White Sand, Goats, Oversized Waves: Adventures in Eastern Samar
A promise of epic adventure and unforgettable surf, to islands I have never set foot: The Visayas.
September, 2018. I booked a plane ticket for the first time and threw a dart at my next destination: Eastern Samar.
“I’ve been travelling solo in almost all my trips; why not let someone take charge of the itinerary this time?”
After seeing a post from a well-recognized surfing group, I impulsively smashed all my savings in one go — for a promise of epic adventure and unforgettable surf — to islands I have never set foot: The Visayas.
Over the next four days, I would be thrilled and disappointed, enraged and amused, and a little drunk with eyes shimmering like stars from a cold, cloudless night.
It was the kind of epic that I didn’t expect.
October 25, 6:15 am. Tacloban
With high spirits and worn out sneakers, I took a breath of fresh air and carried my bags to the arrival area of the Daniel Z. Romualdez Airport.
I was just cruising at 29,000 feet and peering from my window seat like a child. It was one of the highlights of the trip: seeing aerial views for the first time. I felt slightly less of a lower-middle-class, although I was just riding economy.
People were wiping out everywhere, with the exception of locals and surf coaches who managed to paddle out and ride overhead waves.
My expectations were set high for this “soul adventure”, which cost me 11 grand, excluding airfare and pocket money for meals and surfing expenses. Total damages were worth about a dozen trips to my home break. It was exciting to see where the organizers would be taking us and what would be their plans for the next three days.
There was supposed to be touring, spot hopping, partying, and surfing.
Day 1 . Boarding
I saw a familiar face — the guy who was supposed to pick me up, and whose social media post enticed me to join the trip.
I said “Hi,” to which he responded with less than a smile, and then he guided me to the parking lot where our van transport was parked.
The vehicle contained several other people who knew each other. I greeted each of them. Beside me was a cool guy with expensive sunglasses and sexy stubbles; to his right was a smart-looking girl with rounded spectacles and short, dark hair. A couple more girls were on the back — one had a savvy smile and bronze hair, and another possessed a sisterly vibe and honey-sweet smile.
For the rest of my three-day trip, they’d be my close companions, sharing life stories and bottles of beer together.
Upon arrival, however, we were checked-in at separate villas (last minute venue changes which ruined the mood for them) and I was stuck with other folks whom I already knew by name.
Our welcome breakfast was a delightful feast of crab, squid, and other seafood. I met the rest of the joiners and the villa’s owner, who was basically pals with the organizer of the trip.
Lavish stories, manicured expressions, and “simply-upper-middle-class” things dominated the lunch table. At this point, I realized that I was indeed on an expensive trip, with expensive people.
I couldn’t just pay people and expect them to be responsible for giving me a great time.
Sure, the cutlery was nice, but the Huckleberry Finn in me just sat there with a corporate smile and wished that my relocated, Tagalog-speaking friends would arrive soon.
Day 1 1/2. Initial wipeouts
I headed to the cliff-side and took a majestic view of gigantic, nearly barreling waves. The size was intimidating; my last surf was on 1–2 ft waves.
I shared a conversation with one of the (more experienced) fellow surfers who gave me pointers on where to paddle out and how to manage surfing on reef breaks. He was friendly and genuinely nice. The tan of his skin suggested how much he surfed; the kindness in his eyes showed how happy and content he must be with life.
In the afternoon, one of my travel companions let me paddle out with his 9’0 board. I initially decided to bail, because the winds were so strong and the surf was just unfriendly for beginners like me. People were wiping out everywhere, with the exception of locals and surf coaches who managed to paddle out and ride overhead waves.
After one of my friends — a smaller girl — went on to paddle out, I decided to give it a try.
The currents and winds were so strong and I couldn’t make it past the impact zone. I stumbled, fell, and rolled through the whitewash. I drifted to a dangerous part of the break where there were sharp rocks and more reefs. I could’ve tried to catch waves from the inside, but the currents were so strong I could hardly manage to go around, and I was afraid that I would damage somebody else’s board.
“Where’s your coach?” one of the organizers, who had just gone surfing, approached me.
I found it repulsive. Can’t you guide us in the water? I hadn’t gone with an actual coach for the past few times that I was out in the water, and I was pretty sure that I could paddle out in most conditions.
However, witnessing the weather conditions just then, and seeing how hard it was to get along in the damned crumbly, windy weather, I admitted to myself that I needed a helping hand.
I just thought that they were somehow coaching us, or at least finding coaches for us. I learned that they couldn’t because they weren’t locals. My fellow travelers thought so too, making it the second point of disappointment for them.
We started to ask: What was the 11 grand really for?
