It felt like a flashback from when I first arrived at the island in 2016, a total wreck who lost her job with a failing relationship that wanted nothing but to escape reality. Nothing was going right.
”Home, it is nice to be back!”, I pondered to myself as I gazed out the window. The van cruised through concrete roads bordered by old mango trees, green rice paddies and tall coconut trees. Infrequently, the pristine view would be blocked by huge political or advertisement banners, but I was too excited to let the sporadic growth gall over my love for Siargao. Two months since I left the island with a beaten ego after Jing told me that there were no weak surfers.
“Jing’s Place!’’, the van driver declared as he handed over my backpack. Jing owned one of the first fully all local homestays in General Luna. Already in his fifties, he was still rocking surfer abs. A surfing legend to most, he was the surfer dad that I never had.
I marched into the homestay, Jojo welcomed me, “You’re home Paula! Let’s go surfing! Uncle Jing is already at Secret Spot.’’ Itching to surf again, I speedily unpacked my bag onto the bed to change. I clutched my favourite 8-foot long board and strapped it to onto the motorbike board rack. I sensed a bit of self-doubt and worry raced in, ”Was it too soon to surf again after a bad reef cut?”, I questioned myself. ”You have booties on Paula.”, I reassured myself as I revved the motorbike engine.
Forty-five minutes until I reached the not-so-secret Secret Spot because of the countless motorbikes parked along the roadside, I wandered 300 meters from the parking before I finally heard the rustling waves.
With a waxed surfboard and a Zinc cream covered face, I got on the board and paddled out. “Nice to see you again Tin!”, jested Jing as he summoned his student over. I felt great to be in the water again after having been partially immobile for a full month after a minor surfing accident.
The first wave arrived, I attempted to seize it but missed then struggled to get back on the board. As the sun rays radiated stronger, so did my impatience. The only reason I signed up for the gym was to surf better. Yet there I was plopping miserably like an absolute amateur.
It felt like a flashback from when I first arrived at the island in 2016, a total wreck who lost her job with a failing relationship that wanted nothing but to escape reality. Nothing was going right.
With jelly arms, annoyance grew as I waited for waves. I had to deal with my inner demons called patience and trust. I turned to Jing seeking assurance of which he responded with a smile.
Surfing is definitely not for people who loved full control, there are just too many external factors to this sport. The sense of helplessness slowly crept into my nerves being a person who relished in predictability.
‘’Yew!’’, jeered one local surfer as another set of waves showed up over the horizon. Keep legs together, paddle deeper with clasped hands, wait for the push, stand up with knees bent and look far towards the shore, I told myself.
‘’This one Tin! Paddle now, paddle hard!’’, coaxed Jing. I paddled, I felt the push and the flow got to me.
With a sigh of relief, I finally caught a wave, my first long ride after a long time. The next hours, I rode one wave after the other with much enthusiasm until I could not paddle anymore.
“Good session today! Great to have you back again Tin.”, said Jing as he patted my right shoulder as I looked at him with a stoked face. I felt elated that he was proud of me, but I was just happy to be back and ride the tides again.
A supportive surfing family living on a gorgeous island also struggling to find balance over contentment and growth. ”Progress over perfection, be ready to ride the tides.”, Jing would constantly quip. The Siargaonons and the island not only taught me acceptance over my flaws but also of trusting life despite the unwanted changes.
As I turned the engine off and laid the board on the rack, there was a sense of peace and security, the very essence of home.
Nothing like a quiet drive around Siargao Island to clear the mind and reconnect with nature!
This is one of my favourite things to do when in Siargao. The minute I arrive in General Luna, I pick up a semi-automatic motorcycle from a local shop. They already know me well that I just send them a message and they already prepare the board rack and my essentials.
WHAT ABOUT MOTORCYCLES?
As a teenager, my mother never wanted me to learn how to drive a motorcycle because she knew I always did insane stunts from climbing our balcony, sliding down trees with the use of a bamboo pole and even standing on hammocks pretending to surf.
