Tuesday, December 16, 2014

How to not let a Typhoon disrupt your vacation; Part 1

I unwrapped the silverware and pulled out a fork and a knife. Seated at the table in front of me was a German group of girls playing cards. At the table to my right was a couple reading books sitting in silence, the table behind me was a couple wearing matching shirts; one saying 'Soul', the other saying 'Mate'.

It was in that moment, day 10 of Secret Lang HoneyMoon Trip 2, dining at a restaurant on the main strand of Boracay beach, that I knew I was meant to be a traveler not a tourist.

To anyone else those things sound ordinary, if not extraordinary; surrounded by culture and with eating utensils. Those are important to dine with right?

But after the past 10 days of traveling the Philippines from North to South, uncovering magical lands taken from scenes of unwritten Disney movies that include waterfalls, cliffs, oceans, and more, sitting at a touristy restaurant surrounded by other tourists checked into their vacation modes, was not for me.

I want adventures, activities, discovery, culture; eating with a fork and a spoon as my knife (being Filipino).

And the group of humans that traveled the Philippines these past 10 days fit this mold as well.

7 Americans and 2 Filipinos all came together to conquer an island of 7,000 islands. My favorite part about this group of humans is not only their love for life in general but the spirit of spontaneity that lives in each one.

We began making travel plans for this trip about a month ago. We had all of the destinations picked out, the map outlined and itinerary organized. As December 5th drew more near, so did our excitement.

And then Typhoon Ruby happened. Oh Ruby, Secret Lang group is not a fan of you. Ruby is a stubborn one. I don't know why you would name a storm that destroys everything in it's path, but so be it. I prefer the Filipino name, Hagupit, meaning 'Lash'. Much more fitting.
Ruby lookin all ruby ish 

As news about Ruby's arrival started to surface and the concern for damage upon her arrival was intensified, our group remained optimistic.

We had flights departing Manila on December 5th; first destination, Cebu. Whale sharks, waterfalls, private islands and more were awaiting us.
Sumilon Island, our original destination on Itinerary #1 (pre Ruby)

We remained in constant contact with the resort we were supposed to be staying with the entire day of the 4th. Every few hours they reported the same thing, that the weather was sunny and great. The news was telling us something different, that Cebu was in Ruby's path.

But until we heard that our flight was grounded all lights were green on our side; we were pushing for Ruby to change paths from her original predicted one.

With our flight leaving at 4 am, we waited until 1 am to make a final decision and came to the conclusion that it wasn't smart to continue forward. Us Americans were pretty gung-ho on continuing but this was a tropical storm we were dealing with, which none of us had any real experience with. So we eventually listened to our local Pinoy friends and decided that even if we were able to get to Cebu, we didn't want to be sitting in rain and/or get stuck.

After a long night of sending members of our group to the airport, making phone calls and canceling flights, we concluded to all reconvene in the morning to decide our next move.

Spontaneous Spirits; Exhibit A.
By 9 am, with a few hours of sleep under our belt, we all met with bags packed, positive attitudes still in tact; Hagupit was not going to rain on our parade. Only the actual destination was missing. We all piled into a van and chose the direction furthest away from stubborn Ruby...North.

Four hours later we pulled into our beach bungalow in La Union, Flotsam & Jetsam, chosen after making phone calls mid drive for suggestions.

We fell in love with it instantly, every detail about it. Simple, artsy, creative and complete with well thought out decorations. We were greeted warmly, the only way Pinoys know how, and shown to our room complete with 4 bunkbeds and a mattress on the floor for our 9th member. No air con and a community bathroom; we were back at summer camp and just as excited at the ages of 27-33 as we would have been when we were young kids.
"happiness... Market Price" <3

Flotsam & Jetsam greatness

With the day not having much daylight left in it upon arrival, we didn't have much time. Everyone threw on their swimsuits and we headed to the beach. We were going to learn to surf.
Headed to catch a wave and ride it off into the sunset, just another ordinary day in the life of Secret Lang

Spontaneous Spirits Exhibit B.
Surfing wasn't on our original itinerary, although it had been something we all were trying to get to all season but just never quite found the time. Charo, Angela and Kaylee all had experience from last year and Lindsay had tried once before in California this past summer but other than that we were fresh meat to the waves while having a board attached to our bodies.

The next couple of hours unfolded in a very surreal matter. It all happened so quickly and intensely, but not without being able to soak in all of its glory.

We walked up the beach to where surfing lessons were being provided. There were boards lined up, we were thrown shirts to put on and assigned an instructor Kuya.

After a literal 2 minute lesson:
"Lay on the board"
"Push up"
"Left foot first"
"Then right foot in front"
"Bend knees, arms out"
"Good? Ok let's go!"

