My tradition of traveling solo on my birthday becomes more interesting every year. I enjoyed two Hong Kong theme parks alone last 2013 and wandered around the city of Taipei in 2014. Instead of going to another Chinese populated city for my weekend of birth, I decided to go off-grid in Siargao, one of the northeasternmost islands in Mindanao.
I think the custom wherein the celebrant treating friends rather being treated is only prevalent in the Philippines. So I settled on an escape plan of that responsibility and went invisible for a long weekend in the surfing capital of the Philippines. I only informed one couchsurfer from Cebu, where I would spent stopovers in and out Siargao, about my whereabouts. Even my parents had no idea. I wanted this freedom as a gift for myself.
I won’t have a lavish celebration. I didn’t pencil in accommodations or travel packages. I simply like the idea of going with the flow.
And the rough started when I arrived in Siargao looking for a backpacker hostel. All of the passengers in the van going to General Luna are foreigners except me. When the first pair got off, I also went down to follow them to their hostel. I assumed they must be more prepared and had researched more than I did. Unfortunately, no dorm-type rooms were available for me. That forced me to look on my own, carrying all my luggage and the box of drone stuff under the heat of the sun. Then a habal-habal driver saved and helped me in searching for the cheapest place to stay. I ended up to Ocean 101. I did a little homework though and the name popped out but I wanted to stay away from this most popular backpacker inn in Siargao for it might be fully-booked. But I guess, I was preset to be here. After checking in, I got my acts pieced together and planned better to avoid any more inconvenience in the trip.
I had my entire afternoon free up for photowalk and drone-flying. The best place to kickstart my vacation is the famous Boardwalk at Cloud 9.
The winds in Siargao are so strong that I couldn’t control my drone in a swift. So after two flights, I put it down to a rest. I could see in my peripheral vision, kids and other visitors watching me piloting the drone. A Chinese guy, who was also in his solo backpacking adventure, approached me and started a small talk. We came from the same flight earlier. His intention in Siargao is to learn surfing. I didn’t divulge that my intent was to celebrate my birthday for the weekend. I was staying away for any surprise expenses in celebration of my day.
We spent some more time in the end of the boardwalk for more pictures and travel stories. We both agreed that we would share the cost of traveling around Siargao. He knows how to drive a motorcycle and that would be cheaper instead of hiring someone else to drive. In a promise that I will join him in surfing, he will accompany me in the island hopping. Because the Caucasian guys in Ocean 101 are not eager for an island hopping. They prepare to ride over the surfing waves. I totally understand them though. And yes, I am the only solo Pinoy backpacker traveling in the area that time.
We waited for the sun to set. And that was the last time we saw it bright. Our parade was rained on for the next days.
The Elusive Magpupungko
Getting to Magpupungko is tricky. To fully maximize the experience in the tidal pools, one must go there during a sunny low tide. I’ve never attentively watched weather updates and tides like this before. Magpupungko is far from General Luna where we’re staying. Motorcycling in an unfamiliar distance to be soaked in the rains is not safe. We went to plan B instead – surfing. I didn’t like how the waves look like with a rain but Danny continued on his lessons.
The sun appeared for a while so I proceeded to yet another photowalk session in the Boardwalk. I could have gone to Magpupungko but the tides are high that time. I already made a promise to Danny and going alone would cost me more pesos.
Rains scattered once more that we chose to take some siesta. Late afternoon and better weather came. We moved to another surfing site in Siargao.
First Attempt to Magpupungko
We laid another plan. We braved the light rain on our third day in Siargao so we could go island hopping on the next day. As much as I can, I am staying away from hopping into motorcycles. Since it’s the only choice left, like in any case of off-the-beaten places in the Philippines, I entrusted my life in a rented habal-habal. After a kilometer or two, Danny and the motorcycle had a little misunderstanding on how brakes work. A day before my birthday, we almost hit a truck.
Times like this took distinct personalities out from us. It’s really innate in us, Filipinos, to laugh or to still smile about tough situations. Danny was really frustrated and had already cursed a lot since the rain got stronger as we moved along. But I was no better. I couldn’t do anything too. We opted to rest for few stopovers. According to Google Maps, we already reached half-way when continuous rain dropped. So we had no choice but to retreat. We were chilling in the cold.
That day is not like any other birthday I had. It was not about happiness, not about health or any vague cliche birthday wish. I hoped for a very specific thing. The Sun.
I started my special day alone with cupcakes by the Boardwalk waiting for the sunrise. I bought these pastries a day before from a small bakery. It was both saddening and thought-provoking. It was an unhappy scenario to have few cash on your birthday, with the humble breakfast, and to be in a place where no one knew it’s my birthday. In a place where no one knew me at all. But at the same time, it was a fulfilling experience. I’d given myself a good gift of yet another proof that I can push myself further out of my comfort zone. Not everyone can stand those situations well.
I already told my parents that I was in Siargao. And that I am safe.
To Magpupungko It Is
So between island hopping and Magpupungko, we chose the latter and the cheaper option because we could also visit nearby beaches as we go around the island. The sun smiled back to us while we’re on another motorcycle road trip. We rented a habal-habal with top load for shelter and so Danny would not be distracted in his driving with raindrops piercing his eyes. We began shouting and rejoicing when we already passed the half-way mark where we retreated from the other day.
But we enjoyed too soon because as we reached an unfinished road construction, our bigger habal-habal couldn’t get through easily away from the thick mud grounds. And for someone like me who falls out easily, I fell into the mud. At. My. Birthday.
Two of the locals helped us to get away from where we were stuck. One drove our habal-habal with Danny and the other took me on his motorbike until the four of us reached Pilar. Blessing in disguise because at least on that moment Filipinos had shown some kindness to Danny. He has been experiencing white-tax throughout his stay in the Philippines from the locals who are taking advantage that he is a foreigner.
Still can’t get enough of what we’ve been through since Day 1, we almost missed Magpupungko.
Magpupungko Tidal Pools and Flats is a must-visit in Siargao Island. Think of it as an infinite jade pool where the waves from the ocean are rushing towards the pool. Because of its flat feature, it is best visited during low tides so the blue green colors of the pools are visible and distinguishable from the ocean waters.
We both agreed that Magpupungko is worth the wait and worth the drive. With this enthusiastic vibe we’re feeling, we continued our trip circumnavigating the island of Siargao by inland road. Well, we don’t have a choice to go back to the muddy ground so we took the longer way. As we find our way back to General Luna, we passed by an old port with ruins of similar with a boardwalk.
By the time we arrived in General Luna, we’re hungry and tired. But my birthday adventure ended up a blast and unforgettable. After we freshened up, we ate our dinner together for the last time. We spent our remaining times together laughing about the times we almost lost our sanity to get around Siargao. The receptionist in Ocean 101 was looking for me that day because the Caucasians were now ready for an island hopping. But I won’t spend my birthday the other way.
Until The Next
I woke up late mornight for another chance to photowalk. The moon was there to greet me goodbye. Lucky for Danny that the weather app tells a sunny day awaits him. But it’s the time for me to go back to Cebu.
I will definitely come back for Naked Island, for Bucas Grande and for more adventure. But hopefully with a better weather that time.
Goodbye, Siargao. Because of you, I was prepared with a lot of stories to tell to someone waiting for me in Cebu.
This entry was posted on Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 at 8:24 pm
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Posted in: Journeying Jonas' Journal