Oh Siargao . . …

” Lush sweeping vista of green –

Hush salty dew on coco –

Pacific blue oh so lush –

Quiet sand heaving and hush – “

Travel was the number one goal from my BAKET list in my earlier blogs (July 31, 2019) –

 “I am going to travel to near and distant places in the Philippines, in Asia, and in Europe . . .”

So for 2020, that path was carefully paved via Mt. Apo Travel here in Abreeza Mall. They were nice enough to accommodate endless queries from me about traveling to the beautiful island called Siargao. I’ve heard stories from people who went there at least 2-3 times and why they kept coming back. I wondered why? It’s an island just like any other place. What was the catch? The common response was – “It is an intoxicating place to relax, enjoy and unwind and communing with nature,” and, “there’s no other place like it anywhere. It’s also a different vibe,” “Wanna escape the humdrum life of a city dweller?,” and “Life is short, you should go!”

The last word made me think and decide to forge ahead. Just Go. GO!

The fair-skinned lady behind the counter whom I had the great opportunity to chat with was no less than the former Secretary of Tourism, Wanda T. She explained some of the reasons why people keep coming back to Siargao; One is you get to experience and be surrounded by the verdant landscape that’s unfettered by development and growth, everything you see all over the island is green. It is a welcome sight compared to the jagged, tall glass and concrete spires rising above every developing city one sees. Two is one can hear the chirping crickets and the lapping of water on craggy rocks in an ever flowing stream rather than the jackhammer pounding steel on a skeletal skyscraper. Three was that part of the reason why it is still green is that the developments like expansive glass malls, 6 lane paved roads as well as an airport with Boeings and Airbus 777s in it will take a while to show up. There seems to be a concerted effort to stave off development for a few more years. Four is that everyone is nice and that the locals are the sweetest people you are going to meet, there’s tons of surfing and high waves considering the closest body of water is the Pacific. Plus I vowed that I will get there no matter what this year so why not make it my first itinerary among many (god willing!). Off to Siargao we go.

Am packing light for a weekend with no check-in baggage. Sans shoes, just sandals. Waiting at the airport, I tried to scan what conveyance will transport my eager butt to Siargao. I looked at my seat number, it was 23A. Hmmm, I wondered. I reread my itinerary then I realized that my broom is a turboprop. The scant hairs I’ve got on my arms stood up and I began to hyperventilate. The last time I flew in a turboprop was when we went to El Nido and I lost it with the jaunty up-down, left-right motion. Even with motion sickness pills I plied myself earlier that day, I still threw up in that flight, much to the horror of the person sitting next to me. “Sweet thoughts, Joey!” I tried to calm myself.

I talked to the crew next to the boarding gate and asked where in the plane I am going to be seated, the statuesque desk attendant said in her sweet voice, “Sir, it is the last row of the plane.” She looked at me, smiled, and said, “It’s not a full flight sir, you can change seats later after you are up twenty thousand feet in the air.” I gasped and looked at her, “That plane goes up that high?” She nodded and even added, “Don’t worry po, the flight will take less than 50 minutes. You go up and down really fast.” I sighed long enough and I thought, “that’s what I was afraid of.”

Well then,  I am going to be up twenty thousand feet for fifty minutes of hell. I perused through my tiny pillbox to see if I had any seasickness pills with me. Of course, I didn’t bring it because I wasn’t planning on doing an island hopping tour by my lonesome. One would assume that the seas will be choppy this side of the Pacific. So I guess I will have to butch it up by trying not to think about being up in the air at the butt of a loud turboprop for fifty freaking minutes.

I was seated next to this nice, swarthy middle eastern guy with the hairiest set of legs I’ve laid my eyes onto. Once I was settled in, I told him about my stress of being in a turboprop. He replied in a small thin voice, “Oh that’s okay, I will move up front and these lucky ladies (the flight attendants) will take good care of you.” I looked behind him and one of them waved at me. Soon enough I closed my eyes and before I knew it, we were up in the air. I took a few deep breaths and exhaled through my mouth. I tried to be quiet about it. I could tell my seatmate had a little grin on him. It was his cue to find another seat. I swear I wanted to peel some of the hair off his legs ( maybe in private, ebil grin). Since we were the first ones to board, I looked in front to see if people were traveling alone like me from my seat. Nope, it seemed all of the people in the plane were in groups or coupled as they talked to each other, the excited pitch of their voices  made me shrug. I’ve a feeling I will be traveling alone for a while but nonetheless, it will worth it. I prefer to be able to keep my own schedule, thank you veddy much!

I swore, fifty some minutes felt like twenty hours. When we began our descent to Siargao, after passing through an envelope of frothy, white clouds, I saw various shades of green all over the place. The roads in off-white concrete snaked through vast swaths of green upon undulating green below. There was blue as well as the Pacific waters sparkled above us. I saw dark brown small boats wading through the water leaving a trail of waves reverberating after it. There were houses here and there. Their shiny roof seemed to try and cast off evil spirits coming to wreak havoc into their idyllic surroundings. My heart beat fast. Motion sickness issues aside, I got excited. Whether Siargao likes it or not, here I come!

