San Juan

After having spent 24 days in lovely Siargao, we decided it was time to explore a little more of the Philippines. So we flew back up to Manila, spent a night there and found a driver who would take us to an area named La Union. We got a pretty good deal, the driver agreed to take us to San Juan in La Union for 6.500 peso (150 USD). It took almost six hours to get here, partly due to heavy traffic going out of Manila.

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Eventually traffic got lighter, and for most part of the way up, the road was surprisingly good. The driver told me it was built just a couple of years back, and when I asked how the road used to be, he told me: “No road, just fields”.

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We arrived in San Juan around nine in the evening and wished the driver a most pleasant drive back to Manila. The morning after we did some recon. San Juan offers a 500 meter long stretch of beach with several surf spots. Most of them are beach breaks, but there’s also some reef. Easily accessible as we live right next to the beach.

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Having tested the surf for a couple of days now at a spot called Sebay, I would describe the conditions as quite gentle and forgiving. The waves are not very fast, and not very steep, but they’re fun to ride! And the sandy bottom makes for most comfy conditions compared to a sharp reef. Furthermore, it seems that life here reflects the waves, relaxed and chilled-out, much like this fellow ๐Ÿ™‚

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Thought I’d wrap up this post with a video from today’s session. Don’t be alarmed about my green face, I’m not from Mars, it’s just the color of the zinc I apply to protect against the scorching sun here ๐Ÿ™‚

Exploring Siargao

We loaded up our crummy motorbikes with the boards and headed up north on the island of Siargao for a few days this week. The target was Burgos, a small town with good reputation for surfing. Getting there wasn’t that easy though, as we had to make a pretty big detour due to big boulders blocking our way on the intended road. Here’s a photo of the impassable terrain, Eivind’s assessing the situation together with a Spanish couple.

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Eventually we got to Burgos, and found most rewarding surf up there. There were no other tourists in the water, only locals, who thankfully were friendly enough to share the waves with us. Burgos has soft reef, so getting out there without reef boots wasn’t an issue, and there are several breaks, creating fun waves for all levels of surfers. Here are a few photos. Yeah, I’ve invested in a GoPro now ๐Ÿ™‚

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Burgos line up

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We also found good accommodation up close to Burgos, at Bollox Bar. It’s run by an English chap named Alan, and offers great food and fun times at a fair price. All the other guests were Aussies, and they didn’t fall short of their reputation as huge beer-fans! They’d get up around nine o’clock, and start the day with breakfast and you guessed it – beer! Then they’d be in the bar pretty much all day, maybe with an occasional swimming break in the ocean right in front every now and then. But they were still surprisingly good at playing pool by the time it was evening ๐Ÿ˜‰

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On our way back south we made a stop at what is known as a rockpool. It’s located not too far from a town called Pilar. A rockpool is a place where the waves of the ocean wash over a shallow part of reef, and into a deeper pond. So the pond is sheltered from the waves, but still gets water-circulation from the ocean. I’m guessing the temperature in the pond must have been more than 30 degrees Celsius, this place is postcard-material.

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Besides exploring the north of Siargao, we’ve also located a sweet surf spot about 40 minutes by motorbike from Turtle Camp in General Luna. It’s called Salvacion, and offers great waves especially on mid-tide, if the swell direction is right and the swell is big enough (needs to be about 3 feet to work). In Salvacion we’ve managed to escape the crowds of the spots closer to General Luna, and the drive there is nice. It takes us on a dirt road through the jungle, and we pass by a few villages where the kids are always waving and cheering, and wants to high-five us as we go by ๐Ÿ™‚ Eventually we get to a village by the ocean, were we rent a boat w/ captain to take us out to the spot for 100 peso per person (USD 2.20). Speaking of which, we’re heading up there this evening for the fourth time. Fingers crossed for good conditions and no crowd!

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A taste of the Philippines

This week it’s been full on at Turtle Camp with fun activities lined up every other day. Starting on Monday night, we had barbeque night at the camp with roasted piglet. An awesome meal and fun night! ๐Ÿ™‚

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On Wednesday we drove up to the town Del Carmen, and took a boat from there to Kangbangyo Island. The destination was an old, weathered wooden house situated in a quiet lagoon with crystal clear water and jungle on all sides.

