I think I discovered the world’s next big surf spot today. Ok, it’s already discovered, but barely. It’s called Burgos (not to be confused with Manila’s red-light district of the same name). It’s up on the north tip of Siargao Island, which is already on the surfing map for being home to Cloud Nine, the country’s most famous and probably best surf break. Burgos is a hefty hour-and-a-half drive north of Cloud Nine (now dubbed ‘Crowd Nine’ due to the hordes of surfers who flock here from September to November). Cloud Nine is all that and more. Even in this ‘lean’ season, it was barreling beautifully and hosting a population of about 25 surfers.
Cloud Nine is old news, but Burgos … Burgos is simply awesome. I don’t even surf, but even I was excited by the sight of about a dozen different breaks peeling off in every direction as I caught my first glimpse of Burgos Bay and its gorgeous white sand beach. And there were only about three surfers, all locals, hitting it. I was led to Burgos by a tip about a new resort on the LP online forum, Thorntree. To drive up there I had rented a habal-habal at the pier in Dapa when I arrived. A habal-habal a 150cc motorcycle fitted with an elongated seat that can fit four or five not-too-big people. The term allegedly means ‘pigs copulating’. It cost me P400 ($8) to rent it for 24hrs. Taxi fare alone from the pier to Cloud Nine (where my resort was) would have cost me P500 round-trip. So I saved P100, and essentially got free use of a habal-habal. Not bad! Plus I could make money on the side by giving people lifts, if I were so inclined.
Some people might be thinking, who gives a rat’s a**, you saved two bucks. Sometimes when I step outside of my role, I think that too. All of which emphasizes the importance of staying within the role of shoestring writer – taking the character home with you, a-la Robert Downey Jr’s character in Tropic Thunder. Lonely Planet calls it the Shoestring pledge: If you work on the "Yellow Bible” as the Shoestring book is known, you are expected to live the part.
The road up to Burgos is mostly dirt, which makes for some tough driving, but the incredible views make up for it. Most of the ride parallels Siargao’s Western shoreline. There are big palm trees and white beaches in the foreground, big breakers a bit offshore, and in the background postage-stamp islands lassoed by tethers of bright white sand (that’s one of the dozens of expressions I’ve had to come up with to describe such islands over the years).
Burgos itself fronts a perfect crescent-shaped bay carved up by swells breaking in every which way. The competing swells merge in a cauldron of froth that marches shoreward before dissipating on a broad wedge of blond, powdered sugary soft shoreline (see, that’s another one). In a word: paradise. And there was just about nobody around to appreciate it.
One guy who certainly appreciates it is Graham, owner of Bohemia Bungalows Beach Resort. An avid surfer, he had been living here in a small but attractive bungalow for about three years before deciding to expand into a proper resort. He built a house and few more bungalows and launched Bohemia about 6 months ago. Next he plans to launch a surf school. I wouldn’t mind being his first pupil when he does. For now you can still stay here and get surfing tips, but it’s all pretty informal. A couple years from now I can see the situation changing as more surfers, wary of the crowds at Cloud Nine, catch on to this awesome spot. Similarly idyllic white beaches stroked by similarly tasty waves lie to the south and north of Burgos, but they aren’t quite as nice and they lack the multi-directional nature of the breaks in Burgos Bay.
I rode back to Cloud Nine where I was to meet Jonah, the grandson of one of my mom’s best friends, for dinner. Now this was a random encounter if there ever were one. We met in the restaurant of his resort. He was the dude sitting at the table next to me to whom I posed a question about whether the wifi worked. We got to talking about the surfing, as he was evidently a surfer. I think he asked me something about what I was doing in Siargao if I didn’t surf (a fair question). When I told him, he said he had heard of me – not because he has read several of my works or anything, but because his step-grandmother (my mom’s friend) had told him that her friend’s son (me – that’s right I have a generation on Jonah; I guess that happens when you’re 40) also lived in the Philippines and wrote for Lonely Planet. There’s your match. Small world.
Jonah turned out to be a pretty damn good surfer, judging by the size of the waves he was riding. Maybe they weren't big by Siargao standards but they were pretty big by my standards (I still haven’t gotten beyond being pushed onto waves in La Union). He’s based in Bayawan, Negros, working on an engineering project for a year before going to grad school. Good kid. (I’m entitled to use that word now that I’m 40.) After dinner we rode around in search of bars, Jonah and his girlfriend on the back of my habal-habal. We must have been a sight to behold. The few bars in the area were either closed or dead. We settled for dead, if only for one beer, before heading home.
And no, I didn't charge them for the ride.