Dear Patty // GUBAT, SORSOGON: If I Fell In Love, This Would Be What It Looks Like (Part 2/3)

Patty was my college block mate (we took the same major, and practically had the same schedule in the first two years as mandated by our uni). Patty also became my office mate in my first job (and my first advertising agency). At the time we were a bunch of whiny fresh grads who couldn’t accept that this was all there was to it (We dubbed that period, “the dark ages”). I’d like to think we grew out of it. Not to say we aren’t whiny anymore, but we sure have learned to cope.

Dear Patty,

This was my fifth visit to Gubat in two years. Last year in April, I stayed for six days. This year in May, I stayed for ten.

Gubat is a nondescript town in Sorsogon, a province far south of Luzon, Philippines. It is part of Bicol Region (As I had mentioned in my previous letter, it is only 2-3 hours away from the main city center with the nearest major airport, Legazpi City). It also happened to be a surf town, which was to me and my brother, the main attraction. How I even got there was partly serendipitous.

Four-five hours away is a town called Donsol famous for its whale shark interactions (They’re marvelous creatures. They are wild and feed on the plankton in the area, thus grow as big as TRUCKS, as opposed to Oslob in Cebu, another famous area in the Philippines for whale sharks, where they are fed and are only as big as cars). Donsol was what got my brothers and me interested in Sorsogon in the first place in 2015. At that time, Royce (Brother No. 3) and I had been surfing for a couple of years and decided it was time to expand our horizons past Baler and La Union. So, after a bit of research and a love-hate relationship with commuting, we added it to the itinerary and ended up in a surf camp now known as Lola Sayong Eco-Surf Camp.

It was love at first sight.

I find that in my travels, and I hope this to always be the case, there are kind people to meet along the way that make my adventures more significant (and balance out any negativity during the trip). Most of the time they just pass through— another face to add to the blur. But the boys (and girls) of Lola Sayong have made such a huge impact on me. It’s nothing extraordinary, really. It’s just that when all of your youth was spent believing in magic (Santa Claus, Harry Potter, all that geeky stuff) sometimes growing up can be such a bore. Life was/is so simple there, Patty, and even so (or maybe because it was), it felt like it was there: magic.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Lola Sayong makes me like life and people a whole lot more (as opposed to being just tolerant of them), because when I strip it down to the bare essentials — no frills, no consumerism, no faking-it-til-we-make-it (God, that was the worst advice we ever told ourselves. It was catchy though) — I realize that magic is there; we should just stop wishing it to be a fairy tale.

But I’m not explaining myself well enough.

Here’s what my days were like last month:

WAKING UP

I’d wake up every day at 5:00 am.

Ha! Okay, I tried. Every day. I averaged 6:00/6:30 am in 10 days. Not bad for an un-morning person. Surfing is the only thing that can wake me up early. I love seeing sunrises, but I have to admit, sometimes beauty just isn’t enough … moving on.

As I graduated from the school of Last-Minutes, I did catch the sunrise at 5:30 am once, and on my last morning. The sun was no longer in the mood, but still. Would you look at that.

MORNING RITUALS

I’d hop off of my kubo (Filipino bamboo house) and briskly walk to the beach front to check if the waves are good (Typically, waves are best early in the morning, where there is less wind and you have beautiful, even sets. The term they use to refer to the water under these conditions is “glassy”).

If they are, it takes me a minute to get into a suit, apply sunblock, and forget anything or anyone exists except the water.

If they’re not, then I wander off back to my kubo, lay on my hammock, read a book, or stare at my bamboo roof. Other times, they’d bring me to the reef (an hour’s boat ride from the surf camp) to be pounded on by bigger (but also better) waves.

Check out this video I made of one of our morning sessions in the reef:
Morning Reef Sessions (Edited by GoPro Quick)

Better yet, sometimes the boys invite me for pasao. It is a term that means pampatanggal ng amats (Colloquial: to cure a hangover).

This is from a carinderia called Luna Candol (Carinderias are small eateries in the Philippines where food is displayed at the counter for you to choose from and “point”, thus it is alternatively called “turo-turo” or literally “point-point”). Dishes sell out fast. You have to get there by 7:00 am or else you’ll only get the leftovers.

Let me paint you a picture: hot Filipino soup dishes (papaitan or cow innards, balbacua or ox skin and tail, bulalo, etc) that are best paired with at least two cups of steaming rice.

I like to tag along to the market and watch the men buy ingredients for the day. Sometimes we stop by for halo-halo and palabok, or pass through the ukay-ukay (secondhand shops).

