SCOOTERS & SUNSETS IN SIARGAO
Updated: May 28, 2020
My first impression of the Philippines was Manila and it was a slightly off-putting one. But as I continued to move away from the city and through the islands, I enjoyed every place more and more. The last stop was an island on the east edge of the country called Siargao. I try not to expect much from any one place and go in with an open mind and heart. I didn’t do that with Siargao. I had high hopes from the beginning. It was recommended to me over and over again and recommended by locals more than other travellers.
I spent the next two weeks exploring and falling in love with this place.
The drive from tiny airport on this island to the other side where I was staying took about 40 minutes and was my first glimpse of the countryside. It was already much more remote and quiet than any other place in the Philippines I had been so far.
Arriving at Secret Spot, the hostel I was staying at just outside of town felt like home almost immediately and stayed that way for the next two weeks. It’s the first hostel I've stayed at on this trip that felt much more like visiting friends than just a place to stay, right down to family dinner on Sunday nights where everyone cooks a dish from their home country. The people changed a bit over the two weeks but the atmosphere there never did.
Saying grace, 2018 style - showing thanks through photography
Finding a place to watch the sunset was also on the itinerary most days. One of the best spots was just across the street, at the end of a long boardwalk. Almost no one is there except the local kids who like to swim there in the late afternoons.
The first couple days there, I went through rite of passage that all travellers to South East Asia must experience sooner or later. Learning how to drive a scooter. With no lessons and no questions asked. I’d driven one once before in Thailand but only for a few hours and definitely not to the point where I felt comfortable on one. But the only way to get to see the island is on a scooter, so with encouragement from my new friend Lisa, we set off to see the north part of the island. Within 30 minutes, I had to stop to have the scooter repaired. The bottom cover plate had come loose and was dragging on the road. Luckily for me, the spot I decided to stop was right in from of what looked like and old bar turned very disorganized workshop. A curious old man wandered out to see why two girls were stopped out front and the quickly offered to fix it for me. After rummaging around in some boxes and finding the tools he needed, he fixed me up and we finally hit the road.
On top of just enjoying the ride and me trying to get comfortable driving the scooter, we were actually looking for two spots in particular - Maasym bridge with a hidden lagoon and tree swing and a cave system to hike through.
We found the bridge quickly. It was the only orange bridge on the main road with lots of people hanging around. Just down the river, there is one palm tree that hangs over the river at a pretty good angle. It is THE spot for the local kids, who seem to spend the whole day climbing up the tree, swinging off it and jumping into the river. Neither one of us were up for swimming just yet but we did opt for the boat tour some of the guys from the village were offering.
The boat we got into was not meant for three people. It probably wasn’t even meant for two but Lisa and I got in anyway along with our new captain, Freddy. It barely stayed above the surface of the river but we set off, staying as still as possible. A little difficult to do since my ‘seat’ was three thin shoots of bamboo but the view along the river more than made up for any of the discomfort. At the end of the river we took a quick rock around the area where Freddy found a new piece of wood to replace my rickety seat. Not really much more comfortable be certainly much more stable than the bamboo.
Our second destination was Tayangban Caves. We couldn’t find it at first but that ended up being because we had overshot it. By a lot. Another hour and some incredible views and some seriously winding mountain roads later, we did find the spot. We arrived at high tide which meant that the hike through the cave became a swim and I think it was a much cooler experience because of it.
We met our guide and he took us down a trail into the jungle and pointed to a few boulders in the river. That was the entrance. Up until then I was still expecting to be knee deep in water for most of the hike. Nope. So we jumped in up to our necks and passed through the hole. The sunlight disappeared quickly and our guide brought out the flashlight to light the way and point out some pretty impressive rock formations along the way. The whole hike/swim only took about 30 minutes but it was a fun experience anyway and worth checking out.
The next day, the hostel organized a trip to one of the islands that the tourist boats don’t usually go to. The rain started almost as soon as we got onto the boat but stopped just as we arrived on the island of Corregiador. Other than the locals who live there, our group of nine were the only people to visit the island that day.
The beach was stunning, as are most beaches in the Philippines. Shells and coral cover the beach but unfortunately, so does the garbage that gets washed ashore. This has been true of everywhere I've been in South East Asia. Some of the garbage included big cement bags so we used those as garbage bags and spent the first hour of the morning cleaning up as much garbage as possible.
After lunch on the beach, the afternoon was spent climbing to the top of the island and sharing some truly spectacular views of all of Siargao with a great group of people.
One of my favourite things about travelling is meeting new people. And the best part of that is the people that you immediately find a vibe with and connect on an unexpected level. Gettin back to the hostel after another scooter tour, I met the newest guest and just such a lovely, connected soul named Sheena. The more we got to talking, we realized that we’d essentially lived parallel lives. We’d lived within 30 kilometres of each other almost our entire lives but somehow had never met. Or at least not until we both decided to visit a tiny island a world away from the where we grew up in.
The next few days were spent exploring remote beaches, hours of driving through palm forests and coast lines, exploring villages, yoga and island parties. Something about Siargoa makes it feel like home quickly and it was easy to fall into a routine of heading to the market in the morning, jumping on s scooter to explore a new spot then be back to find a good spot to watch the sunset, every one of which was amazing.
One of our drives took us to Algeria beach. We were the only foreigners on the beach and quickly attracted the attention of the kids there. At first, there were just a few but they just kept coming. And coming. The original few eventually turned into a pretty significant group. We floated around in the shallows, joking and playing with the kids until I realized how completely surrounded we were. I finally had to stop and count just how many kids had actually showed up. Somehow we’d ended up surrounded by 29 kids. 29 cute, very energetic kids, armed with some very personal questions for us.
My original reason for wanting to go to Siargao was to learn how to surf. I spent so much time exploring the island by scooter that the days slipped by faster than I expected and I still hadn’t gotten on a surfboard. With only a few days left, it was time to try. My first lesson started with me jumping on the back of a motorcycle with my surf instructor, while holding the board and off-roading through the jungle to a secret beach up the coast. I clearly should have started doing this earlier in the trip.
The next two days were spent riding out to secluded beaches, gathering bruises and sore muscles, with a supportive Jingjing wondering why the hell I was so bad at this but still cheering me on. As it turns out, I am not a natural born surfer. But I loved it. The runs that I actually was able to stand up on were some of the most enjoyable sporting moments of my life. On the way back, driving through another palm forest, I promised myself I’d keep trying until I’m at least okay at it. A promise made while my elbow was still bleeding and ALL of my core muscles were screaming at me to just stop moving.
My last morning came and I wasn’t ready to leave. I got up early to take one last drive down the coast before having to get to the airport. I knew very little of the Philippines before I got there. When I arrived, it was the first time on this trip that I actually felt really overwhelmed by a place and unsure if iI had made a mistake or not by choosing to go there. El Nido was a good first step, Coron was great and gave me some amazing people to spend my days with but Siargao stole my heart and exceeded my already high expectations. The Philippines are beautiful and the people I met there were even more so.