are huge boulders here improbably balancing and surreal formations all around. Each punctuated with greeny blue pools, some small for paddling others deep enough to dive. We swim and talk to locals and test our nerve on the outcrop jump.

On the way home we call to watch the surfing at Cloud Nine a while, on the specially made boardwalk which juts out into the sea and locals sell surf lesson, and whet out appetite for a session of our own soon.

The surfing is what I’m at Siargao Island for, and booking through Kermits we arrive at 7.30am and meet our instructor / guides. Eston is the coolest kid in the world. Big shaggy hair with blond streaks, no top-no shoes- no worries- raggy old board shorts and the widest grin and best smile. Over the next few days we head out with him and Joel to various spots around the area, each time grabbing a habal-habal (overloaded motorbike to me and you) whirring the 5 or 10 mins to the spot, padding barefoot down a dust path to the sea, in nothing more than boardshorts or thin top and easing into the water as sunrises. It is total heaven, like being on Cloud Nine, in fact, one day we do surf at cloud nine! It’s a proper dream and no wonder Eston is so happy with life. Surf in the day, sleep in the afternoon, sometimes surf again, party hard and repeat. Clean up with the pretty American and Australian tourists along the way. Tuason Point, Quiksilver, Cemetery, Cloud Nine, the names of the spots. Each one a little different but all guaranteed swell and sweet cooling blue rolling waves.

The next few days are a dreamy mix of surfing, yoga, nice coffees and yummy food. Some great smoky pork and chicken at ‘Casheys place’. Veg curry and garlic rice at ‘Veg Cycles’. Always San Miguel Pale or Red Horse beers, Tanduay rums. Brekkie at ‘Shaka’ Coffee at ‘Pleasure Point’, Garlic noodles at ‘homemade taste’, more BBQ at ‘Mamas Grill’.

In the water early morning there’s nothing like it, bobbing silently in the water as the sun warms your neck, sitting swaying on the board as the waves gently heavily roll in, bloody magic. Eston helps me with my technique and reading the waves, he jokes there’s a man with a camera in the palm trees I need to impress. He laughs loudly and shouts out ‘ups’ for the good waves and ‘too small for Paul’ for the ones we let pass. I think I’m getting better, I can turn now and catch more waves than I miss. It is ace.

On our days of the surf schedule we sign onto the Sugba Lagoon trip and the Three Islands trip, I guess these are the types of experiences we expected when we left England in January. Now, July, it’s interesting how the trip has turned out.

We take a long boat ride through the mangroves from Del Carmen on the West to Kauhagen Island. It is a picture postcard perfect tropical castaway island where we swim and SUP (stand-up paddle board) and play volleyball and have bbq and beers. It is beautiful brilliant fun and we feel very lucky. The sea is green turquoise and palm trees overhang as local fishermen come and go. The islands across the water sit with fuzzy green hills and it really feels like paradise. The kind of island you imagine when you say you’re ‘going travelling’. Golden warm shimmering almost celluloid experience, like we’re in a photo. Soon these places will only be a photo, a memory. 

Another whizz round on the boat to Sugba Lagoon where there is a jumping platform and more paddle boards. The water is so green, its so serene, it really feels like a dream or a film.

On the islands trip – we visit Guyam, Daku, and Naked, all along the East side near our resort. The former a teardrop shaped island again the perfect epitome of topical idyll. Colourful fishing boats bob in line along the waters edge and we pad a circuit of the island almost immune almost spoilt by our previous time, soaking it up, feeling lucky, guilty maybe, am I bored? We sit on the sand and look out across the vast ocean, feeling very small. 

The latter is so called as there is nothing there but sand, a thin tiny strip of white beach bank in the middle of the sea. There’s nothing to see but it’s proper instagram time and I guess we feel abit funny. Very lucky, but suddenly acutely aware of the temporary nature of our time here and conscious our trip is coming to end and thinking about all-sorts of ideas and feelings about coming and leaving what is our mark here and where do we go next?  We have left our cameras on the boat and just lie on our fronts in the pebbly shallows and let the waves lap over us and wash over us and I pick and play with shells. Then I go back and grab the phone and one snap of the shells.

Daku is bigger with more boats and has shacks and buildings and people milling. We have lunch here, we are living the dream truly and as we sit again on the warm sand our thoughts wander to home and our return. This won’t last forever, though it could I suppose, in fact almost everywhere we go we are thinking ‘could I live here?’ ‘I could get a job here I reckon’ ‘how much would we need to stay another 6months’ but both of us agree there are lots of pulls drawing our hearts back home. As the boat pulls away from a make shift jetty we watch three children jumping off the pier and off the boat, laughing and smiling and splashing. They grab onto the back of the boat and the captain kindly kicks them into the sea, a pre-played game it seems and the children’s smiles spread bright and then fade into the distance as we move away. Leaving them in their home, to play and grow and be and we move onto to our next place, to grow and be. 

That evening in the room we sit silently watching a lighting storm on the horizon over the sea.

In the morning a final surf at Quiksilver before we fly to Cebu, then fly to Manila, and in a matter of hours I’m in a hotel room in the sweaty city watching England v Sweden in the World Cup – did the Siargao trip even happen?