You know it’s more fun in the Philippines when 10 people are crammed into one tricycle.

If the surf is bad, then we go off to explore!

Sorsogon is laden with cold and hot springs. There’s practically one in each town. This one, Oroc Cold Springs, is just 15-20 minutes away from the camp in the adjacent town. It is also the gateway to Busay Falls which I had already visited last year.

LUNCH

The surf camp has a kitchen/restaurant for guests. I do not exaggerate: they are among the best cooks I know (and my yaya’s cooking in Iloilo is divine). But don’t take my word for it. They were telling me that a few months back, Chef JP Anglo of Sarsa visited them to shoot a CNN Philippines series called Hungry with Chef JP. By the looks of it, he seems pretty impressed.

This isn’t the most appetizing photo but this sauteed tinapa is to-die-for.

Because I’ve imposed myself on them and am a pretend-local, I partake of the “common meals”. Every day there is a meal prepared by Kuya Nards or one of the boys for the “hands behind the camp”. Aside from the grown-ups that manage the place, young boys and girls who want to be surfers help out on-the-side as surf instructors, receptionists, or kitchen staff.

Richie is a surfer from the US and has been going back and forth to the Philippines. It is his second time in the camp.

The Barracks: where the community meals are prepared.

 

AFTERNOON SIESTA

I tried to get some work in (that is, to make this blog), but most of the time I’d just chill in my kubo and mull over my life until I doze off, only to shift my position as the afternoon sun streamed into my little abode.

Sometimes it rains.

AFTERNOON SURF

“Ano, Ate Kia, surf ka? (Are you going to surf?),” the boys would ask.

And so I’d drift off to the front of the beach and watch as guests of the camp (families or the typical Filipino barkada/group of friends) learn how to surf or swim by the beach.

Here’s the thing, surfing is a beautiful sport, but you have to be smart about it. Rip currents are godsend for surfers because it takes less energy to paddle out to the waves. However, without a board, you’re at the mercy of the currents. It doesn’t matter how “shallow”you think the water is. When it pulls you in, it doesn’t worry about your feelings. So, my point? When the locals tell you not to swim there, DO NOT SWIM THERE.

Painting signs for the camp

Sunset surf with Mt. Bulusan in the background. It was a good day.

THE NIGHTS

I was there during their barangay or town fiesta. This meant that while most nights were spent eating in the camp, other times we’d head over to the next door neighbors’ houses to eat their handa. In the Philippines especially in the provinces, fiestas are a huge communal affair. Families have their fattened cow, pig, or goat slaughtered for this special occasion. Neighbors talk among themselves and usually call dibs on the putahe or viand they will prepare (Why? Well, you don’t want to have to eat caldereta in every house. Plus, it eliminates the possible “who-had-the-better-caldereta” conversation. Better to be prudent). It is quite common to find family, friends, neighbors, friends-of-the-long-lost-family-friend-of-a-neighbor, appearing on your door with a sly but ever-so-polite look as they declare, “Makikikain/makikipiyesta lang po (We’re hear to eat your food).”

The nights were always far more interesting. Because aside from being good cooks, the guys in the camp were such good musicians and singers. Between me and you, “rockstar” is my frustration.

In the distance you can hear the tune of "Pantomina sa Tinampo" (Dance of the Doves) as remnants of the weekend's barangay fiesta linger on set against the nearby elementary school. They tell me it is a hit with the oldies; it is a long elaborate dance every Bicolano learns in high school PE even to this day. And here we are, two bottles of Stallions down each, singing to the songs of Eheads and Moonstar. The sounds of the night blend into the quiet corners of the darkness. In the in-betweens and the pauses, you can breathe in the silence followed by another strum of the guitar, another OPM favorite. I crane my neck slightly. They've started playing the Cha-cha 🎶 #gubat #sorsogon #probinsyalife #travelstories #travelph

A post shared by Kia Opinion (@keeuhoh) on

Rinse and repeat.

I dunno what to tell you. I was/am charmed.

It’s been an age since we really caught up, Patty. I’ll see you soon (and maybe this time we will all act with more finesse. Hahaha!)

Here’s to the future,

P.S. I’m really going to mail this letter. A more practical person would just hand it to you, but if you don’t mind, your letter will be the guinea pig to see how effective Philippine Post is.

Read more about Sorsogon in the next letter.

I realize that my babbling isn’t particularly “informative”. So, watch out for the straightforward (downloadable) travel guide I will be coming up with. Check the space under DESTINATIONS > TRAVEL GUIDES in the coming weeks.

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