Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Repost: Your Siargao Summer


Your Siargao Summer
Text and Photos by: Kage Gozun

I first met Siargao through a freelance assignment back when I was taking my Masteral degree in 2000. I had never heard of the place and wasn’t even sure what to expect when I got there. All I knew was that it would take a flight to Cebu, a boat across to Surigao and then another boat across to the island itself. And all so I could cover an international surf competition. As someone who: 1) had always wanted to try surfing and 2) loves to travel, I was more than excited to make the long journey.

I landed at the pier in Dapa after almost an entire day of traveling, got on the DOT-appointed jeepney and made a half hour trip on a bumpy dirt road to the town of General Luna, home of the now famous Cloud 9 and the epicenter of tourism on the island. It was near dark when I finally stumbled into my room, but I could hear the waves crashing against the unseen shore, see the leaves of the coconut trees gently rippling in the salt-flavored breeze and thus began my 12 year love affair with not only surfing but Siargao as well.

Since that first trip, I have visited the island a total of thirteen times, with trip number 14 scheduled for this year. With every trip, I come back feeling displaced ... the city holds nothing for me when compared to the promise of the ocean.

In the morning stillness, I would see surfers coming in for breakfast, hungry from their first sessions, already thinking of their cheese jaffles or scrambled eggs. Or boats loading up with boards, surfers headed off towards breaks that they hoped would be uncrowded. The late-risers would be heading out to catch what was left of the swell before the noon tides changed. And me, with my cup of coffee in hand would be wondering what I would get up to that day – would I ask for a space in one of those boats or would I hang around the area, hoping to shoot the perfect barrel on yet anoher perfect Cloud 9 day?
My evenings were filled with beers – either consumed on the front stoop of my room or while dancing under the stars at the no-frills disco in town, where “Horny” was still on the DJ playlist back in 2008.
Every year I live for my Siargao trip. Never mind that I am not from the island or even related to anyone who lives there. Never mind that prior to the year 2000, I'd never even heard of Siargao, much less been on a surfboard. The bottom line is: every time I set foot on the island, it feels like I'm coming home.

So, you feel like you’re ready to get to know the love of my life? Allow me to take you through what to expect.

Time truly is measured by changes in the sky and the recommended dress code is half-naked. Days often meld into each other and there comes a point where  you can no longer tell if it is a Monday or a Wednesday or how long you’ve been on vacation.

Prices have gone up since Siargao’s popularity has grown but you can still find backpacker friendly lodging closer to the town proper. Homestays are becoming a practice as well so just ask around and use your common sense to keep your belongings secure. But to be close to the action, you’ll want a resort near Cloud 9.

My personal favorite has always been Ocean 101 with its large garden and view of Rock Island and Stimpy’s. The restaurant is below the “budget rooms” and often becomes the best place to meet fellow travelers. By the second day, faces are familiar and you could even end up sharing a boat with them to check out other sights… and later trading information you can keep in touch. Some of my close friends now are people I met over coffee and banana pancakes at the restaurant.

Another resort that has is an institution in the community is Sagana Resort. The resort sits on prime property that offers a direct view of Cloud 9. Their cottages are spacious, and comfortable. They even have a very earth-friendly option that includes a dry composting toilet. The restaurant serves some of the most amazing food I have ever had on the island and the menu changes depending on what is fresh in the market. A bit pricey but definitely worth it.

About ten minutes away from the hub is a family-owned and run resort called Siargao Inn, which boasts free-standing cottages that look quite rustic on the outside but are tricked out on the inside. The family that owns it also has their own boat service and their own private beach. If you’re looking to be in Siargao but still be away from the madding crowd, this is the place to check in to. And should cabin fever set in, the epicenter of activity is one motorcycle ride away.

Now that you’re settled in you’ll need to figure out what you want to do. It would be a shame to be in Siargao and not surf.

If you are a seasoned surfer, then you’ll want to check out Cloud 9. It has been called the best surfing site in Asia and was recently named one of the 50 best surfing sites in the world by CNN Go. Get there early because during the peak season, you’ll quickly learn that this right-hander’s nickname is “Crowd 9” for a reason.

If that doesn’t seem up to your skill set, you don’t have to throw in the beach towel. There are over 20 known breaks all over the island – some accessible by paddle and some by boat. About 300 meters from Cloud 9 and Quicksilver is Jacking Horse, a fun but fast spot that breaks both ways. On a big day, the inside section also works and is significantly smaller and has been lovingly nicknamed “My Little Pony” by the regular Manila crowd.

