Northern Philippines Solo Backpacking Trip

Six days.

Three provinces.

One amazing backpacking story.

When I filed this leave, I don’t have any idea on where to go. I just think I needed a summer break.

Two weeks prior to the 6-day adventure, I still have no plans at all.

Then I was down to 1 week. I tried to come up with an itinerary. But the ridiculously hot weather is killing me. You just want to jump to the beach.

Then I was down to 2 days. I open my laptop and began searching.

From the previous travels I had for the past couple of months, I spent it on the mountains. I was always drawn to my first love.

I thought of giving the waters a second chance.

It is a known fact that I am more of a mountain rat rather than a beach bum.

The cordilleras give me a sense of peace and rush at the same time.

Soon after I decided to be a beach baby for the next 6 days.

-          Northern Philippines.

I feel home when I’m in the north. Aside from that my roots trace back in this place, this is known for mountainous terrains.

First stop: San Juan, La Union. This place is popular as the Surfing Capital of the Northern Philippines. It bounded on the west by the South China Sea. The reason perhaps of the strong waves apt for surfing.

I tried to look for a cheap home stay or hotel near the surf town. I found a few but upon looking further, I came across of this beach artist hostel called Flotsam Jetsam. I checked their website, Facebook and Instagram accounts. I knew this has to be my place and so I made the reservation.

Flotsam and Jetsam hostel is quite isolated which I personally like. The place is artsy, edgy and cool that gives a Coachella vibe of being carefree.  The peculiarity of the place, the housewares and bathroom pieces in particular were well thought of and leaves a certain charm. The bathrooms were spotlessly clean and smelled good.

Upon checking in, I immediately went outside to catch the sunset. If there is one thing I love about blue waters against the vast sky is the sunset. I watch the sun as it hides from the horizon while watching people pass by. It was an awesome way to end my first night.

I wake up early to greet the sunrise on the east. The calm waters at first streak of sun waving hello is a joy to see. I had my quick breakfast outside the hostel. Soon after, I went to scout for a surfing lesson.

I was scanning the stretch of the shore and found San Juan La Union Surf School. They are located at the far end of the coast line. Staff was very accommodating for a beginner and non-swimmer like me. I met my instructor, his name is Jerik. He is only 22 years old. He was very cool while teaching me the basics until I played with the waves. I had several attempts before I was able to get my feet rise and stand on the surf board. It was hard to balance initially, but I was able to pull through at the end. I never expected that I would enjoy surfing. When you get the hang of it and work with the water not against it, you will just sail effortlessly.

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After a couple of hours, I jumped to my next itinerary and that is trekking to Tangadan Falls. While preparing for my La Union trip, I was very eager to search for a hiking activity. Incidentally, La Union also houses several falls in which Tangadan happens to be the most favored. The falls is burrowed in the town of San Gabriel, about 30 minutes jeepney ride from San Juan. Then, another 15 minute tricycle commute to reach the starting point. It is approximately a 2.5 km length of an estimate 2-hour hike depending on your pace.

I was joined by kuya Larry. My soft spoken guide. But it was a never a bore all throughout the trek. We talked about Ilokano food, places and love life. Haha.

A little more than 2 hours later, I saw the falls. It was way stunning than those of the pictures! The surrounding rocks and greens give the water at the base of the falls an olive green color which is very magnetic. After a couple of hours of trek, I just jump into the refreshing cold water.

I met a group of children while we were at the falls. (From left to right) Vic, Bryan, Virgil and Cherry Mae. They were superb swimmers! I told them that we should do a reunion at the very same place after 10 years. They all agreed in unison. I asked Bryan how old would he be by that time, he said "Seven." lol

Cherry Mae even reminded me of the idea of reunion by the time I was leaving. She said: "Ate Nico kita tayo ha after 10 years."

We spent another 2 hours and then we went home and bid the newly found friends goodbye.

I can’t sleep during my last night in La Union. I spent the rest of the afternoon by the shore as I watch the gorgeous sunset. It was so beautiful against the purplish horizon.

