Text reproduced from Antoinette Go's homepage click her name to go to her homepage
Published in The Freeman Magazine, December 1995
1996 Surfing Competition off the coast of Gen. Luna, Siargao, Surigao del Norte (photo by Tonee Despojo Cebu Daily News)
ISLAND HOPPING IN SURIGAO
Where will you spend your summer vacation? With over 7,000 islands to choose from, it is still difficult and dangerous even for Filipinos to explore the country. More often than not, we tend to favor the major cities for the comforts and conveniences they offer. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just hop over to the offbeat exotic places with the same ease?
Yes, there is such a place, not too far from Cebu, which offers the alternative to touring the entire archipelago. In terms of geography, history and culture, Surigao offers a little of everything as a microcosm of the Philippines.
As concern for the environment grows, enhanced by the popularity of outdoor and adventure sports like mountaineering, scuba diving, etc. -- more and more people are trying to rediscover their country and get closer to nature. What better way to achieve both ends than a visit to Surigao?
With the exception of volcanoes, Surigao boasts of its equivalents to the country's top natural attractions. What this means is that you don't have to plan separate vacations to Palawan, Boracay, Pangasinan or Laguna. Visit Surigao and explore its submarine caves, blue lagoons, kilometric stretches of white sandy beaches, virgin forests, rock island formations and more.
For something exotic, try the Suhoton Cave in Bucas Grande Island that can be accessed only by banca or kayak at low tide. Once you get past it, you will find yourself in a blue lagoon sprinkled with islets and enclosed by limestone cliffs and virgin forests.
Mainit makes an idyllic setting with its Mainit Lake, home to thousands of wild ducks and purple hyacinths in bloom. Off the center of the lake lies an emerald islet amid azure waters. Nearby are natural hot springs and waterfalls.
The beach paradise around here in General Luna ("GL") in Siargao Island. Many have likened it to the Boracay of 20 years ago before tourist mobs and crass commercialism descended on the place. Just across the 27-mile white beach are the postcard-pretty islands of Guyam and Daku. The white sand here is so fine you will sink to your ankles and calves as you walk. If you're lucky you can have the entire Guyam island to yourself. It is so small you can walk around it in ten minutes. Sun-worshipping bathers, however, prefer the "Naked Island," a white sandbar between GL and Guyam.
You can get to Guyam from GL by a five-minute motorized banca ride, or via the more leisurely and fun sackcloth-fitted sailboat. The calm waters in GL are fenced in by a natural barrier reef which keeps the giant Pacific waves at bay.
These giant waves have been discovered by a group of Australian and American surfers in 1993. Rated among Asia's best, it remains one of the best-kept secrets outside Surigao. The surfing trailblazers named several reef breaks and somehow the names stuck: Cloud Nine, after a local chocolate bar; Pilar Point, in honor of the lady who looked after them at the resort; and Pancit Reef.
Apart from Siargao, the other major island of the province is Dinagat. It, too, consists of satellitle islands that stretch towards Leyte. Here you will find rock islands and islets reminiscent of the limestone rock formations of Palawan and the Hundred Islands of Pangasinan. For a taste of the sublime, scale a mountain and be rewarded by a panoramic view of these sea sculptures strewn over the blue and green waters.
They come in assorted shapes and sized. Locals refer to some of these according to what they resemble best: Pato (duck), bao (turtle) and Punta Kalabera (Skull Point). At sunset, the Eagle's Point in the uninhabited island of Hagakhak resembles a magnificent golden phoenix rising from the sea spray.
What these rock islands lack in fine sandy beaches, they more than make up for in the rich marine life easily discovered with a diving mask and snorkel. Anywhere you go the waters are so clear it is possible to see starfishes and seaweeds ten to 20 feet below.
The islands of Bucas Grande, Siargao and Dinagat, though, are at least two hours away, so planning and preparation must allow for plenty of time for flexibility.
The island barangays of Surigao City and their surrounding islets have unspoiled attractions to impress even the jaded traveler. Almost every place here is an hour's ride away at the most.
Get the best of both worlds in the island resort of Sagisi. It has a shallow reef a few meters from the shore offering unlimited hours of snorkeling. At low tide the waters are only three to four feet deep. Try snorkeling at night when most of the fishes come out to play and feed. Under a full moon you won't need underwater flashlights to admire the different shades of red, blue and white corals and its inhabitants.
You can also hike to the other side of the island which has a kilometer-long white sandy beach. Crows and other birds nest on this quiet side of the island and they announce their presence with their melodious chirping and cackling. Both beaches are richly adorned with seashells and corals to keep beachcombers busy.
Surigao has vast mangrove forests fringing the islands along the scenic Hinituan Passage. Take a leisurely banca ride in the intersecting passages and explore these jungles in the sea. How about a ride on the wild side in the mangrove forests of Siargao's del Carmen, the sanctuary of crocodiles?
Unique to Surigao City is the 20-meter whirlpool of Bitaugan in Bayagnan Island. Situated just 10-meters from the shore, at low tide this maelstrom is something to behold, accompanied with matching sound effects and rumbling and hissing. You can safely observe this vortex from a two-meter distance while standing in knee-deep waters.
The other attractions in Surigao include the Zaragosa rock formation showcasing natural dagger-like sculptures amid white sandy beaches in Sibale Island; the Buenavista Cave in Hikdop Island; the Marinduque Nickel Refinery in Nonoc Island, said to hold the world's third largest nickel deposit; the four-hectare crater lake of Bababu atop a mountain in Basilisa Island; the 384-meter wooden bridge linking the island barangays of Hanigad and Cantiasay; and the floating barangay of Day-asan where the houses stand on stilts above the waters.
The city and provincial governments of Surigao have been vigorously promoting these areas as eco-tourism destinations. If you don't know anybody in Surigao to take you around these places, the tourism offices are more than willing to help. They give out free brochures and maps, arrange guided tours, advise travelers, as well as book reservations for accommodations in Zaragosa, Buenavista, San Jose (Bayagnan), Sagisi and Socorro (Bucas Grande). In places where there are no stay-in facilities, the tourism offices are offering homestay programs.
Getting to Surigao City from Cebu is not a problem. PAL flies there five times weekly. One-way tickets for the 45-minute flight cost around P700.00. For less than half the price you can buy a tourist class ticket on Trans Asia or Cokaliong ship. There is a trip every night except Sundays. Boats usually depart at 7:00 or 8:00 p.m. and arrive early morning of the next day, sometimes as early as 5:00 a.m. if it does not make the one-hour stopover in Maasin, Leyte at midnight.
From Surigao City there are daily ferries to the major island barangays. Usually there is only one trip which departs from the city in the morning.
If you’re not sure where to start, take heart. Pick the destinations that have guests' facilities. From there the neighboring islands are a short boat ride away and you can be back in your rented beach hut by the end of the day.
Sea travel in Surigao by itself is quite an experience but are at the mercy to the rise and fall of tides and the monsoons. The name Surigao is said to be derived from the Spanish word surgir that referred to the swirling eddies and swift currents that characterize its seas, channels and strait.
A good time to take the trip is in the sunny months of March to May. For unless you are a surfer, you won't appreciate the stormy seas during the habagat (northeast monsoon) and amihan (southwest monsoon) seasons from June to December.
Want a vacation to an offbeat destination? Make it Surigao and start planning now!