NOTE: I wrote this three years ago during my first Siargao trip. For a first-time traveler, most likely, these are the things you are going to experience. I long to come back and experience Sohoton. And go to the benefit dance! And eat eggplant-corned beef torta for breakfast!
In reality, there is more to Siargao than the swell surfers love. Constant walking and talking with the locals during my five-day visit afforded me a glimpse of the Siargao that only those who’ve been there will be familiar with. Here are 10 things I didn’t know about the island until my three visits.
For those learning the basics of surfing, there are smaller waves towards the western part of Cloud 9.
In front of the boardwalk are intimidating waves—the rightful place for those who are comfortable riding those Pacific giants. But I badly wanted to try it. I desired the feeling of riding the waves. Luckily, Siargao is not only for the serious surfer but for the hopefuls as well.
On the left of the boardwalk are smaller waves fit for a newbie. A surfing tutorial costs an arm and a leg to a cheap backpacker. Shelling out Php500 for an hour of tutorial felt like that, but it must be worth the price.
“You must read the waves for you to ride them,” the tutor said. But the waves all looked the same to me. Perhaps it takes years to master an eye for good waves.
“You might want to see the other side of Siargao,” said the surfing tutor, who happened to be a driver and tour guide as well.
“What’s in there?”
“Beaches and falls.”
“I indulged (it was my birthday, a valid excuse for indulgence) and let him drive me and a couple to the other side for a fee, of course.
“When the locals had enough of saltwater, I assumed, they headed to Taktak for a dip in its freshness. The fall is a stark contrast to the thunderous Cloud 9 waves. Whereas I find the sounds of the waves threatening, the sounds of the water falling are soothing. Always.
“Siargao’s other side never seems to run out of beaches. Whereas Cloud 9 can be considered the place for tourists, the other side—Alegria Beach—remains unspoiled and has preserved its local flavor. This part of the municipality of Santa Monica is a wide stretch of immaculate sand.
“There were no foreigners in sight, which I took as a good sign that tourists have not flocked here yet. There were only kids playing on the rocky part of the beach.
When I walked towards them, my feet sank into the plush sand.
“It has not recovered from the typhoon yet,” informed the driver, who has not recovered from last night’s partying either. He complained about sleeplessness and headache while driving us around. I caught him half-asleep driving, but oddly I found it more amusing than alarming.
Siargao, just like the rest of Surigao, directly faces the Pacific—where most destructive typhoons originate from. The beach itself was in utter disorder. Debris was everywhere and the sand was muddy. It did not bother the kids who found delight in simple fun on the beach: playing with mud, catching small fish, or simply laughing the whole afternoon away.
Our driver left us to our own devices when we reached the third beach. He made a good bed out of the sand and snored his hangover away. While the couple took turns taking pictures on my left, I walked around the right bend.
At 4 p.m., the beach looked calm.
I’ve had enough of beaches for the day. I found a good shady spot near the driver, got a book from my tote, and immersed myself into a different world with the driver’s snores and shy hissing of the waves became my afternoon lullabies.
“Adto tag Magpupungko na (Let’s go to Magpupungko.),” encouraged Al-Al, a young habal-habal driver—one of the earliest locals I met on my trip and the one who brought me to a cockfighting arena. Since I ran short of cash, he drove me to Dapa—the only place in Siargao that has an ATM.
“Pila man sad na? (How much will that be?)” While in Siargao, especially in Cloud 9, I associated “adto ta sa” (let’s go to) with “how much.” Because Siargao, which sounds like your ordinary small exotic island is actually big, and it can be costly traveling alone.
“Depende ra nimo, (It depends on you)” the coy lad said.
“Libre? (Free?)” I teased him. Haggling is a traveler’s skill.
Magpupungko has a proud rock sitting atop a bigger rock like Simba overseeing his pride. It is a rocky shore hollowed out, making it look like a natural pool.
“Depende ra nimo,” he said. If it were free, it would be like a date between a shy local and a solo traveler in Magpupungko.
“Let’s do it next time,” I promised. I left Siargao with Al-Al’s text vowing to wait for my return.
Boulevards are great places to take a walk but General Luna’s take it a notch higher—it is an awesome place to take a dip. It is a stretch of creamy sandy shore, a beautiful beach with resorts out of sight.
Right in front of the boardwalk is Guyam, one of the islets in front of General Luna.
On the left of the boulevard is a short wooden bridge connecting to a village where kids found the camera as fascinating as it was intimidating.
Together with two Fil-Am brothers I met at the resort where I stayed, we decided to hop the islets fronting General Luna.
Our country is graced or cursed—depending on whom you ask—with too many islands. It was a grace for me, but for one of the brothers I was with, it was a curse.
Naked, Guyam, Daku are just three of the many similar-looking islands in the country. They are beautiful, touristy. So despite their expected post-card perfect atmosphere, why do we still visit them? Perhaps because we hope to find something different or see an epiphany of sorts. We visit these similar-looking islands because, really, no experience is ever the same.
At night, young, sexy workers from different resorts gathered and went to a communal dance they call benefit. It actually befuddled me at first since back at home, we simply called it disco or bayle in the countryside.
Benefit dance, I would say, is the only communal entertainment in Siargao aside from the predominantly male cockfighting sessions. When I say communal, that does not exclude foreign tourists. It was very entertaining to see foreigners drinking mestiza (a rum and soft drink concoction) and dancing in the middle of a well-lit basketball court with the locals.
During a benefit dance, a person can sponsor a dance for Php20 or Php50 and the whole community can dance to it.
Seeing a multicultural disco on an island, which has a small airport with a carabao grazing nearby was beyond my imagination.
It was the waves sounding like a tsunami that never arrives that I found ominous. But I could not leave Siargao without conquering my fear of those waves sweeping the whole island away.
Surfers wait for the waves during the swelling of the sea. Once the sea recedes, the crowd empties Cloud 9, making the waves more resounding. So I walked around with the Pacific greedily lapping the shore a few feet away from me.
My feet brought me to a glass house with a person sleeping inside, to a family of five, to a family hounding the shore for dinner, to a rocky shore beyond the cliff. I walked the entire afternoon before the sea swelled again. And when I got back at the boardwalk, the waves were not as imposing as I thought.
How about you? Have you been to surfing places and ended up not surfing at all?