Now, Siargao

Published April 4, 2018, 10:00 PM

by Mario Casayuran and Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Gemma Cruz Araneta
Gemma Cruz Araneta

By Gemma Cruz Araneta


OMG! Siargao is booming exponentially!  I hope it does not follow in the footsteps of Boracay; I pray that   stakeholders from the business sector, governors and mayors, heads of national government agencies, travel and tour operators, hotel owners are all learning from the bitter lessons of Boracay. As for tourists, both local and foreign, they should leave only their footsteps and take home nothing but fond memories.(We tourism advocates love that cliché.)

When I  heard the jolting news  about  Karen Davila’s youngest  son, I suddenly realized  that  20  years have flown by imperceptibly  since that very  first  (and last) time I went to Siargao,  and that paradisiacal, dazzling Siargao  has  morphed into a congested must-see destination.  Like Karen, I was also with my youngest child, my  son Leon who  was already in his late 20s. We were not on vacation, he did not learn to surf. Leon was my  executive assistant at the Department  Tourism (DOT).  Along with staff members, I sent him to Cloud 9 at General Luna,  to help organize the first  International Surfing Competition in 1998. There were no daily flights, no direct ones, from Cebu, one had to take a ferry, or something like that.  Spare me the stressful details, I told them, just make sure those gigantic surf boards of the Australians and New Zealanders arrive in Siargao without a single scratch, or the name of the Philippines will be mud. They did it; the competition was carried out with not a single mishap. I awarded the prizes during a rambunctious dinner; I think the New Zealanders won with flying colors and the best Filipino surfer, Mr. Sonny Alciso, was given due recognition.

Going back to my friend Karen, she was in a panic, she was also furious; I dare say I cannot blame her for feeling and behaving that way. Twenty years ago there were hardly any hotels in General Luna, but now there are at least 15 with DOT accreditation.  Tourist arrivals were minimal because Siargao was not easily accessible; there were only a few surf shops with instructors. The only one I saw taking lessons was Margie Floirendo. It didn’t occur to me to ask about the nearest hospital or health center; I do not remember seeing a lifeguard.  As we toured the place with Lyndon Barbers, we came upon a river where a group of children were floating on coconut husks; we jumped in for a swim.  I was doing the backstroke, which made the children shriek with laughter; they thought it was a weird way to swim but wanted me to teach them how to swim “inverted.”  I cherish that fond memory of Siargao; perhaps some of those youngsters are now working in the local government, issuing building, environmental, and business permits in Cloud 9.

Local history tells us that Australians in search for wave swells were the first to arrive, which was also the case in Boracay; expats were among the first beachcombers .The beauty of these islands lures foreigners, while   we natives can hardly  muster a bit of “pride of place.”  According to an Aussie who came for the competition, there is a surfing hierarchy in our islands. The waves in the former South China Sea like the ones in La Union are for babies; on the Pacific side, the surfing areas in Polilio islands and off Aurora are for beginners, but  Gral. Luna in Siargao is definitely for the real pros.   Australians and New Zealanders dominated the scene until the early 2000, literally riding on the crest of those mammoth waves, or adroitly barreling through them on surfboards. Had I not been the Secretary of Tourism, I would probably have never experienced an Eden-like, pristine Siargao.

A very nasty and bumpy road led to a divine resort owned by a Frenchman. There was a mangrove nearby where Leon and I went kayaking. Everywhere, the food was incredibly fresh; I had never seen such enormous crabs. I kept the largest claw and brought it home to Manila as a souvenir. On first day of the international  competition we were seated on the beach under coconut trees, an Australian baritone chanted, “The wives are coming! The wives are coming!” which I thought was a kind of misogynistic joke among surfers, until it dawned on me that he speaking with a regional accent and meant  “The waves are coming!”

While waiting for the “wives,” an Australian tourist came to talk to me. He did not introduce himself but asked very politely if I was the Secretary of Tourism.  “Ma’am, please don’t develop this place too much, please,” he begged, and I assured him I would not,so he need not worry. But, I bit my lip;I could not tell him that, sadly enough, the future of Siargao was not entirely up to   the Department of Tourism.


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