Cloud 9 Boardwalk (Gen. Luna, Surigao del Norte)

Cloud 9 boardwalk

After our Sugba Lagoon tour, we returned to Del Carmen’s port and then boarded our respective vans for the 38 km. (45-min.) drive to Gen. Luna, arriving at the town’s iconic Cloud 9 boardwalk by 4 PM.  This wooden boardwalk was built for the hundreds of spectators, judges, VIPs, tourists, non-surfers, competitors and photographers, during the 2014 Siargao International Surfing Cup in September, so that they can be very near where the waves are at Cloud 9.

Cloud 9’s white sand beach

One of Siargao’s most famous landmarks, many world-renowned, champion surfers like Alana Blanchard, Paul Fisher, Chris Zaffis, John Mark Tokong, Philmar Alipayo, Philippa Anderson (Australia), Sandon Whittaker (Australia) and Piso Alcala have strolled its length. We too would pretty much walk up, on the same wooden planks these world’s top wave riders walked on, to the area where the large waves form.

The 3-storey observation deck

The third storey

At the end of the 100-m. long boardwalk is a 3-story observation deck on stilts where surfers can relax after a hard-day’s practice , watch their fellow surfers riding out the waves or while the cool afternoons away. During every Siargao International Surfing Cup (the country’s most-awaited surfing event), this observation deck is laden with colorful banners of different surfing-related brands (RipCurl, Stoked, Fluid Surf, Billa, etc.).

The author

Surfers with their surfboards (photo: Donald Tapan)

As we arrived during high tide, surfers of all ages, genders, and nationalities, beginner or professional, were already starting to enjoy the waves of Cloud 9. This famed surf spot, in the country’s southeastern Pacific seaboard, was so-called after the popular chewy chocolate bar that can keep your glucose level high until those with sweet tooth can get their next meal.  In the 1980s, foreign surfers subsisted on this candy bar when the obscure surf spot was yet a best-kept secret. Today, because of the heavenly feeling it brings, riding its 16-ft. high waves is much like walking on Cloud 9.

This dramatic and powerful reef break, which crashes onto shallow, razor-sharp coral, offers right and left death rides to daring surfing buffs. In 2012, CNNGo, the travel news web site of the Cable News Network, listed Cloud 9 as No. 8 in the World’s Top 50 Best Surf Spots. Its surfing areas are categorized as Jockeying Horse for the beginners, Quicksilver for the intermediate class and Cloud 9 for the professionals. For beginners, surfing lessons are offered by local surfers at Php300/hour, while surfboard rental is at Php200/hour. Children as young as 8 years old are allowed to take lessons.

A selection of surfboards for rent

Surfers paddling towards Cloud 9

Even during high tide, the area is not really for swimming since a large expanse of it is shallow, waist-high waters.  Locals say that waves start to pick up in August to September when the southwest wind (habagat) is prevailing, the beginning of the surfing season.  Even during our third week of July visit, sun-baked local boys and pro surfers who can teach you the basics of surfing were everywhere. The waves look small in our photos but they’re actually quite big and powerful. Everyone was having the time of their lives experiencing this ethereal out-of-this-world emotional journey.

Surfers strutting their stuff at Cloud 9 (photo: Mr. Pete Dacuycuy)

Siargao Tourism Office: Paseo De Cabuntog, Brgy. Catangnan, Gen. Luna, Siargao Island. Mobile number: (0921) 718-2268 (Ms. Donna Grace T. Estrella – Siargao Tourism Coordinator)

How to Get There: Skyjet Airlines has daily, 100-min. direct flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Siargao (Sayak Airport). ETD Manila at 6 AM (M8-421), ETA Siargao at 7:40 AM. Return flights: ET Siargao at 8:10 AM (M8-422), ETD Manila at 9:50 AM.

Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333 and (02) 823-3366. E-mail: sales@skyjetair.com. Website: www.skyjetair.com.

Surfing 101 at Bagasbas (Daet, Camarines Norte)

Learning the basics from BUSA president Ryan Vito

We were now on our last day in Daet and, after covering the 4th Bagasbas Summer Surf Festival, we took time out to learn surfing ourselves.  It would be my second time to try (and failing miserably on 10 tries) and a first for Mark.  Joining us at the surfing clinic was ABC TV5 correspondent Justine Santos, also a second time surfing student.  Mr. Ryan Francis V. Vito, president of the Bagasbas United Surfers Association (BUSA), was on hand to personally teach us the basics of surfing.

