Summer in Siargao

A golden sunrise to start the day!
A golden sunrise to start the day!

About Siargao

Siargao is named after Rajah Siagu, Si-AGU not Si-Awi, Rajah Siagu is the brother of Rajah Kolambu – king of Limasawa in 1521.

Siargao is a tear-drop shaped island in the Philippine Sea situated 800 kilometers southeast of Manila in the province of Surigao del Norte. It has a land area of approximately 437 square kilometers. The east coast is relatively straight with one deep inlet, Port Pilar. The coastline is marked by a succession of reefs, small points and white, sandy beaches. The neighboring islands and islets have similar landforms.

Siargao Island contains the largest mangrove forest reserves in Mindanao, at Del Carmen (citation needed). Long stretches of wetlands indicate a potential for commercial seaweed propagation. Siargao Island is greatly influenced by the winds and currents coming uninterrupted from the Pacific Ocean, intensified by the Mindanao current running westward through the Siargao Strait.
Siargao Island is situated at a coordinate of 9°52′N 126°03′E / 9.867°N 126.05°E / 9.867; 126.05.  It is composed of municipalities of Burgos, Dapa, Del Carmen, General Luna, San Benito, Pilar, San Isidro, Socorro and Santa Monica.

Offshore, a classic tropical island lies protected within its surrounding coral reef with dozens of coconut palms dressed in the center circle of the island. Off to the right, well within the massive coastal reef, lies a shining white sand bar, (Pansukian, or Naked island) some 200 meters long. The tide of Siargao is diurnal with tidal curves typically present, especially on the east coast of the island.

The Island’s Pacific-facing reefs are situated on the edge of the Philippine Trench, and the extremely deep offshore waters assure the ocean swells have undiluted power when they encounter the many coral and rock reefs. Siargao has excellent surfing conditions, particularly during the southwest “habagat” monsoon from August to November, when the prevailing wind is offshore.

Coming back in mainland Siargao (pronounced as Shar-gow) this summer has been kicking me since October last year, and I have a good reason to rejoice since the main agenda was to explore the depths. Yes, diving is now easy as a dive center have just opened in the island – it was expensive, exclusive and bit complicated in early days! I had been curious what’s in store in its waters which is few miles off the coast of Pacific Ocean, where the Philippines Trench lies on its edge. Angel and I had wanted to dive in Bucas Grande four years ago but the in-house DM of Club Tara discouraged us as there wasn’t much fish life in its surrounding waters. I was blessed that a work meeting was also scheduled unexpectedly during the planned dates, again it was like shooting two birds with one stone. I have extended my stay in the islands after the meeting and Angel took the long drive from CdeO to catch up with me at General Luna.

Taming the Waves

Inarguably, Siargao is most known as the surfing mecca in the country and it boasts of its barreling waves especially during the “habagat” season when international competition is being held every September. Although work sked was full, I took the chance with few workmates to try surfing in Cloud 9 one early morning.  As beginners, we need the lessons from the local instructors – guys with burnt skin and toned bodies! Indeed we had fun with the waves and the early morning sun, my instructor stick with me perhaps my enthusiasm impressed him in a way.  I would say it’s a good form of exercise – as every part of the body need to move if not to contain balance on the board! Arms & legs for the swimming, paddling and getting on the board; eyes & ears for the waves; brain for coordination and balance – I say agility and flexibility is necessary for the rigors of surfing. At first, my ride was just squatting on the board but in the end, I was able to stand up three times – with the cheers of my friends. The one-hour lesson in ocean 101 was productive enough but I know there’s much to learn in surfing. The Dreamer said, “Someday, I will tame the waves!”

Beyond the Waves

Sorry, this is not Pagudpud or Boracay!
Sorry, this is not Pagudpud or Boracay!

Indeed, the island is more than just surfing and it has its own share of white beaches, turquoise waters, and picturesque islands in a perfect rural setting with friendly locals. The Magpupungko Pool adjacent to Pilar white beach was worth another visit, despite the long ride passing Del Carmen and San Benito as there were road repairs. It was yet high tide when Angel and I got there, so we leisurely spend more time in the quiet Pilar beach while waiting for the low tide. The turquoise pool, the sitting big rock with the crashing waves at the reefs is purely magical!

