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Cloud 9, Siargao, Surigao del Norte, Philippines

EVERYTHING starts with strangeness and being estranged: unfamiliar faces in the resort’s restaurant, unfamiliar laughter on the beach, a familiar sleeping position on an unfamiliar figure in the airport lobby, familiar driving on an unfamiliar road with unfamiliar hands behind the wheel. Everything starts with strangeness and being estranged.

It took a confident “Hi, where are you from?” at the resort’s restaurant to make strangeness and being estranged less intimidating.

A simple hi, when permitted, can superficially lead to adding yet another friend on Facebook or can favorably lead to a serious conversation.

It was “Hi, where are you from?” that brought me to two Filipino-American brothers in Siargao: David, “the open, never-ending book” to use his own words and Brian, “the opposite.”

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Cloud 9, Siargao, Surigao del Norte, Philippines

David echoed my sentiment that our country is both blessed and cursed by being a nation of so many islands. In other countries, he said, it was so much easier to hop on a bus, motorbike, or pedicab to get to a new place and experience some diversity. In our country, it is to jump on a plane and see another island, after already seeing a similar one.

But I wanted to contend that it is the beaches that look similar. Islands are never the same. Cebu can never be Siargao. I cannot be convinced otherwise.

Indeed, there are only so many beaches one can take. But really, it was not the beaches, was it? They play as backdrops or
postscripts that can be skipped without feeling guilty.

It is the company and the experience that linger, matter, and tease the memory once the soles have kissed another similar-looking shore.

‘Not Entirely Barren’ Naked Island

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Naked Island, Siargao, Surigao del Norte, Philippines

“There is nothing here!” exclaimed David.

“There is! Sand!” I countered.

From General Luna’s port, the boatman brought us to a yet another naked island. Brittania, Surigao del Sur has its naked island; Bohol, Batangas, and Cebu have their respective virgin islands. It will not be surprising to know there are five or ten islands named naked and virgin in our country. These islands ironically do not live up to their names.

Naked islands—which are too narrow and often become invisible when tide arrives—are the home of small, often unnoticed, living things; while thousands of feet beat up virgin islands.

Siargao’s Naked Island, might be the less “charactered” compared to Guyam and Daku, but it is far from being naked. It has patches of greens, tourists taking their pictures, crabs escaping to their holes, a dead log lying on the shallow waters, empty beautiful shells that would soon join the plurality of my shell collection.

It is, from the chest-deep water, like a caricature of an old man’s head with receding hair, with three or four strands standing erect on his crown.

Blue Green Daku

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Daku Island, Siargao, Surigao del Norte, Philippines

“Tell me they are not terrorists, right?” Brian joked while looking at the masked men aboard a fishing boat docked on the shore.

Indeed, they could be mistaken for such. Some faces were covered with worn-out -shirts, some wore a smirk. But their audible banter and laughter—not to mention the buoys and nets aboard—gave them away. Their fishing boat roared. They were left to fish in the vast Pacific. I jokingly heaved as a sign of relief since I am commonly mistaken for a scorched Korean traveler. Brian heaved. For real or jokingly, I could not tell.

Mindanao—especially its northern shores that Surigao del Norte is part of—does not convey the stereotypes common of this easternmost island in the Philippines: dangerous, terrorist-infested. It is rather friendly and comfortable where everyone speaks my language with a sexy curb, where strangers do not hesitate to share a joke or two, where I do not doubt when locals say “sakay lang og motor padung Dapa, ’day (Just ride a bike to Dapa, ’day).”

We took a dip with the kids and saw a huge cockle farmed by a fisher. It was my first to see a cockle as huge as that.

Daku is  Bisaya for big, and aptly, it is the biggest among the three. Unlike the other two islands, the palm-cocooned Daku houses a friendly community.

At four in the afternoon, everything looked green, blue, clear.

Momentarily, I wanted to believe that their mother’s homeland could offer happy colors, green trees, blue sky. And the rest does not matter.

Guyam at Dusk

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Guyam Island, Siargao, Surigao del Norte, Philippines

Guyam, meaning little, is a green dent in the sea visible from General Luna’s (GL) boulevard. Unlike Naked, Guyam must pride itself in being honest. I surmised it would only take five minutes to round the islet. Its shore fronting General Luna is the platitude of tropical white-sand, its other side rocky.

“I-dritso palang ni nila sa Guyam, (If only they could connect this [boardwalk] to Guyam),” I heard a teenager say to her companion at GL’s boardwalk, a day before I encountered Brian and David. Connecting an island to an islet with a boardwalk seemed like a romantic idea that appealed to me.

From Guyam, GL looked wade-able. With the presence of Brian and David, I broke off from the notion of islands being cut for romance.

Traveling is a season of encounters. It is a season to let the strange be familiar, the familiar strange.

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General Luna, Siargao, Surigao del Norte, Philippines

Meeting them made me affirm David’s words that “often the poorest people are the richest. Though they lack in material belongings, they prosper in the more important things like serenity. Being content with little things is priceless.” Say, the timid sliding of the sun behind Siargao’s horns—an ordinary, priceless scene on this side of the world.

And as we waited for their mother’s homeland to turn dusky one April day; theirs—approximately eight thousand air miles from the
Philippines—just had the same sun peek behind high-rises.

Jona Branzuela Bering scales mountains, treks rivers, combs beaches, hops towns, takes photographs, and searches for stories, stanzas, and silence. She always travels with a backpack, books, pens, and notebooks. She blogs at backpackingwithabook.com. 

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper | May 09, 2013.

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HOW TO GET THERE

There are no direct flights from Manila to Siargao. One can fly from Manila to Surigao del Norte instead and take a ferry to Dapa, Siargao. Another option is to fly from Cebu. Direct flights to Siargao are available on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.

TIPS

Major establishments accept credit cards, but it is for the better to bring cash since ATMs are not readily accessible in the tourist belt.

Summer is the best time to bump around. For surfers and surfing fanatics, ber months have the most adventurous waves. Surf boards can be rented for P300 a day and surfing tutorial costs P500 an hour.

Aside from Guyam, Daku, and Naked Islets, the other side of Siargao has natural beaches worth visiting.

Magpupungko Lagoon is yet another beauty for water lovers.

To experience a unique island culture, going to Siargao’s benefit dance must not be missed.

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May 11, 2013

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