Beginners are usually taken to Dako, a fun break just off Dako Island. And while the word might mean “big” in Bisaya, the surf spot is actually quite friendly most of the time. Be sure to take a local guide with you if you aren’t used to surfing off a boat. While you’re there you might as well make a short stop at Naked Island, a sandbar perfect for photo-ops (whether it’s the ubiquitous jump shot or the “standing at the edge of the water with my hands raised to the sky” pose). There is literally nothing on the island except shells, bird tracks and the occasional piece of driftwood. Also on the way to and from Dako is Guyam Islet, a tiny patch of paradise with coconut trees, small huts and is the perfect place for a mid-afternoon picnic.

Most of the surf spots break right so if you enjoy going left, you’ll need to take a boat to Stimpy’s which is within paddle distance of Rock Island, another right-hander. (I’d like to point out that all of these spots break over reef – most of them live and sharp. So bring reef shoes if you’ve got them, pack a first aid kit and if you have one, bring a ding repair kit as well.)

Not a surfer and not interested in surfing as well? That’s fine. The non-surfing side of Siargao is all about incredible scenery, near-empty beaches and tons of communing with nature. Head to Siargao Inn or Cabuntog and take a walk along the coastline there to find your own quiet patch of sand.

About three hours away from General Luna is Suhoton Cove, home to hundreds of stingless jellyfish that you can actually swim with (UPDATE: in the summer months when the jellyfish are still small, swimming is NOT permitted). Take the boat at sunrise so you can snooze on the way. At Suhoton, you’ll be given a short talk about the Cove then moved to a smaller boat which then takes you through a cave and into the lagoon. If you’d like to, your guide can even take you to another lagoon where you can swim through the underwater opening on another cave and surface on the other side – where you walk through a natural path of stalactites to an opening at the top of the cave. Go through this opening and you’ll find yourself outside the cave, looking down at your boat. The catch? The only way back to the boat is by making a literal leap of faith, straight down into the emerald water below. Sounds fun right? It definitely is.

For something a little more laidback – and a bit closer – ask you boatman to take you to Magpupungko in Pilar. These natural rock and coral structures create tide pools when the tide is low – most of them deep enough for you to dive into. Swim around in your own personal aquarium, surrounded by brightly colored reef fish. Adrenaline junkies often climb to the top of one particularly high rock to jump down into one of these tide pools. If you pack some food, you can even have a small picnic on the beach.

If you think that’s enough saltwater to last you for the vacation, go to Lake Bababu for some caving and a mountain lake. You can also head to the Santa Monica Waterfalls for a really chill day. If you can, try to make it to the Del Carmen Swamps, the largest remaining mangrove stand in the country and home to some saltwater crocodiles.

Or you can do absolutely nothing. I remember laying around a hammock one entire afternoon, drinking mango shakes and taking naps. I would fall asleep in the middle of reading my book, wake up, proceed to read where I’d left off then fall asleep again. I finally crawled out of that hammock when newly-made friends arrived to ask if my group wanted to join them for a few drinks after dinner.

And then there will come the day that you have to put your watch on again and remember that there is a life out there where you have to wear shoes and cover your knees. You will pack your bags and settle your bills. You will exchange phone numbers and email addresses with new friends and promise to tag each other on Facebook. You will hug the locals that have welcomed you into their homes and their lives. You take one last look, before you get on your jeep or your motorbike and leave General Luna. And as you drive away, you begin planning your next trip back. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Buy Local This Christmas! :)

A personal list of stocking stuffers... a mix of things I think friends/family will like as and things that are on my own wishlist (*cough* broad hint *cough*).

In no particular order: 

1. Lagu Beach Towel: Locally made beach towels that are allergen-free, quick dry and (this is the best bit), sand-repellent. I've put mine through its paces and they really deliver on their branding. I've used it as a mat, a blanket and sometimes line my beach bag with it so that I can just turn the bag inside-out afterwards to remove all the sand. 


2. Kape Maria: Kape Maria sources all their beans locally from different cooperatives around the country. There are, to date, four different blends of different strengths named after areas in the Philippines (Calauit, Apo, Sierra Madre and Pulag). By Christmas, they plan to release their "Coffee Bags", a neat packet of ground coffee, non-dairy creamer and coconut sugar. 

(As a certified coffee snob, I am constantly on the look-out for locally-grown and roasted blends. And since I began drinking my coffee black, I have been looking for that perfect brew that is not acidic, but still bold and strong. Kape Maria's "Apo" blend is the answer to my prayers.) 


3. Panda Sunglasses:  PANDA was born in a small town in Georgetown and has since come to the Philippines. Made from bamboo, one of the most sustainable and renewable resources, these sunnies are not only pro-Earth, they are also really fashionable. 

4. Too Many Things At Human <3 Nature: Pro-earth natural products made with the help of Gawad Kalikasan and Gawad Kalinga communities at a price that is definitely more affordable than imported organic products. I've given their products as presents for years now and also have a toiletry bag that looks like their catalog.  