Daku Island beach facing GL

The next morning we went island hopping which is nearby our lodgings, we need to do it early to get away with the scorching summer heat. Naked Island (Pansukihan – off the coast of the renowned Dedon Island Resort) was our first stop, yes our heavenly rainbow graced the horizons as we sailed along! And there was no one when we got there, it was all to ourselves which was just perfect as we went around enjoying the white sand bar. I did my beach clean-up gathering all piece of trash I found at the island. We went around the whole stretch of the beach on barefoot! We cruised next to Daku island, a larger one (as its name implies) with a whole barangay as inhabitants. It has a long stretch of white beach with turquoise waters and quite surroundings, the people were friendly

White beach and turquoise waters at Daku Island

even the puppy who accompany us on our walk on the beach.  We wanted to linger more but need to rush for the last stop at Guyam, an iconic tropical island with swaying coco trees, a small patch of white beach and a bunch of geological granite rocks in its shores. It is small enough for a walk around its circumference. To finish off our morning, we headed for the boardwalk for Angel’s brief visit at Cloud 9 surfing community just in time when the noon sun showed up. The blue skies, the blue waters, the rolling waves and the soft breeze was just ideal for waves ride but we were due already at the town port with our DM.

Taste of Siargao Depths

On the dot, DM Damien was already at the spot with the white speed boat all ready for the trip. We earlier agreed for Daku Island exploration, just near and considered a local dive site. I was longing for the Blue Cathedral but Palaka Dive Center recommended for a nearer spot, currently the newly opened dive center is in its process of familiarizing the islands waters. It didn’t dampen our spirits though and suspend my excitement for the cavern in Cloud 9. The afternoon mild sun was perfect as we speed off to nearby Daku, the soft sea breeze gave us a relaxing mode for the dives. DM Damien was more of a dive instructor as we did the preliminaries, not only professional but very detailed – review of hand signals, explanation of equipments, pre-dive safety check and more detailed briefing. And I had a synchronized back-roll entry with Angel, as DM Damien instructed.

Banded sea snake!
Juvenile banded sea snake! Can you see it?

Obviously, I got more conscious underwater and behave like I was having my open water lessons, DM Damien was so precise before the descent. We went down together on a slope alternately decorated with corals, taking our time as we went around. We found banded sea snakes, puffer fish, nudis, moray eel and juvenile tropical fishes silently hovering over corals. We passed few specie of groupers, triggerfish, goat fish and sand perch as we move on until we ascend after 50 minutes.

A purple nudi. Sorry, the mantas quickly flip away!

Our next descent was in southwest of Daku a little past of 4pm, immersing myself with the cold afternoon waters, I keep a reasonable distance with Angel and our DM, he was clear on this matter – he is our DM, so we must not go below, above or before him. As we made a turn on a white sandy area, a juvenile manta flip away, followed by another one just few seconds later, disappearing away. A lone barracuda graced us, with few groupers, snappers, sweetlips, and anemone fishes were sighted also. There were few nudis and more of the juvenile fishes as I passed over soft and hard corals. I stayed close to Angel during our safety stop until we surfaced after 55 minutes, far from the boat. We swam coyly as we wait for our boat to pick us up enjoying the afternoon waters. Perhaps the two dives were not comparable to amazing sites we previously explored but definitely GL waters promises a diverse marine life. Siargao depths is still a mystery to me.

Swelling Reputation

The island has been known as a surfing destination for quite some time, but now it is definitely more than swells and wet weather. Discovering Siargao in the depths is a sterling pursuit to grasp her secrets in a deeper way.   Dedon Island Resort is another secret only the few can savor its splendor, who knows I can go there someday.   Siargao is not a place time has forgotten, not anymore.  It is an island slowly unfolding its mystery and beauty, on surface and in depths.  And right now, the Blue Cathedral is kicking me again – I know I will head for the islands again soon, most probably with my favorite dive buddy!

