Tuesday, October 9, 2012


LATE IN COMING TO a famous place that have been frequented by friends in the past doesn’t mean that I can’t have that monopoly of enjoyment that they have experienced then. In fact, I don’t need enjoyment because my going to a place is not for pleasure but of work. Besides, I know where to look for enjoyment in the course of my work.

Work means that I don’t need to spend a single cent because my company have taken cared of that. The job just entails the retrieval of a package and bring it back to the office in Cebu. The focus of this work is no other than going to Siargao Island. When you talk of that place, white powdery beaches come to mind. Then Cloud 9.

Siargao is an “island in the Pacific” in the closest term of the word. About a hundred kilometers off the coast of Surigao del Norte, it is part and parcel of that province and can be reached by motorized banca1 and roll-on-roll-off vessels. The island is dotted by beach resorts that host pristine white sands and clear blue-green waters best for bathing, snorkeling, diving and deep-sea fishing.

It is composed of the municipalities of Dapa, General Luna, Pilar, San Benito, San Isidro, Burgos, Del Carmen and Santa Monica. A ninth town – Socorro - is found on an adjacent island of Bucas Grande. While Dapa is the port of entry, Gen. Luna is the star of the island for it is there where the big international surfing events are held every May and September. Those tourneys are called Cloud 9.

How to get there and when are the two biggest questions hanging in my mind ever since I ditched the offer of Dedon Island Resort last March for a free two-week working stay. And so, I decide to make the trip on the night of June 13, 2012 bound for the Port of Nasipit on board the MV Princess of the Earth. I like these old ships formerly owned by Sulpicio Lines for these have wide spaces and gives me more room to move around – especially the cots.

The boat will have to stop first though for four hours at the Port of Cagayan de Oro the morning after on June 14. From there, the boat will berth at 2:00 PM in Nasipit, Agusan del Norte. Why do I have to go to Nasipit when steaming directly to Surigao City would be much simpler and more direct? Good question. The answer to that is I cannot retrieve the package without processing first for a permit which can only be done in Butuan City.

Nasipit is no more than a ghost of its own past when the timber business ruled the course of the port in its heyday. I have passed by here in 1995 when I went the other way around going to Cebu from Davao and it is almost the same save for a new terminal building. Need to process those papers before the sun goes down and I need to go to Butuan pronto.

It is still 4:00 PM but the office is empty when I arrive save for an old lady who doesn’t have a clue of the location of its occupants. I may have to do it first thing in the morning and I may have to look first for a place to sleep and then shop for some things that I may need like soap, shampoo, razor, bottled water and toothpaste. I found one at the Emerald Villa Hotel and Restaurant.

Just like Nasipit, Butuan City is a remnant of the timber business but it refused to slow down. It throbs and pulsates and growing to become another mega-city of Mindanao. I did not have the opportunity to step upon its pavements in 1995 while I have the chance then but, this time, I make it sure that I would and so I tour the side streets and ended up joining local parishioners in a Holy Mass inside the St. Joseph’s Cathedral at 6:00 PM.

Standard dialect used in business and on street conversations is Cebuano but I could hear smatterings, here and there, of Boholano, Higaonon and Sinurigao. Everyone could alternate any dialect as they wish just to keep up a steady exchange of understanding and rapport. Anyway, I take time to update my Facebook account inside of a local Internet cafe well into midnight.

The room I checked in is located upstairs at the end of the hallway and the window is facing Villanueva Street. It has an airconditioner unit and cable TV with own toilet and bath. A uniformed security personnel stands guard on the entrance giving you sense of security. All these for Php600 a day. Quite cheap and safe and I would recommend this hotel to my readers if ever you visit Butuan City or its environs.

The morning of June 15 found me glued to cable TV watching Gary Cooper in High Noon. Although prepared to check out of the hotel early, it was not to be. I leave at 8:00 AM instead and I found myself inside yesterday’s office an hour later. The good thing is everyone possess cooler heads and my permit is processed faster than I have expected with free coffee to boot!

My next stop would be Surigao City and I had never been there. Unfortunately, the “roro” boat will leave at 12:30 noon from Surigao Wharf to the Port of Dapa and I cannot be there fast enough short of a rocket to take me there. Going to Siargao today is out of the question but I may have to go to Surigao and find me a cheap hotel there – later. The Bachelor bus made the 199-kilometer trip effortlessly over half-finished highways, several towns whose names I could not recall and a good glimpse of Mainit Lake.

