Since claiming a landslide victory in the Philippine election on May 9, President Duterte has killed more than 3000 people in his war on drugs. These killings have often been carried out arbitrarily, by both the police force and unidentified attackers. Consequently the Australian Government's Smart Traveller website has advised that travellers use a “high degree of caution” when travelling to the Philippines.
Our trip had been planned several months prior and we were not deterred by the warnings, or Duterte’s drug war. Although the country is experiencing some problems, the citizens are some of the friendliest that I have ever met; they are jovial, forever smiling and always keen to chat.
After some research, Siargao Island, located in the southeast corner of the Philippines had been chosen due to its reputation as the “8th best surf spot in the world”, its seclusion and its overwhelming beauty.
Siargao Island, located in the province of Surigao del Norte, is just one of the 7,641 islands that make up the archipelago. It’s a short, fifty-minute trip from Cebu, with only one flight in-and-out per day. Alternatively, there’s a boat from Surigao City to Dapa, which takes about 3.5 hours.
The island is dotted with coconut palms, white sandy beaches, a large mangrove forest, several inlets and stunning coral reefs, which make up the surf breaks that are scattered along the east coast. The most famous of these breaks is Cloud 9; a hollow, barrelling right hand tube that breaks hard and fast over a shallow reef. For the less experienced there are a variety of different waves, though they are predominantly reef breaks.
Although the local economy relies on the influx of travellers, and there are a variety of resorts, hostels and restaurants to choose from, Siargao has still managed to hold onto its charm and authenticity, keeping it unscathed from mass tourism.
When you need a break from the crowds for 150PHP ($5AUD) one of the boat drivers can take you out to one of the outer reef breaks and waits for you while you surf. J-Fox, our driver took us to The Bommie, Rock Island and Cemeterys; all within a ten-minute boat ride from the Island. It is moments like meeting J-Fox that epitomise travelling for me. Conversing with locals gives me a deeper understanding of humanity and makes me appreciate the opportunities that I have been given in life.
During our stay we went on the Island Hopping tour, which comprised Naked, Daku and Guyam Island. Apart from Naked Island, which is a sandbar that is only accessible on low tide, it’s hard to encapsulate the beauty of these islands in words. Turquoise water, white sand beaches and coconut palms cover both Daku and Guyam Island. On our arrival on Daku the locals picked fresh coconuts and prepared the fresh food, letting us chill and explore the island, laze about under the hut, or swim in the azure-green, twenty-nine degree water. The surrounding islands of Siargao truly embody a traveller’s paradise.
Another expedition that we went on was to Bucas Grande and Sohoton Cove - a 2.5 hour journey from General Luna. It’s advisable to take earplugs as the roar of the boat becomes deafening. The Cove comprises a variety of inlets, channels and openings, which give way to steep, sharp, limestone cliffs and islets that are covered with thick vegetation and stalactites. It’s an enchanted beauty; one where you almost expect a mermaid to pop up at any time and say “hello”.
The islets give way to caves, which can only be entered at low tide. Our guide took us to Hagukan Cave. The only way to enter is to swim down, popping up inside an eerie, glowing, open-air cavern, completely separated from the outside world. The water was crystal clear, yet extremely salty. Lunch was again bought at the local market before leaving, and the local staff prepared yet another delightful seafood meal. After a full day of swimming, caving and lying in the sun, it was time to return back to Siargao. With a cold beer in hand and the sun setting it was hard not to feel content and at peace with the world.
The variety of waves, beautiful beaches, crystal-clear water, coconut palms, fresh seafood, islands, caves and activities make it an adventurer’s paradise. It isn’t just the stunning beauty that makes this place, it’s the people too. Although we were from different parts of the world, speaking different languages and coming from different cultures, we had the common bond of adventure and travel. A constant search for that utopian spot, learning through experience. Although there are travel warnings put out there for our safety, if we lived our entire life by the rules who knows how many stunning places we would miss out on, or beautiful people we would encounter.