Never assume you’ve seen the best of the Philippines: Visit Siargao if you haven’t, my latest dream paradise!

By Diana Marie Laguardia-Paquingan

Maddie goes island-hopping! Siargao is one of the best places you can introduce your precociously cute toddlers to the beauty of nature. Just one headache, they will not leave.

Siargao Island, Philippines – I long wanted to visit this rising island paradise but the over 12 hours of travel from Davao City with a baby in tow kept me from going. As soon as Philippine Airlines announced its direct flight from Davao City to Siargao earlier this year, I grabbed the opportunity and booked us a flight instantly.

“Siargao is a tear-drop shaped island in the Philippine Sea situated 800 kilometers southeast of Manila in the province of Surigao del Norte. It has a land area of approximately 437 square kilometres.” – Wikipedia

I never had a difficult time planning our itinerary since I already asked few friends who have been there. There are also many blogs about Siargao available in the internet. Once just a haven for surfers, it is fast emerging as a premier tourist destination. It even has a its own box-office hit movie.

A few friendly tips and reminders before heading out to the island:

A perfect break for a working mom. It is hard to get over Siargao’s serene loveliness.

A family trip and a time alone, throw in an amazing atmosphere like this, are among the best times of life.

Of course, the no brainer, bring cash. Wads if you can, and help boost the local economy. I mean, your credit cards might be at rest for awhile.

Never rely on your bank cards – debit, savings or whatever. There is only one ATM in General Luna and sometimes goes offline. Most restaurants and shops do not accept credit/debit which is quite a problem for travellers.

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

Bring a family member you can share the fun and responsibility. This is my top advice for a family vacation with kids, tag along your sister or brother for an extra hand in baby sitting and in — taking photos. 🙂

Bonding time with a perfect backdrop. It is hard to find fault in Siargao. You’ll love every bit of it.

Bring sunscreen. Lots of them. Too much sun is too challenging to handle. It can also be expensive from the local shops.

Book your accommodation ahead. In my case, I booked our accommodation five months earlier because hotels and bed-n-breakfasts easily sell out. Don’t just walk in and expect to find an accommodation that’s exactly what you wanted for a holiday – and the budget that you have.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

My husband Sherman takes his quiet time. Must be tough balancing two sea urchins in his life now.

Take care of the environment. Limit the use of plastic cups and straws and be mindful of your trash. Do not litter. Throw them in proper garbage boxes. It was a relief that a lot of groups are trying to keep the island protected. When you go visit, help maintain instead of becoming a problem.

“Take only memories, leave only footprints.” – Chief Seattle

No to plastic straws! Siargao ingenuously uses this environment-friendly coconut straw for your drinking needs.

We feel fortunate to spend a lot of fun times with our 2-year old daughter Maddie while she still have a lot of time for us.

Our itinerary

Day 1: Arrival and quick tour around General Luna and Cloud 9. General Luna is mostly where the shops and restaurants are located. Entrance fee to Cloud 9 is P50/head (USD1).

Our Maddie is now a certified sea urchin.

Traveling with a toddler: Tips here

Cloud 9 lives up to its name.

Day 2: Magpupungko Rock and tidal pool +Sugba Lagoon. We rented a jeepney for P2500 (USD50) to take us to these spots, which is more comfortable than a tricyle and less expensive than a van that roughly costs P4000/day (USD80). It costs P1200/head (USD24) for a small boat to take you to the lagoon.

Siargao’s colorful jeepneys, a classic Philippine ride, is a comfortable alternative for a tour.

Pristine waters – we are blessed not to travel far to enjoy this!

Planning for a trip in Taiwan with a baby in tow? Here’s what you can do.

Having a toddler in an island trip is double the fun. Maddie is used to traveling before she turned one-year old she is now a wanderlust.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain

Day 3: Island Hopping day. I booked a reliable island hopping tour guide, My Siargao Guide (check them out in Facebook) and paid around P1000/head (USD20) to take us into 3 island, Guyam, Naked and Daku Islands.

Siargao is peace. Picture perfect scenery combined with quiet and calm.

Our little one’s tiny legs never got tired exploring the island.

Day 4: Horseback riding and beach bumming. My cousin Tina LaGuardia-Sarraga’s family runs Magic Rides, a fun horseback riding service along the shores of Siargao. Click on the link and make a reservation. It was an amazing first-time experience for Maddie!

“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” – Jack Kerouac

Horseback by the sea! Maddie took her first pony ride with beautiful cousin Simone courtesy of Magic Rides.

