Beauty and Madness in Surigao del Sur

Friday, December 30, 2011

Surigao del Sur1

It’s difficult to feel at home while traveling. After all, you travel to leave home and escape the mundane and ordinary. You want to conquer your fear of the unknown. But at home is exactly how I felt when I arrived in Surigao del Sur. Like being welcomed after many years of absence. I had no immediate desire to go around and explore every single corner. I was content to revel in the familiarity of a place I had never set foot in before.

Surigao is a mere 5 hours away by land from hometown, Davao City. But it took a chance encounter with a kababayan in New York to get me to visit. My other sole sister Tanya (whom you may know from our previous encounter in Varkala, India) and I met through a mutual friend in Long Island, New York back in 2008. Her family is from a small village in Surigao del Sur and she has been raving about the place ever since I could remember.

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She would tell me about their hundred year old ancestral home in front of the ocean. The sumptuous fresh seafood that you could eat every day. The serenity of the beach at sunrise when you could have the place to yourself. What got me was that their place was walking distance from 2 river mouths that had fantastic surf breaks. It was my kind of paradise!

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So we planned the trip. But because of our itchy soles, we would never be in the Philippines at the same time. It took more than 3 years for me to finally come to Surigao del Sur with Tanya. It was worth the long wait. I was blown away by the glistening sandy beaches with powerful surf breaks. Huge, fruit-bearing trees lined the beach front properties and most of the houses looked Stepford wives perfect with their white picket fences, outdoor decks and luxurious basement flooring.

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I came at an opportune time. The school that Tanya’s family owned had an eco-scouting event and I was asked to speak about eco-tourism and environmental preservation. It was a topic that was close to my heart. While I surfed every single day I was there and got to know the small community, I felt very close to nature. I realized how outdoor sports like mountaineering , diving and surfing expose you to the environment. It gets you outside of yourself and you become more aware of everything around you. You can’t help but fall in love with the place.

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Surigao del Sur9

And when you love something, you want to protect it, preserve it and promote it to the world.

That’s exactly what I talked about during the eco-scouting event that the Hotchkiss Learning Center has been organizing annually. I spoke to more than a hundred elementary and high school about how they can help preserve the environment, especially their hometown in Surigao del Sur. I showed photos of polluted cities, rivers strewn with garbage and deforested areas. It’s exactly what the world would look like should we just sit there and not do anything. I reminded them that we all co-exist. All our actions affect every other creature and living being.

It was heart wrenching to discover that that this beautiful piece of paradise faced a deadly enemy: mining.

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Mining is quickly destroying forests, watersheds, rivers and marine life in Surigao del Sur and many parts of the Philippines. When you go through the mine site, everything is caked with red earth for miles. It makes breathing difficult as you’re exposed to air that’s tainted with metals and debris. We see so many ads saying there is life in mining. But being there and seeing the massive destruction firsthand makes you realize that responsible mining is an oxymoron. How can people destroy something so stunningly beautiful? 

It’s utter madness.

Serendipitously, a month after I was in Surigao, I was invited by the ABS-CBN Foundation headed by Gina Lopez for a talk about mining, the damage it has caused our environment and how we can do our part. This is my small share. There are several ways we can help stop and prevent further damage of mining in our country. You can sign the petition here. You can also share this article and spread awareness through your blog and social networks.

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The recent Sendong disaster is a painful reminder of how much damage we have caused the environment and how little we have done to reverse it. It brings to mind this quote from Aldous Huxley:

Men do not learn very much from the lessons of history, and that is the most important of all lessons of history.

What’s your stand on mining in the Philippines? What efforts have you made to preserve the environment that we all love?

Taking responsibility,
Sole Sister Lois
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*Photos are credited to Tanya Hotchkiss

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19 sole trails

  1. I think she's the Tanya Hotchkiss who was my classmate in PE (Australian games) in UP, a little over 10 years ago. I remember striking a conversation with her because I come from Surigao del Norte. 

  2. sea food (particularly sashimis and crabs) and surfing. whoa! i love siargao. too bad mining is taking a bad position for an island so beautiful.

  3. Never thought that mining in Siargao is so rampant , it broke my heart seeing your pictures :( .. Sayang , ganda paman sana ng Siargao and it is one of my planned destination this 2012

  4. everything we do, our buying habits, eating habits, affect the environment... :( too much consumerism drives companies to produce more products, more products means more raw materials, more raw materials means more mining, fishing etc etc... i hope one day WE will all  learn to consume just what we need... but then again.. population is increasing thus creating a bigger need to produce more goods... :(

  5. i wasn't able to take photos of this while i was in surigao and my host is afraid that i take photos... 
    glad you shared about this.
    the most read and commented blog post of mine is also about NO TO MINING. 
    the problem with this is that the LGU are contented to get some pennies while big businessmen from other countries are getting the bul of money.

  6. Disheartening to see the damage done by mining, for all their 'feel good' advertisements about helping the community was nothing but blood money in exchange of destroying the environment and causing more (including death) - on the other side, you've showed the promise of this paradise-like place. I will finally see come June (tagal pa pala hehe)

  7. it is also sad that Davao is facing the same thing.. what with the coal fired plant and the current statemen by the mbc which is really heartlesst:

    we plan to organize civil society to make a stand... filipinomad is right.. its our "hyper" consumerism.. also basically because of the advertisers who keeps playing on human psychology to buy products we do not need.

  8. I heard Surigao is beautiful but the mining has got to stop!

  9. Yes, I think she's the one because we're both from UPD :-)

  10. I know Dong! We all have to do something to preserve the beautiful places that we love to visit.

  11. This is in Surigao del Sur ha. Siargao is an island off the cost of Surigao del Norte. I'm not sure if there's mining in Siargao itself. It's also one of my dream destinations this year because I would love to surf those breaks!

  12. I absolutely agree with this Flip! Looks like you and I have been reading the same books :-)

  13. the problem with this is that the LGU are contented to get some pennies while big businessmen from other countries are getting the bulk of money.
    agree with this James. The Philippines is not getting anything especially since they brand this as "exploratory mining". Hayyyy... we need to do something against this Goliath of a problem.

  14. True that marky! I feel so privileged to see both sides of Surigao on this visit. And when I was faced with the reality of mining and how it destroys the environment, there's not way to sugarcoat that and say it's responsible. These photos are a testament to the damage that mining has caused.

  15. You're welcome Rick! Hope to do more posts for tourism and environment in the future.

  16. whoa! can't wait for the seafood and surf! 

  17. We went to surf in Lanuza last month, and we pass by those alarming mining sites. It's so heartbreaking. :(


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