Jasmine Santos learning to lie down on the board

First, we were taught the parts of the surfboard.  Then, with the surfboard on the sand, Ryan taught us how to lie down on a surfboard (centered along the stringer), with the toes of our feet touching the tail-end (called the tail block) and making sure that the board is not tilting left or right while we’re trying it. Next, we were taught to push up on the board, with our hands on the sides (called the “rails”) of the board, then when up, to drag one foot up under us in the center of the board and, finally, to push up on our front foot into a standing position, using our arms like legs to push it up. Sounds easy.  Well, it was easier said than done.

Dennis Suing trying to learn the proper stance

Ryan assigned an instructor for each of us.  Champion surfer Ms. Lolita “Mocha” F. Edusma was   assigned to Jasmine while Mr. Joemel Bermejo, Mr. Rolan “Nash” Raro and Mr. Salvador “Onyo” Oclares were assigned to us guys.  BUSA’s instructors were the first in Philippines to be trained by the Academy of Surfing Instructors.  We headed down the beach, away from any surfers, our surfboards harnessed to our ankles. After walking some distance from the shore, I slowly mounted my surfboard with my instructor on the lookout for whitewater, waves that are crested and broken and rolling in long even white lines toward the beach.  With the approach of whitewater, I was told to get ready and whoosh!!!, the whitewater  slowly catches my board and lifts it up as I struggle to stand up and keep my balance while doing so.  Try as I did, I failed to do so with each try, falling each time just as I was getting my footing, getting a face full of salt water every time. I finally gave up when the board hit and sprained my wrist.

Mark Nunez with his instructor Onyo Oclares

I gladly surrendered my board and my instructor to ABC TV5 cameraman Mr. Amor Casiano while the other cameraman Mr. Dencio “Dennis” Suing filmed on. Then, it was Dennis’ turn to try it with Amor manning the camera.  In both cases, as in my case, the waves won with every try, with wipe outs the rule and not the exception.  The same was true with Mark and Jasmine.  Well, better luck next time.  Just, the same it was an experience we would gladly like to try again and again.   Hopefully, there will be a next time.  The waves of Daet haven’t seen the last of us.

Arrival in Pagudpud (Ilocos Norte)

The eco-friendly Kapuluan Vista Resort

We left the coastal town of Claveria, our last Cagayan destination, by 5:30 PM and it was already nighttime when our bus crossed the border into Ilocos Norte and the resort town of Pagudpud.  The weather still wasn’t cooperating with us and it was still raining when we arrived, by 7:30 PM, at Kapuluan Vista Resort where we were welcomed by Mike and Alma Oida, the resort’s gracious Fil-American owners.  Gabby Malvar, Dandi Galvez, Kim Madridejos, Roland “Jun” Fontilla, Frank Dizon and I were assigned to a six-bed dorm. Though not airconditioned, we certainly didn’t need it as the cool sea breeze wafted into the room.

Check out “Resort Review: Kapuluan Vista Resort

Grilled fish and liempo main course

The gloomy weather was somewhat offset by the warmth and hospitality of our young hosts and their staff and our delicious dinner, served on a banig place mat, which consisted of cilantro soup and garden salad with dressing for starters, a main course of tender grilled fish and liempo (pork belly) with tomato salsa, and buko pandan with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert.  Most of the herbs and vegetables served here are grown and picked daily from the resort’s organic garden.  Breakfast, on the still raining and windy early morning, consisted of a Filipino breakfast of Vigan longanisa with fried egg and garlic fried rice.

Pagudpud – a new surfing haven

While dining, Mike, an avid surfer and fitness buff who can still speak fluent Tagalog, and the Ilocano-speaking Alma (whose roots are in La Union) regaled us with their story of how these newlyweds, who both worked for Ikea, were drawn to the waves and rustic beauty of Pagudpud’s Blue Lagoon six years ago, liking it so much that they resigned from their jobs, packed up all their belongings in the US and decided to settle here. They bought an 8,000 sq. m. undeveloped piece of heaven near the Dos Hermanos rock formation where they built their eco-friendly dream home and resort.

Kapuluan Vista Resort: Sitio Baniaran, Brgy. Balaoi, Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte.  Tel: (072) 888-2809.  Mobile numbers: (0920) 952-2528 and (0920) 928-5273.  E-mail: kapuluan_vista_resort@yahoo.com.  Website: www.kapuluanvistaresort.com.