Where to eat? La Carinderia, Harana, Bravo Surf resort, Kermit (best pizza in the island), Shaka, The Dirty Kitchen

“Blessed are the curious for they shall have adventures.” – Lovelle Drachman

You are in for a pizza treat in Kermit. Don’t miss it!

Traveling also made Maddie easy to adjust to weather and different conditions.

The Author

Diane is Admissions Officer at Tebow-Cure Hospital in Davao City, Philippines. She also operates a 2-bedroom AirBnB place right at the heart of the city.

Manic for organic: The Victor Neal Palarca success story

Victor Neal “Loloy” Palarca won as 2015 Best Presenter and Best Learning Site for his farm at the Mindanao Zonal Assessment of Learning Sites on Organic Agriculture by ATI Central Office.

By Vic Thor Palarca

Defying most conventional beliefs on agriculture and challenging traditional farming system, he dared to demonstrate that growing food and eating them fresh in one’s backyard can be done—regardless of location and circumstances.

Testing the Waters

Tagcatong, Carmen, Agusan del Norte – A businessman almost all of his life, Victor Neal Palarca, or “Loloy” as he is fondly called, envisioned being healthy and disease-free. When he ventured into farming, little did he know that his lifestyle and attitude towards mindful consumption of anything organic will change him and his family for the better.

Recalling his childhood days, Loloy says, “I remember the basics of gardening because in my elementary years, gardening has been a constant activity back then, next to going to school and playing. It makes sense to me now that I realized it was an integral part of my daily routine”.

At first, his challenge was not his hometown’s bleak agricultural scenario but the prevailing frame of mind among residents that their soil is highly acidic and is not suitable for farming. Most seasoned farmers ahead of his time have been steeped in traditional farming system using harmful chemicals like pesticides and insecticides.

Will he be able to convince his own neighbours and his community in general that going organic is the way to go? After all, his savvy entrepreneurial skills leave less to be desired now that he has stepped in to a venture which is relatively new to him.

Shattering expectations

His farm is now a Learning Site of ATI in the CARAGA Region in the Philippines. It is composed of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Dinagat Islands, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur provinces.

Loloy’s integrated and diversified organic farm right in his own backyard silenced skeptics and cynics alike because of the farming technology he has learned in his involvement with the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) via the Department of Agriculture’s Organic Agriculture (OA) Program. As a training participant, he made sure that the principles and knowledge he has learned is put to practice. Testing those principles is highly imperative because he believes that what works for other farmers might not work for him.

One of the immediate steps he did to avert the soil problem was to apply Bio-Char, a pulverized charcoal which serves as an agent to neutralize the acidity of the soil. The application of carbonized rice hull and bokashi also greatly improved the condition of his soil since it functioned as soil conditioner to amend mineral deficiency.

He also put up a water pump in the middle of his demo farm to keep his leafy greens hydrated and for the convenience of watering his plots of vegetables and rows of root crops.

Meanwhile, aside from the trainings he gets to attend, he reads online materials and research findings to further enhance his knowledge on organic farming with US Department of Agriculture and Philippne Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development of the Department of Science and Technology (PCAARRD-DOST) as his frequently visited websites.

It was only in 2011 when Loloy started his organic farming operations since his demo farm was originally planned as a leisure farm on an experimental basis. He now produces vegetables and root crops such as carrots, squash, bitter gourd, cucumber, tomato, eggplant, okra, lettuce, malabar spinach, ginger, string beans, bell pepper and sweet potatoes.

He has a fully utilized 500 square-meters of sustainable integrated organic farm which is now also a sprawling breeding ground for his 60 native chickens, 10 organic-fed large whites and three Anglo Nubian goats as part of his livestock entourage. His cooped native chickens are bordered with madre de cacao trees which at the same time serve as forage for his Anglo-Nubian goats. The litter flooring of his piggery consists of rice hull mixed with salt and effective microorganisms (EM) to combat foul odor.

Acquiring a 3,000 square meter land for expansion, he plans to expand his demo farm by having a fruit orchard.

Loloy is about to forge a partnership with FeedPro, one of the leading commercial feeds in Mindanao which boasts of its natural feed ingredients for their “Baboyang Walang Amoy” campaign project. Perhaps, his efforts to make hog raisers adapt his prescribed technology for an odor-free community paid off.

A Social Message

He is working hard for the farm to become a full-pledge Agri-Tourism site in the Philippines.

