In October 2016, I got sent to Tandag, Surigao del Sur with Joan and Chimie for work. There was no direct flight to Tandag so we either had to land in Butuan or in Surigao del Norte. We opted to land in Butuan since we have not encountered anyone at work who tried going the Surigao del Norte route.
Once in Butuan, we took a van at Php 300 per person. The trip took around two hours, which allowed us time to sleep because we were tired at the time. We took turns sleeping because we were not familiar with the road to Tandag. Data connection was very weak so we could not use Waze to see where we were already. During our turns to stay awake, we admired the many beautiful bodies of water we passed by.
We stayed at Villa Maria Luisa Hotel, which seemed to be the best in the area. It is owned by a prominent political family in Surigao del Sur. The hotel does not look very modern like the hotels in Manila or Cebu but it has its charms. The rooms are big and during our stay, we got a room that could accommodate all three of us but still left plenty of space to move around.
The hotel has indoor pools and several huts with grilling areas, making it a good place for family outings. It also has a large restaurant in case you did not bring your own food. The restaurant serves very delicious food in large servings. If you are into sweets, the also have a small coffee shop near the reception area and they serve pretty decent drinks and cakes.
Not very far away from the restaurant is a gazebo that offers you a view that will surely make your day. You’ll discover that at the back of the hotel is the sea! If you wish some alone and quiet time while at the hotel, you may try going to the gazebo before people arrive for their outing. The sound of the waves may help relax a troubled mind.
Work was very tedious for this engagement as we were juggling two kinds of audit at once while our auditee was also being audited a third kind by another group. So, when the look weekend came at the end of the month, we made it a point to ensure our deliverables for that week were done so we could go on a little getaway.
First on our list was the Britania Group of Islands that we reached by taking a boat from Mac Arthur’s Place. From Mac Arthur’s alone, you will already fall in love with the sea as the walkway to the boat was strategically situated to excite you about what else is in store.
The ride to the first island was around 15 to 30 minutes max. It is best to go in the morning than in the afternoon because it gets dark quickly. You will surely want longer time to enjoy the scene, the sand and the water.
Britania Group of Islands has four major islands namely Hagonoy, Naked, Buslon and Hiyor-Hiyoran Islands. I am sure we went to Hagonoy first but I cannot decide whether it was Naked Island or Buslon Island that we went to next. Besides, it got dark quickly when we got to the second island so I did not enjoy it as much.
Hagonoy Island was like a painting of a paradise that came to life! The island was pristine and the water was very, very clear! There were lots of shells to pick on the shore, which I think the water guardians did not enjoy watching me do. Every time I got to pick one, the waves will come and hit me in the face!
That night, we stayed at O’s Landing Resort and had our dinner there too. The place offered charming rooms that can accommodate around ten to twelve people. The rooms look like small houses from the outside which makes them even more charming! However, the shower area is designed like showers in a locker room so you’ll have to figure out how to bathe without getting your changing clothes wet. And make sure to wear rubber slippers because the stoned floor can be slippery.
Except for losing power that night due to some power interruption and a large beetle that kept flying around and refusing to get caught, sleep was pretty comfortable.
We got up very early the next day to go to the Hinatuan Enchanted River. We also wanted to grab the chance to see the sunrise along the way, overlooking to Britania Group of Islands. There’s just something about sunrises that makes one feel like there are so many good things to come.
Since the exciting event in Enchanted River wasn’t until noon, we first took a boat and went to Sibadan Fish Cage to have our breakfast. Sibadan is a floating restaurant with fish cages where most of the seafood you will be served are taken. We pitied the guy who had to dive and get fresh crabs every time there was an order. That meant fresh crabs though.
I saw fishes I have never seen in my life, in different sizes and in different colors! I also saw baby sharks (DON’T insert music here!) that were eating smaller fishes. You may feed the fishes but try not to throw excessive amounts of food because it will not do them good.
On the other side of the smaller cages was the biggest one wherein guests can swim with the fishes and two stingrays.
Yep. You read that right. Stingrays! The owners removed the poisonous barbs already so they were safe at that time. In fact, one of them went up the water and latched on the back of one of our companions! She was not harmed but she was shaken and very much surprised.