Calicoan Island (Guiuan, Eastern Samar)

Talisay Beach

One of the 2 reasons why Jandy and I dropped by Guiuan (the other was the town itself) was to visit Calicoan Island.  Called the “Sleeping Beauty of Eastern Samar,” this island is blessed with long stretches of unspoiled white sand beaches; limestone cliffs (tempting for rock climbers); alien abstract rock formations (great for camera buffs); dive destinations (Pearl Island, Binabasalan Island and Baul Island); crystal clear blue waters; numerous, cathedral-like caves for spelunkers (the large Buro Cave is accessible during low tide) with stalactites along the seashore; 20 isolated and romantic coves; 6 huge and unexplored saltwater lagoons and nature trails inside tropical virgin forests (50% of the area).  

Causeway to the island

Come morning, after a hearty Filipino breakfast at the Calicoan Surf Camp’s restaurant, we opted to burn calories by exploring the island on foot (for me still the best way), bringing along resort staffer Mr. Marcial Orocay as guide.  From the resort, we cut across the 3-km. width of the island, to the western side which faces the calm waters of Leyte Gulf, its 8-km. long beach ideal for swimming, snorkeling, picnics and watching magnificent sunsets.   The forest along the way is said to be home to mischievous monkeys, monitor lizards and colorful birds.  Though we didn’t get to see any up close, we did get to see a snake crossing our trail.

Sulangan Beach

Skirting the western coast, we visited Sulangan Beach, the habitat of the world-famous and rare Golden Cowrie (Conus gloriamaris) shell. These shells were being sold (at a whopping PhP1,500 per piece) at souvenir shops at nearby  St. Anthony of Padua Church, also a notable pilgrimage site.  With its schools of multi-colored fish, Sulangan Beach is also an ideal site for scuba diving.

The original 3149 Base flagpole

Caliocan Island, a low coralline island in Brgy. Ngolos, 23 kms. from the town was, during World War II, the site of the U.S. Navy’s 3149 Base.  The base’s original flagpole still stands.  The late U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy, a PT boat commander during the war, was also stationed here.

Guiuan Airport runway

The runway of the former U.S. Navy airbase, located on the eastern edge of the town, was once one of the biggest U.S. bases in the Pacific and was also used actively until the Korean War.  Its 60 m. wide and 1.9 km. long runway was built, during the liberation, by U.S. Army engineering battalions in December 1944.  Here, the B-26 Superfortress bomber Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan (August 6, 1945), was launched.  Disused for some time after its turnover to the Philippines, it is now undergoing a PhP142 million rehabilitation (its runway, now with an overlay of asphalt, is now 2.134 kms. long) and will opened this October as a feeder airport for chartered or regular flights.  Its opening would be heaven-sent as it would make Guiuan easily accessible by plane (cutting its dependence on Tacloban City’s airport), thus supporting the commercial and tourism industry in the region, most especially Calicoan Island, an upcoming island resort which boasts of miles of white sand beaches as well as powerful swells rolling in from the Pacific over the 10,000 m. Philippine Deep, making it a surfer’s paradise. A PhP38 million water system that would supply the island resorts’ operational requirement is also nearing completion. All these aim to promote Guiuan as the next eco-tourism hub in the country, a place that offers visitors a lot when it comes to cultural and historical heritage sites, natural beauty plus the warmth and hospitality offered by its 38,694 Guiuananons.

Calicoan Surf Camp (Guiuan, Eastern Samar)

Our Guiuan host, Ms. Vibina “Bebeng” Juacon, facilitated our visit to Calicoan Island with a call to Mr. Danilo Molina, Gen. Manager  of Calicoan Surf Camp, the resort where she recommended we stay overnight.  Once given the green light, we thanked Ms. Juacon and Jandy and I hired a tricycle (for PhP400) to get to the island and the resort.  There were to be no boat crossings as the “island” is connected to the mainland by a short concrete causeway.  Once across, we traversed a dirt and gravel road  which runs the length of the island.

Calicoan Surf Camp

Calicoan Surf Camp is island’s best and most luxurious.  This hideaway was developed by Cebu-based lawyer and pioneer developer Maning Go who owns about 500 hectares of the island’s 1,600 hectares.  It was designed, with distinctive Asian-inspired (Thai, Balinese, Indonesian and Filipino) lines, by Frenchman Nicolas Rambeau, owner and creator of the highly-acclaimed, high-end Pansukian Resort in Siargao (Surigao del Norte).

Bungalow interior

After a short interview with Mr. Molina, we called it a night and Mr. Molina checked us in at one of the resort’s 7 well-appointed, spacious bungalows with its soaring rooflines.  Each bungalow has a native feel, with its own deck and floor with alternating dark and light wood stripes.  Modern amenities include airconditioning, compartmentalized bathroom with hot and cold shower, satellite TV, coffee/tea maker, hair dryer, minibar and safety deposit box.

