I Must Be Off! is having its first annual Travel Essay Contest. Each entry will appear at first without byline or bio. These will be added at the end of the contest. As you enjoy these travel essays from around the world, please feel free to comment; but if you offer criticism, remember to be positive. These writers are my guests.
Must be Off to Siargao Again
by Joanna Lerio
Have you been to one of 7,107 islands in the Philippines? This Filipina haven't explored them all but there’s 100 percent guarantee an island escapade is an organic bliss. While there are many bad aspects of our poor country, I can tell you not all of our places and people are as bad as our government and politicians.
If you are up for white sand beach party, that’s Boracay. But if you are thinking of surfing, hopping 60 islets and motoring the whole province in eight hours, that’s number 17 in The New York Times’ 46 Places to Go in 2013.
Siargao in Southern Philippines is close to my hometown but having lived in Manila for three-fourths of my age now, I come here as a backpacker. From the capital, it’s about three hours away by plane with flight delay allowance. It is better to expect delays so you will be delighted if your plane arrives or leaves in time.
According to local fishermen, September to May are the best months to be in the island when the waves are in their most fabulous Cloud 9 form. Normally in July to August, these waves are on vacation.
When you are planning to be stranded in the island for a week, do not go home without including the following in your itinerary:
1. Boating and Caving at Sohoton Cove
From Sayak airport, I highly recommend you go ahead to Dapa or pier where you can take a boat ride to Sohoton. Your guide may tell you from their pre-rehearsed lines that this cove of seven was discovered by Koreans in 1981. You can help our country by correcting your guide that before anyone else, natives and fishermen discovered this site who in fact guided foreign investors who in turn were mystified by its coral garden, jellyfish kingdom and caves with fossilized shells and sea mammals as well as solidified water.
Entrance to the cove is classical. Imagine Salamis in the war of Greece and Persia. The current must be monitored at all time or chances are, you may not be able to go out because of high tide. You can trust fishermen as scholars of nature on this matter. Low tide reveals the beauty of corals from the surface but if your photographic memory does not have enough storage, do not forget to bring water-proof camera.
Two caves are open for visitors where you can take a swim with lighting courtesy of stalactites and stalagmites or you may take your Olympic dive by crawling up the cave. Films such as Asian Treasures, local version of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, had been shot here.
In the jellyfish kingdom, imagine stars shining in blue-green waters. More than a million friendly jellyfish live and breed here coexisting with whale sharks and sea turtles. Meanwhile, in the jungle hike experience, you may encounter agoho trees, ironwood, serpent eagles and white-breasted eagles.
2. Island Hop and Kayak at Brgy. General Luna
You can take a ferry or go kayak to reach the islands of Dakô (Big), Pansukian (Naked) and Guyam (Small Ants). Dakô is occupied by a fishing community that has defied four generations of storms and nights without electricity. Pansukian is also called Naked because it is bare: a treeless sand bar. Part of people’s legend here is that Dakô and Pansukian were of the same size before but in time, most of Pansukian’s sand decided to travel with the sea at large. You can practically walk around this island in three minutes. Guyam is occupied by fish-eating birds, ants and geckos. You can wait for sunset here while grilling fresh oysters.
3. Walking the shoreline for sunrise or sunset
Walking is meditative at the same time you discover more about laws of the sea, sand, sun and stones while you also get a feel of the locals’ rustic art and means. I had many finds in the shoreline: children harvesting worms as fish bait; seashells in various colors, ages and origin; and hermit crabs looking for their perfect homes.
4. Sleeping in the sand with crabs or pitch tents near residential homes
I did this for practical reasons. Hotel rate between US$17-980 is too costly for a seasonal worker who earns less than US$7 a day. Besides, I enjoy the music of sea breeze, palm trees and crustaceans busy digging homes at night. To pitch tents, it takes a while to build neighborly trust or you may just risk and plunge.
5. Go fishing with fishermen at dawn
When you are a multifaceted person, you can spend your holiday while still having advocacy wherever the sail led you. This activity is about learning the life and struggles of locals despite tourism’s boom.
6. Motorbike hike from the coastline to highways
Enjoy the panorama of mangroves, rice fields and mountains through your bike and map. With General Luna as starting point, you go up to Dapa, then Del Carmen, San Benito, Sta. Monica, Padre Burgos, Isidro, Pilar then back to General Luna. Expect some roads forgotten by elections (our roads get their needed fix during election time). Observe too the different types of cockfighting ring in every village.
Depending on the current, you may also stop over for boating at Del Carmen Mangrove Forest, the biggest reserve in Mindanao region. You may encounter some crocodiles here depending on how strong your blood is. Bucas Grande Island, the mini-Sohoton of Brgy. Socorro is also accessible from Del Carmen. Taktak Falls is not that grand but here you can pay respect to the gods and goddesses of all things wild and wonderful. Magpupungko Pool in Pilar is a pretty place to relax from biking before going back to General Luna.
7. Of course, surfing
Game-fishing and spear-fishing tournaments are held in August while The Siargao Cup International Surfing Tournament is held in September. Last year, the Women’s Surfing Cup was held in May.
Where Europe, Asia and the Americas meet, Siargao is a quintessence of world peace.
Joanna Lerio is an islander from the Philippines who eats books, drinks rivers and breathes theater. She loves nature trips, indigenous music, yoga and humanitarian ideas. While pursuing graduate school, she works as cultural journalist, performance artist and Advocacy Theater trainer for children and youth in collaboration with grassroots organizations.
RESULTS OF THE CONTEST ANNOUNCED ON JULY 20!