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.
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)!
Think you have seen all of Bohol? This might change your mind.
My dad is from Bohol, from an early age, I have already seen most of the touristic places in this beautiful island. Everytime we visited we always followed the usual route. Swimming at Alona Beach in Panglao then a day trip to Chocolate Hills in Carmen and stops in Loboc to for the river cruise and at Carmen to see the tarsiers. For a moment I thought I already explored Bohol well enough. When I found out that there was a long weekend, I decided to challenge conventions and carve out a different path.
The original plan was just to stay for one night in Bohol since we wanted to go from Jagna to Camiguin to spend more time there. We left Cebu City around 4:00 P.M. OceanJet offers P600 roundtrip Cebu-Tagbilaran. It was a 3 hour boat ride and sunset greeted as we docked in Tagbilaran port.
When we reached Tagbiliran port, we immediately followed the directions that most of the travel blogs wrote on how to get to Loboc ( located 26km. east of Bohol). People do not usually stay in Loboc, most of the crowd would flock to Panglao. Loboc is just one of the popular stops when doing a tour around Bohol. It is famous for the river cruises and the nearby Tarsier Conservatory. We chose to stay at Loboc because it was nearer to Jagna and to avoid tourists.
Getting a tricycle is not a big problem but finding a reasonable driver to give you a local price is, so we walked for a bit to the main road. We managed to get a cheaper one eventually. We headed to Dao Central Terminal which was right across Island City Mall. One thing a traveller should remember when going around the Philippines or any place for that matter is to always have a plan B. I did not expect that the jeepney bound for Loboc had specific schedules so we ended up going back to the plaza where the other jeepneys were. Luckily, we managed to get inside the last jeepney.
It was a tight squeeze as they had people sitting in the aisle with wooden stools. If they cared about making the passengers comfortably sitted, one side would fit 10 max but since it is Filipino capacity there were 12 people on each sides and 6 sitting in the middle. We had huge luggage with us and for a while we worried about it. The good thing is the fact that most jeepneys have space on top. It took us 40 minutes to reach Loboc ( probably 20 minutes if there were less stops). When we reached the landmark of the place we booked, it was pitch dark and we had to use our flashlights. We barely noticed Loboc River on our right side as we walked through the dirt road. It was very tranquil and you can hear all sorts of sounds echoing from different critters. Relieved not to have a lot of people walking about asking you to buy stuff or have a massage, something that you would normally experience when staying around Panglao.
We finally reached Fox and the Firefly Cottages but then realised that we booked the wrong night. Luckily there was no one occupying the room so the receptionist just let us stay. We woke up with a beautiful site. The place was serene and surrounded by lush greens.
After having our hot shower and grabbing breakfast, we had 4 hours to kill so we went for a 1 hour paddle tour. I have never tried paddle boarding but I have been on top of a long board and a kayak so I did not worry much about the idea of falling over.
The tour guide first taught us the basics of finding the proper length for the paddle and the proper way to stand on the board. It was really not that difficult. You will only have trouble if you cannot balance well.
After the tutorial, we started the tour. The guide just went with us to make sure we were safe. I did expect him to tell a thing or two about the river but he didn’t. He was nice enough to take photos of us paddling across the river.
The paddle tour ended near the Loboc River Resort, we thought we needed to paddle back to the cottages but we got picked up by their multicab. It was a relaxing tour and the hour spent was really worth it. It would have been better if we did the full day since the 1 hour tour was P800 for each person.
It was already 10:00 a.m. and I initially planned to leave by then, we had to rush to the main road to catch the jeepney.
We waited for at least 30 minutes before we got on a jeepney. There were more jeepneys heading to Loboc than heading out. At one moment, I considered hitching a ride with a bunch of locals but did not take the risk.
It did not take long to reach Loay Public Market and in less than 10 minutes we found a bus heading for Jagna.
The only problem with the bus is that it was full. We had to stand near the doors and had to move back each time the conductor would shout, “Naay manaog!”, which in Visayan means someone is getting off. It took longer than expected with all the stops.
Two hours later, we reached Jagna, only to find out that the ferry to Camiguin left at 8 a.m that the schedule I knew was not updated. So we had no choice but to stay in Jagna for the night. Jagna, a historical port town on the southern coast of Bohol is also known only as a stopover before heading to Camiguin and its delicacy called Calamay (sweet sticky rice packaged inside a coconut shell). The good thing of me being obssessive compulsive was I did my research on the town and had a list of places where we could eat and stay.
Idea Pension house is not like your ordinary bed and breakfast. It is a project of a 25 year-old organisation IDEA, where they provided employment, training and housing to the deaf around Visayas. When the driver dropped us of we were wondering where the pension house since we only saw a cafe. We walked in and found out that it is within the same building. We booked a room for the night. Their accommodation came with free breakfast and WiFi. It was a good deal and we felt good that we were supporting a good cause.
It was still 3p.m., we were looking for things to do around Jagna, they have a nearby waterfall and a spring reservoir. Later, we reached a conclusion and decided to go to Chocolate Hills since it was his first time in Bohol. I did not want him to miss Bohol’s iconic geological wonder. In Tagbilaran City, it would be easy to find motorbikes for rent but it was the contrary in Jagna, since people barely stay there, there was little market for it. The pension house was just walking distance from the public market so we went there to try to find a way to head to Chocolate Hills.
We had to bargain ( being with a foreign guy did not help). We asked around and most of the habal-habal drivers (extended motorcycle that could fit up to 6 people) wanted to charge us P2,000 which was ridiculous. Going back on the bus to Loboc was also not an option because it would take us another two hours. We ended up with an old guy who finally agreed to take us to and from Chocolate Hills for P1,000.
It was a pleasant ride through the hills of Sierra Bullones. Located at the interior part of the province, the municipality of Sierra Bullones was a place of refuge for insurgents during the Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War. After the road construction, more people started settling in and started farming. The roads were surprisingly smooth and well paved. Apparently, it was as a national highway but people rarely pass there.
As we went through the road, we saw several rice terraces. I have never known this about Bohol so it was cool to know it. After an hour on the motorbike ( my butt hurt), we finally reached Chocolate Hills. It was funny while paying the entrance fee, one woman was saying that we really needed to buy water because it was 250 steps to reach the top of the viewing deck ( maybe a lot of people find it already tiring but since I love walking, it was easy).
Since it was a top tourist stop, you would normally have to wait for your turn to take a photo of the hills. Somehow Chocolate Hills always gives me this alien vibe. The view is just out of this world.
Last 2013, the viewing deck was destroyed by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake including the old churches around Bohol. Until now, you can still see remnants of the disaster. You will see the site landmark on the ground. You can still help in the rebuilding here.
We grabbed some ice cream and water to cool down, we stayed for an hour on the viewing deck to rest our butts. The driver took us through the Sierra Bullones again as the sun sets. He was very happy to get paid that much (he was even showing us where he lived), he said that it was good that travellers like us decided to stay in the less popular places as it helps the local earn more.When we reached Jagna, we had a light dinner and headed back to the pension house to prepare for the morning trip to Camiguin.
It was a nice cap off as we saw the starts shining over us and the cool breeze slowly calling us to sleep. As part Boholana, I saw my father’s province ( with an area of 4,821 km²) in a different perspective far from the popular beaches and more into the historical and geological ones.
Indeed, you can never be too familiar with one place. There will always be a different facade waiting for you to discover.
Browse over the gallery more photos of the adventure.