LEARNING TO DRIVE
I followed my mother’s advice and stayed away from driving motorcycles but growing up seeing Jessica Alba as Dark Angel looking all cool, the idea never left my mind. During my volunteer trip to Tacloban, I was riding at the back while we visited different spots. One of the unforgettable and probably the most painful in the butt was when we decided to go to Biliran and chase waterfalls. The trip took more than 3 hours being on the motorbike however the scenery and the perfectly paved roads. I have been at the backseat most of the time enjoying the breeze, and checking out the scenery. I love the feeling I get from adrenaline rush that speed gives me. After I ended my volunteer work, I had a relationship with a guy who also loved weekend adventures and it was with him that I decided to stop being fearful and learned to drive.
Luckily I knew already how to balance and ride a bicycle so I started learning basics driving an automatic scooter. It has been three years since I mustered the courage to drive and it was at Camiguin, then I tried again in Siquijor and Southern Leyte. My third time would be in Siargao alone. My first trip to Siargao, I was just riding with people from the hostel but I realised how limited I was. I decided to rent a scooter on my own. I was driving at 30KPH, slowly and surely, I got the hang of it. After that trip, I returned with more confidence and with the supportive locals, I was encouraged to try the Honda XRM. It was not as intimidating as I first imagine it to be but definitely exposure to rough terrain and the need to see more of the island forced me to toughen up!
I am a worrier and it usually does not help you. I remember my first bad turn, how I drove to the other end of a street just because I was so bad with turning on sharp curves. I would give up driving the scooter and asking my bf then to drive but after we broke up, I had no one to drive for me! It was May 2017 when my first main accident happened. I ended up with several burns in my right leg after a bad turn on our way to Magpupungko Rock Pool. I noticed the junction late and tried to turn quickly but I ended up in the rocky portion and panicked so instead of slowing down, I revved up! The worse part is that I have high pain tolerance so I thought when I fell over it was just a bit warm from the metal absorbing the heat from the sun, it turns out, my leg was against the engine! Fortunately, I was with my good German Couchsurfing friend Yasha who was also a nurse so we drove a couple of meters to find ice and guess what? I still surfed that day!
The next motorcycle accident that spooked me well was the recent one earlier this year, I was driving on my way to Salvacion a surf spot in Pilar. I decided to go ahead of everyone to save time and just wait for the rest there. Everything was going well until I reached one rocky area and the board rack snapped. The surfboard was starting to go up and my reflex was to hold on to the board, I ended up hitting my head on the ground and having a couple of scratches in the legs. It reminded me of my stupidity of not only putting more concern over the board than my own safety but also of not wearing helmets. It was a good location for the board rack to snap though because there were several locals on a break from the road construction. They helped me pick myself up and tie the board rack back to the motorcycle. Despite this I still decided to drive ahead despite terrible road condition. It was my last day in the trip and I wanted to leave the island stoked. The locals who saw me driving to the spot would look and think how crazy I am to be bleeding and still want to surf.
On Being A Mermaid on a Motorcycle
It was in Siargao where I learned the most because of the offbeat trails that have either mud or huge rocks. It was because of my love for the island life that I conquer my fear given to me by my mother after here motorcycle accident. I do understand the dangers that comes with it but it does come also with freedom. The freedom to breakthrough terrible traffic or even just simply the feeling you get while driving through beautiful landscapes. Women riding motorcycles is still uncommon in the country. I had one chat with an Angkas driver and he told me out of all the drivers in Cebu there were only 2 female Angkas drivers. There is still a stigma about women doing dangerous stuff. For decades, riding motorcycles have been considered more of a guy thing. However, we are not at a period where the disparity between men and women as growing thinner.
Despite the accidents and norms involved in riding motorcycles, I bought my electric scooter just last year. Now, I not only drive around the island but also through Cebu City. I learned how to drive in between cars and other hacks for driving in the city just like how Angkas drivers do.
