Everyone wants a glimpse of paradise. I had mine at six years old.
My maternal grandparents are from the south. My parents would frequent the place when I was little. We were able to secure property on a remote island, and in the ’90s, there wasn’t much action there.
We built a little house on it, with only a table and Monobloc chairs for taking our meals, and mattresses laid out for sleeping.
We had no electricity, and turned on the generator only at sundown. No TV sets or any entertainment gadget—just a radio for communication to the mainland.
Our activities centered around what was right in front of us: white sand, turquoise waters, and coconut trees. Snorkeling, hiking and fishing would make up our day.
When the sun was too hot or too low, we learned how to play all the card games possible. Pusoy dos was our favorite. And when everyone had won 10 rounds each, we would bring out our banig mats and gaze at the stars.
When you have access to such a countryside paradise at a young age, there is a high possibility you will take it for granted. I will admit, I was kind of jaded.
But for first-time visitors, the Pacific Ocean captivates with water as clear as crystal, so pristine that even 30 feet deep, you could still see straight to the bottom.
You didn’t need diving gear to observe the marine life, because the sea was so unblemished, it’s like looking through glass.
With ecology unharmed at the time, the seafood was as fresh as you could get! You could pick sea urchin right on the beach front, crack it open and eat it on the spot.
Crabs and lobsters tasted so sweet. Because of this, I could never eat seafood in the city.
When we ran out of mischief on our beach front, we brought our shenanigans to the neighboring islets. Right across from us was a tiny island with coconut trees. It was so tiny, you could walk around the entire place in five minutes.
A different shade of blue existed in that area. The closest I could compare it to were the colors of the water in Dolce & Gabbana ads. We had a resident sea snake, which would always swim nearby but never close enough to harm us.
Gradient of blue
Across the water was what we fondly called The Sandbar. Nothing but a stretch of sand surrounded by another gradient of blue. There we found the most exotic shells.
Then, all of a sudden, tourists were popping up everywhere. The place was featured on practically every magazine, blog and social media page. In the blink of an eye, it was now on everyone’s bucket list.
People discovered the name of my coconut island, which is Guyam. Our sandbar (local name: pansukian) is now known as Naked Island.
Every Tom, Dick, Harry and their friends and family started coming on direct flights. Going to this place used to be a whole day’s journey.
You may have heard of this place. It’s called Siargao.
Unfortunately, progress is inevitable. And it would be selfish to deny people a slice of heaven. But with people comes trash that they bring and don’t bother to pick up.
That is so selfish because they are disrupting a preexisting, functional ecosystem. And the pollution is not limited to the excessive use of plastic and other forms of garbage. The noise from tourists drowns out the sounds of birds and crickets in the lagoons.
I now regret not seeing how special it was.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before a place like this was discovered. I decided to jump on the bandwagon and include Siargao on the list of destinations my travel company specializes in. At least, this way, I could control the tourism from my end and make sure my clients are responsible travelers.
It’s not that I discourage people to go. I just don’t want irresponsible tourism to ruin this precious piece of utopia.
Can we please learn from the shutdown of Boracay? Before you build, think about what you might be destroying. If you must construct, make sure proper irrigation systems are in order. I urge visitors to please leave the beaches just the way you found it.
What you can do
Here are a few things you can do to make sure that, while you are vacationing in a piece of paradise, you are protecting it.
Set aside a day or even just a few hours to join SEA Movement (Siargao Environmental Awareness Movement), a nonprofit organization that coordinates beach cleanups. It has a weekly schedule of activities in different locations. (Follow it on Facebook or Instagram @s.e.a.movement). The group is always happy to accept volunteers.
Another group that organizes beach cleanups is Sun Crew Siargao. This is more for children volunteers. The earlier kids are taught about preserving the environment, the better.
What to do with all that trash that is collected? Support Nature Kids of Siargao. This is a platform where volunteers help residents live a more sustainable life. It handles the Siargao Recycling Art Studio, where discarded plastic is upcycled and turned into other products.
Donations also help the locals educate their children about the future of Siargao’s waste management. (www.naturekidsofsiargao.com or follow them on Facebook and Instagram @naturekidsofsiargao.)
Another nonprofit organization is Siargao Masaya, which focuses on education. Through the group, you can sponsor a child’s education for as low as P2,500 a year. Siargao Masaya also has a traveling library that brings books around, and teaches people about hygiene, health, family planning and environmental subjects. (www.siargao-masaya.org)
Some Siargao visitors have been so captivated by its beauty that they try to buy land or start businesses on the island. For something a little more long-term, there is the Siargao Tourism Operators Association, a group of tourism officers that supports operations for the sustainable development and conservation of Siargao as a tourist destination and national asset.
The best anyone can do for Siargao and its well-being is to become responsible visitors to the island. This not only applies to eco-tourism and proper waste management, but also to one’s individual safety and security.
Siargao’s healthcare is still an issue, as there is no hospital on the island—the closest one is about four hours away.
This place is still very provincial. Siargao is not totally prepared for the influx of more and more tourists. So, remember to take care of yourselves. Do not drive drunk, or ride a motorbike without a helmet.
If you want to learn how to surf, seek out the Siargao Island Surf Association for certified instructors. Do your due diligence as travelers so you can avoid accidents.
There is a way to enjoy a place without disrupting its harmony.
The author’s Destino Luxe Travel & Tours has partnered with the travel photographers of Sweet Escape, who can capture your precious moments in Siargao, which is one of their featured locations. Destino has a special code for $100 off your first shoot, and then another code for extra photos during future sessions in other travel spots. Visit www.sweetescape.com or follow @sweet.escape on Instagram.