Brady Eviota .
GENERAL LUNA, Siargao – I touched down on this surfer’s island early this month, nearly 10 years since my first visit. And at once I felt things here are much different from before.
I opt for a quick breakfast at the Sayak airport in del Carmen (formerly called Numancia, which occupied our childhood imaginations as the place for wakwaks and man-eating crocodiles) while waiting for my pick-up. The bill for my simple order of sautéed sitaw, a piece of bulad and one cup rice is P180. The sign in front of me says I can use the C.R. for P10.
While there is a row of motorbikes and trikes outside the airport, I notice that passengers are coming and going from a fleet of mostly new vans from hotels or private owners. A van owner later tells me that nowadays nobody will rent an old model van, the preferred models here are the pricey Toyota HiAce Super Grandia, the Nissan Urvan or the Toyota Innova.
And there are more surprises ahead. A tricycle ride anywhere in GL (General Luna) costs P20 per person. In contrast, in the capital Surigao City, it is only P8 per trip. It is easy to rent a van, but the cost of P1,000 for a one-way trip or P3,000 to P3,500 for one day is prohibitively touristy.
But it is in Daku Island where I am most surprised. What used to be a remote island that was almost exclusive to day visitors in the 1980s is now peopled with tourists and locals and dotted with permanent structures. The beach is fenced off with buoys, and there is a colorful plastic port for the pump boats that bring in tourists all day long. The sari-sari store sells a bottle of San Miguel or a small Tanduay lapad for the same price of P50. A Coke litro costs P100. There is fresh coconut straight from the tree, at P50 apiece.
There is also fish and other seafood available for grilling or quick cooking, but it is expensive. Shrimp is P600 per kilo; a tapok of saang (the spider conch widely eaten here as a delicacy) priced at P300.
We ask why prices are so high. “Dili na man gud mi gapanagat, ser. Na-busy na man mi sa paninda ug pag-bantay sa mga cottage ug mga tindahan,” says Rene. The fisherfolks in Daku Island do not fish anymore, they have become storeowners or small entrepreneurs; now, they buy fish from nearby Pilar or from Dapa, hence the mark-ups.
Siargao has certainly hit it big, as a casual stroll at sundown in General Luna town reveals. The dusty roads are no more; everything in the town is already concrete, including the boulevard leading to the Boardwalk and the famed Cloud 9, the surfing mecca of the Philippines. On both sides of the street, there are Thai and Japanese food restaurants, or an Italian café or a native Filipino food or chicken grill.
Motorbikes driven by tourists clad in slippers and casual beach wear zip by on the highway that is shaded by the picturesque mango trees that were planted on orders of the town mayor since years ago.
It is a scene taken from the film “Siargao,” a love story which featured big stars Jericho Rosales and Erich Gonzales cast as young people with a past looking for their roots and spiritual direction. Fans flock to the island to look for the film locations or – if lucky – to see up-close a visiting artista.
There are sari-sari stores and ukay-ukay shops, many selling surf or swimming wear. There are tattoo shops, massage parlors and spas, colorful sarongs for the women. I stop in the street startled, because I am reminded of Bali.
And the Nusa Dua in Bali it is, as the model for the development of this island paradise.
Already, there are up to 13 flights daily to the only airport in Sayak , in contrast to the Surigao City airport in the mainland which hosts a lone flight every day. I took a PAL flight from Davao which took off at 7 am and lasted only 45 minutes, very convenient for a businessman doing a series of meetings for the day. There are also Cebu Pacific and Air Asia flights to the island.
Others can go by sea, using a two-hour trip on fast seacraft from Surigao city to the port of Dapa.
(Brady Eviota wrote and edited for the now defunct Media Mindanao News Service in Davao. He is from Surigao City and now lives in Bern, the Swiss capital located near the Bernese Alps. -Mindanews)