To me being an autodidact is quite rewarding, I went from noob to confident rider and knowing that somehow when I drive a motorcycle men will turn their heads and think:
” She can definitely drive.”
I am indirectly changing norms that motorcycles are just for men and encouraging more women to do the same.
In the end, you can basically learn and change anything in this world with the right motivation and a whole lot of grit.
What have you pushed yourself to learn or change recently?
Oftentimes, the best memories happen when you do not plan. The Surfing Capital of the Philippines definitely took my heart away.
It started with a last-minute decision after the French Embassy denied my visa application, ruining my holiday plans and putting a huge shadow over my festive mood. Luckily, I found out that my former roommates and Couchsurfing bestbuds were celebrating New Year’s Eve in Siargao so I decided to join them.
I had my bag packed and got my gears ready but I forgot that it was the holidays. I confidently thought that there would be loads of tickets to go there. It turned out to be one of the biggest struggle I’ve had to reach one destination! It involved hours of riding on habal-habal, ferries, bangkas, jeepneys, and tricycles! I ended up arriving a day late from my hostel booking.
People asked me why I went through all those instead of just staying at home. At that moment it seemed like a great idea and I knew complicated journeys always turn into good stories (sometimes I lie to myself).
Anyways, after days of random overnights in unplanned stops, I realized that I have been reminded about a lot of things in less than a week of travel.
Relax! I usually feel that I am Roger the Rabbit in Winnie the Pooh or the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland and I am not alone for sure. Humans naturally want to control and predict basically everything. The thought of not knowing makes us all feel uneasy. When I took the fast craft to head to Southern Leyte, I had everything calculated and yet I still missed some of my schedule and my worry was unnecessary, because I still ended up where I used to be. Sometimes you just have to let things be, as what Timon and Pumba would say “Hakuna Matata!” I have not reached Timon levels yet but I started Headspace to help me be calm.
Be open. I only had one thing in mind when I went to Siargao and it was to surf. This one thing I never got to do because I decided to open myself up to other possibilities. I did not regret missing out on the surfing because I had tons of fun memories with people. That is how it should be! We should set our path towards the door and remain open enough to let new things come our way. It helps us grow. If we just keep on doing the same things over and over, it is like you living in a program. We are not born robots and we should not live like one.
Make new friends. Most of the people I knew booked in another hostel and I felt quite uneasy the minute I arrive (my anti social side always kicks in). I did not know anyone and it was great because at the end of the trip, I made a lot of new friends. Sometimes, we have to leave our usual circle to get new perspectives on life.
Live in the present. Everyday, you would normally seeing me posting a lot in FB about different things but while in Siargao, I was too engrossed in what was happening locally so I barely had time to post or read anything. This somewhat reminded me to really make it a point to disconnect regularly to connect with the real world. I’m a bit slow on this but I am making progress. Count moments not milestones.
It is perfectly normal to make mistakes. When I started driving the scooter, I was so scared of making mistakes that in the end, someone still hit me at the back. I know motorbikes are not good examples but it does tell you that you can be extremely careful but there will be things beyond your control and it is completely fine to just make mistakes (as long as it is not deadly).
Dare to do something you have never done before. The countdown was finished and everyone was already partying yet I was standing there still worrying about a lot of things. Should I do it? What will people say? Will I mess up? These are my normal mind prompts when faced with having to do something out of my usual and often I normally let them win. All my what if’s stopped me a lot of times from enjoying. I would rather do what others expect of me than what I would like to do. This has led me to a lot of regrets. This was also one reason why I ended up in Siargao, I never celebrated New Year outside of house or away from people I know and for the first time I did. It did not kill me, in fact, it was one of the good decisions I have made despite one huge mistake. I enjoyed the night of dancing with friends and saying hi to strangers.
