Friday, November 21, 2008

Surigao “Accidental Tour”

For lack of a better word, I call this an accidental tour. My visit was Butuan, I did a side trip to Magallanes, learned that Cabadbaran City was just nearby so I roamed there. With nothing else to see at mid-day (since I do not venture out into the mountains, waterfalls or lakes alone), I hopped on a bus to Surigao City! Okay, this place is famous as jump-off point towards Siargao – the country’s surfing capital. But that’s for another round of roaming! As for now, it’s just an afternoon tour of Surigao City Center.

Bus ride from Cabadbaran
Uneventful and the ride was along beautiful countryside sceneries. I wish I had the videocam! Oh, my bus was not even half full. I noticed that all passengers (about 15 of us) each had a window seat and interestingly, more than half of the passengers were foreigners!

Green ricefields… brown ricefields… yellow rice fields… quite refreshing sights! Of course you know that if the field is green, the plants are still growing, yellow when the fruits are about ready to be harvested and brownish when all has been cut after harvest! We passed big and small rivers; thankfully, they still look clean to me. At some areas, I saw women doing their laundry, men “bathing their carabaos”, others fishing, children swimming… ahh I wish to live that provincial life someday. Makes me remember the many paintings of Fernando Amorsolo!

There was also a fantastic view of the lake as our bus ambled along. Yep, I oh so wanted to go there (during my quick and mental trip planning at least) but it does not always seem practical for me going to such places alone. So I omitted that part and was happily surprised I got a glimpse of it from the highway, even if swiftly!

I don’t know what got into me that afternoon… virtually everything I saw was amusing… even the road signs!

There was the time I quickly counted clothes being hang-dried on the highway’s barrier fences. I tried to count fast before they’d be gone from my view as the bus sped along! There was also the time I mused at a tricycle loaded with so many things that when aggregated would probably be heavier than the whole vehicle and driver combined!

Voila! A funny view! Our bus overtook another tricycle full of passengers. One even sat atop the vehicle. I thought it was a child and the fuss I made trying to catch a single shot invited attention of other passengers. OMG! When it came nearer my vantage, I saw that driver and passengers inside the trike were all men AND the lone person sitting atop was a woman! Whoa! It easily became an audible topic among my bus mates who mostly did not even know each other! While many of us exclaimed various utterances of disbelief, the conductor was quick to play the topic down with a joke. He said (in English) “the men in this area are very kind to their women who must always be given the best seat to catch fresh air”! We all laughed and a westerner even added “and enough breathing space to move around” hehehe!

As the bus entered the outskirts of Surigao City, I noticed that plants, grass, trees and all types of vegetation had this grayish-white kind of dust all over them. Even the roads looked as if up in smoke when vehicles passed. I was confused as to where that kind of dust comes from since the hi-way is good concrete. To satisfy my curiosity, I asked the bus conductor. And very timely enough, when he answered, we were passing by the source of all those dust. He pointed to a cement manufacturing mill to our right. All sorts of bad things crossed my mind because of that. No, I do not have to elaborate. The best word would be “dangerous”. And that place has a lot of residential abodes. Very bad!

If you happen to be traveling by non-aircon bus or jeep from Butuan, Cabadbaran, Jabonga etc. you will probably have a better feel of how bad that area is as you enter Surigao. I was thankful I passed this place inside an air-conditioned bus. I saw passengers on a multicab and on a tricycle covering their noses and mouths with hankies etc. as they passed by the area. But is that enough? I estimate the range of the “dust” to be around a kilometer or two in radius from the “epicenter” (the cement factory). It could be more. Now am getting curious. Why hasn’t this “phenomenon” reached national media attention? Or maybe it did and I was miraculously not listening and it has been forgotten as usual. I wonder how is the general health condition of residents living in and around that place.

Bus terminal
Now that is what I call orderly. Or was I again lucky? I doubt so! Everyone has his own place in this terminal. The provincial buses have allocated parking slots and the city multicabs have their own “staging area’ at the front of the building. Of course there are barkers announcing the destination of some buses or jeeps (in case you are transiting to another place) but they stay where they’re supposed to be and they don’t accost you. Similarly, the city-going multicabs just stay outside even if yes, they too have their own barkers – in front of the building where a big parking lot is allocated to them. Oh there are stores, eateries, boat/ship booking offices, even a lotto outlet in this terminal! This facility is similar, but I think better, than the ones you see at Balanga Bataan, Naga CamSur or even Cebu’s North Bus Terminals!

Got that?! Well, it’s like this… I told one barker that I was in Surigao City just for the afternoon and would like to see the city and the seaport (or parts of them) before I head back to Butuan. The very simple reply was “R1”. R1 is one of the routes that the city multicabs ply and it goes from this bus terminal to the city center and onwards to the seaport before it retraces its way back to the city and eventually the bus terminal. So, I hopped unto one of the waiting R1 multicabs.