Infinity pool

Tired after a long trek around the island, we dipped our tired bodies at the resort’s inviting 300-sq. m. saltwater infinity pool bordering the 3-km. long, white ABCD Beach, the island’s prime surfing area.  Verdant pandamus trees (locally called bariw) grow through the pool’s uniquely-designed wooden deck, embracing it and providing cool shade, thus binding nature with design.  Here, we watched the surging, breathtaking surf (boasting perfectly-shaped left or right reef breaks) as the island’s  eastern side juts out to the rolling surf of the Pacific Ocean (its powerful swells tirelessly rolling in over 10,000 m. Philippine Deep), making it a surfer’s paradise. The best surfing months, according to  Mr. Molina, are March, April and September to October when southwesterly winds blow offshore, piling up incoming ocean swells and carving them into glassy shaped hollows.  Surfboards are rented out for a small fee and beginner’s lessons can be provided, on request, by the resort staff.  Surfers must wear booties as protection against the sharp rocks. Although the currents are strong here, the island offers opportunities for big game fishing along the “Tuna Highway,” the migratory route for tuna to Japan.

The resort’s restaurant

Also quite famished after such a long trek, we later indulged ourselves at the resort’s restaurant which offers International and Filipino cuisine including seafood such as freshly caught, fleshy, sweet and delicious lobster, prawns, scallops, abalone, crabs and fish.  After a filling lunch, we packed up our gear, checked out, thanked the resort staff and hired a tricycle (this time for PhP350) to bring us back to the bus station at Guiuan town proper for our trip back to Tacloban City.  Along the way, we made a brief stopover at Calicoan Island Ocean Villas, another of Maning Go’s development projects.  Go enlisted the multi-awarded architectural firm of Francisco “Bobby” Manosa to prepare the island’s master plan.  He envisions zoning development where visitors can make nature treks to large areas of the island without encountering any bar, souvenir shop or billboard, thus offering more natural attractions and leisure activities with less of the hustle of the better-known Boracay.  With continued but controlled growth, may it stay that way, making Calicoan truly a diamond in the rough.

Calicoan Island Ocean Villas

Calicoan Surf Camp: Calicoan Island, Guiuan, Eastern Samar.  Manila Tel: (632) 376-5818.  Website: www.thesurfcamp-calicoanisland.com.

Camping and Surfing at Sabang Beach (Baler, Aurora)

Cheska on her surfboard

Baler Tourism Coordinator Riza del Rosario sadly informed us that there wasn’t any accommodation available whatsoever for us, at least for this day.  I wasn’t surprised as it was the holidays and Baler was packed with tourists.  Anticipating this, I brought along my new Coleman 5-pax tent which I received last Christmas.  It measures 3 m. by 3 m. and has a 1.83 m. head clearance, convenient if you need to stand up while dressing.  From the town proper, I first drove to the Hanging Bridge at Brgy. Zabali where my 4 companions gamely crossed to the other side.  Motion sickness, caused by the swaying bridge, made me stop midway during my crossing and forced me to turn back.  After this adrenalin-filled crossing, we returned to the Revo and drove on to the gray sand Sabang Beach in Brgy. Sabang.  Most of the accommodations in Baler are located along this beach but, since all were fully booked, I just rented a picnic hut and pitched my tent on the grassy ground beside it.     

The gray sand Sabang Beach

Long before the movie Baler, the town was known as one of the country’s top 5 surfing areas. The waters of the Pacific formed strong, sharp break waves that provide an exhilarating high among experienced surfers. The best waves come in from October to March when the northeast monsoon blows down from China but surfing waves are present all year round, even during our visit.  Glassy right and left waves occur in the early mornings. They are not usually big, except during typhoons.   Thus, Sabang Beach is a good site for beginners and novice surfers.  Jandy and Cheska, as well as Lulu, all beginners, opted to take some surfing lessons (PhP350/pax for 1 hr.) while Vi, an avid photographer, just took pictures.  I stayed behind to watch the tent and our belongings. 

Fish catch being hauled in
Sabang Beach has three surfing sites: Cobra Reef, Charlie’s Point and Secret Spot.  Charlie’s Point, located north of Sabang Beach, within walking distance from the town proper, was where the surfing scene of Francis Ford Cuppola‘s 1979 Apocalypse Now was filmed.  It is known for its medium-quality, right and left breakwaves on sand and gravel bottom. The waves are best from December to January. Secret Spot is located at the mouth of the Cemento River. Further north of Sabang Beach is the newly discovered surfing spot called Lindy’s Point, a 15-min. hike from Bay’s Inn.