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November 2017

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Surfing and figuring out my next move after Taiwan were how I spent my last few days in Dulan. I had a few more stops along the way but was starting to think after 3 months here I may never leave. After all; the people are amazingly friendly, the food is delicious and the scenery is stunning. In Hualien, in-between horrific sunburn and passing out in the shower, I met many travelers who were discussing the Philippines. Mainly in a negative light. Due to the recent bombings in Manila and the increase in pirate kidnapping, many foreigners had cancelled their flights.  Obviously this piqued my interest enough to revisit the conversation with a new set of travelers. The result: booking three flights to get myself to Siargao Island.

siargao fisherman
Fisherman life on the island of Siargao
The mission of making it to Siargao Island

After some catching up in Kaohsiung and Taipei it’s a flight to Manila. Arriving so early I’m left will little to do with my evening. It’s finally time to create a massive conga line. First set back hits: I don’t have an exit flight out of the Philippines. I attempt to argue the fact I don’t know where I’m going after Siargao Island. I follow with a promise to leave within 30 days. Both arguments failing I leave the line and proceed to panic. Searching for cheap flights I give myself two weeks in the Philippines then fly to Hong Kong. Indonesia is actually where I wanted to go but hadn’t planned when and Hong Kong was the cheapest next to Taiwan. I had just come from Taiwan so Hong Kong it was. Note to self; get fucking organised!

siargao hidden beaches
Hidden beach in Siargao

Landing in Manila in the early hours of the morning I discover no food available. In fact, only the dim light of several vending machines offer a possibility of nourishment. I find only sugary drinks and water. No coffee. I repeat the earlier note made to ones self; get fucking organised! My next flight is to Cebu. I’m met with the same airport dilemma. Trying to keep spirits high I wait around for my flight and hope the plane serves food. There is no food. But it’s okay, one more flight and I’ll make it to Siargao Island by the morning. The plane to Siargao is the smallest I have ever been on. I’m relieved it isn’t full, not just for the weight but also my small hand luggage sized suitcase is too large for the over head compartment and under the seat.

From Siargao airport to Paglaom hostel
Siargao sunny paglaom hostel
Sunny and pup

The airport is fairly out-of-the-way to the main strip of the island. I booked transfer via Paglaom hostel and I recommend others book in advance. I had been awake through the night without food and so was grateful to climb into an empty air-conditioned van. The desire to sleep lifted as I got my first view of life in the Philippines. The island is a paradox. It’s poverty and paradise almost overshadowing each other. A place resembling the beauty of a Monet where upon the illusion of perfection is stripped away once you look closely at the detail. The waters reflect the sun off its crisp waves and plastic bottles. The children joyfully laugh on the beaches as they weave bracelets for their income.

siargao Filipino food
Island dinner

None of this is to dissuade anyone from visiting this once secret island. There is enormous life and beauty here. But with Siargao’s secrecy slowing disappearing, so is its natural beauty. It is not the influx of tourists to this paradise that bares the fault alone. Siargao island isn’t fully equipped to become a tourist hot-spot. There is no recycling in place and little in the way of medical facilities. The more resorts appear though, which is at a rapid speed, the more funding is going into protecting Siargao’s landscape and local people.

The home of Paglaom
siargao stand up paddle boarding
SUP day island hopping

Paglaom hostel has a vibe like no other. I arrive on family dinner day, obviously with no food to contribute. I was told it would be enough just to help prepare. Quickly showering I was immediately told I looked 100 times better than I did on arrival! We ate, we drank, we played questionable games and by the end of the night I was booked onto a SUP tour to a small island. This is the type of hostel where if you are traveling alone and want to meet people you’ve got it all. Strangers become family. Sunny and Coy are amazing and have a chalk board where they let you know what’s going on daily. Sunny also runs a small NGO doing beach clean ups and educating the youth of General Luna on protecting the environment. Coy is an amazing surfer who will teach you the best stand up technique on the kitchen table, and their dogs will keep you company if you fancy a quieter night in.