While most people were heading to some night parties because it was a Friday, I spent mine in a hammock at the beach front until it put me to sleep.

I was awakened by the early morning sounds of nature. The darkness was inviting for a jog and a quick shower.

The morning sea is a happy pill. You were just drawn to her and you never want to lose sight of her.

I surrendered to her daybreak charm while my ears were saturated with a love song.

Finally, it is time to move out. But before that, I had some dose of caffeine. La Union has a Starbucks rival called El Union coffee. I am not a coffee drinker but the dirty white is a must try and beef meat pie has the homey feel fresh from mom's oven.

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Soon after, I boarded a bus bound to Ilocos Sur.

Ilocos Sur is no stranger to me. This is my family’s hometown. I usually spend my summers here when I was a child. I learn to eat all kinds of vegetables, goat meat and other authentic Ilocano recipes because we have the best cooks in the family.

I also remember during the middle of the day, my cousins and I would run after our lives just to get the best spot in the river. We would catch small fish and baby crabs and my uncle will make the best kilawin in town.

I spent a couple of days in Ilocos Sur with my relatives, cousins, nephews and nieces.

It was really nice having a sort of family reunion and just enjoying great food and small talks.

Further, I get to spend a short time with Lalay.

 

Back then when my lola Berta (my mom's mom) would tag me along during summer to Ilocos, I was a bit shy to play with my kasinsin (cousins) and gay-em (friends) because I don't know how to speak the dialect. Therefore, I would rather stay in our temporary home or come with her to meet her siblings, relatives and friends. Consequently, I would have conversations mostly with her contemporaries, the elderlies. (I was between 3-7 years old) But they don't talk to me in Tagalog. It's either in Ilokano, but mostly they converse to me in the English language. Most of them were gone already. But Lalay is still kicking ass. I remember whenever I come to Ilocos, she would greet me in English while she was sitting in front of the door. Too bad, she suffered stroke. The only words she can say now are "Wala na".

But she is still very sharp and has good appetite. She can understand instructions. I try to cheer her up and tell her that we are going to take a selfie so she has to smile. But she keeps saying "Wala na, wala na".

But when I mentioned that "Kukunin ko yang loop earrings mo, matagal ko na yang hinihingi sayo eh", she smiled and luckily I captured the moment.

Thereafter, I had some quick roundabout of the small town. Pictures below were taken at Paraiso ni Juan. Ilocos region primarily is the home of some personalities that has changed the landscape of the Philippines at large. These game-changers spent a lot of their formative years in these places. Ideas will be pouring endlessly...

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My feet was up and running again. While it was still dark, I found myself inside the bus bound to Laoag. As soon as I reached the terminal, I booked the next available trip to Pagudpud.

What I love about Ilocos Norte, aside from the mainstream white  sands which most tourists look for, is the native beach where lies the several dark colored rock formations. It gives a certain character and texture against the blue waters.

Five hours have passed until I reached Saud Beach. The crystal blue waters welcomed me as I began advancing towards the shore. The place was very secluded. There was only a handful of people spending the last stretch of summer. What is even more amazing aside from the sands and water, is that you have the mighty Bangui windmills lining up the edges of the sea. What more can you ask for?

 

I just spend the morning lying down and playing with the waves. Kuya Roger, a fisherman happened to pass by and manage to take some of my pictures.

I also had the chance to take a quick tour at the Cape Bojeador and the Burgos lighthouse. This is one of my favorite tours, because the guide on duty shared historical information about the place. History and culture were just like a daily adrenaline pill for my brain.

The view from the lighthouse was just majestic that it can be likened to the rolling hills of Batanes. I read somewhere online, that there were actually a sort of ‘caballeros’ of Burgos, however I didn’t see any of them at that time.

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Below our some of the photos taken by my tricycle driver, Kuya Marvin.

This was my longest backpacking trip so far. Aside from the captivating sceneries of the Philippines, I also enjoy listening to every stories of people I meet. Their stories inspire me and this inspiration I am also sharing to you.

Life is great, because God is great and it will become a greater life or even an awesome one when we share it with others.

Happy backpacking!

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Nico Dizon