We joked about rebooking tickets or traveling to Siargao, which was only a few hours away. We also thought about what we could be doing at home instead of being on this island with barely surfable waves.
I cheered them up and did my best to stay positive — at least we were looking at a beautiful piece of sky and paradise. I told them that we can make the most of it; we might go surfing tomorrow and all our bad vibes would be washed by the saltwater, soon.
On the third day, however, my optimism would wane to a point of loathing and regret, causing me to stare blankly at open space and be like, “I am never, ever, paying a business to handle my surf trip again, ever.”
My new friends and I gulped some beer while watching the sunset. Going back to the villa, we were served with homemade pizza for dinner, which we really had no choice but to consume and pay for. That would be my first and last dinner in the villa.
I didn’t sleep inside the room (my choice completely). I spent the rest of my lonely evening swinging from the hammock outside, to the sight of stars and full moon, while the people I’d built rapport with stayed in another villa. It was a five-minute walk from the cold, dull place where I was made to stay.
The trip was unfolding with disappointment, but I was determined to make the most out of it. I resolved to bring back my solo traveler mindset and pretty much do whatever I could possibly do on the island, given the situation I was in.
I couldn’t just pay people and expect them to be responsible for giving me a great time. I would have to seek the wonder hiding behind the crashing waves and the shrubbery that grew along the highway.
Day 2 . The Goat House
About a year ago, my surf instructor in La Union told me that I was not using a foamie anymore. I haven’t touched a foamie since, with the exception of once (and never again) trying out a wave pool where there were no hardboards.
The organizers had only brought foamies and I was just not going to surf on a foamie.
After taking my morning pee, I walked along the area and into this place called The Goat House, where a young local girl with a fierce soul greeted me. We clicked like sisters.
I instantly felt at home the moment I sat by the bar. Just across the street, I could watch breaking waves and endless blue sky. Local reggae music played, dream catchers hung everywhere, and I was served with “surfer’s pasta” for breakfast — instant noodles topped with egg. Yum.
I told her that I was looking for a hardboard and a local coach. Not long after, I was introduced to one of the guys (whom I knew about from a mutual friend) and we hit the waters by midday
I felt like a total beginner, pushing Australian pop ups and playing in the whitewash. I mostly suffered wipe outs, got hit by the board once, stepped into a hole in the reef and hurt my foot, and barely managed a few turns to the left and right.
The weather was just a tad friendlier compared to yesterday. I didn’t feel like a total idiot, but I was, still, definitely a kook.
Before leaving to change clothes and washing up, we took a picture. I was invited to come back in the evening and go drinking with them.
Somewhere between smiles, exchanged laughter, and stoked faces, I caught a glimpse of a golden-haired surfer whose majestic locks of hair fell just past his broad shoulder blades. His face had a strong outline, the gaze from his eyes fierce, and his mouth filled with sweetness that I was not to find out about till later that night.
I shamelessly took stolen pictures of him.
We filled our bellies with brunch, courtesy of the villa where I stayed, and then we hopped to another kitchen to get us fruit shakes. One of my friends was celebrating her birthday, to our delight!
We swam in the pool and generally had a great time. I kept telling everyone that the good vibes were finally up since we’d had fun in the surf; wave-riding was supposed to take any sort of stress or worries from the day.
I hung out for a bit in the villa, decided that I just didn’t like expensive couches, and went outside for some more sun.
I realized one important thing: while people worked hard to escape the rat race, I firmly believe that there’s no race, at least not for me.
In the afternoon, we trekked to Linaw Lake. I had an absolutely wonderful time. Everybody who joined the trip was there (we took up the space of an entire jeepney, plus the top load). I swam in the cool waters while looking up at the opening of the cave, adorned by stalactites. I socialized with most of the people, and enjoyed the spirit of camaraderie while we all tried to get in and out of the cave.
If only I could stay there for hours, I totally would.
Day 2.5 . Missing In Action
A poolside party, which I fortunately did not attend, was held in the villa.
I excused myself after having dinner and went to the Goat House instead. The evening was pretty chill and I got myself a bottle of beer. The guys took shots of liquor. We re-introduced ourselves and shared rounds of laughter while getting to know each other through jokes and anecdotes.
Rural locals were my type of people. I was missing out on nothing while the city folk popped party pills and sipped drinks-laced-with-whatever at the poolside party happening nearby. The glowing lights from afar appeared strange, and I kind of forgot that I actually paid for it.
I felt more at home in the open shack, with people who loved the surf as much as I did. Plus, my crush was actually there. I thought he wasn’t even going to notice me and I would simply be stealing glances while we were drinking and laughing at the smallest things.
