I WINCE every time someone says it’s dangerous to travel alone as a woman.
When I was 23, I drove 120 miles by myself from San Diego to Julian, California just to eat their famous American apple pies. Bad things could have happened in my jungle road trip, but I always remember my years of solo two-hour commutes to my school in Alabang. Even when I was 15 years old, I felt hardened by the streets of Manila.
On February 2016, I scored a Cebu Pacific roundtrip promo flight from Cebu to Surigao for a measly price of P1200. I booked it knowing nobody else could come with, but that was okay. I wanted to go because I knew I’d be safe. I wanted to experience traveling alone in one part of the Philippines and frankly, I simply needed to remember what it was like to just be alone. There are many benefits to traveling solo, like being able to take your time, being more conscious and kind to people, and having a sharp awareness all around you. There’s also a great sense of fulfillment knowing you were independent. But what surprised me was that my destination – Surigao Del Norte – turned out to be an adventurer’s dream with 12 caves, a pebble beach and a fisherman’s water village just a few-minutes drive away from the airport. Here are some of my fantastic experiences in Surigao Del Norte:
Seeing Mabua Rock and Stone Beach in person
When I arrived in Mabua Rock and Stone Beach, I realized I was looking at something 100 times better than it looked on TripAdvisor. It felt surreal to stand on perfectly smooth and round pebbles with calm, clear and clean ocean views in the background. Mabua is a must-see beach for me in Surigao Del Norte, shattering everything I thought I knew about Philippine beaches.
Walk over or ride a tricycle to the adjacent Looc beach and experience an even better view, calm, and privacy.
Boating at Day-asan Water Village
Long before I arrived in Surigao City, I had made up my mind that Day-asan Water Village was not for me. But that all changed when I met Julito, a long-time resident of Day-asan and my expert tour guide. “Day-asan was named after the fact that fishes used to swarm around this area a long time ago,” Julito says as he paddles his boat. He continues to tell me about how they make a livelihood now that the fishes are gone, how their village’s sewage system works, and what was happening to the alleged Chinese mining rampage so visibly clear in the next island. I paid P500 for a 2.5 hour tour across sand bars, mangroves, and rock formations. I was at a truly special place unlike anything else I had experienced before.
In the kindness of their heart, Julito’s family opened their home to me. They lived on two small kubos (cottages) built on stilts over water. For lunch, we bought P80 worth of saang, a type of shellfish easily available to the townsfolk. Julito’s wife boiled it a bit with salt and served it with vinegar, chili pepper and calamansi.
Making friends with my tricycle driver and tour guide
I discovered Alan by asking my airport van driver. When I met him, instantly knew I could trust him. At one point in our tour, he said to me, “Don’t be afraid here, Ma’am. It’s safe here and the locals are familiar with the tricycle drivers.”
For P1500, I got a day tour of Silop Cave, Mabua and Looc Beaches and Day-asan Water Village. At first I thought it was overpriced, but Alan went with me everywhere - caving, boat tour and even took longer routes to show me other tourist spots. He made sure I was taken cared of while inside Silop cave, referred me to Julito and gladly took all of the pictures you see in this article.
I felt safe, which made my trip all the more memorable.
Caving: snakes, tarantulas and 25-foot rappels
Every time you enter a cave in Surigao Del Norte, the guides say a prayer: “Guide us as we enter these caves. We are just visitors, so please grant us safe passage.” If you’ve ever gone caving, you’ll know why. Caves are pitch dark, cold and brimming with species like bats, tarantulas and snakes. Later on when I was about to exit the last cave, seeing the light near the end of the tunnel felt much better than finishing a cruel cardio session. All I wanted was to get out of there. But it was worth being two-inches away from spectacular pillars, where stalactites and stalagmites meet after taking 125 million years of formation.
Getting a foot massage at Luneta Park
Surigao Del Norte’s Luneta Park is a must-see and is very accessible from any point in the city. I went inside Surigaonon Heritage Museum, and right across is the Tourism Center, where I grabbed one free map. The park is clean and filled with people, and I ended up going back there twice, feeling energized after each reflexology session.
Feeling a great sense of freedom and pride that I made it out there all by myself
At one point, on my way back to the hotel, sitting in the tricycle and basking in the late afternoon sun of Surigao, I realized how brave I’ve gotten. If I stayed comfortable and safe in my house, I would have saved money. I would have been less stressed. But the whole point of getting out there on my own was to push myself and pursue my love of adventure.
It’s not extreme, but just being able to do something by myself, without anyone’s help does nothing but empower me.
While I may have already left Surigao Del Norte, there are still nine more caves to explore for next time when I come back. Crystal Neri
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 14, 2016.
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