Okay, I make a little tour of the side streets of the city taking pictures there and smelling something new here, just enough to satisfy my quench of sightseeing as a first-time visitor. As I sensed that dusk is ready to envelope the city, I do found a cheap hotel good for Php500. Although I have an airconditioned room with own toilet and bath, it left a lot to be desired especially the TV set which picks up signal on only one channel.

Getting up early at 5:30 AM on June 16, I checked out and directly went to the port terminal only to find that it is closed. Getting directions from a security guard who speaks Sinurigao, I transferred to a boulevard by the sea where a lot of motorized banca are moored. I chose the biggest one – MV LQP-1, paid my ticket and take my place on a vacant seat when a crew announced that all trips to Siargao have been cancelled by the Coast Guard.

I could not have chosen the best time to travel to Siargao Island except during the oncoming path of Typhoon Butchoy into the country. Instantly, the launch was disgorged of its passengers into the streets, including I. So, that means, I have to stay another night in Surigao City but I don’t want to return to that cheap hotel I slept in last night. It’s a virtual firetrap. I need to take breakfast first before deciding where to stay.

I make another little tour and found a small but presentable restaurant called Bethlehem beside the San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish and take my meal there. At that moment, I entertained the idea of spending the rest of the day inside the MV LQP-1 instead since it is empty anyway and I don’t have to spend for a hotel. Smart thinking. So the 120-seater launch became my home for the day and I kill time reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods after securing a return trip ticket to Cebu scheduled for June 19.

Finally, on June 17 (which is a Sunday), the boat leave for Siargao Island at exactly 6:00 AM. The weather is fine although stray gusts of wind left behind by Butchoy are still present but not of an intensity as yesterday’s. The boat pass far away from the old nickel-mining island of Nonoc before turning southeastward to another recently-mined island of Hinatuan. From afar, the island had been strip-mined with the ores transferred by barges to a big cargo ship anchored far away.

It is high tide and the boat steered into a narrow channel bounded by mangroves then, after that, more open sea. Across are bodies of land that seem to look like these are connected to each other until the boat moved at a different angle where different islands now begin to shape. Fishing villages are now more pronounced as we approach nearer one island.

The launch turned one more time starboard side and clusters of concrete structures could be seen from five kilometers away and closing until a wharf hosting several boats is now very visible and, much closer now, people scurrying about. The launch blow its horn thrice and then the wooden retractable bridge is pushed above the prow linking to concrete pavement and people streamed out.

I am now at the Port of Dapa and it is almost 10:00 AM. I walk the main avenue and look for something to fill an empty tummy which I found at the town’s terminal. I hired a motorcycle to take me to Dedon Island Resort where the package is found. The resort manager gave me the item but I need to stay for two days in Siargao since I still have lots of time before my departure to Cebu.

I am referred to Engr. Ali Taganahan and stay at his rented house located in Gen. Luna for free. He and his wife work at the resort. I am shown my room by Ali and promptly leave my Habagat Viajero while retaining my Samsung ST500 camera with me to do a little sightseeing on this small island town.

I hit the beach and it is now low tide. A lot of paddle-powered banca are secured to either their steel anchors or to some coconut trees. I take pictures of the beach activity: an old man teaching his grandson about nets; a hog snoozing under the shade of a coconut tree; a girl digging seashells; two women hooking baits on a thousand lines; running child on a boardwalk.

The small beachside public market contain fresh bounties from the sea which are up for sale. Beyond it is the municipal hall, the police station, a cultural center, a greenhouse and the town park where a tree house is built atop a flame tree. Below the tree are three girls enjoying natural play. In lieu of fire hydrants, hand-pumped artesian wells are located on every street corner. Generally, the locals speak Sinurigao and could understand Cebuano, Tagalog and English. People are very gentle and live life at a slow pace.

I return to the Taganahan’s place but something caught my attention. Displayed at a small store is coconut wine for sale frothing at the top in its orange-colored splendor! Paid Php70 for a gallon and bring it to my temporary home. There, I shared the native wine with Ali and Julius, his wife’s cousin, over food of grilled squid, sliced for easy picking.