Things to do on Siargao island

Siargao is known as the surfing capital of the Philippines. With the famous Cloud 9 bringing surfers together from all over the world since the 80’s. It’s actually how the secret of Siargao was whispered among the tourists. But this slice of paradise doesn’t just cater to surfers. With yoga, tidal pools, caves and lagoons just being a taste of what is on offer here it attracts all kinds of travelers. Siargao is definitely a spot for nature lovers and beach bums. One thing I definitely recommend doing is island hopping. This often comes with lunch and is a great was to socialize with all your new hostel buddies. The waters are crystal clear providing a great opportunity for snorkeling among the coral and the beaches are a blinding white.

Magpupungko tidal pool
Magpupungko Tidal Pool

The best way to get around Siargao island is to rent a scooter. It will cost you around 350 pesos a day to explore this natural landscape. As a side-note; many of the hostels and restaurants are off the main strip and the roads turn into dirt tracks. With the high possibility of rain suddenly surrounding you these tracks become murky pools that are less than fun to ride through. If you are here to surf get yourself a bike with a rack in place so you can take your board to cloud 9 with ease. A great place not to miss is the Magpupungko Pool which is located in Pilar, about an hours drive from General Luna. This is the only tidal pool in the Philippines I have been told and offers an amazing spot to swim, separated from the ocean by a large reef that acts as a walk way during low tide.

siargao cloud 9 walkway
Cloud 9 pier
Leaving Siargao Island
siargao huts in water
secret island huts

Having to leave after a week was awful. All I kept saying to myself was ‘this is why you don’t book flights in advance!’ I was kicking myself for only giving two weeks to the Philippines. I had let the recent news and travelers worries affect my decision. Many of the people I met had cancelled their next set of flights to extend their stay in this paradise. I wanted to do the same but I had my next destination booked and didn’t mind a reason to come back to Siargao. I toyed with the idea of looking for work at a resort and just staying forever! After saying goodbye to Sunny and Coy it was the start of my journey to Palawan. Puerto Princesa was my intended stop for a week before heading to Hong Kong….not Indonesia….again; get fucking organised.

siargao beach clean up

siargao crystal clear water

siargao sunsets
Siargao sunsets

 

 

 

Hello blog that I have neglected for sooo many months!!! When traveling it’s hard not to get caught up in all the people you meet, the new places to discover, the random adventures that take you off course but it doesn’t matter because you’re traveling and totally free!!! But now that I have settled for a little while I miss my blog and being able to relive those adventures. So I’m casting my mind back to volunteering in the surf town of Dulan and getting so caught up in the lifestyle there I stayed on a little longer than planned! This is also where I said goodbye to blogging for a little while! So here goes…

I Lift my rucksack with a grimace. My back is as red as it was the day I got horrendously sunburnt. The walk to the station is less than 10 minutes. I debate cancelling my trip to the surf town of Dulan to stay in Hualien just to delay carrying this bag. I know little about Dulan. I’m told it’s small; as in one road kind of small. Apparently it’s only good if your into water sports. I have no experience with water sports and I’m avoiding a beach currently. How I find myself on a train heading south is beyond me.

Surf Town of Dulan
wagaligong volunteers
Wagaligong Volunteers

What actually brings me to Dulan is another Workaway volunteering opportunity at WaGaLiGong Surf Hostel. The hostel looks to offer a chilled atmosphere and use of a surf board for volunteers. This is also an area that offers aboriginal music and an art scene. Unsure of how much of this surf town I’ll experience while still resembling a lobster, I remain positive throughout the train journey.

The excitement is stalled as I attempt to figure out where I’m going. I find Taitung’s bus station soon enough. From here I fail to find anyone who speaks English. I’m swiftly taken over to a different section of the bus stop once I announce my destination. Turns out there are three sections for the different local buses. Several locals are showing me various buses and their times for me to choose from. Taitung, as with the rest of Taiwan, is full of friendly locals willing to help where they can.