Ride the waves. I haven’t done this in Siargao (Unfortunately!) However, I saw it a lot and noticed how it was so close to real life. We all have our struggles and sometimes we just want to give up but that should not be our primary reflex. If you just ride the waves, the whole process will give you joy. Waves are there to challenge your strenght and build your character. Each wave you ride adds up to your beautiful story.
Trust people. There were instances where I let people I barely knew drive the motorbike because of the unpaved roads and normally I would never do that. I have trust issues. I always think that people will fail me and in the end it will hurt me but in Siargao, I learned to not think about this and just believe in the goodness of people. Another instance was when I was pissed and decided to walk home to the hostel, there was one habal-habal driver who asked me if I needed help. I turned him down and 500 meters later. I was nowhere near the hostel and my phone was dead. I had no way to know where I was since it was my first night there and I greatly relied on my map app. I luckily chanced upon two nice street sweepers who showed me the way and finally trusted a driver to take me there. Nothing bad happened to me and I arrived safely. With the crazy world we now live in, trusting people has become more difficult than ever but it does not make the world better to be part of the cynics either. When you trust people, they also feel good about themselves. So instead of being negative, just be positive.
Do not judge. We tend to have our own prejudice on different people. I had a terrible judgement of one of the habal-habal (motorbike) drivers. It was the first night at Siargao and I realised everyone already left. I did not have a ride and had a number of drinks. I was pissed and decided to just walk back to the hostel (not a good idea if you are new to the place). As I walk through the pitch dark road, I heard a man calling out, ‘Do you need a ride?’. I replied with a loud, ‘No’. He did not leave right away and he wanted to check if I was sure. Stubborn as I am, I told him to leave me alone and he did. After 30 minutes of walking and following the gps, my phone died and I ended up in town with two guys sweeping the street. I tried to ask them the way back to the hostel but I was not sober enough to remember. Finally, I gave up and just decided to get a motorbike driver. I arrived in the hostel safe and sound. The next day, I needed to go around so I decided to rent a motorbike (did not shower yet) so I walked back to town and then a driver called me. He was the guy who offered me a ride. All the while I thought he was just being nice to get more money but he went out of his way to find me a scooter. Being in the big city, people tend to use you a lot and then you become cynical. You start to categorise people without second thoughts. The incident reminded me that some people may look devious but they can be good natured.
Enjoy the simple things. Siargao is still an under developed area. Although, there are several resorts most of the areas remain provincial and some roads still do not have streetlights or pavement. I enjoyed the rawness of the area. It is this simplicity that truly made my motorbike trips around the island pleasurable. The thought of adventure, the smell of fresh air and the unending lush greens, these made me happy and it was for free! As a city girl, I have moments where I just unwind by purchasing things that I probably would not ever need and this is what capitalism thought us. Money can buy happiness! I do not agree completely (although it can make me a bit happier if I get my dive master license and funding to educate more Filipinos) because this kind of happiness does not last long specially if it is just to buy objects. There are a lot of good things in this world that is free. Like the love of your family and friends and the beauty of nature, you do not need to break your bank to be happy.
Getting to, being in and leaving Siargao were all equally memorable. I thought that spending four days in the island is enough. I was wrong, very wrong! I am grateful for having met different people through the trip they were good reminders and inspiration. I cannot wait to be back in Paglaom Hostel this May (to finally catch my first wave)!
Sunny noon, the bus stopped right in front of Jagna Public Market. We were beaming with smiles from Loboc, thinking that we calculated our time well to make it to the 1:00 P.M. trip. My mind filled with thoughts of white sand and turquoise waters of the volcanic island. We had high hopes that we will see Camiguin before the sun sets. Much to our surprise, they have changed the schedule. On their website it said that the time of departure was 1:00 P.M but they have not updated their websites for months (I generally have trust issues with most bus and ferry websites in the Philippines because they rarely update). When we decided to go to Bohol, it was because we found out that there was an alternative route to go to Camiguin. I researched on places to visit and double checked everything except for the schedule to Camiguin. That time I was only worried if the ferry trip even existed so when they confirmed it did, I assumed it never changed (Insert Don Miguel Ruiz’s Second Agreement , Do Not Assume). First lesson learned was to always confirm with the shipping lines (Shuttle Ferry / phone: 088 387 40 34).
