Monday Musings: 10 Life Reminders from Siargao

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.

Chillin like a villain at Cloud 9

  1. 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.

    GOPR0007.JPG
    Sunset as I left San Ricardo Port
  2. 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.

    15724759_551740888368310_5784486020745772053_o.jpg
    Team Blue Bloods vs. Team Diarrhea (Diarrhea won Paglaolympics)
  3. 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.

    DCIM102GOPROGOPR0123.
    Enjoying the waves as they kiss the shore.
  4. 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.

    15857376_10154397174368155_1194482239_o.jpg
    Fail at the swing
  5. 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).

    15800452_10154783540663329_6320650549880570417_o
    Channeling the inner monkey at Secret Spot
  6. 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.

    15781385_10154774741693329_3211682747420009274_n.jpg
    Andrea checking out the waves
  7. 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.

    DCIM102GOPROGOPR0017.
    Drinks and fire at Guyam Island
  8. 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.

    GOPR0006.JPG
    The annoyed kid :))
  9. 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.15822598_10154777794348329_6934201963544954634_n.jpg
  10. 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.
15857330_10154397174388155_1121038990_o.jpg
Finally getting the hang of it!

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)!

Leytescapes: Beguiling Biliran

Nothing but nature
Nothing but nature

I wanted to stay at home that day but it did not take that long to convince me to go on spontaneous adventure. Our destination, one of the less traveled islands in the Philippines.  A historic island paradise nestled less than a kilometer away from the northern coast of Leyte. Half asleep, my friends and I left Tacloban around 9’o clock in the morning. We passed through several farmlands under the sweltering heat of the sun. We were lucky that most of the roads were already paved after several typhoons. Two hours later, we reached Biliran Bridge, completed around 1975. It is about 150 meters long and its central span, held in place by an arched steel structure, hovers above a short and narrow channel of water measuring about 40 meters wide at low tide.

Hello Biliran!
Hello Biliran!

We finally reached Biliran! We could not help but stop to see Biliran Strait, one of the passages where the Japanese had their checkpoints during World War II.

A view worth taking a minute for.
A view worth taking a minute for.

According to historical accounts, Biliran was site of the first large-scale shipyard, built during the 17th century where the Spaniards built galleons  support the trade between Manila and Acapulco in Mexico. Several boatmen passed by as I peered into the clear sea. It was so inviting that I wanted to jump from the bridge.

Bangkeros passing underneath the bridge.
Bangkeros passing underneath the bridge.

Biliran’s economy is largely based on fishing. Most of its towns, especially Naval and Biliran, have excellent seaports. As we made our way to Naval, Biliran’s capital, I could not help but feel a certain nostalgia for my hometown Ormoc, Naval reminded me of the quaint aura that Ormoc exuded before malls started sprouting up. Realising that our other friends are still far we decided to stop at the first gasoline station we saw. We loaded up on fuel and washed our face covered with sweat and dust. It was already 12 noon and I could hear my stomach complaining, we stopped at the port to grab some barbecue and puso a.k.a hanging rice ( I could not help but eat with my barehands).

GETTING LOST

After a hearty lunch, we decided to head to one of the coasts to search for white sand. Little did we know that our friends signed up for a habal-habal challenge.

The challenging dirt road that turned my friend into a certified habal-habal driver!
The challenging dirt road that turned my foreign friends into a certified habal-habal driver!

After safely driving through dirt roads and getting chased by hyperactive dogs, we found ourselves in a secluded cove. Our sore butts begged for some rest time and bored me decided to climb a coconut tree and get some coconuts for me and my friends.

First time opening a buko using a small knife and the edge of a rock.
First time opening a buko using a small knife and the edge of a rock.

While I was channelling my inner monkey, the rest went for a dip. I looked like the squirrel from Ice Age trying to open the buko, so I took a break and joined them.

When you see it!
When you see it!

I found little shrimps while swimming around. I remembered when my mother used to buy live shrimps and I would play with them before my mom cooked them (sad I know) but I couldn’t really be totally depressed because she cooks them well (I just pray for the shrimps’ souls and thank them for giving their lives to nourish and make us happy).

IYUSAN RICE TERRACES AND BAGONGBONG WATERFALLS

After we had our buko juice, we decided to go to the waterfall at Brgy. Caucab in the town of Almeria (named after Almeria in Spain). We drove through a long winding paved road. The view over the Iyusan Rice Terraces made it one-of-a-kind. Imagine a smaller version of Sagada terraces but with better roads.

Iyusan Rice Terraces
Iyusan Rice Terraces

 Kalabaw (Water Buffalo) enjoying a dip.

Kalabaw (Water Buffalo) enjoying a dip.

Path to Bagongbong Falls
Path to Bagongbong Falls

We reached the end of the paved road and made our way down the dirt trail, the locals told us it would take about 30mins. but unable to contain our excitement, we made it down half the time. We dismissed the narrow muddy and rocky trail and walked liked a boss. As the sound of the waters got stronger, we walked faster. We marvelled at the 30-foot high cathedral-like falls covered by forests.

A hidden surprise between the cliffs.
Bagongbong Falls

After settling in for a bit, I started feeling my leg muscles complaining. A reminder to get back in shape. While the rest went it for a dip, I felt the asian compulsion and took a selfie (normally takes me more than 10 tries before I get a decent one).

Selfie time
Selfie time
Sunlight beaming over us.

Surreal moment as I looked up.

I wanted to take a better photo but we were on a rush so this was the best one from a moving vehicle.
I wanted to take a better photo but we were on a rush so this was the best one from a moving vehicle.

