My lungs are chronically riddled with the smell of the sea. The kind that in lieu of sandy shores, has secret rock pools that are revealed at the tethering of the tide to the moon.
It was only understandable how my ribcage leapt at once upon catching my first glimpse of Siargao.
Read: Siargao Travel Guide
The island was all too familiar: palm trees running along jagged coastlines, beautifully battered by the constant lapping of waves. The passenger ferry that carried us, two and a half hours across Dinagat Sound, reeked of grease and gasoline. The sun-aged, concrete grounds of Dapa Port were cracked in places that spoke of narratives of resilience and perseverance. Perhaps, of adversity too.
In short, it was too real; pretty in its honesty. And home-like.
Kuya Bebot, DIY Philippines‘ most trusted habal-habal driver, was unmistakeable in his toothless grin. He was already waiting by the gates of the port when we arrived.
We didn’t need a guide, actually. There were six of us, all capable of speaking the language of the island. But hardworking fathers needed to be rewarded. So when I learned of Kuya Bebot whilst researching for the trip, I jumped at the chance of paying the benevolence forward.
Kuya Bebot Salgado – (+63) 906 459 5679, (+63) 930 974 9974
Aboard his habal-habal, we took the new Dapa-General Luna Road whilst my siblings took the tricycle the long way ’round the old highway. We checked out a couple of accommodation options along the way, but it wasn’t until we took the muddy inner street to Harana Surf that the world stood still.
It was love at first sight.
Harana Surf wasn’t merely a structure. It was a collection of art pieces whose inspiration were derived from the island itself; a beautiful marriage of modern architecture and an all-Filipino vibe.
Situated beachfront in Tuason Point, a walkable distance from the famed Cloud 9 surfing spot, Harana Surf was a commune meant for seekers. Seekers of big waves. Seekers of elusive dreams. Seekers of lost selves.
For the perennially lost, it was Utopia.
Address: 2 Tuason Point, Brgy. Catangnan,, General Luna, Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte, Philippines
Phone: +63 998 849 5461
The days that followed saw me and my siblings, driving around in motorcycles with our friends, despite explicit warning from our mother. We left our car in Surigao City, too, without the knowledge of and permission from Daddy. All in all, it was a reckless trip, and I was the ringmaster.
But there was something about Siargao that was unbelievably liberating. The island held some kind of power that rendered even the most unconfident, feel invincible. It didn’t matter that my hair held a certain frizz that under any other circumstances, would have been labelled disastrous; that I was sauntering ’round town in bikinis that were perpetually damp with seawater.
It always felt safe because it always felt home.
Sohoton Cove, Bucas Grande
(Prior to going to Siargao, we went to Sohoton Cove via Hayanggabon. It was easier because we were driving. But for those without vehicle, Sohoton Cove is best reached from Siargao.)
The magic started with darkness engulfing, as our outrigger slipped into Sohoton Cove. For a moment, I hadn’t realised that we’ve already come into the clearing, at the very bosom of Bucas Grande. My sights were fixated on my brothers: Jan, ecstatically gasping in delight and Leo, almost tearful in disbelief.
My brothers haven’t travelled like I have, and to have them see what I chase the ends of the world for, was an emotional sight. Leo, sappier of the two, reached for a hug to thank me for bringing him there.
Around us were rock formations, a natural fortress guarding a bowl of an other-worldly waterscape. On a corner, a smack of jellyfish gathered; stowaways from their original sanctuary in Tojoman Lagoon.
Another highlight in the area was a rocky chamber with a pool whose waters seemingly glistened from what little sunshine could pass through the cavern. Crystal Cave, as the locals would call it.
We also explored a handful other caves around the area, through the multitude of ironwood that was native in Bucas Grande. I lost count of how many times we’ve jumped off cliff faces and wooden planks that day, too, before finally slowing it down as we rested at a sandbar in Marka-a for lunch.
In the afternoon, we made our way to Tiktikan Lake, my single most favourite place on the planet.
Kuya Naigel Dizon (boatman/tour guide) – (+63) 930 336 0765
Sugba Lagoon, Del Carmen
We went to Del Carmen on the same day NBA held the final game between the Warriors and the Cavaliers. Coming from a family of diehard basketball fans, my brothers were literally reading live blogs while driving their motorcycles.
When the imminent danger of me forcing everyone to get to Sugba Lagoon on time could no longer be denied, I gave in. By fourth quarter, we stopped at an open house and ran right in, both begging and apologising on the way.
Only true basketball fans would’ve understood us. Thank heavens the homeowners were.
But our shared euphoria from the Cavs’ win paled in comparison to what unfolded thereafter. A quiet boat ride through the innards of Del Carmen’s mangrove forest led us to the dumbfounding allure of Sugba Lagoon. Enchanting was an understatement.
Ranges of karst, covered with lush vegetation, held a basin of emerald waters in its palms. Green upon green upon green. It was as if we were fishes who accidentally stumbled into the playpens of gods. Before its sheer beauty, I felt unworthy.
Magpupungko Rock Pools, Pilar
Rock pools weren’t news to us. After all, my brothers and I grew up with the seashore as our playground. But we haven’t been children for a long while, and have not gone to the sea at the back of our house like how grown-ups never play in playgrounds anymore. But the island, as it turned out, was our Neverland.
Very early on our last morning in Siargao, we drove an hour north of General Luna to the municipality of Pilar. The tide was just receding, so we were able to squeeze in a quick breakfast at a nearby store that also offered cook-to-order meals.
Right after, we all raced to the rock pools with flawless expertise in running on rock beds: a skill acquired from childhood spent outdoors. Just when we thought we’ve outgrown being barrio kids, our seemingly built-in agility in manoeuvring the rugged trails of Magpupungko, only proved that we haven’t.
In no time, we were jumping from the rocks with local kids and were free diving to the bottom of the pool. Except for the drone my brother was flying and the GoPro I was lugging around, no one would have suspected we were tourists.
Magpupungko Rock Pools were the same ones we had back home growing up. We fitted right in.
The Boardwalk, Cloud Nine
The boardwalk was where we ended most, if not all, of our days. Everyone did.
We would make our way through the wooden walkway as soon as the sun was dipping into the horizon, and into the top storey of the viewpoint. Surfers from various parts of the world would be at the break, waiting for the proverbial Cloud 9.
Lucas, a boy of 1, would be there too. With his with sun-kissed skin and curly hair, it went without saying that he was a spawn of surfers. We would share with him the loaf of bread and bottle of soda that my brothers, ever insatiable, have always had in tow.
If it wasn’t too cold, we would snorkel below the boardwalk. That, or borrow surfboards from passersby to camwhore with. But mostly, we only lazed around a lot and laughed over the silliest, shallowest stuff.
As the sun sank behind the coconut trees at the end of each day, our collective laughter remained, echoing into the dusk. Truly, that summer was ours.
It won’t be long until the clout of Siargao would go beyond surfers in search of the eternal stoke. Soon, there will be more like us who would brave the 12-hour drive from home (or the flight down south from Manila), plus a few more hours for a journey across the seas. There will be more whose ribcages, like mine, would leap at the recognition of a happy place.
When that happens, I’d be certain to be amongst those who would tell the first stories.
This is my entry to Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival, with the theme, “Best Upcoming Destinations for 2017” as hosted by Gretchen Filart-Dublin of Filipina Explorer.