The unfortunate incident led us to do the Sierra Bullones trail, losing a day for Camiguin. Next morning, we woke up by 7 a.m. Like de ja vu we walked to the port area, but this time we finally make it to the ship bound for Camiguin. The cost to cross from Jagna to Balbagon was PHP 425 for the ferry and PHP 5 terminal fee.
After getting off the boat, we then headed to hire a motorela ( a customized single motorcycle that could fit 10 people. ) to got to our resort. Of course, we tried to haggle and since they do not have a set price, most of the drivers tried to charge PHP250. We found one who agreed to P180 but in the end he did not have change so it was still PHP 200.
After going around the resort and settling down, we chatted with the manager and he gave us a map and tips on where to go. It was already lunch time so we decided to save time by grabbing lunch there. Their meals ranged from PHP 100-300 and they have a separate menu for vegetarians!
Another plus with the resort is they have scooters for rent which cost PHP 500 for a day, so we grabbed our helmets and headed to Paras Beach Resort where we can get a boat for White Island. The local government of Camiguin has set a standard fee for hiring the bangkas or the outrigger boats for roundtrip costs PHP 450.00/good for 6 persons and Environmental Fee for PHP 20.00/ per person.
We spent an hour basking in the sun, taking photos and swimming in the clear waters (we brought our own swimming masks which saved us P150). We left the island around 2:00 P.M. just when others started arriving. Our next stop would be in Catarman to view the Sunken Cemetery.
It took us about 30 minutes to reach Catarman, some of the roads were under construction (elections is coming) and we were amateurs in driving scooters. The idea of snorkelling over graves did not really excite us so we just took photos and left.
Couple of minutes from the Sunken Cemetery, you will see the Way of the Cross and the Old Church Ruins, both of which did not interest us so we did not bother to stop and went straight for the Bura Soda Water Spring.
The soda spring had a distinct smell and I never found out where it came from. Anyways the entrance to the water park was Php60.00. It was a good refreshing dip to cool down after not having rinsed the salt water from White Island.
We started getting cold and decided to go to the next destination, Katibawasan Falls by 4:00P.M. We were very motivated to add couple more stops to the half day tour. To get into Katibawasan Falls, you will need to pay PHP 60 per person. Before heading to the falls, we decided to have a quick snack. You can find several kiosks and souvenir shops right outside the entrace.
Non athletic and adventurous people need not worry about walking far to the waterfalls. They have build concrete walkway which makes it convenient (the only problem would be if you have knee issues since it is quite steep).
When we reached the waterfall, there were only 4 people with us. We had a tranquil moment as we enjoyed the chilly waters. If you plan to swim right to where the water drops, you will be disappointed as it is not allowed due to several accidents in the past.
The water was too cold for us and we were already shivering so we decided to catch the sunset at PHIVOLCS Observatory. It was sort of a Fast and Furious chase scene as we desperately tried to head to the main town of Mambajao (thank God for good concrete roads).
After 30 minutes of driving like crazy (not the unsafe kind), we made it to the observatory.
We managed to catch a glimpse of the sunset.
Normally, sunsets mark the end of the day, but for us it was not the last stop before calling it a day. We got back on our scooter and headed to Ardent Hot Springs. The entrance costs PHP 30 per person. The springs are still surrounded by trees and foliage and commercial shops. It gets very busy on weekends specially at night. The day we visited was no exception. This was our last stop for the day and we rewarded ourselves with a generous serving of pork sinigang and chopsuey from Ardent’s restaurant.