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At this magical spot we barbequed a type of fish called mahi-mahi for lunch, and played in the water for a while. We also tried SUP (stand-up-paddle board) to go around the lagoon and to explore the surroundings. Very nice.

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Yesterday (that would be Friday) we went out to an island called Corregidor. We started out with some snorkeling. Clear water here as well, and I found this amazing “lawn of seagrass” down there.

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Having burned some energy in the water, it was time for lunch right on the beach, using banana leafs as plates. Grilled fish and chicken, along with rice, was on the menu. We also barbequed some shells called Five Fingers that we bought off a fisherman who stopped by the island when he saw us on shore. You could feel there was some sand in this dish, but itย was still pretty tasty.

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After lunch we set out on a hike to explore more of the island. The higher parts of the island is used for grazing, so it’s an open landscape which gives a 360 degree view. Here’s a pic from the expedition of me and a chap from Israel.

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The hike eventually took us through the only village on the island. People, especially the children were waving and yelling at us, and followed us as we walked around. I guess we were as much an attraction to them as they were to us. It gave the authentic feeling of being somewhere remote and a bit away from modern civilization, even though I did spot a few solar-panels on some of the houses ๐Ÿ™‚

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So a big thanks to Enrique at the Turtle Camp for putting together all this fun! Here’s a sunset-shot of the gang at the camp as we’re heading back to Siargao island.

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Crowded place

Here goes an update on the surfing here in Siargao. We’ve been sticking to two spots so far, for both we need a boat to get out there. So, what we do is that we load or boards on our motorbikes and drive down to the town called General Luna. On the harbor we’re almost always greeted by the same guy, he appears to be the self-appointed boss down there. I refer to him as the Admiral of General Luna ๐Ÿ˜‰

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The Admiral asks us where we want to go surfing, negotiates price (which usually ends up being between USD 4.40 – 6.60 per person depending on how far we want to go), and gets a hold of a boat and a driver. Here’s the typical kind of boat we go out with.

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So we load up the boards and head out on the ocean.

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One spot we’ve been to is called Cemetery (not sure how it got its name, not sure I want to ask). Cemetery is a reef-break located like a kilometer from land. I’ve never surfed a spot like that before, it feels really special to be surfing way out inย the open ocean. On the first day we were there, the surfing was good but big, sets up to 6-8 feet were coming through. So, I stayed on the shoulder for the most part as there were some really good surfers in the line-up, but I was able to catch a couple of waves and some white water. The second time we wentย to Cemetery the current was so strong we could not get from the boat to the reef. We paddled for ten minutes straight, and only moved like seven meters. Impossible and strange, as we went on high tide both days.

Later we heard that Cemetery was getting even bigger, so we decided to check out a spot called Daku,ย also a reef-break. Apparently we’re not the only ones who’s been searching for a little smaller waves, as Daku has been super-crowded every time we’ve been there. Doesn’t matter if we’re there 05:30 in the morning or 17:30 in the evening, the place attracts a crowd. The only day we had the spot to ourselves (apart from a guy from Israel who was also out there), was a day with wind like 22 mph. Really choppy and not very good, but at least we escaped the crowd. This is what Daku looks like on a normal day, you can see the crowd in the background.

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The obvious risk of a big crowd in the water is collisions, and I’ve seen some at Daku over the last days. The other downside is that there’s a lot of competition for the waves, and of course the few good surfers out there take most of them. Not so good for my learning curve, I need to focus more on my surfing, not constantly being concerned about navigating around people.

Therefore, we’ll probably ditch Daku tomorrow and try some other spot instead. We’ve also been playing with the idea of renting all the boats in the harbor so that no one else can get transport out there. Not sure that would make us very popular though… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Thought I’d close up this post with a rare glimpse of me climbing for a coconut (and yes, I got one ๐Ÿ™‚ There are definitely a lot of happy times to be found here on Siargao, even though the surf hasn’t been all that we hoped for so far.

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Turtle Camp

Here we are, in the Philippines ๐Ÿ™‚ More accurately, we’re on beautiful Siargao island, located south-east in the country. After a layover of one night in Manila, we flew here with Cebu Pacific. We’re staying at a place called Turtle Camp, a cozy little place situated just outside a small town called General Luna.

