Tucked away amongst the thousands of islands in the Philippines is a place where travel lore comes to life. It’s the kind of place that jaded backpackers dream of: off the beaten path, untouched by tourist development, with clean and pristine waters, where the visitors and locals still mix. It’s a place I’m afraid to tell you about, for you’ll surely tell someone, who will then tell someone else, and then the tourists will flood in and ruin everything. But some secrets are too hard to keep, so I’ll whisper to you about this magical place:
Known as the surfing capital of the Philippines, perhaps it’s not as unknown as I’m making it out to be, but when I arrived I was pleasantly surprised at how rural everything still was. Accessed only by one flight or ferry per day, Siargao is a small tropical island blanketed mostly in lush jungles and dotted with small villages along the coastline. An offshore reef protects the beaches, making for tranquil swimming in the clear, turquoise waters. In short, it’s paradise.
For the first few days the electricity was out on the entire island from a recent storm, so we made due with a few hours of the generator each night. We didn’t really mind, though; we’d come here to be disconnected. We spent our first day lounging in hammocks, strolling through the coconut strewn beaches, and wandering down the road to the village. A local expat purchased meat and fish from the market and organized a feast for a local chef to cook up. We ate and drank and danced on the beach, setting off fireworks over the water to celebrate New Years.
Our remaining days were a mix of surfing lessons, island hopping, and zooming through the jungle on scooters to explore other parts of the island.
The food was unbelievable, usually including freshly caught fish and other meat and veggies simmered in delectable sauces. Fresh fruit abounded, and a woman sold bread stuffed with sweet coconut baked on the side of the road. A local invited us to his family’s lechon (pig roast). But my heart belongs to kinilaw, the Philippines’ version of ceviche: raw fish mixed with citrus juices, ginger, and fresh veggies.
What struck me most about Siargao, though, was the community. It’s the kind of place where everyone seems to know everyone. It’s not a place of tourists just passing through; nearly every foreigner I met was either a traveler turned local expat, or someone who returned to the island regularly. It’s the kind of place where I was walking down the road and a local I had met passed me and offered me a ride on his scooter. Siargao has a mysterious allure that many find too enchanting to give up, and I can see why.
One week certainly wasn’t enough. I think I’m going to become one of those returning visitors, who has hopelessly fallen under Siargao’s spell.
Sadly, I was enjoying myself so thoroughly I only took my camera out a handful of times and I didn’t get any pictures of surfing. Oh well, that’s the price to pay for living in the moment.