Travel Notes

~ Cottage for two pax, aircon at Jadestar Lodge P 800.00
~ Roundtrip motorbike hire from GL to Pilar Beach P 800.00
~ Boat for island hopping in GL waters (6-8 pax) P 1,500.00
~ Van hire from GL to Dapa Pier for two pax P 600.00
~ Diving at Palaka Dive Center, local site including boat, dive gears and DM
(per site/per pax) P 1,800.00

Photos during surfing at Cloud  9 is courtesy of Ms. Rosie Paasa, Info ACE Focal Person of RPCO 10

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Earth Day Action

Naked Island beach on a cloudy morning.....
Naked Island beach on a cloudy morning…..

The unchanging passion to protect and preserve our environment gave the urging to take action and join the force of enthusiasts for Mother Earth.  We can do many things even in our own small ways to offer our time for this endeavor, we just need to be creative.  I was caught up with a work meeting and weekend summer break in Siargao (pronounced as Shar-gow) Island.  So on a Saturday morning while having an island hopping in General Luna, randomly I did beach clean-up in Naked Island. No other beach bummer was there, so it was all to myself as I gather every piece of trash I could find on the sand bar – sachets, wrappers, bottle caps, plastics, lids, cigarette butts, plastic cups, etc.  It was a productive morning, while enjoying the quiet white beach, mild sun and surrounding waters.  I gathered up a bagful of trash when I went back to our boat, after one last round of the tiny island with my friend Angel.

Later when we had our two dives in the nearby Daku Island, we randomly picked up few  trash as we did rounds in the sandy slope.  Literally it’s not heavy stuff but a relevant gesture in the preservation of marine world.  We can make a difference in many ways, one step at a time!

General Luna Wekend: Capturing Chances

Opportunity loss costs more than just financials, the rare opportunity to explore and discover something substantial maybe at stake!

Afternoon scene in Dapa Pier

The alarm clock went off at 3am, with my backpack ready before I doze off few hours back, I slowly drag myself from bed. But reminded myself not to miss the 4am aircon bus for Butuan.  The long weekend prompted this homecoming trip to Siargao for some reasons – rediscover GL, long weekends is seldom, a break sans leave… I need an early departure hoping to catch up the 12:00 noon RoRo boat to Dapa but the road stops slowed down the rides.  Arriving Surigao City bus terminal quarter of 12 noon, I was crossing my fingers I will catch the trip.

The weather was perfectly sunny despite the storm just the other day, my host gladly message back that boat trips to the island had been cleared by coast guards that day.  Just watching the blue waters with gentle breeze blowing was comforting enough for the four hour-boat sail to Dapa.  The sight of the pier with the docked boats gave me a warm welcome, it’s been four years since I last visited main island Siargao.

Bluish dusk in GL waters…

It was already dark when I got to my lodgings at General Luna, I almost forgotten the way to Jade Star Lodge but the friendly locals were helpful enough. My host was already at the gate to welcome me, nothing much was changed. This resort under the coco grove is like home to me.

 Surprises & Chances

I wanted to linger on my bed but need to start early for my appointment with Alex, the owner of the next property from my lodge, a Deutsch national who operated Siargao Divers Club.  Just out of curiosity, my host joined me after dinner to inquire of any dive schedule from him, there was none.  But to my surprise, he invited me if would like to join  while he do some works in his mini-sanctuary project off the coast of his property, halfway to Daku Island.  It was interesting, I don’t want to miss the chance not only for a dive but also to learn from his project!

Nipa huts under the coco grove!

We made the initial discussion – marine protection, his project and the dive. The dive has to be in the afternoon to wait for the high tide.  Having more than enough time, I decided to have a quick detour to Pilar for the Magpupungko Pool rushing to catch the low tide. Undaunted of the looming dark skies I went for the long ride, the rain caught us up before we could reach the next town.  But the jade green infinity pool was there almost to succumb to the high tide, a nature’s wonder worth for a revisit despite the distance.