Wait, what? Yea, that was it. Our Kuya's wrapped the board around our ankles and carried them as we trailed behind trying not to trip over the chord and replaying the lesson in our heads.

As we walked in the water, the waves were not exactly calm. It was as if Ruby knew we had successfully avoided her and she was going to make our first surfing lesson one to remember. We wanted to have fun and learn to surf huh? Well, she wanted a say in that.

We were walking towards big waves, and my pulse was rising. Each Kuya would hold on to the back and push us through the incoming waves yelling, "Hold on!!" when the wave was approaching and even "Duck your head!!" when our boards were basically vertical and the wave above our heads.

The next hour we proceeded to battle the waves, being thrashed around, swallowing large amounts of salt water but determined in every way. We would go out, come back in trying to stand. Falling many times but picking up the board each time and returning to our Kuya for another run.

After awhile I was getting close but just not able to quite get it, I asked Kuya, "What do you see?" Being an athlete I wanted to be coached, given tips. I wanted to get it.

Kuya responded with a smile, "I see you fall." Oh really? Well there was some help haha, but it sums up the experience perfectly. These young kids probably ranging from 14-20 with limited english were our instructors. So it mostly came down to trial, error and watching what worked for one another.

And eventually, we all got up. It was such a freeing feeling to get beaten and abused by these waves and fall time and time again but then finally mount the board to ride it in to shore. As well as to see each other succeed. We would whoop and holler for one another as each one got up, wiped out and returned to the ocean for another try.
What a rush

Did I mention we did all of that with a gorgeous sunset taking place in the background? Pretty magical and surreal.
We're sunset kind of people, with a splash of an occasional sunrise

We surfed and surfed until the sun dipped behind the horizon, we couldn't see anymore and were forced to return our boards. While walking back in, Kuya said to me, " So sorry for rough waves." sounding about exhausted as I felt from pushing my long body up wave after wave.

You could tell our Kuya's were impressed and we set a time and place for the next morning with a promise from them that the waves wouldn't be quite so punishing. Take that Ruby, you can't stop us!

The rest of the night we sat around candle lit tables outside our beach bungalow stuffing our tired bodies with fish and rice then retired to bean bags to star gaze and continue reliving our surfing stories, excited for more.

Straight out of a story book I tell ya. Day 1 in the books and a great deal accomplished after a quick turnaround from the obstacle Hagupit created.

So far the score card read:
Secret Lang: 1  
Ruby: 0

Spontaneous Spirits conquering obstacles. Check.

GoPro hard at work catching the me on the wave ----> http://youtu.be/9noM51opQpE Thank you random Kuya surfer who was kind enough to let us use his bored, he probably envisioned 10 minutes little did he know we were a group of 9, we'll pay it forward some day I promise :) #GoProlove

Stay tuned for more adventure story telling, that was just day 1...

We were able to see our Awesome Cignal teammates one last time at the Cignal Christmas party last night, what a treat! They are the gift that just keeps giving back to us. Only in the PH can you wear white pants to a Christmas Party #alwayssummer #notlookingforwardtotradingmyswimsuitforaparka

79 days. That's how many days it took for this beautiful country and it's beautiful people in it to fully steal my heart. Leaving today on a jet plane and my emotions are all over the map.

I am absolutly overwhelmed by the people in this country and the sights that I have seen and not to mention what I have left to see. I have merely scratched the surface. I can not thank you wonderful Filipino people enough for opening your arms and hearts to us imports these past few short months and showing us what it is like to be Pinoy.

I feel so inspired, alive and grateful here. Not to mention brown and happy in the sun :)


I'm taking back love, photos, videos and memories to share with the rest of the world. Because as much as I would love to keep this place a secret and all to myself I have been so lucky to experience all that I have and I just want to share it with the world. I love the Philippines. Salamat po's, you are all my idol po's.



  1. Hey sarah! I had fun reading your adventures, when i got to the end, that's it, no more? Bitin! Hahaha! Glad you enjoyed your stay here in our country! Come back soon ok?

    PS. Was able to catch a few of your games live and i must say, we enjoyed having you all here as much as you did enjoy your stay.

  2. Incredible read! Sarah Julie, you just touched my lil Filipino heart with your beautiful words. And reading this brings back all good memories and vibes. And I like it. Missing you guys already, ma'am.

  3. Incredible read! Sarah Julie, you just touched my lil Filipino heart with your beautiful words. And reading this brings back all good memories and vibes. And I like it. Missing you guys already, ma'am.

  4. Nothing beats a writing that comes from the heart! Charo's right. It's an incredible, touching read. Very inspirational!
    The secret is out.... We Love You!

    Btw, Sarah Julie? Really? (thank Maria Rosario Bollozos Soriano for that.)