After devouring the food we went to take a dip. The water temperature did not meet my expectation. It was not warm like that from a hot shower.It was only lukewarm that night. We tried to find a hot area. We moved back and forth and in the end, we gave up and decided to head back to our room. As we made our way back into the main road, I needed to find mobile credits (disadvantages of prepaid) so we went around the town proper. It seemed like destiny that I would chance upon a Vjandep shop. They were the most known bakers of pastel (Spanish word for cake) which was bread filled with custard or yema. The sweet tooth in me was celebrating. This bread was reminiscent of the time when I used to love dip sliced white bread into condensed milk. I bought several boxes for me and as pasalubong for my sister. They had a box of 6 for PHP 70 and a box of 12 for PHP120.
I went back to the resort happy with my box of pastel. We ordered brewed coffee to pair with the pastel and enjoyed our dessert as we sat outside looking out to the shore and listening to the waves crashing. It was a hectic yet fun day and I felt that we were part of Amazing Race (I’m sure we can be good competitors if given the opportunity).
The next day, we woke up around 7:00 A.M refreshed and hyped to do a dive. We grabbed a heavy breakfast and checked our dive gears. It was the last for our day itinerary in Camiguin, a fun dive at White Island.
We finished diving around 11:00 P.M., we had enough time to shower, pack and check out. We then waited for a motorela to pass by the main road. We waited for a while before we managed to get one who charged us PHP 250 (we we desperate this time to not miss the boat so we just said yes in a heartbeat).
As we boarded the ferry, we wished we could’ve spent more time in Camiguin. We missed diving in Mantigue Island and climbing Mt. Hibok-Hibok but as what one driver said to us, “This is why there is such a thing as second time”.
We will definitely be back.
From Jagna Port, you can get a direct van to Tagbilaran City for PHP 100. We arrived on time to make it to Ocean Jet’s last trip for Cebu.
The second smallest island in the Philippines is more than an island born of fire. Read about my dive trip in Camiguin.
“Island Born of Fire”, Camiguin is the second smallest island of the Philippines in area and in population and yet it offers a lot to travellers. In this island, you can create your own adventure, whether it is visiting the old ruins, swimming in refreshing springs or in my case diving.
I have already visited Camiguin 9 years ago with my mother but then I was doing the usual day tour around the island. This time around was different. First my mom is not around travelling with me (she worries when I dive even when I swim in the deep) and second because I am a diver.
We stayed at Camiguin Action Geckos Dive and Adventure Resort. It was a popular place to stay for divers and even non-divers (they are top 1 in TripAdvisor for hotels in Mambajao). Unfortunately, we arrived a day late because of the change in ferry schedules from Jagna Port to Balbagon Port, before it used to leave Bohol around 1:00 PM and from Camiguin 8:00 PM but this time the ferry left Bohol 8:00 AM and I arrived 12:30 at Jagna. It was sad to not have enough time in Camiguin.
I was only limited to a dive (disadvantages of having a normal 9-5 job) and since we had to leave before noon, we decided to dive in White Island. The sandbar is roughly 10 minutes away from the resort.
White Island is an upper reef slope. The site is a Japanese garden with dense coral growth and diversity. It offers a forest of black corals on white sand. Common marine life seen are Sting rays, Moray Eel, Lion Fish, Frog Fish, Ribbon Eels, Orange (Cerianthus) Tube Anemones and Sea Snakes.
Depth: 6-20m. Visibility: 10m. Current: Strong Temperature: 25° C
We got lucky during the dive, saw 4 green sea turtles and a hawksbill turtle. I never expected to see that much in one dive. The dive instructor said that it is still a good place to dive because Camiguin is not commercialised like in Bohol. It took only this dive to convince me to go back to Camiguin. Next time I will not miss Mantigue Island.
More than fire, Camiguin is an underwater paradise!
If you are not into diving, I will be sharing more about Camiguin in the next post.