I have only been to Siargao thrice and all those trips were within a span of 10 months. I guess its gripping effect spells out its magic. It opens up an almost too-idealistic place where “wants” are suddenly non-existent, simply because I realize that I practically have all I need there and those, more often than not, suffice.
The first time I went to the island, I wish I had gone sooner – way before the roads were paved and years before promo fares were offered on a weekly basis. A little inconvenience and a price tag that requires a couple more months’ worth of savings, after all, mean less tourists and a real experience with locals and those who’ve lived there long enough to imbibe what it means to be one.
I am not going to lie. During my last visit, I was disheartened to randomly see familiar faces around the island who I know from the city. I was also a bit surprised to find a deli store in General Luna, when just a few months back, our friend from the island requested for us to bring her cheese that wasn’t in a blue box.
I felt a twinge when another friend who’s been living there since 2012 told me she sometimes ponders if it’s time to come back to the city, only because Siargao is slowly losing little things that she loved about it on the onset. Several foreigners-cum-locals have expressed their fear for the island and its readiness (or, more aptly, the lack of it) for the size of crowds that the direct flights from Manila have been bringing in. And there came news that an international airport should be on its way to the island. Instinctively, I signed a petition against it. The island does not even have a well-equipped clinic and trash is a huge issue. Bringing in more tourists to the island would be counterproductive.
Siargao is far from ready for that volume, they say, and that couldn’t be any more true, especially if we keep traveling irresponsibly.
I have fallen in love with Siargao not exactly for its sights but for how the place and its people make me feel. It emanates a vibe that is organic and far from being manufactured. No pretensions, just plain positive vibes. The friends I have gained there are among the realest ones I have crossed paths with. I don’t think I’ve gone elsewhere where most people around me call me by name after just a few days of staying there.
I have not quite encountered a place where most business owners instigate efforts to keep the island clean and green. Everywhere I went, those I’ve talked to had a kind of consciousness and regard for the place they live in that’s striking. Bamboo straws were being used, stainless steel bottles were being lent, clean-up activities were being done. They were beyond what I’m accustomed to, having grown up in a concrete jungle that is Manila.
Traffic was light everywhere, with mostly motorbikes on the road. I could’ve easily counted the number of cars and vans I saw as we cruised along the paths going around town and beyond.
Everything seemed to be in slow motion in Siargao. It gave us the luxury of time we never thought we had enough of. It left us with no excuses not to do more and it precisely gave us little pounces of contentment when we got to do things outside our usual routines. I got to practice yoga, ride baby waves, learn how to dye, take naps, write on my journal, and pleasurably turn my pre-set alarm off because I was sure to be woken up by the sound of crashing waters or rustling of trees a few meters away from our room.
Then of course, I was always interested to know where everyone was in the evening. There was a designated place, two at most, where locals and travelers alike went every night. It was refreshing to see establishments supporting one another, as opposed to competing with each other.
Everything was, in fact, refreshing that at some points, it seemed unreal. I realized not much later that it was ironically the island’s realness, which almost seemed unreal that I was mostly drawn to. And I encourage you to stay as real as the island.
Don’t just go to Siargao.
Stay in Siargao long enough for some locals to remember your name. Stay for a week or two and if you must, come back to catch up with those who you’ve become friends with. Help the locals with the island’s upkeep. Do away with doing tours on all the days of your stay. Rather, spend some days relaxing, getting to know a stranger, aimlessly roaming around in a motorbike, doing art, writing, meditating, or even creating your own little work space in the island.
Sure, it’s pretty cool to see the iconic Boardwalk come to life but the place is oceans beyond that. After taking selfies, being in all the hip happenings, doing the shaka sign beside our surfboards, and posting all that on social media, let’s keep in mind what the island is really special for.
The last sunset I saw during my most recent Siargao trip was possibly the most memorable one I have witnessed yet. We were apparently on our second hour surfing in what they call the Cemetery. The sun was well on its way down and Loloy, together with his fellow instructors, prompted us to stare at the horizon for a few minutes until the ball of fire settled to leave us with the calm pinks and lavenders of the sky. Those locals saw that scene almost every single day and yet, there they were, asking us to pause for a bit and appreciate the moment. We were in the middle of the ocean and no one brought a waterproof camera. So I tell this story with only that vividness in my memory. Then I begin to grasp that the realest and best moments are those that aren’t captured by lenses and it was in Siargao where I’ve had many of those.
During that last surf session, we met Stacey, a girl from Malaysia who’s been visiting Siargao since 2014. I guess it was fate that we rode the same van the following day on our way to the airport. She was on her way back to Malaysia after a month-long stay in the island. In between talks with another friend, something Stacey said struck me hard.
“They ask me why I don’t go to Bali instead because it’s easier. But it’s different here. I’ve been here many times that it feels like home.”
Just when I thought Siargao was beginning to lose its magic, I hear those words from a foreigner I just met and I remember all the reasons why I have fallen madly in love with the island.
The Siargao hype may be real but if I have any takeaway from its inevitable hasty developments, it’s that we can stop being tourists and start treating the island more as how we see it – home.
Let’s stop just going to Siargao. Let’s take care of the island and leave no detrimental imprints.