He was the gentlest, purest beauty I had ever seen; a wonderful, mystical, quintessential Pisces.
I was wrong. I couldn’t have expected it. For the next couple hours, we’d be sitting beside each other in the bar, talking about the surf like there was no tomorrow, and I would be looking into his eyes like I’ve never looked into a man’s eyes before.
It would feel as if there was just me and him and nothing else, like two old souls who had known each other since the beginning of time; as if the present moment existed just to bring the two of us together.
We parted ways past eleven in the evening; just moments after one of the organizers came looking for me.
In the morning and in early hours of dawn, I was awakened by thoughts of him. Remembering the previous night brought smiles to my face and I couldn’t help but be thankful that this person whom I almost adored had, in fact, spent time with me.
Day 3. Calm waters
The villa was a waste after the party; beer bottles everywhere and general trash on the lawn. It was reminiscent of surfing breaks where people partied without much regard.
We were supposed to have free breakfasts while we were accommodated, but the chef was missing so me and my roommates helped ourselves to DIY breakfast sandwiches.
I looked for my friends and found them having breakfast in the other villa. I caught up with them and they asked where I was last night. I told them I was drinking with the locals. I was informed that the party last night was about just as wild as an ecstatic rave party. One of our friends even got drug sick.
We took matters into our own hands. The organizers tried contacting us but we decided to finally ditch them at this point. We hired a tricycle driver to take us to places during the course of the day.
It was our last day for tours and stuff and we ought to make the best out of it, get as much sun and smiles as we could.
We kid around, shared stories, bonded like siblings (or tito with his nieces) and had fun taking videos from my friend’s drone. My friends were relatively more successful, experienced, and older that I was, so I had the privilege of gaining insight from them. We talked about success, life goals, and what it meant to function as an adult in this society.
I realized one important thing: while people worked hard to escape the rat race, I firmly believe that there’s no race, at least not for me. All I wanted to really do in life was surf, be one with the ocean, and have just enough money to survive and live a humble and basic life.
I swam through clear waters with local children, played on white sand, fell in love with nature all over again, and enjoyed basking under the sun.
You couldn’t just pay someone 11 grand, book a ticket and fly a plane, and then let another person write your epic journey; you would still have to do the writing yourself.
Day 3 1/2. Warm embrace
I was overwhelmed by the events of the day. Sure, I had fun, but me and my group’s disappointment with how the trip was organized escalated to such a level that stirred the bipolar in me.
I came to the Goat House after going back to the villa just to shower. I had started to feel like a ghost in there and not making eye contact with anybody in the room.
While taking slow steps on barely lit road, I hoped to see him. Maybe my last night on the island could be saved by his smiles and warm, gentle voice.
The bar was empty when I came. I held on to my bottle of beer. And when I just thought that he wasn’t coming, I saw his face and beautiful hair again.
All my sorrows disappeared into the cool night. We sat beside each other and continued conversations from last night. I kept looking into his eyes, saying through my glances what I was too shy to put into words. I savored every bit of it. I might never see him again; who knows what would happen to us?
The events of the remainder of the night ought to be written somewhere else; but yes, we ended up spending the night together.
In the morning, we went to the Catholic church located in the next town. We hitched on the back of a truck and let the morning wind kiss our faces. I can still imagine how he smiled at me with twinkling eyes as the wind tossed his lovely hair.
He was the gentlest, purest beauty I had ever seen; a wonderful, mystical, quintessential Pisces.
We lit candles and I said prayers. I wished for good surf and a blessed union with him. I purchased island souvenirs while he bought food to cook for breakfast.
It was my best meal in the island (nothing compared to the welcome feast that I had on the first day). I shared it with the mayor, the owner of the surf school, local surfers, and beautiful weather.
Just hours before I was due to come home, we played in the sand, swam for a bit in the water (currents were still strong) and counted how many minutes were left before we were to be separated indefinitely.
Would I ever go on a trip like this again? Yes, definitely. In fact, as I write this, I already have a round trip ticket to and from Tacloban.
This experience taught me how important it was to set the tracks of my own journey. Be careful who you pay to plan your itinerary for you. I discovered who I was as a traveler, a surfer, a person, and what what I truly considered home.
Besides white sand, clear waters, and majestic waves, I found the heart of paradise: the spirit that would always call me back to the ocean to surf and bask under the sun. It’s the kind of epic that you never plan or expect. The love that you never expect to get a taste of.
Mia is a 24-year-old novice surfer who’s been wiping out for over a year now. She rides a candy-colored 8'4 surfboard shaped by Jay Love. She’s determined to go surfing for the rest of her life.