Shout out to Vanessa Cañete for the picture of the stingray! This stingray loved the attention. He kept putting his head out of the water as if he wanted to smile at the cameras taking videos and photos of him.
And despite the shark cages being close by and the stingrays lurking at the bottom, I got persuaded by Joan and Chimie to take a dip. That was the second time I dipped myself in the sea, the first one being was when I was four or five years old. Boy, did I struggle with my life vest. But it was one hell of a fun experience!
We rode the boat back to the enchanted river which had me wondering how a river could connect to the sea. The water in the river was not salty and did not sting the eyes. How that could happen when it connects to the sea still baffles me.
So why is it called the Enchanted River? Locals say engkantos live in the river and that they take care of it. It is why no matter the natural calamities that the place has gone through, the water remains crystal clear. No one also knows how deep river is and one diver, despite his professional training, died while trying to do so.
Another thing that makes it enchanting is that at a specific time of the day, a caretaker will play the Hinatuan Hymn. As if magic happening right before your eyes, fishes will come out of nowhere and pool together as they wait to be fed. Seriously! We were swimming in the water and there was not a single fish in sight but that music brought hundreds of them out from God-knows-where! And after the hymn, they will slowly disappear as if they were never even there to begin with. And mind you, they say that these are saltwater fish! They will not survive in fresh, river water.
Before going back to our hotel in Tandag, we stopped by Cagwait White Beach because our companions wanted us to see their version of Boracay that in my opinion, was without the hullabaloo. Cagwait was beautiful and has its charms. The sand was very fine and did not hurt one’s feet while walking around.
We were knocked out when we got back but we had the time of our lives! Fortunately, we still had one day left from the long weekend to rest for another week of grueling work.
Surigao del Sur, while not as modern as other places in the Philippines, was blessed with beautiful waters and natural riches that makes it very endearing to tourists. The people were very nice too and we have not had one problem about being overcharged for services or being hoodwinked. And even if we went home past midnight (yes, that was how grueling work was), we were not afraid about not getting back to the hotel safely.
And the seafoods! Oh dear! I made it a point to buy my stock of antihistamine just so I will not get allergic reactions to seafood. I have never had so many delicious shrimps and crabs for a long time and Tandag offered them, as fresh as they can be! Oh, the little things we tend to take for granted in Manila…
We still had one weekend left for another adventure. Unfortunately, Chimie had to go back to Manila for another assignment. Joan and I stayed because we were going to Cebu next for yet another two kinds of audit. I think I did not go home for almost two months.
Our last adventure was at Laswitan Lagoon in Cortes, still in Surigao del Sur. The road to Cortes was a rocky one so your ordinary sedan will not be up to the challenge. And since it was rainy at that time, the path to the actual lagoon was very, very muddy.
I hate mud and did not enjoy the walk at all. I had to use all my muscles to make sure I don’t slip and slide. But the walk was worth it afterwards because of what was going to happen next.
Behind the huge rocks is the Philippine Sea! You can swim close to the rocks but do not go beyond that as it may be unsafe. After all, the waves can be gigantic and you’ll be swept to these huge rocks, which I am sure will not do anything beautiful to your body. But those scary waves do something beautiful to these rocks.
You know the feeling of impending trouble and the panic it brings you as it gets closer and closer? And the feeling when the world crashes on your shoulders? Then the feeling when you survive it all and come out stronger and wiser? Looks like this:
Because it was cloudy, it looks kinda creepy. I bet it would be even lovelier when you visit it on a sunny day. There will be less mud too, ha-ha! But despite the weather, in person, it was breathtaking and spectacular! You will have to wait as the waves can sometimes be a tease and not give you a majestic waterfall effect afterwards. But when the giant waves come, it’s the most beautiful thing to see at Laswitan. After all, it got its name from laswit, which was their word for those huge waves.
Surigao del Sur should be in every tourists’ bucket list. I hope to go back one day because I have not yet seen the falls I have heard so many wonderful things about like Tinuy-an, Magkawas, Sian and Bao-bao. Despite that, I am already happy that I got to see wonders that I only used to imagine and see in paintings and in pictures.