By Michael Karlo Lim
MY MERMAID has long been singing to me songs of Siargao. Weather or circumstance has held us back just as long, and that recent drone shot compilation had a bit too much salt for my taste. I was also pretty sure the mechanism of the fear of missing out coupled with low fare promos plus the Boracay closure would have that island sinking by a few feet.
Thankfully, Air Asia now flies to even more domestic destinations, and the archipelago we are makes many beaches quite accessible from most airports. If only Holy Week were in May, we could have taken advantage of their new Cebu-Clark route from as low as a very shocking P17 only. Having already flown into the Capital for some events, the rest of Luzon was ours for the taking.
The coin phrase Carmageddon comes with the note, see also: Holy Week travel. Public transport may be economical but, in this season, definitely not with time. Getting stressed to destress would be pointless, so we booked a chauffeur-driven van on Manila Private Car Charter through the Klook app. A bit of a crawl as it was along the XYZ-LEX, we did quite comfortably in plush leather seating, air-conditioning, leg room and, most importantly, a playlist of our choice.
La Union rose to prominence as the Surfing Capital of the Northern Philippines with the fifth longest coastline in the world and wave conditions of our collective surfing movie daydreams. Our designated assistant, quite the mind-surfer that he is, was gung-ho on surf lifestyle chill and leaned heavily on chance to consider booking accommodations only at the last minute. While we managed to hold down a double twin for our group of four, many others had to bum on the beach in backpacks.
The surf town, San Juan, is packed with hotels, hostels, resorts, restaurants, eateries. The incredibly surfster (surfer + hipster) Great Northwest Philippines Travel Stop & Viewing Deck was on our list of musts with the much-talked-about El Union fronting the collective. “But first, coffee” is the mantra here with a line snaking to their cashier window from the morning through pretty much most of the day. Their Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Bacon Jam was our daily bread. Pancakes came a close second.
Crab Omelette, Arugula, and Toast in the Great Gamble Seafood Shack’s Breakfast Special was deceptively simple, unbelievably good and surprisingly affordable that we had it every single morning of our stay. Seared scallops in a butter toasted bun with aioli dressing, melted cheese and crispy garlic in their Summer Scallop Roll was a great gamble from that default.
Makai meaning beachside in Hawaiian, Makai Bowls takes one of two oceanfront spots at the complex serving the hot, new, cold way of getting your five-a-day. Their photogenic smoothie bowls pack flavor and nutrition with a side of Instagram likes. Opposite it is Tatung Sarthou’s Layag. Aptly named, we sailed away on sinugba, and kilawin bliss with their Sinugba Basket packed with Liempo, Chicken Leg Quarter, Chicken Breast, Shrimp Skewers on fragrant Java Rice plus side orders of Tuna and Octopus Kilawen.
As if the ten-hour crawl to La Union wasn’t clue enough about the crowds that packed the San Juan Surfing Area, we risked rearrangement of our features and the exchange of body parts with other noobs on the same swells. Wiped out from wiping out, we displaced frustrations on a sidestreet silog selection of Likeable Liempo, Tip-top Tapa and Didn’t-Even-Bother Daing plus Beef Mami with Egg to round out the meal.
Halo-halo, as spelled, is considered incorrect by the Commission on the Filipino Language. It’s “haluhalo”. Spelling be damned! In this heat, what matters is that you are enjoying one. Kidney beans, kaong, macapuno, sweetened bananas, jackfruit, gulaman, nata de coco, leche flan, vanilla ice cream and corn flakes on shaved ice and evaporated milk tick off from the list of standard ingredients in that number from Angel & Marie’s Surfer’s Retreat.
We chanced upon Kalel the Liquido Maestro at his pop-up foraging bar concept at Fatwave Resort. One big plus to Kalel’s meticulously crafted cocktails are his tales behind these that are only shy of being full history, science and economics lessons combined. Another is how he loves what is local to a fault and how he seeks to highlight endemic ingredient availabilities to bring elements of locale and culture together in each cup.
Over dinner of the resort’s bestsellers – terrific Tuna Panga Sinigang and meaty La Union-style Pinakbet (bagnet, whuuut?) – and other specialties, Kalel kept us up to speed on the scene, his collaborations, and upcoming projects. I’d blame having worked through his entire cocktail menu for that delicious buzz, but it might also have been from the palpable, dizzying energy of this effusive and effervescent powerhouse.
There’s more to La Union than just the surfer’s postcard it is painted as, and I’ve barely scratched the surface here.