Loloy’s drive and resolve to eat nothing but the best has rubbed off on to his family since his wife and kids (and a handful of nieces and nephews) help him tend and manage his garden. The value of organic farming have now secured a spotlight among his circle of farmer friends since he serves as Vice-President to the organized Tagcatong Diversified Organic Farmers (TADOFA) with 23 active members.

As part also of his civic responsibility, he shares his knowledge and expertise to anyone interested in OA through techno-transfers and on site lectures in his demo farm since Loloy happens to be a member of the Municipal Agriculture and Fisheries Council (MAFC).

He makes himself visible by regularly attending trade fairs and agri-business events nationwide as well as the Regional Organizational Meeting of Organic Farmers as organized by Department of Agriculture – Regional Field Office in Caraga (DA-RFO-XIII). He concurs that through family farming, the members of the family will be encouraged to promote farming as a key solution to food security.

Aside from the health and practical reasons, Loloy advocates OA because of the following reasons: it promotes sustainable use of natural resources; it is economical and cost-efficient; it helps reduce hunger incidence in the countryside and it protects the environment and all the farm produce is safe since it is 100% organic and is pesticide-free.

To date, Loloy markets his season’s harvest at a reasonable price in his community and to an expat who is a regular patron. Although he does not rely on his harvest to financially support his family since he has a thriving garments business, Loloy admits that his organic farming venture is for keeps. “I want to make a bold statement that organic farming is here to stay and that it is neither a fad nor a trend because it sustains our well-being as well as the situation of our environment. For me, that is worth investing in our time and efforts”, he adds.

The Farming Saga Continues

Loloy’s humble agricultural venture has grown into a haven for every farmer in the country.

So far, Loloy has already attended several workshops and training events relevant to his organic farming venture which was made possible by ATI’s intervention and support.

The technologies he apply on his demo farm were the very technologies he got from his trainings complemented by his research of the latest breakthroughs in organic farming on the internet.

I was motivated to show and convince my farmer colleagues that farming in your own yard is viable and can be done despite odds and unfavorable conditions”, he enthused. What made the difference were the diverse farming technologies he applied to suit and work well on his farming needs.

Some of his best farming practices include the use of Effective Microorganisms (EM), Indigenous Microorganisms (IMO) for his piggery, Integrated Pest Management (IPM), Oriental Herbal Nutrients (OHN), Fermented Plant Juice (FPJ), Fish Amino Acid with molasses as natural plant fertilizer, Inoculants to enhance and condition the soil and seaweeds as wonder plant food.

Meanwhile, Loloy takes pride in his practice of zero-waste farming which helps him and his family in disposing/recycling their waste products. He practices crop rotation and does not follow the traditional farming calendar.

There is no denying that Loloy’s venture to organic farming is a deliberate and decisive approach to support sustainable agriculture as well as promote family farming in his community.

With a new attitude and outlook to growing his food and eating them fresh too, Loloy is confident with the way things turned out and content with the very soil he have grown to cultivate.

“I want to make a bold statement that organic farming is here to stay and that it is neither a fad nor a trend because it sustains our well-being as well as the situation of our environment. For me, that is worth investing in our time and efforts”

Freshly-picked dragon fruits grown from the Palarca farm.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Vic Thor A. Palarca is one of the content developers of ATI-Northern Mindanao. As their Media Production Specialist-II, he writes news articles, features, success stories regularly as well as video scripts as part of his annual targets. He is also involved in coming up with Information, Education and Communication (IEC) materials, corporate newsletter, coffee table book and courseware development.

He is in-charge of the production and publication of BAHANDI, a coffee table book and collection of inspiring stories in farming in Region-X as well as contributed to the conceptualization and publication of e-Extension AGENDA, the official publication of the Agricultural Training Institute for e-Learning. He assists in the conduct of trainings by his peers and sometimes serves as a Resource Person. He was once an information services agent of the defunct Knowledge Products Management Division (now Information Services Division or ISD) and have brushed elbows with the Central Office peeps but decided to pursue the countryside to live the provincial life.

A self-confessed 90’s pop crusader, he is soulmates with Shannen Doherty and Tom Hardy. He is a full-time uncle and a part-time loon. He enjoys cafeteria conversations and deja vu. He is allergic to Mathematics. He ships regularly to the charming island of Camiguin. He can be predictable judging by his habitat and niche namely bookstores, libraries and book nook at home. His brain is pretty much scattered.