Monday, July 21, 2003

Siargao: sitting rocks, surf's up, and cliff edges

The fast ferry is booked...again. We decide to take up the offer of a bangka pump boat driver who says he can take us there for 300 pesos each. It's 11am. We walk the 6 inch wide shaky plank and board the small bangka that fits 10: two side benches and a plastic tarp to give us shade. The water is calm. The sky is clear. This is my element...the water. While the other passengers seem nervous, I love this.

We leave Surigao behind and pass through the mangroves. The mangrove trees look as if they are built on stilts. They will slowly gather the silt to form larger islands. Jun likes this way, the bigger boats don't go this way, just the small boats. The mangroves calm the waves making it easier for the smaller boats.

For a while we are out of cell phone range. It's the first time in a while that Jun's cell has been silent. I don't know what they would do without Jun. His cell rings off the hook day and night with questions about what they should do. At least he gets a break.

A few people take naps. Filipinos do so much travel, sometimes it's the only place to catch up on sleep. For example, my cousin wakes at 5am to cook breakfast and get her daughter ready for school. She then goes to a full day at work, comes home, cleans, makes dinner and doesn't go to bed until midnight only to repeat it all again the next day. It's fun to watch people's different techniques for comfort sleeping depending on the mode of transport.

The one that works on all vehicles is the cross-arms on chest, chin on chest position. You can sleep yet remain on your seat. On jeepneys, there's the classic cradle in your arm. You hang onto the ceiling rail with one hand, then lean your head in the crux of your arm. This keeps you from not falling out of the jeepney. There are variations of this of course. I've seen people hang a towel on the rail then hang onto the towel. If there's room there is the sleep on the groceries move. You put your bags on the seat next to you, then lean and sleep with your head on your crossed arms on top of the packages. The variation on this one is to put your backpack on your lap and sleep on it that way. My Baguio backpack is excellent for this. If you're on the bus, you can always use the window to lean on. Accessories for sleeping can be important too. Some people put handkerchiefs over their face, others use folded up jackets as pillows.

I wake up and we're still on the water. I really don't know how much farther it is, but the waves are getting bigger. For a small craft like this the waves don't have to be that big to feel them. I can see the nervousness in the eyes of the passengers. In general a lot of Filipinos don't know how to swim. Kind of ironic for a place surrounded by water. The water starts to splash a bit over the bow. We all turn our heads away keeping the stinging salt out of our eyes. The boat driver has excellent skills. He times the revving of the motor in the valleys of the waves and keeps from riding past their peaks but gliding over them. This keeps the boat from falling into the wave valleys and the next wave from crashing over us. He understands the rhythm of the water and is able to dance us through safely.

It's 2pm. We see the port on Siargao. 3 hrs of being windswept and a layer of salt spray on our skin, we've arrived safely. We get a quick bite to eat, find a room lodging for the night, then pick up a habal-habal driver to take us around. Jun has been here before and so we're going to try to go around the whole island before the sun sets, we have 3 hrs.

Siargao is known for its surfing in September and October when the big waves come in. The island is packed then. Roads in Siargao are really nice. GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Philippine president) came for a visit late last year. They made sure that they paved the roads and put up enough cell towers for her visit. That's the way it is here, if someone really important comes, then they make sure to spruce up the place as much as possible. When the nation's leaders met in Manila a few years back, they cut closed a few of the main roads just so the world leaders wouldn't have to go through traffic. It of course prevented hundreds of people from getting where they needed to go, but that didn't matter so long as the guests were happy.

So, here we are, enjoying the roads especially paved for GMA. This makes it easier for us to get around the island in a shorter amount of time. The motobike is large so all 4 of us, including the driver ride. I sit on the far end just over rear tire. I watch our shadow race on the pavement past the green fields under the blue sky. Much of the Siargao farms are owned by one political family. Signs exclaiming the land ownership are seen off of every road. In their fine print, they warn of tresspassing.

We race to the other side of the island to meet the Pacific Ocean. It's low tide, so the waves crash meter away while the near coast glistens in tide pools and tiny creatures skimmering across the dry land. Along with the ocean smells is the sweet smell of freshly baked bread. We follow our noses to a barbeque bakery. Sunnie buys a bag. We brave burned tongues in our anxiousness to eat the fresh pan de sal that simply melts in your mouth.

Back on the bike and onto Cloud 9, where the surf competitions take place. We pass by rows and rows of resorts. Ros had told me her friend has a resort here, but we have no time to stop by. As we approach cloud 9, there is a new resort being built. A rickety platform takes us in, we watch for open planks, careful not to fall through. The actual ocean is distant. There are a few locals hanging out on the platform, while children play in the tidepools. I notice a foreigner climbing out after his swim. There are quite a few foreigners who live here, for the same reason as Camiguin, it's an island paradise.

Even now the Pacific's waves are powerful. I can imagine their heights after the rainy season packed with even more water. Perhaps this is why many Filipinos fear the water, they have witnessed its power and true the water's power can be devastating.

The view is gorgeous! A palette of colors I have never seen before. The sun angling as if showing off the landscape below. Next stop Mangpopongko, which Jun tells me means "sitting."

The road gets rockier on the way there. They haven't completed all the concrete roads. I guess GMA didn't go to Mangpopongko. As we climb the hill, we notice the hill washed out over the road, the flat dirt turning to mini-valleys with smooth river stones. We try to hang on and keep from getting bounced off the bike. Our speed slows and the driver attempts to maneuver around the rocks. The bike stalls, the wheel turns sharply to the left, we begin to fall over to our right, I manage to step off the back while the others roll to their side with the bike. Everyone gets up, mostly bruises, some scrapes. Sunnie with a slightly bruised, but managed to hang tightly to the bag of pan de sal. We bust out laughing! "Save the bread! Save the bread!"

The cliff we notice later was about 2-3 feet to the left of where the bike fell. Maybe it was a good thing we fell, cuz well, that cliff wasn't going to be a good alternative.

We jump back on the bike and make it to Mangpopongko. Sunnie and the driver stay behind while Jun and I climb down. The tidepools are crystal clear, the sun falls to the Golden Light. Golden Light is that time of day that Retong describes as when everyone looks absolutely gorgeous because of this softer golden light. He's right. The colors are crisp, everything is so well defined, each leaf of the trees, each crevice in the rock. Tiny crabs no bigger than my pinky fingernail scamper to and from different pools.

Jun is director of photography. We take numerous pictures: me sitting next to the sitting rock, touching the water. Untouched the water surface is like glass. Later on people would ask if I took the picture underwater. The water's clear surface makes it difficult to judge the depth of the pools.

The sun is setting fast, so we race back to the port city. The roads are good the sun setting to our right. INCREDIBLE! I can no longer describe the sensations of being on the back of a motorbike through this landscape, the air clear, the land green. It certainly beats Manila!

For dinner we head to the marketplace for blue fin tuna (25 pesos a kilo) and squid that we get grilled at the local restaurant with a couple of cold beers and rice, it's one of the better meals I've had in a while (the day's events certainly enhance my enjoyment of this meal).

After dinner, Jun and I take a walk around the town. Sit and watch the children play tag in the park around 10p. It's the best time to play when it's nice and cool. The church still has the scaffolding in front from the Easter events. It's a nice time to walk around. I go to bed early, we have to catch the 5am ferry which means we get up at 3:30am to see if we can get a ticket.

I'll have to come back here again. Maybe try out some scuba diving here. It's 11p. I've got 4 hours to nap.

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