Stoked with the Toyota Roadtrek in Siargao

Island Life

I like to think that each small island in the Philippines has a charm uniquely its own.

Batanes has that far-flung charm of a landscape of lush greenery amidst a sea of blue, and a people with a weathered, isolated hardiness that comes from absorbing one storm after the other. Boracay has its exceedingly white sand that stays cool no matter how much the sun tries to heat it up and -for better or worse- a party atmosphere that can rival BGC. Cebu, on the other hand, has a mix of it all but includes a history unlike any other (just ask Magellan), food that goes straight to the heart, and the modernities of any metropolis at its center. They even have drivers that give no quarter to anyone; if you thought EDSA traffic was difficult, wait ’till you drive in Cebu.

Siargao, however, is harder to characterize. On the outside, it seems like any other remote island amongst 7,106 others in our archipelago, but it really isn’t. There’s something different, and something tells me that we’ll all find it out -one way or another- over the next three days with Toyota and their Roadtrek.

The Roadtrek itself is unique amongst domestic driving events in that it opens up our eyes to something new and something unique with every place it has visited in the last thirteen years. The Roadtrek shows us there’s more to a place than merely a great resort, a fantastic beach, or incredible food.

Right from the airport, we were already given a taste of what Siargao would be like, with not enough shuttles arriving to get us. So we waited for a good 45 minutes, and when we did get going, the driver got lost. Surprisingly, it’s a common occurrence here; some local drivers don’t even know how to get to the airport as they often drive in convoys.

It’s odd, but I can see why. Siargao’s development is at full steam, judging by roads we’re on, they’re clearly brand-new. And with new roads, new hotels, and new developments, it’s understandably confusing, even for locals.

When we did get to our set-off point, a new fleet of Toyotas were waiting for us. Roadtreks are packed with all kinds of little contests, puzzles, trivias, and challenges along the way, and so we had to play a game to figure out which car we’re driving.

The newest among them was the Wigo; a car that Toyota had literally launched on site. It’s got a new look, new features, and even a new engine, but we’re not driving it. The brothers Vios and Yaris were also present, both recently updated with new features, transmissions, and new engines, but we didn’t end up driving it either. There was even a Prius C hybrid amongst the field, a car that we’re confident is probably the first ever hybrid to ever set a wheel on this island, but we didn’t get it either. What we did end up in was the Toyota Camry; hey, we’re not complaining. It’s clearly the most comfortable here, and we’ve got a good, long drive ahead.

On the road, the Camry was easily the class of the field. The “ribbed” concrete is really not a problem, and the suspension absorbs much of it. The one we got had the 2.5-liter VVT-i motor, and that had plenty of power for our needs; we were cruising and sightseeing, not carving at speed through the mountains.

Siargao is known for one thing really: surfing. And since surfing is a sport mostly enjoyed by westerners, it’s no surprise that many of them settled here, and even married here. And that was the case for one place we visited: a resort getaway known as Jafe Surf and Sail.

Named after its owners, Jafe is a warm and quirky place. The walls, doors, stairways, and ceilings are all peppered with all kinds of memorabilia. License plates, pictures, posters, sports gear, costumes and more can be seen at Jafe, including a ship’s helm. The experience itself is quite interesting, and much of these decorations come from the travels of the owners, as well as the travelers that have come to call Jafe home for a few days. Some, even longer.

Back on the road, we open up the taps on our cars. Siargao’s new roads are great, though you do have to be wary of the locals who built their houses right on the edge of the roads. It’s also a common sight to see surfers renting scooters with a makeshift rack to hold a surfboard as they hop from one surf spot to another. Really though, it’s the sight of the habal-habals (motorcycle taxis with outriggers) carrying anywhere between three to even seven people that boggles the mind. Forget about road safety here.

Soon, our group arrived at a place called Cloud 9, a surf spot that’s famous for its perfect waves. There are many stories about how it got its name. Some say that it’s because it’s a heaven for surfers with the Pacific Ocean producing big waves to ride. Some say it’s because the waves themselves are shaped like a perfect 9. Some even say it’s because the first surfers there happen to have been eating Cloud 9 candy bars. Whatever the case may be, this area is where you go to get stoked.

I’m no surfer, but I am quite envious of those who do. From my vantage point at Cafe Loka, a beachside cafe that looks out to the water, the surfers seem to be having quite a bit of fun, though we’re perfectly content enjoying one of their Mango Bowls. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s a mix of some sort of power shake, a couple of nuts and garnishes, and scoops of mango. More importantly, it’s ice-cold, perfect for cooling down after a day on the road or hours on the waves.

The remaining drive is short, and we park our Toyotas at our home for the next two days: the Siargao Bleu resort. Located just at the outskirts of the municipality of General Luna, Siargao Bleu is one of the nicest resorts on this island. The pool is fantastic, and the eats even more so.

One thing that we really need to keep in mind is that Siargao is a far-flung location, one that is still developing as a resort town. Don’t expect five-star service or even for the food or drink to arrive on time. The people aren’t used to operating at an urban pace, and never should we expect them to. There are many little things to expect like the intermittent power outages, and the slow Wifi and mobile data; in Siargao, expect to disconnect from the world.

Siargao is island life at its purest, and that’s the charm of it. Here, you can relax, read a book, go for a swim, go out for a dive, go fishing (I wanted to, but it wasn’t the season for it), and, of course, surf. This is a getaway from the stresses of our multi-tasking lives, and that’s perfectly fine even if you have to ask the server for your beer at least twice.

Executive Editor