24 – 28 April 2010, The Philippines
An expat we met in Padre Burgos had recently purchased land and planned to build a dive resort. After talking with him, Jason and I momentarily had visions of purchasing our own little slice of paradise. Reality soon sunk in and we reluctantly mapped out the next leg of our trip. Since diving in the Philippines is relatively cheap it was tempting to continue exploring the diverse aquatic life. However, Jason had read about a stretch of coastline known for exceptional surfing and he was itching to give it a try. The beach, creatively named Surf Beach, is located in the town of San Juan on the island of Luzon. Researching potential travel routes, we discovered it was going to take more than 24 hours to reach this surfers’ haven.
We woke early on our travel day, determined to get started at a decent time. Mentally preparing for the long journey, we ate breakfast and said our good-byes. I won’t go into too many details but I will say that we utilized an extensive number of transportation options during our 27 hour journey north. Along the way, we made a brief stop in Manila to pick up some luggage we had left at the hotel. Always looking for ways to keep expenses down, we opted to take a jeepney rather than a taxi from the bus station to the hotel. One and a half hours and three transfers after leaving the bus station, we finally arrived at the hotel, filthy, dripping with sweat and stressed from not having known where we were going. Quickly calculating the cost of our ride, we determined that a taxi would’ve taken us a third of the time and only cost about 46 pesos or $1 USD more. Kicking ourselves, we vowed to make smarter choices moving forward.
When we finally arrived in San Juan, the bus driver dropped us off at one of the resorts mentioned in the guidebook. Walking from the road to the beachside resort, we felt like we had stumbled into a photo shoot for an Abercrombie advertisement. In other words, it was not exactly our scene. To make matters worse, it appeared as though the owners had spent all their money on the beachside bar and restaurant. The rooms within our price range were reminiscent of dank jail cells and offered little more than a thin mattress. I won’t even begin to describe the condition of the shared bathrooms. We hightailed it out of there and found a resort further down the beach that was cheaper, much cleaner and very peaceful; during our three night stay we were the only guests. Another bonus was the absence of roosters, our archnemesis in the Philippines.
Since most visitors come to San Juan to surf, all the resorts along the beach rent boards. The longest board our resort had was still slightly too short for Jason but it could have been a whole lot worse. The first day we arrived we received a very abbreviated version of Surfing 101 from one of the staff and he then set us loose to try what we had learned. A couple of hours later we still hadn’t made it to our feet but not for lack of trying. Fatigued from battling the waves, we decided to call it a day. San Juan’s waves are ideal for surfing early in the morning and late in the afternoon and their reliability determined our schedule for the next few days. Each morning and afternoon, we paddled into the ocean and tried our best to catch a wave. The result was probably comical to the few onlookers on the beach but we had a lot of fun trying and both of us even managed to stand up a few times.
One morning Jason went out by himself while I slept in and a friendly local offered him an impromptu surfing lesson. When I joined them an hour later, we struck up a conversation and found out he was a pastor at a local church. After chatting for awhile, he invited us to have dinner with his family and friends. Later that afternoon, as promised, he and his friend picked us up on their scooters and drove us to the local university where some of his parishioners work in the apiculture (beekeeping) lab. I could write an entire post on everything we learned about bees and honey during our visit. However, rather than bore you, I’ll just post a picture and say I was amazed to discover that they don’t wear any protective equipment when handling the frames filled with honeycomb. I have to admit, I was a little bit out of my comfort zone when they pulled out the honeycomb completely covered in bees. We left the lab a couple hours later, brains overflowing with information and rode to his house where we were greeted by his wife, two young children, sister, brother-in-law, cousin and a couple of other people. Many Filipinos live in multigenerational homes and theirs was no exception.
We ate a simple but delicious dinner of barbecue chicken, rice, bread, cheese, veggies and an astounding amount of fresh fruit. The conversation flowed easily and Jason and I were thrilled to learn more about Filipino culture. I think they also enjoyed learning some new things about the United States. After discovering that Minnesota is very cold in the winter, they asked the standard questions about snow and cold weather. Moving onto other topics, they found out that Jason and I have different last names and asked with amazement, “Is that legal in the US?” Apparently name changes are automatic after marriage in the Philippines.
Other than attempting to surf and our rap session with the beekeepers, our primary focus in San Juan was catching up on our blog and researching future travel destinations. Since our hotel had slow internet, we made our way into town one day to find a faster connection. The internet café we found was similar to most we had visited throughout the Philippines: filled with kids and teenagers playing noisy video games, updating their Facebook status (even the kids who look like they’re about seven years old) and listening to loud music. Having spent too much time in internet cafes throughout the Philippines, I now have no doubt that Taylor Swift and Facebook truly have taken the world by storm.
We enjoyed the slow pace of life during our four days in San Juan but were also anxious to spend time away from the beach and extreme heat. This desire to see a different side of the Philippines shaped the remainder of our time in the country.