Surigao City Center
When I sat inside the cramped R1 multicab, it was almost already full. So, my place on the vehicle was at the very end or exit – which I liked. Front seat would have been more spacious with better vantage but I did not dare wait for the next multicab since I saw that they took too long before each departure. Need I tell you that they have to get the vehicle full of passengers before it rolls on the route?! Thus, I merrily watched the way from the “back view”! From what I saw of the roads we passed by, Surigao City is progressing well. Buildings here and there are still sprouting even at what I have known long time ago as residential areas.

Like anywhere, of course the busiest part is near the city hall and the church as there is a university and a Jollibee hehe. Plus, again as anywhere, the various business establishments circle around this area near the plaza.

If it is basketball in almost every city, town or barangay all over the country… in Surigao City it is chess! Yes, the wood pushing thing! Instead of a basketball court, at the park just behind Rizal’s monument is a wide shed called a chess plaza. I particularly liked the quote written on top of that structure that says, “where might nor height don’t count but the mind dominates the boards”. It further declares in big bold letters “(HOME OF THE OLYMPIANS)”. My ‘current events’ or ‘history’ must be faltering now hehe. I can’t recall who is/are that/those that went to the Olympics for chess. Was it the girl from Mindanao who shone globally in this sport? Oh well, I should read more on this!

City Hall
Cute! I take this that the city did not attempt nor intend to make a grand or pompous building for a city hall. The structure remains small – even smaller than some barangay halls in Makati, QC or even Mactan. BUT they instead sprawled into adjoining areas. Thus, many of the city offices are at other buildings surrounding this cute structure in front of the big flagpole! Wise idea!

Oh, you have to see the Surigao City Cultural Center just a little to the left and back of the city hall if you’re facing it. Now that is what I call “investment”. It is a new and beautiful air-conditioned building. Could not help but peek in. At my time of visit, the outside of this cultural center was Sunday-silent which I thought was usual. But when I entered… OMG! A lot of action where kids and adults were busy in various activities! Wow! And the air-conditioning was excellent! There was even a product showcase. That building is mighty big in purpose and usage.

The historic flag pole
This got me confused. The historical marker says that it was here that the Philippine flag was first raised on the island of Mindanao. No complaints, but what was it I saw over at Butuan just yesterday? Wasn’t it the same claim? Gosh!

Thanks to the era of digital technology! I compared my photos of the two historical markers and got the salient points: this one in Surigao City says it was here that the flag was first raised in Mindanao 26DEC1898; while that one in Butuan City says “formally lowered the Vatican flag and officially raised the Philippine Flag” 17JAN1899 which officially marked the authority of the Philippine Revolutionary government in the island of Mindanao. Whoa! Clear?

What confused me were the titles of the two markers! In Surigao it says “POOK NG UNANG PAGTATAAS NG WATAWAT NG PILIPINAS SA MINDANAO” (place where the Philippine flag was first raised in Mindanao) while the one in Butuan says “THE RAISING OF THE PHILIPPINE FLAG IN MINDANAO” – which does not say “first”. Maybe that one in Butuan should be titled “THE LOWERING OF THE VATICAN FLAG IN MINDANAO” hehe! Oh well. I love history!

The church
This is the San Nicolas De Tolentino Cathedral, and when I approached it at about 230PM, the skies were grumbling and started to get dark with heavy black clouds. Oh well, I don’t care I thought, this was a big big church that would certainly be a fine shelter if ever it rained. And it did! Heavy but quick!

After having seen so many churches in this country, I thought this one in Surigao is fairly regular. Meaning it is old and big, has a grand altar, very wide pews, stained glass murals and so on. But on second look, I liked its minimalist look (if I can call it that). This church is not overdone with a lot of decorations and a lot of flowery or curved intersecting lines. Yes the altar is grand, even fitted with some golden whatever, but that’s it. It is not flooded with so many curved decors, colors, or materials nor is it crowded with a lot of santos and santas competing for anyone’s attention. The high ceiling is just plain white squares. I think the totality of the insides of this church adds to its serenity and it does not grab your attention to anything but prayer.

Outside (on the sides) are the statues of other saints and the candle holders where devotees light up and pray.

But there’s something that caught me smiling and had me in deep sarcastic thoughts as I waited for the rain to sober down. At the very front of the church (is it called a foyer?), just before the main door is a big bulletin board that straddles almost the width of the center aisle. It actually covers the view of the church inside. And will really serve its purpose as a bulletin board since its right where you are supposed to pass and you even have to skirt around it. So what about this bulletin board?

Well, the board is fairly normal – splattered with a lot of posters announcements and what have yas. I actually think it’s an eyesore since those posters are just tacked in any manner. But even that was not what got me thinking hehe!