Welcome to WaGaLiGong
local craft dulan taiwan
local crafts

30 minutes later I leave the bus and find myself dropped on the side of the road. Looking down this single street I reach for my phone to use google maps and suddenly realize I’m directly outside the hostel. I’m greeted by a fellow volunteer from Czech Republic. There is also a Brazilian/American here, a Taiwanese/American and a stylish Parisian. Within an hour of my arrival another Taiwanese volunteer arrives. The first day is about settling in and exploring my new surroundings.

sugar factory dulan taiwan
The Sugar Factory

As I’ve said there is only one main street to this Surf town and yet there is a surprising amount to discover here. The area has the most charm of anywhere I’ve visited in Taiwan so far. The Sugar factory is a must see for its graffiti and quirky coffee shops and local souvenirs. I’m able to stumble into the abandoned side of the sugar factory to discover just off to the left is a recording studio! There is an endless row of hostels that lead all the way to the beach. I imagine the amount of beds must out way the amount of guests they receive. Who the hell knows about this little town?! So many people skip Dulan and find themselves in Kenting, the well-known surf spot that also caters for diving and snorkeling. They are missing out.

Beach, bonfires and pizza!

Wandering down the street with my fellow volunteers I quickly become aware of all the volunteers here via Workaway. We discover a beach bonfire is happening and that’s are evening planned. The waves are crashing as though angered by never receiving peace. There are people jumping in the waves screaming with laughter at every violent hit. Thinking of my tender skin I remain on the sand sitting a comfortable distance away from the heat of the flames. We have street dogs joining us as I discover they often do. Everyone is sharing travel stories and although tired I’m very much content.

dulan locals taiwan
discovering local food

The following day I start my training. The surf hostel has a restaurant and yoga room. It feels like you are visiting your surfing friends and kind of moved in for a while. They have amazing pizza here cooked by Tienie and the hilarious Mark who will take you on the water for surfing. The work is easy and often involves interacting with guests. The cleaning is a sweaty mission but you shower and are done for the day. Volunteers get half price on food and surfing lessons so once my skin heels I’m there! For now, pizza.

Finding my surfing feet
wagaligong surf class
Surfs Up

“So are you a goofy foot or natural?” Errrm, excuse me? I quickly learn the question is to ascertain whether I surf with my left or right leg forward. Having never surfed I didn’t know. So began the simulation on the sand. Turns out I’m a natural footed surfer. We stay on the sand for sometime creating a map of the water with stones. We learn the layout and the area which Mark calls the factory. It’s where we were to move onto next to practice going out and coming in like a factory line. Nice and slow first timer steps. Of course though there is a storm coming and Marks eyes light up. We’re going into the deep end!

wagaligong surf class
Surfing techniques

Mark pushed us off a couple of times until we got the hang of that feeling when a wave catches you. Riding a wave and feeling the speed it takes you while looking down at the calm water below in comparison is really like nothing else I’ve experienced before. I didn’t even care that it was 7am anymore. We lost Mark a few times when he just couldn’t resist riding a wave. His apologetic self swimming back out to us open-mouthed newbies at the sheer skill this guy has! After a couple of hours we are starving and I need to return to work.

Forgetting to leave Dulan

After two weeks working with some amazing people in a beautiful place I wasn’t ready to leave. One of the benefits of volunteering with Wagaligong is half price on all future stays. I took up home in the yoga room for a further week and spent my days surfing, doing yoga and hiking with the street dogs. Wagaligong staying true to the spirit of surfing culture also participates in organised beach clean ups and so I was incredibly happy to get the chance to give something back to this magical place! I recommend the surf town of Dulan to every traveler, it truly is a little gem!

When I finally drew myself away I had a brief stop in Kaohsiung to see friends and babysit a bearded dragon followed by a reunion in Taipei with a previous workawayer. Then it was off to the Philippines 🙂

recycling dulan taiwan
Recycling craft
dulan views taiwan
Dulan Mountain views
dulan coastline taiwan
Dulan’s coastline