We enjoyed the moment and we barely noticed the minutes flew swiftly. Realising that it was almost sunset, we rushed back to the motorbikes to try to catch the sun before it says goodbye on that day. We wanted to catch the sunset over Agta beach but we figured we did not have enough time so we went into one of the nearby barangay.

Little girl playing by the shore.
Little girl playing by the shore.
Kid showing me his winning post
Kid showing me his winning post
We were on the wrong side but it was still a sight to behold.
We were on the wrong side but it was still a sight to behold.

Sunset by the shore with a cold drink on hand, it was almost perfect if not for the crazy kids trying to wrestle each other and kicking sand at our backs. Nonetheless, it was one of the best sunset moments that I experienced this year. I can only imagine how it looked like from the right side.

Night time came and we got separated from the rest of our friends, we went back to Naval to find a place to stay. The town did not have a lot to offer when it comes to accomodations, we found a backpackers place that charged P600 for a fan room. It was not bad until we woke up to a bunch of people talking loudly right outside the door. I dozed off quite quickly after the trekking and the bumpy ride to the beach.

Magtanim ay di biro.(Planting rice is no joke)
Magtanim ay di biro.(Planting rice is no joke)

We woke up next morning and went for some bread and head to Agta beach where the rest of our friends ended up. They decided to sleep on the shore with their sleeping bags. I missed the fun part that night. As they grabbed some breakfast, we thought of where to go next. One of the guys wanted to go kayaking to the nearby islands but the woman told us it was low tide and they do not rent out. I do not get the point but we couldn’t really spend time debating so we resolved to find Busai Waterfalls.

More of the road
More of the road

We drove for 30 minutes trying to figure out where Ungale 2 (dos) was. I asked more than a dozen of people for directions (luckily Biliran speaks Visayan).

BUSAI WATERFALLS

In search for the other waterfalls
In search for the other waterfalls

We followed a path right through different barangay and as we ended up on a dead-end of a dirt road. On the left side was a barely noticeable trail where we had to walk over boulders and metal pipes (Busai Waterfalls is a water source for nearby dwellers of Kawayan). My slippers gave up on me so I walked on barefoot for 15 mins. (like a local). We crossed streams (you need to have a lot of leg power) to reach the mouth of Ungale River. Hidden among the thick foliage and slightly obscure from all angles was the tranquil Busai Waterfalls.

Busai Waterfalls
Busai Waterfalls

I was a bit disappointed seeing that it was not as grand as Bagongbong but I realised Busai had its own uniqueness because it is quite tricky to find there were not a lot of visitors. If you are coming from Naval, you would need to travel the Biliran Circumferential Road via bus bound for Tucdao, Kawayan. From the main road of Tucdao, you can hire or rent motorcycles for Php 25. Visitors may also ask the locals to guide them to the falls ( we had a little girl who volunteered to take us to the falls).

Cascading waters
Cascading waters

I had a serene dip in the cold waters. I saw a bunch of local guys climbing on top of the cliff and jumping into the middle. They are crazy I thought to myself, I got scared as hell for their safety and they started doing it like their lives did not mean anything. The water slowly glides over the mossy bedrock and you can see a bunch of frogs leaping from rocks to rocks. As we took our time to take in everything, we thought of pushing ourselves further and going for another waterfalls at Brgy. Cabibihan, Caibiran.

TINAGO WATERFALLS

From Naval, it would take around 30-45mins. Ironically, Tinago (which means Hidden in Visaya) was the least hidden among all the waterfalls. From the highway, you will find a loop trail that is 10 minutes away from the falls.

Tinago Waterfalls
Tinago Waterfalls

Unlike the first two waterfalls, you cannot enter Tinago free. Adults have to pay P10 and P5 for children (expensive! not…) Tinago Waterfalls is a perfect hideaway for bigger groups being the grandest among the Biliran Waterfalls. The battery in my camera gave up at this point (thus the sole photo of Tinago, click here for more photos). Frustrated by the inability to take photos (first world problems), I just took a dip into a seemingly natural jacuzzi and tried real rock climbing. I took my moment as I know it would be another 3 hours motorbike ride back to reality.

Truely underrated.
Purely underrated.

Biliran is not getting the reputation it should have. For one of the smallest province in the country, it has a lot to offer. I found out later that we missed 4 other waterfalls, not to mention we did not even make it to one of the 4 islands, the rich history Biliran has from Moro invasions to aiding the Americans during World War II and the dormant volcanoes and hidden springs. For all this reasons, I will definitely go back!

Iyusan Rice Terraces
Iyusan Rice Terraces

TRAVEL TIPS:

  1. Bring drinking water (saves the planet as it lessens water bottles floating in the ocean) and food ( lots of them specially bananas) as some parts of Biliran do not have sari-sari stores for more than 5 kilometers.
  2. Rent a motorbike for a day if you do not want to wait for buses as commuting around the island is not that easy and would take a lot of your time.
  3. Bring your powerbanks, there are a lot of things to take photos of. ( This is more of a note for myself.)
  4. Do not forget your sunscreen or cover up with long sleeve shirts and pants as driving around the island can take a toll on your skin.
  5. Bring cash as there are only a few cash machines and that time when we were there none working.
  6. Most of the stores in Naval close by 8p.m. so it is best that you stock up earlier.
  7. Wear comfortable trekking shoes as trails can get slippery (Do not imitate me, I’m a local).
  8. Do not bring a friend who likes to complain a lot (general travel tip, you would not want to ruin awesome moments just because of a negatron, maybe you need to start thinking about your friendship…).
  9. Make sure you or your friend have habal-habal driving skills as the roads of Biliran will test you from time to time.