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Paradise as Usual

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Since the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao, the burgeoning tourism industry in Siargao Island has taken a significant hit. Recently, Expat flew to the stunning tropical haven to experience firsthand how Martial Law has affected life on the island. What we found is that, despite the unfortunate incidents in Marawi City, in Siargao… it’s PARADISE AS USUAL.

Ninety days—that’s more or less the amount of time the government’s battle in Marawi City against terrorists has waged on – an unfortunate and ongoing incident that led to the declaration of Martial Law in Mindanao.

Many have questioned the administration’s decision put the entirety of Mindanao, all 104,530 square kilometers of it under Martial Law, pointing out that Marawi City is just .08 percent of the Philippines’ second largest island’s land area.

And while the government has its reasons for doing so, some 280 kilometers away, life in Siargao Island has carried on, albeit bearing the economic effects of the significant hit to its tourism industry.

Re-framing paradise

According to the municipality of Del Carmen’s Mayor JR Coro, a crucial element, which led to Siargao’s tourism boom early in the decade, was a rebranding of the island – one that painted a more holistic picture of the Siargao well beyond the famous swells of Cloud 9.

It may seem unthinkable now to those who’ve soaked in the plethora of Siargao’s natural gems, but back then, while surfing communities around the world knew of the barreling waves in General Luna, all the other attractions the island possessed were not quite as renowned.

It took commitment, hard work, and perhaps more importantly, a mindset shift from the locals to realize Siargao’s tourism potential. This is perhaps evidenced best by how Del Carmen’s local officials dissuaded fishermen (who practiced dynamite fishing) from the shortsighted practices, and into growing the municipality’s mangrove forest.

Today, Del Carmen’s 4,000+ hectares of continuous mangrove forest is the country’s largest. And apart from all the benefits it brings to the ecosystem (providing a healthy environment for the growth of marine life, shoreline protection by reducing erosion, protection from waves and water movement, among others), it provides a calming, scenic backdrop going to the utterly idyllic environs of Sugba Lagoon.

Perfect afternoon playground

Framed within thickly vegetated limestone hills, Sugba Lagoon in Del Carmen has inevitably emerged as one of the can’t-miss spots when in Siargao – and for good reason. The lagoon’s clear emerald waters and its forested backdrop of soothing shades of green, envelops you with a combination of childlike wonder, peace, and gratitude for being tucked away (if only momentarily) from the stressors of the world.

The gorgeous aquatic playground that is Sugba Lagoon

The gorgeous aquatic playground that is Sugba Lagoon

Here, amid lucky, kindred souls, gratitude for this earth’s gorgeous playground is expressed through paddle boarding, swimming, soaking in the splendor, and hearty laughs. Sugba Lagoon makes for an afternoon you’d be fortunate to cherish, and a destination you’d love to keep coming back to.

The two-storey pavilion gives you a beautiful vantage point of the panorama, and the aqueous frolicking below. It also serves as a refueling station where grilled fare, and cold drinks perfectly complement an afternoon that kids are wont to describe “Chill AF.”

Getting there:

The takeoff going to the lagoon is at Del Carmen’s Mangrove Protection and Information Center.

From there, you can rent a boat (PhP1,600 for 6 persons) for the 30-minute ride going to Sugba Lagoon.

PhP50/person is charged once you get to the pavilion, with the tables also for rent, starting at PhP50.

Momentary bliss

The town of Pilar is home to another unique spot that’s a must-visit for any Siargao noob. Unveiled when the tide retreats, the Mapupungko Tidal Pools don’t look like much as you step onto the beach. But as you close in on the collection of rock formations that bound the pools, you’re made privy to a surreal scene seemingly set straight out of mini Avatar. Carved by the relentlessly awe-inspiring talents of nature, as the tide takes a respite from the shore, the pool’s gleaming emerald hue is as inviting as it is soothing.

Be it a quick dip, or a morning of introspection, the Mapupungko Tidal Pools make for a surreal scene

Be it a quick dip, or a morning of introspection, the Mapupungko Tidal Pools make for a surreal scene

During our visit, people from different nations, speaking different languages, enjoyed the blessings of the pools – some having quiet chats, others sharing laughs, couples taking selfies, and others yet jumping off cliffs and into the water – everyone removed from any sort of prejudice from the “outside world.”

There is a warmth in Siargao’s touristic gems that visitors cannot avoid but inevitably share – a vibe that both relaxes the mind, and reinvigorates the soul. As you go around the island, you’ll find this to be inescapable, regardless of what the government declares the law of the land to be.

Expat tips:

It’s best to go around the island by renting your own motorbike for as low as PhP300 for the whole day.

There’s mobile reception in most parts of the island, but in the event that fails, Siargao is small enough that with the combination of the friendly folk and GPS, you won’t be lost for too long.

Entrance to Mapupungko Beach is PhP50.

Life’s not a race

The gradual shift of the sea’s hue from navy to turquoise signaled that we were closing in on our first stop… although of course, I could’ve simply looked at where we were going, but where’s the art in that?

Pristine waters, fine white sand – and apart from a few patches of grass, and a couple of weathered wooden benches – our sandbar destination, Naked Island, was as its name suggested.

The overcast skies meant sunburn was not a concern, as evidenced by the lads who were playing a friendly game of two-a-side football when we got there.

Naked Island is usually the first of three stops in the usual island hopping tours offered in the surfing town of General Luna. But if I was going to be honest, you could skip right to Daku Island to get one of the best beach fixes you can have in Siargao.

Beach bums are sure to find Daku Island perfect for all the right reasons

Beach bums are sure to find Daku Island perfect for all the right reasons

The always Instagrammable combo of clear turquoise waters and white sand, a peppering of coconut trees, strategically located huts – all commingle into a place where the heart rate slows, and peace of mind seamlessly takes over.

It took less than three days for me to realize the growing allure of Siargao. The locals hope it takes just as quick that for everyone else to understand that whatever craziness is going on around the country, in Siargao, it’s paradise as usual.

For more information about how to get started on your Siargao adventure, you may contact Roxan at (0948) 4582461, or Donna at (0921) 718-2268.

Skyjet Airlines flies daily from Manila to Siargao for as low as PhP3,277 (one way). With the 80-seater British Aerospace, Skyjet Airlines offers the fastest flights to some of the country’s top destinations that include Coron, Boracay, and Batanes.

“We’re not just selling seats, we are seling the experience,” said Skyjet Airlines President Dino Reyes-Chua. “Flying with Skyjet is a lifestyle!”

 

By TIMOTHY JAY IBAY

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