Personal picks: 

- All the baby products

- Natural Moisturizing Shampoo (in Lush Vanilla) 

- Natural Moisturizing Conditioner (in Lush Vanilla)

- 100% Natural Bug Shield (soooo much better than Off lotion)

- Balancing Facial Wash and Balancing Toner

- 100% Natural Moisturizing Day Fluid with 15 Vitamins & Minerals

5. Echo Store's 'Spa in a Bottle': Every single bag in the city should have a bottle of Echo Store Body Basics' 'Spa in a Bottle.' Made from all natural ingredients (VCO, orange, peppermint, musk, and lavender), this little magic formula helps alleviate dizziness, congestion, and nausea.  Rub the oil on your palm, create a cup over your nose and inhale the goodness. Or apply some to your pulse points. 

*While you're at the store, you might as well check out: 

- Messy Bessy's full range of natural home cleaning products

- Island Baby's sunblock for children

- Theo and Philo's artisan chocolates (I have a personal weakness for the siling labuyo variant). 

- If you're at Echo Market, you should grab a pint of the dairy-free ice cream made with coconut milk and coconut sugar.

6. Declaration Shirts makes a black hoodie that has the word "Happy" written across the chest. Soooo cute. 

7. Quiddity is home to "The Bitter Critter", a notebook-slash-one-of-a-kind cloth creature that is anything but happy.

8. Zenutrients' Barako Coffee Body Scrub is a bathroom staple. And the Goat's Milk Body Butter and the Cocoa Butter Body Butter are amazing  if you have hypersensitive skin.  

9. Dalisay Bamboo Soap is made with coconut oil, carabao milk and bamboo crystals. Great for hypersensitive skin. And it is made by a Gawad Kalinga social enterprise so you'd be giving back by buying.  


10. Timbre Headphones are locally-made, combine art with music and have become a must-have accessory. Support the local music scene by listening to OPM with locally-produced headphones. ;) 


11. Give the gift of surfing this Christmas!

a. You can buy vouchers for free stays at The Circle Hostel (San Juan, La Union and/or San Felipe, Zambales. 

b. The Philippine Surfing Academy runs lessons on weekends at Club Manila East in Taytay, Rizal. 

12. The Bambike is made by Gawad Kalinga builders from one of the most renewable   resources: the humble bamboo. Get on the green revolution and order yourself -- or a special someone -- one of these stylist bikes. 


13. Yes, I am one half of Brown Belly and so of course, I'm going to suggest you order from us this Christmas! ;) Our runaway best-seller for the last two years has been our bed jackets. Great for dressing up a casual outfit or as a cover-up on the beach.


14. Comfort Zone makes some of the yummiest treats this side of Luzon.  Banana bread, cupcakes and - get this - chocolate chip bacon cookies are among their best-sellers. But if you've got something savory in mind, order the chili con carne. You wont regret it. 


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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Four Days In Bicol! (Yes! I'm blogging again!)

About 8 months ago some of my friends and I were able to score really cheap flights to Bicol during a Cebu Pacific Airlines seat sale. Our whole purpose for going was to visit my friend Adrian's family farm where we were told we would be 'fed a lot of seafood' and 'do a lot of nothing.' As someone who usually spends her trips on-the-go and in constant motion, this sounded like a nice change of pace.
Check out some of our photos from the 4 days away.

After a flight from Manila to Legazpi, a road trip to Sorsogon Bay and a 45-minute outrigger boat ride from the pier to the dock of Sun Farm... we arrive at our home for the next 4 days.

Remember the seafood we were promised we'd have? This was part of our crab lunch on the second day. (We were told "Sorry, these aren't the big ones." o_O)

The most photogenic little hut on the property.

On the afternoon of Day 2, we took a short trip across to this private island that houses a marine sanctuary. There's this beautiful sandbar to the left of this photo that comes out during low tide. More photos of that later. Promise.

Aquazorb towels, coconut bowls and various seashells. We left the bowl and the shells on the beach by the way. DO NOT BRING HOME SHELLS PLEASE!

Love fresh coconuts -- we drank the water and snacked on the meat.

Day 3: We rowed around one of the ponds in the hopes of coming across the flock of wild ducks that likes to hang out near the mangroves. (No such luck.)

Adrian rigged an old slipper to act like a floatation device for his GoPro Hero 2. That way he could film under water but not lose the WiFi backpack signal.

Day 4: Last morning in our favorite corner, having coffee and slowly waking up.

At Lingon Park, killing time while waiting for our check-in counter to open at the airport. The elusive peak of Mayon Volcano decided to show itself to us.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The 7th Manila Surfers' Cup: sunshine, surf and free ice cream!

The Point at Urbiztondo, San Juan, La Union was peeling 3 foot rights as the 7th Manila Surfers' Cup: Para Sa'yo 'To Kid (This One's For You Kid) kicked off over the weekend.

