Leaving sunny Coron was tough but I was born a ramblin’ man.
My next stop was Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera, a short shuttle, airplane, taxi, bus, walk, ferry and tricycle ride away from Coron, where I was meeting another friend from Moalboal to scuba dive. Overcast skies and a drizzly mist greeted me in the early morning as I started my travels. Heavy rains started later in the day just as I was stepping off the bus to walk to the ferry terminal, and was scrambling to get both of my bag’s waterproof coverings on.
Sabang Beach does not have hostels, so I had booked a single room where my friend had recommended and thought I won the prize when, while checking in, I was told I was getting upgraded (keep in mind, this is not a hotel like a Hilton, think more old house converted into a motel and we’re standing outside on a creaky wooden deck, in the rain). Well, she proceeded to tell me that without the upgrade, I would’ve had a manual toilet (to flush you pour water from a bucket into the bowl).
She then brought me to my room and I realized the toilet was the least of my concerns. There I was, wet and tired from a day’s travel, standing in a dark, musty smelling room, looking at a 2″ thick mattress laying on top of flattened cardboard boxes used to keep the mattress stable on the frame. The room was humid and without air conditioning, and the small fan provided little assistance. I initially was sitting on the bed wondering if this was a room I could deal with for three nights when I saw a small spider on the floor. I was still contemplating when I saw another. And another. I then realized spiders were everywhere, on the floor, on the walls, and I could only assume, under the mattress. When I counted ten, I said hell no.
The town is very small. It has one narrow road that dead ends at the ocean and people use it to get to and from town. Other than that, it is just small stone walkways and covered alleyways, some 2 feet wide and none more than 10. The town is at the bottom of a steep hill so much of the accommodations are up on the hill. This is where I meandered for the next hour, up, down, and around, searching for a new place to stay. And it was still raining.
Because it was Chinese New Year there was not much available but ultimately I found something that was decent enough, and while the most costly of my trip, still relatively reasonable. The only down side was it was right next to and required me to walk through the small two block alleyway that is the Sabang Beach red light district. Evidently even very small towns need a red light district and every time I walked through, in my head I heard Paul Simon’s voice singing about the whores on 7th avenue.
I went to sleep that night in my air-conditioned room anticipating the diving the next day. However, I woke up sweating in the middle of the night and realized the air-conditioner was not on. I then realized the lights weren’t working either so the power must be out. Power was still out when I woke up in the morning and even at the dive shop when I arrived there. That is when I learned the whole town was without power and it was a frequent occurrence, just not as frequent as it used to be. And it was still raining.
I decided all the signs were there so I decided to cut bait and leave Puerto Galera the next day. Between dives I bought a ferry ticket and then about an hour later something miraculous happened, it stopped raining and the sun came out (and the town’s power came back on).
The next day I arrived back in Manila trying to figure out what to do for the last week of my trip. While I personally had been very lucky with weather (aside from Puerto Galera), much of the Philippines had been experiencing consistent and heavy rains. To keep my good fortune going I searched for a beach town, that was easy to get to from Manila, and forecasted to be sunny. That left only one place, La Union (pronounced like onion).
I took an overnight bus from Manila 6 hours north and arrived in the city of San Fernando, in La Union province, at 3am. I was able to get into my hostel at that time but sat in the lobby until they opened registration later that morning. They then kindly let me check in early and I was able to catch a couple hours sleep before heading to the beach.
The beach in La Union is in San Juan, the surf capital of the north Philippines, and a short tricycle ride away from where I was staying in San Fernando. I originally wanted to stay in San Juan but hostel accommodations were extremely difficult to find and when I got to the beach, I understood why. There was an international World Surf League (WSL) competition happening. So, I watched my first surf comp.
That evening I headed back into San Juan with some people from the hostel and we met up with others at a local bar/restaurant on the beach. A few of the people we were hanging out with were Filipino, some local and some from Siargao, which was one Island recommended to me that I didn’t go to because of the rains. One of the locals was actually the chef/owner of the place we were at, and later took us to his other restaurant so he could personally make us tacos. I like this town.
The recommendation to go to Siargao came from a friend I had met traveling in Vietnam several years ago, who travels there often. He also coincidentally messaged me earlier that day checking in on my trip. This came up in conversation with two of the Filipinos from Siargao, and ultimately led us to realize they are also friends with my friend. I like this town.
Eventually it was just the hostel peeps again and we were near a bar where the WSL post competition party was being held, strictly invitation only. A few of the girls were trying to get in with no luck whatsoever. While we were standing there I saw a guy whose car was stuck in a ditch, so I wandered over to help his friend push. We got him out and he then wanted to thank me so he told me and my friends to wait a little while, while he went into the party. Five minutes later he came back to escort us all into the exclusive party that was the talk of the town. I like this town.
The next day I was wandering around San Juan and ran into some people I met at the surf party the night before. Well, they invited me to join them for dinner that night at a restaurant where the chef would be cooking for only us, new dishes he was about to roll out onto the menu. I own this town.
The rest of my time in La Union was spent chilling with people I met in the hostel, wandering the streets and public markets of the small city of San Fernando, or relaxing around the beach in San Juan. Daily in La Union I experienced instances of warmth, welcoming, and generosity above and beyond anywhere I have seen this trip. It was the perfect mix of Filipino culture and community, and beach experience, to end my trip.
I write this as the kilometers roll by on my bus back to Manila. Tomorrow, I begin my journey back to the States, first to Tokyo where I will have a 12-hour layover and the opportunity to explore the city.
The Philippines was a great trip. Because English is a common language it was easy to interact, communicate and co-mingle with the locals. The Filipino people were friendly and very welcoming. Usually smiling and offering assistance however they could. Rarely did I feel unsafe and never a negative interaction.
The travelers I built friendships with certainly made this experience memorable as well. Some I hung out with for just a day, others much longer. Regardless of the time, it was too short, and I hope to see one and all in the future. Watch out for monkeys.
Life is good.