Friday, 21 July 2017

It's Business as Usual in Siargao (Surigao del Norte)

Media group with Del Carmen Mayor Alfredo M. Coro II (center)

The 80-seater, 4-engine British Aerospace
146-100 jet of SkyJet Airlines
Last July, members of print media were invited to tour Siargao Island, the “Surfing Capital of the Philippines,” to show that it is still “business as usual” on the island despite the extension of martial law in Mindanao.  Invited were Ms. Bernadette Lunas of Manila Standard, Mr. Benjamin L. Layug of Business Mirror; Mr. Roel Hoang Manipon of the Daily Tribune; Mr. Terence Patrick Repelente of the Manila Bulletin; Mr. Timothy Jay Araneta of EXPAT Communications; Mr. Jimmy Calapati of Malaya Biz,  and Mr. Amadis Ma. Guerrero of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  Also joining the group were noted photographer Mr. Donald C. Tapan, Ms. Louise Santiano of Skyjet and Publicist/PR Consultant Mr. Pete Dacuycuy.   
Siargao Domestic Airport

Dino Reyes-Chua
This group was brought directly to Siargao via an 80-min. flight from Manila, courtesy of SkyJet Airlines President Mr. Dino Reyes-Chua, riding in style on SkyJet’s 80-seater, 4-engine British Aerospace 146-100 jet.  
The same kind of VIP jet aircraft used by Queen ElizabethPrince CharlesPrince William and the rest of the British royal family, it lends credence to what Mr. Chua said, “We are not just selling seats, we are selling experience.  Flying with Sky Jet is a lifestyle!”
Del Carmen Mayor Alfredo M. "JR" Coro II

Bakhaw Bed & Breakfast (photo: Mr. Pete Dacuycuy)
Upon arrival at Sayak Airport,we were welcomed by our host, the youthful and dynamic Del Carmen town Mayor Alfredo M. “JR” Coro II.  We were all billeted at some of nearby Bakhaw Bed & Breakfast’s 16 rooms. 

After a late breakfast, a press conference with Mayor Coro was held. Coro delivered a “State of the Island” address, narrating how the island has shifted to family-oriented tourism and this is evident in the number of tourists visiting popular spots such as Naked Island, Daku Island, Guyam Island, Sugba Lagoon, Magpupungko Rock, etc.   He also proudly stated that out of 54 mangrove species worldwide, 44 can be found in Del Carmen. In terms of mangrove forest, Del Camen has 4,000 hectares (out of 8,600 hectares total in Siargao) of contiguous mangrove (home to the Crocodylus porosus,  the largest of all living saltwater crocodiles), the largest in the Philippines. 
Check out "Hotel and Inn Review: Bakhaw Bed and Breakfast"
Press conference with Mayor Coro at Bakhaw Bed and Breakfast (photo: Mr. Pete Dacuycuy)

Del Carmen Municipal Hall
After the presscon, we boarded two vans, provided by Mayor Coro, for a tour, with Ms. Roxan Gesto as our guide, of what Siargao has to offer.  We first made a stopover at Del Carmen Municipal Hall where we made a courtesy call on Mayor Coro's office.  
We next proceeded  to Port Pilar where the annual International Sportsfishing Cup (end of April or the beginning of May) is held. The waters to the east of the island offer excellent sport fishing (sailfish, marlin, yellow-fin tuna, wahoo, dorado, etc.), depending on the time of year.
Port Pilar

Tidal pool
We next motored to the nearby Magpupungko Tidal Pool & Lagoon, located on a cove facing the Pacific Ocean.  It is surrounded by limestone and granite formations, the most prominent of which is the iconic Magpupungko Rock. 
As we arrived during low tide, the limestone lagoon was pockmarked with crystal-clear swimming pools of assorted shapes and sizes where one can dip. However, most tourists and locals go here for cliff diving, an extreme activity done from one of the islets. Many sections of the pools are deep enough and, thus, safe to dive from.
Check out "Magpupungko Tidal Flats and Lagoon"
Magpupungko Rock

After a lunch prepared for us by Surigao del Norte District I Cong. Francisco Jose “Bingo” Matugas II and hosted by Mayor Coro at Krokodeilos in Del Carmen, the media group visited the adjacent Mangrove Protection & Information Center.  
Opened last November 15, 2014, the center is a legacy of Metro Pacific Investments Foundation (as part of their “Siargao It Up!”project) and the Municipality of Del Carmen to the people of Siargao.
Check out "Mangrove Protection & Information Center"
Mangrove Protection & Information Center

Mayor Coro with members of media
This facility serves as the center for the protection and propagation of mangrove trees in the coastal estuaries and the rehabilitation of degraded mangroves in the whole island of Siargao, 
It also provides information for locals, tourists and guests on the value and benefits of mangroves in our ecosystem. On display here are educational materials, a collection of sea shells and a complete skeleton of a saltwater crocodile as well as a number of skulls. Outside is a preserved saltwater crocodile. 
Traversing the mangroves of Del Carmen (photo: Mr. Donald C. Tapan)

From the center, the group again boarded outrigger boats for the 40-min. trip to the 87-hectare Sugba Lagoon in Caub Island, passing lush mangrove forests along the way. 

The 30 to 45-min. boat ride to the lagoon from the port was half the fun as we were to traverse wonderful and breathtaking scenery. 