My hotel was at least thirty five minutes away from the airport. Vans line up to take us to our respective domiciles. We went through paved and unpaved roads. I felt the same queasiness down on solid ground as I was up in the air cramped inside a van full of people and uneven ground. Along the way, water buffalos toiled under the sun, farmers leaned down to plant rice in huge square paddies, children ran and waved at us at the side of the road. I smelled freshly cut coconut as well as burnt meat. We were all going to this part of the island called General Luna. It is the surfing capital of Siargao. It’s where the tourists go to. Dapa is the provincial Capitol. I checked in and was finally shown my room. It was on the first floor but close to the beach front. It was nearly evening. So I just went to the open air restaurant thirty some paces away and had dinner of Malaysian Beef (similar to Beef Rendang), white glutinous rice and crushed ginger on boiling water smattered with local honey and kalamansi. I could hear the sea beckon but I will have to wait till the next day to enjoy General Luna and what it offers. Later that evening, I heard the rain pouring like buckets of marbles on the sandy pavement as I tapped on my laptop finishing up a scene for my novel. I dozed off leaving the TV and lights on. It was heaven.

The next day, I opened the curtains to greet rainshowers and dark, grey clouds. I guess it’s going to be a rainy kind of a day. I slept in for a while till my stomach growled. It was noon and it rained harder than earlier. Well, I hopped, skipped and jump up to the restaurant. I had a craving for Bangsilog (fried bangus, garlic rice and eggs to those who dunno). What? This seaside restaurant doesn’t serve Filipino food! Aghast and defeated and too lazy to go out of the resort, I opted for Tortang Talong and Rice (Eggplant grilled until tender, feathered and fried with beaten eggs) along with Mango chutney and hot ginger tea, honey and kalamansi to open my day. I went back to my room and wrote. After finishing at least three scenes, I took a nap. That afternoon, the sun was up and I nary a gray cloud around. I was able to walk around General Luna  and even booked an island tour with the tricycle driver for the next day. A vendor selling Pan De Coco baked right in front of me piqued my curiousity. I bought a half-dozen of the hot bread and even got to know Mam Gina and Merlita right in front of a colorful church. The oven was fueled by burning coconut husks on top of a metallic oven where rows of the bread with sweet, shredded coconut filling were baked. I walked the length of General Luna for a mile before I stopped by a spare, small airconditioned restaurant and wrote again.

The Pan De Coco Oven
Mam Merlita and Gina. The colorful church behind

Saturday came, I was up at 7 am and excited to see what is in store ahead of me. ‘Nong Lito, as he is called, was already at the gates waiting for me. So we went all over the nine municipalities, numerous beaches (Secret Beach was a notable one). I waded and swam at the seashore. It was low tide and the beaches were rocky. I couldn’t go all the way to the sea because the undertow was strong. My thought at these moments were “No one really wants to hear the news of a bald, fifty-five year old Dabawenya drowned in shallow water in Siargao, do they?” Nong Lito suggested going to at least three caves. Um, caves? I balked. The last time I was in a cave was in El Nido. There were bats hovering above, it was dark and I stepped on something wriggly on the floor. My other experience being in a cave was in high school. I didn’t realize it until someone told me that the cave I accidentally took shelter in a rainstorm in was full of snakes. No wonder I was curious why when I stepped in soaking wet and all I heard was a loud ‘Sssst ssssttttt!” emanating from the dark. The farmer told me that the mother snake must’ve just eaten her lunch when I came into her lair. So No. No Caves Nong Lito!” He looked at me and said, “I guess we will really have a short trip.” Though it was short, I took lots of photos. There’s a photo of me in the middle of the paved road, my hands up as towering coconut trees stood erect at the background… I felt compelled to shout, “I am Queen of the ‘Nuts.” I went to Cloud 9, which wasn’t that far from my hotel, and looked at the surfers in their boards. I guess it was high tide. After the excursion, people in the restaurant commented after I told them how my day was that, “You will come back. You should go to Naked and Daku Island.” I gave them a smile and replied back, “Yes coming back is a given. Trust me!”

That night, I went around General Luna in the dark via tricycle and had barako coffee inside this open air restaurant. It was full of expats. Then I saw him – the young-swarthy-little-otter from the plane. He looked like he was in deep, serious conversation with some long-haired girl. He looked at me, smiled and waved, then went back to talking with his companion. That night, I tried to finish writing my scenes but I looked at the photos I took during my excursion and reminisced. I was leaving the next day. Next time, I thought, ‘it will have to be a longer excursion.’ This first visit was a primer.’ Maybe I’ll bring someone special here next time. That would be wonderful.

Going back home, still ensconced in the same seat in the back of the turboprop and twenty thousand feet up, I thought about this particular trip. I was impressed to see how environmentally-conscious people here were. I realized that when I bought groceries, it was packed in a paper bag and someone got me to pay for bamboo straws while going around the island. I remember we passed by a barangay where plastic bottles fashioned into decorative foliage dotted the sides of the road. I also recalled seeing sets of three garbage bin all over the island. It was a wonderful sight. Nope, I didn’t expect to see mr. swarthy otter but hey, the flight attendants this time were young, tall and good-lookin’ men. There’s no lack of eye candy anywhere around the island, albeit environmental and human. The people who live to take care of tourists and the like were wonderful. They talk to you as if you were a long lost friend catching up on the latest gossip or just reconnecting with you. When we stopped in Dapa to refuel, I needed to use the restroom. The attendant pointed his mouth to a small building behind the counter. I thought it was part of the station. It was actually a house. I came in the back door when this old woman glared at me while she was washing clothes. I apologized for the intrusion then she smiled and said, “Ok lang po!”

Respect, it goes a long way.

In the cab home, I thought of which island to go to next yet I can’t help but build the expectation that it should match the experience I have had in Siargao, the island and its wonderful people. Yet I am reminded that no island is the same and just have fun and enjoy. Am I asking for the stars here? Well no. I came home wanting more for this life. To live it the way I want. And live it without bothering anyone. It is an uncomplicated life and I thank the one above for giving me this opportunity and also, thank you, Siargao.

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