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Turtle Camp is more like a homestay than a surfcamp like Balicamp or Brown Sugar Camp which we stayed at in Bali. There are no organized meals or surfing here, everyone just go whenever. However, coaching is available on request, maybe we’ll check that out eventually. Another noticeable difference between Bali and here, is that while Bali was crowded with Germans and Austrians, the French seemed to have really taken a like on Siargao. It could be a random occurrence of course, but if anyone’s missing from France, I reckon it’s a good chance you’ll find them here. But we’re definitely having a good time at the campย ๐Ÿ™‚

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We’ve also gotten our hands on some wheels. My moped has seen better times… It’s number of days on the roads of Siargao before going to “moped-heaven” are limited. For one thing the speedometer doesn’t work, nor the petrol indicator. And the kickstarter is awful, think I had to make twenty attempts one morning before the damn thing started. But hey, it has a boardrack and it’s pretty cheap, USD 6.50 per day. And it’s the first time I have a semiautomatic moped. That’s right, there’s no clutch, you just use a pedal to go between neutral and the four gears.

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It’s a good idea to drive carefully on these things. First of all because of their condition, second because there are no helmets here. A third good reason is that the concept of insurance doesn’t exist (!) on Siargao, so if we crash our non-insured mopeds, we’ve got to pay for all repairs. Mechanical failure is something else though, we’re not paying for that, that’s for the actual owner to fix. So, if one of our mopeds break down in the middle of nowhere, we’re just going to have to double up on one, and go about like these two happy campers do ๐Ÿ˜‰

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Travelling in Japan

While in Japan, we’ve been relying solely on public transport, which we’ve used quite a lot. A very good travelling tip for Japan, is to acquire a Japan Rail Pass. With this pass you can travel on all JR Lines, which pretty much run through the whole country, as well as the inner cities. The pass comes in three types of duration; 7 days, 14 days, and 21 days. However, you must purchase what is known as an Exchange Order before you come to Japan. The Exchange Order must then be traded for the Japan Rail Pass at a JR Office at a Japanese train station. We bought our Exchange Order at a travel agency in Denpasar, Bali. It’s a bit spendy, we paid $600 for the 21 day-version, but that included some service fee for the travel agency. It was worth it though, as I’ll come back to later. Here’s what the Exchange Order look like:

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And here’s the Japan Rail Pass:

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The network of public transport in Japan is the best I’ve ever experienced. Trains, subways, and buses are going with high frequency, and the precision is amazing! After staying here a month, only once did I experience that a local train was delayed by a few minutes, the rest have been on time, and there’s been zero cancellations or stops. With the amount of people depending on the public transport system here, having downtime on the train or subway is not an option, it would create utter chaos. The bonus of having a well-functioning system of public transport, is that it really takes the pressure of the roads. Even in a massive city like Tokyo, traffic flows smoothly, and there are no traffic-jams like we have in Oslo, for example. I reckon the Norwegian Ministry of Transport ought to make a field trip to Japan, and bring a thick notebook to learn how it’s done.

The ultimate public transport is the Shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train, travelling at a speed up to 300 km/ h. It’s a very comfortable way of travelling, and they are seldom crowded, but this is probably also because they are quite expensive. Since we’ve used the Shinkansen to travel from Tokyo and many hours south down to Kyoto and Osaka, back up to Tokyo, and then later down to Kochi and back to Tokyo again, we’ve really got value for money for our Japan Rail Passes. Here’s a pic from the Shinkansen:

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As mentioned in earlier posts, there’s a certain language barrier here in Japan. Few people speak English, and sometimes, you’ll only find signs in Japanese. When trying to find your way and the map looks like this, you kind of lose progress…

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However, if you wander around the station you’ll probably find a map in English eventually, or a member of the staff who speaks enough English to guide you in the right direction. Or you could always ask Google, providing you have internet access.

When we travel, we certainly don’t travel light. We’re bringing a lot of gear; backpacks, bags, cameras, and surfboards. We certainly get some looks as we go around, and finding space on the sometimes crowded subway or a bus, can be “interesting”.

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However, our stay in Japan has now come to an end, tomorrow we fly to the Philippines! Pretty excited about that, and hopefully we’ll find a lot more waves than we have here in Japan. The lack of waves is pretty much the only downside to our stay here in Japan though, we’ve had a really good time here.

I’m also curious to see what the internet quality is like in the Philippines, with regards to keeping this blog updated. I guess we’ll find out – the adventure continues ๐Ÿ™‚