Getting tipsy as the last glasses of wine are consumed, I change to a swimming attire and walk to the beach. It is 3:30 PM and it is now high tide. Surface-floating sea grass leaves drift aligned and standing indicating that there is another bad weather coming. The water is warm but a thousand jellyfish swimming helter-skelter everywhere restrict my swimming to mere dips, done guerrilla fashion, when I find small water space free of these for a few seconds.

After a half-hour, I return to take a shower then change into something comfortable and sleep early with wet hair and all. In the early morning of June 18, I sweep the backyard of dried leaves and return to the beachside market to buy fish. Some of the fish (blue marlin), I process in coconut vinegar and spices to be consumed raw; while half of the other fish (rabbit fish), I cook it with soup. These became my meal for noon and evening.

The rest of the day I finish reading the book and do some more sightseeing and picture-taking. The thousand jellyfish are still there and I begin to look for that tiga2 tree which grow in abundance in Siargao. The tiga wood is prized by the locals for its hardness and beautiful sheen and as a good substitute of the Philippine ironwood when the latter was classified as protected.

On the early morning of June 19, I bade farewell to my hosts and the town of General Luna. The motorcycle driver take me to Dapa and I take breakfast while waiting for MV LQP-1 to leave for the mainland at 10:30 AM. The port terminal have a functional x-ray machine with very strict security procedures and I could not comprehend why the whole mainland of Mindanao is protected from the people coming from Siargao Island. It should have been the other way around.

Siargao hosts international surfing events and the influx of foreign participants, spectators and visitors is great and it should be protected of threats coming from the mainland like political thugs and their goons, spoiled rich brats, criminal syndicates, terrorists and the like. You could enter the Port of Dapa at will by riding in a motorized banca from the streets without the hassles of being subjected to security checks.

After paying Php250 for my boat fare, I sit at the lee side away from the wind. Since it is low tide, the motor launch take another route that goes around the other side of Hinatuan Island. This part of the island is not mined but traces of environmental damage could be seen from the boat. The sea is calm and flat until the boat enters an open sea.

I have heard people say that the most dangerous sea in the country are found on the Surigao Strait. That becomes true when I personally see the sea dotted with whirlpools as tidal currents clash and swirl among each other during low tide. A fellow passenger speaking in Sinurigao, explained to me where the currents pass and where it would merge while the craft shudder and shake from under. I could still relate what my grandmother’s brother told to me about this strait long ago when the boat he was in capsized.

Midway along the strait, another craft overtake my boat and it rocked and yawed during the passing of its wake. My boat reach the coastal road at 1:00 PM. My departure for Cebu would be at 7:00 PM and I could see the MV Filipinas Dapitan being loaded with cargoes. After a full meal of tender buffalo skin, I spend the rest of my afternoon inside an Internet cafe.

By 5:00 PM, I am already queuing past a security check inside the port terminal and walk a hundred meters into the Cebu-bound boat. Owned by Cokaliong Shipping Lines, the MV Filipinas Dapitan is the opposite of what I rode in six days ago. This boat has very narrow alleys and short cots as what I have experienced with their other boats plying other routes. Besides that, my cot is located near the engine-room door. That means, I got all the noise and the heat from the engine.

I am sweating and I have to move around the ship to find a cool place. The boat is full of passengers who have to shout at each other to be able to understand what they are talking about and it is like you are inside a big marketplace. I couldn’t sleep because the ship is like a hot tub and I have to wait at 12:00 midnight when the passengers settled down into their respective cots. It is at this hour that I steal a vacant cot on a different level of the boat that lets in a little cool breeze.

I wake up when the first streaks of light begun to break the dark sky. The boat pass by Punta Engaño then make a starboard turn to the direction of the first bridge linking Mactan Island with mainland Cebu. After passing by the second bridge, it travel the whole length of Cebu Harbor and heave anchor near the Aduana where an old Customs building is still standing.

It’s good to be in home territory again, smelling the familiar odor inherently of Cebu and hearing my own dialect in its pure state. I opt to walk the distance to my home passing by ML Quezon Boulevard, V. Sotto Street, GL Lavilles Street and CJ Cuizon Street so I could embrace better my hometown. A little while, a door opened wide and a smiling wife give me a tight hug.

Document done in LibreOffice 3.3

1A wooden craft with outriggers.
2Sp. Tristania decorticata. Brush box.

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