Waters & Inspiration

DM Alex explained to me the plan drawing sketches on the white sand and reviewed hand signals, before we got to the small boat.  The area was only 10-12 meters deep on sloping sand and with the afternoon sun shining again, I was in high spirits as we sailed on.  The surrounding waters and the smell of the gears gave me that kick for the descent, my last dive was yet in August with Angel. No doubt my gills and fins were aching for the dive.  Rolling back for my entry, the DM was

Artificial reef out of recycled materials

already ahead for the preliminaries of his works.  Slowly descending until we got to the sandy area with lot of sea grasses.  There were three improvised artificial reefs out of recycled materials, simple creation out of passion for marine life, the only objective is to provide shelter for the fishes as they grew in number.  Alex is right, lot of fishes have stayed in the area claiming as their abode.  Lot of species were attracted to the shelter, obviously for protection from predators.  A herd of striped ell fish, banner, emperor, sergeants, anthias, the lone batfish, puffer, and more decorated the space. There was also a leopard sea cucumber, sea stars, juvenile sweet lips, nudi, corals also abound the area. In my own observation the site has great potential, hopefully soon it could become a rich house reef for Siargao Divers Club.

Colorful rubber corals!

 I did the roaming around while Alex worked with the big stones we carried from the shore, arranging for more fish shelters at the site.  I simply immersed my self with the brief visit of the water world, communing again quietly with the friendly creatures as I swam around as if dancing in joy!  Alex showed around briefly before we had our ascent, spotted the big coral and passed by a wide coral area until he signaled that he is low on air. In one brief look, my mind tried to photograph the scene – the lowly thriving mini-sanctuary with the multiplying marine species.  In deep thought, my three-minute- safety stop gave few more moments to feel the serenity and calmness of the GL waters, which can be rough and fierce any time.

Herd of striped eel fish!

Just one descent, it was brief and shallow but it sure did freshen up my gills. It was a dive in a flash!

Hidden Wonders

The brief visit to this lowly coastal town was indeed taking chances and discovering new things, the brief encounter with my DM was another learning experience and an uplifting gesture for the protection and preservation of marine world.  There are more than ten diving sites in the area which include the interesting Blue Cathedral off the coast of Surigao Deep near Cloud Nine surfing area.  He briefly described the site and explained that the shallower cave is safe for non-tech diver like me, with twinkling eyes I promised for a return to explore Siargao depths (in my mind – with Angel, of course!).

Diving in Siargao had been in my list for some time, now the return would be soon for this.  The Blue Cathedral is waiting and without doubt there are other hidden wonders of the island in store for me.  The itch for the tunnel is kicking me now!

Travel notes

My route for this trip:
Cagayan de Oro to Butuan City      –  5 hours aircon bus at PhP 337.00 (BEI tour bus is now with wi-fi)
Butuan City to Surigao City             –   2.5 hours airon bus at PhP 196.00
Surigao City to Dapa Pier                 –   4 hours cruise thru Montenegro RoRo Boat at PhP 173.00
Dapa Pier to General Luna               –   30 minutes tricycle ride at PhP 30.00

GL to Dapa Pier                                     –   20 minutes van at PhP 100.00
Dapa Pier to Surigao Pier                  –   3 hours cruise thru LQP lines at PhP 250.00
Suirgao City to Butuan City              –   2.5 hours aircon bus at PhP 196.00
Butuan City to Cagayan de Oro       –   5 hours aircon bus at PhP 337.00

Magpupungko Infinity Pool

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A natural pool tucked in Magpupungko Beach in Pilar, Siargao Island.  It is a tidal pool exposed only during low tide, one of the deep crevice along the shore covered with waters during high tide but creates a jade green wide waters when the tide subside, perfect for swimming and snorkeling.  It’s deepest part is about 18 feet on low tide.  While swimming you can get the view and sound of the crashing waves to the shore, creating an infinity effect.  Rock formations abound nearby, the largest of which is the Mapupungko Rock – a diamond shape rock sitting on top of flat rock as if suspended for some time before rolling off.

Just one of the nature’s wonders in Siargao Island!