Renegade Trip to Bucas Grande

This is what happens when your travel plans consist of: 1. Bring a tent. 2. Get on a boat. 3. Anything goes. We travelled with a corpse, took a bath next to a pigpen, and spent a rainy night in the dark drinking Vino Kulafu and Gold Eagle Beer. We also met a World War II veteran, witnessed bayanihan in action and became an amusing spectacle for local kids. But first, the long-winded back story.

I had a roundtrip ticket to Surigao City which I bought on a piso fare seat sale months earlier. I went there for the first time in 2010 for a research project which had me running around chasing after all sorts of important (and self-important) people for interviews. This time I wanted to go back and experience the place in a less harried manner.

Confident that I’d been there before, I didn’t bother making any plans for this trip. Then three days before my flight, I realized I had no freakin’ idea what I was going to do once I got there. My online research only got me confused and overwhelmed with so much information.

Out of desperation and laziness, I sent an email to a local journalist I met in my 2010 trip. I was hoping he’d still remember me and would be kind enough to give suggestions. I got a prompt reply from him saying Bucas Grande, Siargao and Dinagat islands are all worth checking out, which didn’t help at all with my confusion. He also asked if he could tag along, which was how I got myself a travel buddy.

I was barely out of the airport when I started badgering him. “I’m here! Let’s go to I-don’t-know-where-exactly-but-we’ll-figure-it-out!” He sneaked out of a press conference, crammed his stuff into a backpack and off we went to the pier. Our plan was to get on whatever boat was accepting passengers. We ended up on a rickety, overloaded motorboat headed for Bucas Grande Island with cargo that includes sacks of cement and a dead body in a coffin. Sweet.

Our snazzy ride

Although the view was not bad

Nope, not bad at all

We even made some friends while hanging out on the bow.

It was not all nice and scenic though. Passing by denuded islands and gigantic mining ships in the open sea, I was reminded of how the mining industry still rules much of the province. I’ll discuss this in a separate post.

We arrived in the town of Socorro in Bucas Grande after the two-hour boat ride. A staff at the local tourism office advised us on where to stay but we were too much of a cheap ass to pay for lodging and we had full confidence in the integrity of our tent. We walked in the rain and looked for a place to camp. Yep, it was raining, which should’ve been our first clue that camping was a bad idea. But we were too stubborn (and stupid) to realize this.

We met a teenager on the road named Jowa (if you know gay lingo, shut up and stop laughing) who said we could stay for the night beside the public swimming pool. We got to the pool and found a flat grassy area that was perfect for setting up our tent. The place was packed with children horsing around in the pool. Upon seeing two strangers clumsily trying to make a billowy plastic sheet stand on the ground, they gathered around and watched with wide-eyed curiosity. We felt like exotic animals in a zoo as the children oohed and aahed at our every move, even poking at the tent to see if it was really standing on its own.

The kindness of strangers wherever I go never fails to amaze me and this trip was no exception. The pool caretaker came by and invited us to sleep in their house. We didn’t want to hassle him and his family so we declined. He went home and came back with a rechargeable LED lamp so we won’t be in complete darkness. Jowa also dropped by with a pillow and a blanket.

For dinner, we bought a couple of fish dishes from a roadside store and brought them to an eatery beside the tourism office since the store had no dine-in options. We bought rice and vegetables and had a cheap but satisfying meal.

After eating, we hung out at the covered area near the pool which housed a couple of dressing stalls. Based on the stinky smell, they also doubled as bathrooms. Bogart and Jowa learned that I’ve never had Vino Kulafu, a cheap local Chinese wine, and Gold Eagle, an equally cheap local beer. These are the favorite drinks in the island. They bought a couple of bottles of these and initiated me into the local drinking culture. Kulafu tasted like medicine and Gold Eagle was basically beer-flavored water.

Vino Kulafu, no matter what; the booze you can trust at all times.

After the inuman, Jowa went home and we trooped off to our tent. The boat ride and all the walking wore me down so badly I was asleep in a few minutes. I woke up past midnight with my head drenched in a puddle of water. It was raining hard and our mighty shelter was leaking. We scrambled in the darkness (the LED lamp has long died out) to move our backpacks and tent into the covered area, the whole time cackling like lunatics since we somehow found this utterly hilarious.

We woke up early the next day to a dozen pairs of eyes staring at us. The local kids were back. They were absolutely delighted that we actually slept inside the billowy plastic sheet that seemed to stand on its own. A few women were already there as well, cleaning the grounds. The residents apparently take turns in maintaining the pool area. This is part of the local culture in Socorro called tinabangay, a Visayan word which means helping one another (bayanihan in Tagalog).

We packed up and headed to Jowa’s house to return the pillow and blanket. He also let us use their bathroom which was awesome because we had no idea where we could take a shower. The bathroom was beside the pigpen. I’ve had my share of rustic outhouses but this was the first time I took a bath next to an animal. The pig was well-behaved though and since I often take forever in the shower, I think we already had a connection by the time I was done.

We met Jowa’s parents and his grandfather, Lolo Fortunato, a 99-year-old World War II veteran who fought against the Japanese in the 1940s. As a member of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE), he should’ve gotten a monthly pension after the war. His son Mang Pedro said some people came to them and offered to process the papers for his pension but they disappeared after getting Lolo Fortunato’s pertinent documents. Mang Pedro showed us the remaining documents they had. He’s not sure if it’s still possible to avail of the pension at this point. I wish we had a better answer than a few sympathetic words. We then said our goodbyes and went back to the pier to figure out where we’re headed next.

Three generations: Jowa, Lolo Fortunato and Mang Pedro

I started out on this trip with no logical plans whatsoever. I never imagined it would be this interesting, that I’d meet an awesome travel buddy who may just be as insane as I am or that I’d experience overwhelming kindness in an island I didn’t even know existed until recently. I never imagined anything goes would be as good as this.

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