The Manila Surfers' Association, Aloha Boardsports and LUSC present: the 7th Manila Surfers' Cup: Para Sa'yo 'To Kid! Co-presented with Vans "Off the Wall" and Antonov Vodka (Vodka on the Go).

66 participants paddled out, divided into 10 divisions, all with one thing in mind: the top spot. Several familiar faces were the obvious top bets for the spectators who came down to the beach to watch. Longboarding sisters Nicola and Carla Sebastian along with shortboarder Takamura Ishikawa were among the surfers expected to do well. But, as the heats progressed, it became clear that some newcomers were emerging as dark horses in the competition. Among them were Nicky Ancheta of the Men's Longboard Open and shortboarder Jasher Villaruel, who moved on to the semis of their respective divisions as the day closed.

DJ Ameline kept the beats going

Keeping the crowd entertained was DJ Ameline, who set up her station right on the beach and kept the beats fresh. And keeping the beach supplied with free scoops of ice cream was Fruits In Ice Cream whose "Ice Cream Machine" had been driven up to La Union from Manila. The truck was parked on the beach, providing the heated crowd with a variety of their ice cream flavors for both days of the event.

Free ice cream from FIC!

A raffle was also held during the evening's beach party. The proceeds went directly to the second MSA Medical Mission, scheduled on April 21st in Urbiztondo, La Union for children between the ages of 1-13. Among the items up for grabs were loot bags from Banana Boat/Schick/The Body Shop, 3 MyPhone mobile phones, gift certificates from Vans and one Contour Camera.

Sunday morning saw more excitement as the semi-finals of all divisions got underway. Also a big draw for the Sunday crowd was the FCS Manila Surfers' Invitational divisions where handpicked Manila surfers - mostly past champions - would be competing in four winner-take-all divisions. Among those invited were Paolo Soler, Bjorn Pabon, Lor Lapus and Nikki dela Paz.

Nikki dela Paz, FCS Manila Surfers' Invitational: Wahine Shortboard

When asked about his take on the event, Lemon Dines, La Union local and previous president of the La Union Surf Club, said "Natutuwa ako na madaming bago. Tsaka na gumagaling ang mga taga Manila (I am happy to see many new faces and that the Manila surfers are getting better)."

The swell picked up, with the occasional overhead set coming through, just in time for the specially requested Technical Team Expression Session. The judges, marshals, flagmen, hosts and runners of the La Union Surf Club paddled out for a much-needed 20 minute session before resuming the competition.

Masuno Naito, FCS Manila Surfers Invitational: Men's Shortboard

As with the previous day, dark horses Nicky Ancheta and Kathryn Esguerra outsurfed their competitors to secure spots in their finals heats. Shortboard finalist Tin Terible, found herself a slot in the Wahine Longboard Open as well.

The finals heats were quite close, showcasing the increased level of surfing of the Manila surfers and giving the judges quite a headache. And as the final scores were tabulated, the beach was given another treat from the Manila Surfers' Association - the annual Costume Surf Session.

The Circle Hostel's Ziggie Gonzales in costume in front of the FIC Ice Cream Machine

The brainchild of former MSA officer Kage Gozun, the Costume Surf Session has evolved to become an FIC-sponsored event where online voters have a say for best surfer in costume. Past participants have included surfers dressed as Dora the Explorer, Shrek, and Manny Pacquiao. This year's notable entries were a cross-dressed Marilyn Monroe, Adam & Eve and a family dressed up as space-age skiers.

Results from the Costume Surf Session will be announced at the post-event party in a few weeks' time.

When asked how he felt about his first event as MSA's newest President, Tonet Jose said "I am stoked to hear nothing but positive remarks about the comp. I am thankful to everyone who made the event a success."


Wahine Novice: Gene Villapando, Lor de Jesus, Michelle Romano and Kathryn Esguerra!
Men's Novice: Benj Pacia, Terence Concepcion, Jeff Ortega and Melf Kuhl.
Wahine SB Open: Lalai Catipon, Carla Sebastian, Camille Post Santiago and Tin Terible
Men's SB Open: Takamura Ishikawa, Sadri Dulay, Ejay Ventura and Jasher Villaruel.
Men's LB Open: Sadri Dulay, Ejay Ventura, Dodong Korea and Nicky Ancheta.
Wahine LB Open: Rozie Laurel Delgado, Tamara Benitez, Tin Terible and Nicola Sebastian.

FCS MSA Men's SB Invitational Champ: Bjorn Dizon Pabon
FCS MSA Wahine SB Invitational Champ: Nikki Arce Dela Paz
FCS MSA Men's LB Invitational Champ: Buji Libarnes
FCS MSA Wahine LB Invitational Champ: Nikki dela Paz

- Photos by Kage Gozun

For more stock images of surf, travel and lifestyle please check out: Kage's Online Portfolio

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