Look at that picture above and ogle at the lower right corner of the board. Yes YES YES, the Cathedral has its own REFLEX FOOT THERAPY CLINIC! Ha ha ha! Signs of the times… priests are now trying to earn a living! What will be next, Cathedral’s Swedish/Shiatsu/Thai Spa? Pwede! Hmm, the sisters and the priests (include the sacristans) would probably be good masseuses and masseurs hehehe! So move over “Padres Café” of Butuan’s Cathedral… this one here is to me more astounding hehehe! Hey, will the BIR tax them for such services? It is not anymore the practice of religion but mainstream businesses!

So there you are… THAT poster/advertisement got me into sarcastic musings! Thankfully it stopped raining so I dropped the mental over-analysis and hopped-skipped amid puddles to Jollibee for a bite!

I caused a fight!
I was already sorry at what I saw, and got even sorrier I was the cause of a fight. Here goes… I ordered my usual B3 - a set menu of BLT cheeseburger, fries and coke and was happily watching the tricycles and multicabs pass by when four street urchins caught my attention. They were merrily teasing each other while dancing (a la sex bomb) to the loud music blaring from Jollibee’s rented mobile sound system. Those kids looked to me like they were siblings and the youngest was probably not even 2 years old yet. From time to time, they would smack their faces on the glass and motion for diners to give them food. Unfortunately I was nearest where they were and my heart was starting to crush.

I ordered large fries (to go) and on my way out gave it to them. Unfortunately, the bigger boy was quicker to grab the paper bag from my hand and was in the act of running with it. Of course the bigger girl got mad since it was her (and the two little ones) who were begging me from the glass to give food! Then the fight ensued as girl caught up with boy in the middle of the street amidst traffic. There was punching, hair-pulling, shirt-tugging, shoving, etc., The paper bag (French fries take-out pack) was already on the pavement but miraculously the fries did not yet spill from where they were. The two younger kids were already crying, people seemed to consider the fight a spectacle (some even cheering) and there I was, dumbfounded and didn’t know what to do.

As the Jollibee guard and some trike drivers attempted to break the fight, I got to my senses and returned to the counter for two more fries ‘to go’ in separate packs. Got my fries, the fight was still on in the middle of the street, so I slowly inched to the two younger kids and gave them each a pack – that was my objective in the first place. They just received the fries but continued wailing. I did not anymore bother about the commotion that was still in progress, this time with some shouting between the fighting kids, and I proceeded to get an R1 ride to the pier. As my multicab drove away, I saw that big gurl won the fries and big boy got a coin from a trike driver. She’s a good boxer ha?! Oh well, I learned a big lesson here! Just guess what hehe!

The pier
Whatever it is, I consider this pier a landmark (even a milestone) that I must visit for I know that one of these days I’ll be passing this way! So I moved onwards from the city center to it via another R1 multicab. Okay, got there in no time. I found it cute that as we approached the pier, the multicab got emptier and when we were in front of the Eva M. Macapagal Passenger Terminal, I was the lone passenger! Got off, did not talk to anyone, and just roamed the place to see it for myself. Nothing fantastic. Good views of the sea but guards won’t let me roam the entire length. Saw some pile of probably trash that were on the pier’s pavement am not sure if it just arrived or about to be loaded unto something. The whole road fronting the port is lined with a battalion of barbecue shacks on both sides.

When I stepped back unto the road to wait for a ride… voila! The very same multicab that I rode comin in was now on its way back to the bus terminal and it was still empty! So I retook my position (front seat)! Driver told me that I should have visited this area in the evening as it becomes livelier. He told me this is where Surigaonons go to for cheap but delectable barbecue and drinking (usually on tables laid out in this narrow road. Oh well. Next time, I’ll probably try it out!

Back to base
Lucky me, the Butuan bound bus that was being boarded was the very same bus too that I took from Cabadbaran to Surigao. So I hopped in, chose a seat and got ready to snooze! But no, I could not! I promised myself to view the sceneries again. Bus left with only 8 passengers including my royal highness! I took a seat on 6th row and I was already the farthest person from the driver! Mr. Conductor, now familiar with me engaged me in some chitchat as the bus ambled along. He pointed to me and gave descriptions of places we passed by like the Almont-owned resort etc. For the almost two hours of conversation, we “became friends” and he even gave me his hand phone number for me to call him if I needed a guide in and around the area. I did not hehe!

And just as my stomach grumbled for dinner, the Bachelor Bus was back in Butuan! Nice trip!


  1. Hey, quite a trip you had there :). You know, I have been thinking of visiting Surigao myself... your post just reinforced my plan into a decision. Besides, I just received an offer here ( )that will let me save up to 60% of travel expenses, bringing down my expenses to approx. $94 a night. Will start packing on Friday... :)

  2. Thank you for this very informative post. My friends and I will be going to Surigao this September. This post has helped us a lot! :D