It feels strange to be sitting still in front of the computer back in Manila after several days of being constantly on the move. During a very unplanned solo trip last week, I found myself hopping from plane to jeep to boat to van to bus to habal-habal with no clear itinerary, making decisions on the fly, encountering very helpful people on the road, and ending up in places both weird and wonderful.
When you travel on your own, you have to know where you want to go. My problem is that I tend to want to go everywhere. It’s also more expensive to travel alone since you can’t share costs on rooms, transportation and food. There’s also the problem of dealing with the inevitable “Bakit mag-isa ka lang?” (Why are you traveling alone?) question from countless strangers. But there’s really something liberating about being able to travel without having to compromise with anyone. There were no courtesy calls to pay, no token visits to places I was not interested in, and no wasted time sitting around waiting for others to get ready. I was on my own.
Day 1: Surigao City
Surigao City, the capital of Surigao del Norte province, is dubbed the City of Island Adventures. Unfortunately, to get to the adventures, you should probably spend more than a day there. After a 3-hour wait in the Cebu airport before the flight to Surigao, I only had half a day since I planned to head to Siargao early the next morning. I arrived at the Surigao airport past noon and was heading to my hotel when I saw Same Place, a grill/restaurant offering affordable meals. One order of chicken inasal cost P30, while the mango shake was only P40. There were also set meals with larger portions and unlimited rice for P60-65 while group meals good for 4 cost only P320-350.
The night before my trip, I asked around where to stay in and a tourism officer recommended Le Chard Place (Bed and Breakfast) along KM 4, National Highway, Brgy Luna, a hotel which opened just August 2012. It’s not the cheapest place to stay if you’re on a budget, but it’s a good option for business travelers, families, those who want to be near the airport, or those looking for a clean, classy, comfortable place to stay. I actually just wanted a single fan room, but all the rooms are fully air-conditioned (smallest room is double). I decided to take it since they were offering promo rates (P920/night), they had Wifi and they were very quick to reply when I inquired via Facebook. It’s very easy to find, just walking distance (or 5min trike or jeep) from the airport.
Luneta Park in the city center was bustling with activity, with numerous stalls set up in preparation for the upcoming Bonok-Bonok Festival the following week. After a visit to the DOT Office there, tourism officers said that it was too late to go island-hopping and the only place that I could visit nearby was Mabua Pebble Beach. I heard it’s possible to get there by public transport, but tourism officers recommended I “pakyaw” or hire a tricycle or motorbike driver to take me there and back for the afternoon.
I inquired with a policeman near the bazaars about where I could hire a ride going to the Mabua Pebble Beach. He called to another man on a motorcycle nearby and negotiated a ride of P200 to bring me to the place and take me back to the city. It was a scenic 15-20 minute ride passing by coastal communities before we arrived at a simple white fence leading into the famed beach.
As I walked along the expanse of Mabua Pebble Beach, the first thing I noticed was the size of the stones. These aren’t ordinary pebbles you see on most beaches. The one-kilometer long stretch was covered in whitish-gray pebbles ranging from the size of a fist to many much larger than my foot.
A row of nipa huts lined the beach, a sign that the place was a popular hangout for picnics during the weekends. But that day, except for a few locals, I had the place pretty much to myself. While I stumbled along awkwardly on the uneven terrain, a couple of dogs seemed to have no trouble trotting about and one was even comfortably sleeping on a bed of stones.
While walking, I spotted a few fishing boats off the coast, and a couple of kids helping a woman transport a kayak on wheels over the rocky surface, but that was pretty much it. The unique beach landscape and accessibility from the city makes the place a popular tourist attraction. It was pleasant to just sit for a while at the beach and soak in the view. I noticed that unlike the sound of waves gently rolling onto the shore of a sandy beach, the large stones rustled restlessly against each other whenever the waves crashed into them, leaving them a darker shade of grey.
As I headed out, I noticed a battered sign posted on a coconut tree that stated: “Please help maintain the beauty of nature. Bawal kumuha ng bato.” (Do not get stones). I later learned that a lot of visitors (as well as locals) had this habit of getting stones for souvenirs. Even the gardens of the nearby resorts and houses were landscaped with what suspiciously looked like stones from the beach painted plain white or in garish colors that matched their brightly painted houses. On the way back, we passed by another section of a beach with a sandier shore, where more fishing boats were docked.
Back in the city center, I continued my exploration on foot, walking from Luneta Park down to the Grandstand on Rizal St. and through Narciso Street up to Surilao Blvd, also known as simply the Boulevard, following a map I got at the DOT office. I wanted to check out the Surigao Heritage Center, but it was closed when I finally got there.
I ended up just watching the activity at the Boulevard and looking around at the ukay-ukay stalls and nearby bazaars. The Boulevard had a lot of interesting-looking eating places including The Tavern, Calda Pizza, Lola’s Diner, etc. but I stopped at Lotty Barbecue Station right by the pier, which sold refreshments, hotdogs and barbecue for P10/stick and beer, with one liter of Red Horse costing P80. As the sun set, I felt sorry that I didn’t have any companions to share a beer with. My only taste of beer came on the last night of my trip, four days later in Bislig, a town on the Southern-most edge of Surigao del Sur, some 250 kilometers away.
NEXT POST: Snapshots: Siargao