Initially, we entered Del Carmen’s massive mangrove area with a backdrop of small green hills, passing fishermen on their boats, to some offshore islands. 
Island with pocket beaches and houses on stilts

The two-storey pavilion
Then, we went through a narrow passage that opened up into a large bay.  Here, we espied some small, thickly vegetated islands with sandy pocket beaches and small villages with houses on stilts. 
The captivating Sugba Lagoon is surrounded by large limestone hills covered with lush vegetation.  The lagoon has a two-storey pavilion, with a view deck, built by the local government unit to cater to visitors. Here, some members of the group tried stand up paddle boarding, exploring the turquoise waters of the lagoon’s perimeter.
Check out "Sugba Lagoon"
Sugba Lagoon (photo: Ms. Louise Santianen)

L-R: Mayor Coro, Louise Santianen
and Mr. Pete Dacuycuy
Back at Gen. Luna, we joined sponsors and participants of the First Siargao International Marathon (a project of Coro to spearhead a mangrove rehabilitation program) for dinner at Surigao City Mayor Ernesto Matugas’ private resort at Ocean Ridge. 
This 42.195-km. foot race (there are also 21-km. or 5-km. side events), to be held on July 23 at Numancia Elementary School grounds, also aims to promote the island of Siargao as a sports and eco tourism hub. Held in collaboration with the Municipality of Del Carmen, Siargao and the Department of Tourism, it is presented by SkyJet Airlines and is also supported by H&M Sport, Pascual Greek Yogurt, The Live Fit Lab and TetraPak.
General Luna Port 

L-R: Benjie Layug, Donna Estrella and Donald Tapan
The next day, after breakfast, we boarded our respective vans, now with Siargao Tourism Coordinator Ms. Donna Grace T. Estrella as our guide, as we were scheduled to go island hopping at Gen. Luna.  When we arrived at the port, we had to wade the shallow water, as it was low tide, to get to our two motorized outrigger boats moored some distance away. 

Once on board, we proceeded on our 25-min. boat ride to our first destination – Naked Island. Like Camiguin’s White Island, this fairly short stopover is a pure expanse of white sand surrounded by deeper crystal clear lagoon, with no trees or vegetation. Still, its calm waters make it an excellent spot for swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing.
Check out "Naked Island"
Naked Island (photo: Mr. Donald Tapan)

Boodle lunch
Our longest stopover was made at Dako (from a Visayan word meaning “big”) Island.  The biggest of the three we were to visit, it has a small village, a long strip of white beach, a green backdrop and aquamarine waters.  Here, a boodle lunch of grilled fare was prepare or us.  
It included chicken, squid, bulis (yellow fin tuna), ganga (spider conch) and hot dogs; steamed rice; and a dessert of ripe mangoes, bananas and sliced watermelon; all washed down with fresh buko juice and soft drinks. 
Check out "Daku Island"
Daku Island
Daku Island (photo: Mr. Donald 
After lunch and some snorkeling, a short 15-min. boat ride brought us to our last island - the beautiful, uninhabited tear-drop shaped Guyam (meaning “little”) Island, located just a few hundred meters north of Daku Island.  

This 4,300 sq. m. (46,000 sq. ft.) islet has a small stretch of powdery to coarse, ivory to white sand and is home to a small grove of coconut, talisay (beach almond) and pine trees that have thrived there for years. 

It also has interesting coral rock formations that are perfect for snorkeling.  Its 230 m. (750 ft.) long coastline can be leisurely walked around in a little more than 15 mins. 

The island is unpretentious but is equally interesting as Naked and Daku Island. 
Check out "Guyam Island"
Guyam Island (photo: Mr. Donald Tapan)

Cloud Nine Boardwalk
Back at the mainland, it was now time to visit the popular Cloud 9 wooden boardwalk which allows surfers to get out to those dramatic and powerful waves, barreling up to 9 feet high, which made Siargao as the "Surfing Capital of the Philippines."  
At its three-level viewing deck, the group enjoyed watching surfers as they tackled the big waves of this famous surf break.
Check out "Cloud 9 Boardwalk"
Surfers at Cloud Nine (photo: Mr. Pete Dacuycuy)

The 3-storey observation deck
The next day, our return flight was cancelled due to bad weather in the morning. The First Siargao International Marathon continued as plan in spite of the rains. The extra day allowed the group to circumnavigate the island in the afternoon. 

Using the same van provided for us the days before, we were driven along the island’s 162-km. circumferential road, admiring some of the coastal scenery and making a stopover at the white sand Alegria Beach in Sta. Monica town.  Located  inside a reef-fringed lagoon in Siargao Island’s northeast, this alternative to the otherwise surfing dominated beaches of the island is another jewel in the crown of the island. 
Check out "Alegria Beach"
Alegria Beach (photo: Mr. Donald Tapan)

Siargao Tourism Office: Paseo De Cabuntog, Brgy. Catangnan, Gen. Luna, Siargao Island. Mobile number: (0921) 718-2268 (Ms. Donna Grace T. Estrella – Siargao Tourism Coordinator)
How to Get There: Skyjet Airlines has daily, 100-min. direct flights from Manila (NAIA Terminal 4) to Siargao (Sayak Airport). ETD Manila at 6 AM (M8-421), ETA Siargao at 7:40 AM. Return flights: ET Siargao at 8:10 AM (M8-422), ETD Manila at 9:50 AM.
Skyjet Airlines: Manila Domestic Airport, Parking A, Terminal 4, NAIA Complex, Brgy. 191, Pasay City, Metro Manila. Tel: (02) 863-1333 and (02) 823-3366. E-mail: Website:

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