A friend of mine, who is based in Shanghai, wanted to visit me in the Philippines on New Year’s Day. She mentions this three weeks prior when most hotels during the peak season have been booked. It is not customary for locals to forego the usual media noche festivity, but I am the most unusual local, excited by rare visits of friends and the prospect of travel.
I have had insatiable wanderlust since my first adventure travel to Sagada, Mountain Province 18 years ago. It was a course requirement for Tourism, my major in college. Since then, I have been hopping from one island to the next in my home country.
I was instantly sold by this sudden decision to reunite, but I had a secret agenda of my own: Siargao. I have never been, but have heard only good things about this isolated bohemian colony in the south, which the world seems to know about only through its wars. A compact version of my country may be smaller than California, but scattered around, the Philippine archipelago is separated by wide enough distances, amidst islands that hide and surface in deep azure seas. Siargao is a two-hour flight from Manila on a propeller plane, so it has reason to stay hidden. Finally, I now have a reason to go.
The long embrace seemed permanent — we have not seen each other in four years — and Shanghai weather was channeling Boston in December. But paradise gave her a warm welcome, so with bubble jacket back in the trolley, we strutted to lunch while reveling in the aquamarine scenery we had been badly craving for weeks.
There was no point in rushing — we saved five days for heaven. But each day, Siargao shines and beckons you to reflect on the prospect of living there. Because people from all over live there. I had to check my phone twice for international roaming, forgetting that I am in the Philippines, but this time, almost vicariously, in its otherworldly state.
Moving to Siargao is easy for people with flexible location-independent lifestyles. Airport — check! Affordable hotels a mere 30 minutes away from the airport — check! WiFi — check! So if you are a writer, engineer or designer whose livelihood is mostly anchored on a reliable laptop and a decent Internet connection, it is an idyllic option for setting up your nomadic shop. It helps, too, that you enjoy the beach, surfing and scuba diving because clear blue waters and colorful marine life thrive abundantly here. You can freely enjoy them while your clients in the Western Hemisphere are sleeping.
No wonder some people call it the next Bali.
Food, best of all, is fantastic and affordable. There have been some minor misses, but the expat-driven cuisine, such as the Italian fare in L’Osteria, was so authentic I desperately wished for a bigger belly. And it was already big.
There were also rare and exquisite gems that demanded a modest trek. The Magpupungko rock pools, where one can snorkel or cliff dive, will only reveal itself at low tide, so best to come at 6 AM. It was a 40 min ride by trike from our hotel. Having to wake up at 4 AM was a struggle, but this is one of those things in life that are worth fighting (lethargy) for.
And if you have not tried surfing, Siargao is the best place to do it. They have designated beaches for amateurs, where you can throw all caution and pretense to the wind, feel your abs chafe against the board, swallow so much water, balance but never ride, and still, emerge victorious. I know I did, no matter how frustrating it must have been for my instructor. Good thing my friend did a better job and rode the waves with ease. It was wonderful to see her so happy on the surf in my own turf.
Siargao is beautiful in its simplicity and it is best to keep it that way. If you do intend to stay, just do what the locals do: get around in scooters, use a bamboo straw, and smile. The people here hate plastic, and they will call you out for it if you choose to disobey. It could very well be the next Bali, but from what I saw, it will likely do a better job at cleaning up the shoreline for future generations to enjoy.