What it means to leave home

The day we drove away from our house in Dalumpinas Oeste, La Union was when I felt it: a sharp stinging in the middle of my chest, as if whatever was in there had snagged onto the door right before we left.

It was only going to be two weeks, I reminded myself.

I had moved to the province of La Union with my partner, Harold, after we felt like there was nothing left for us in Manila. We pursued a simpler life and we found it in a surf town that was equally known for its waves as it was for its sunsets. It had been two years since either of us had ridden the MRT or watched a movie in a cinema, but we’ve built a life we were proud of here. We had surf. We had new friends. We were eating healthily.

But these days, we were no longer used to traveling; and that was exactly why we needed to leave again.

We sought something even simpler, if only to escape the quiet trap called comfort. Neither Harold nor I had ever been to Siargao, and all our surfer friends would stare wide-eyed in disbelief, because Siargao was the surfing mecca of the Philippines. For the next two weeks, we were going to redeem ourselves by taking this timely trip to the tear-shaped, wave-laden island; while becoming untethered to the comfortable routine we had built in La Union.

We packed two bags and three surfboards — with one extra board for when the waves picked up, just in case. But the swell never came. The waves were waist high. We had driven an entire day and ridden two planes only to realize that the waves were better in our backyard. It seemed foolish, yes, but we were surfers not because we surfed waves, but because of the circumstances that lead us there.

So we ditched our boards and joined friends we had not seen in years. We embarked on a daylong journey to go around the entire island on motorbikes. Not to be deterred by the lack of surf, we explored the rich, mostly untouched countryside of Siargao. There were coconut trees everywhere we looked. Houses grew sparse as we drove away from the bustle of General Luna. Further north, the carabaos outnumbered the people on the roadside.

Meanwhile, the sunset had quickly escaped us from behind a canopy of coconut trees and we rode until it was dark. I remember seeing only the taillights of the bikes ahead of us — and on one bend on the road — we were joined by fireflies.

We stopped from one cove to another before we settled on basecamp. Out there, wherever we were, our phones were reduced to flashlights. We used them to shine beams at possible firewood. Fortunately, we were surrounded by copra. We had enough to build not just one bonfire, but two.

There were less than 200,000 people scattered across the 452 square kilometers of this island; counting the locals, the foreigners who came for waves but stayed for paradise, the tourists filled with wanderlust, and the groups of friends like ours, probably tucked away in their own isolated coves, night swimming in tide pools, listening to the gentle rushing of the ocean that same night. There was not a cloud in the sky. Not a raindrop for miles.

We slept on dry reef beds and blankets strewn across cool sand. There, in the solemn company of friends amid a little infinity of sea and tropics, we felt richer than kings. I watched our bonfires cast tall shadows against rocks until I fell asleep. I felt warm even after both fires were long extinguished.

The next morning, we rode back to General Luna. People waved at our three-bike parade. The children were excited to greet us good morning. I should have known from their bewitching smiles then, that some mystical island magic was going to prevent us from leaving.

While the sun shone bright all days prior to our last, a tropical depression had appeared in the Pacific overnight. Everything was drenched and gray from torrential rain come morning. Rain was falling so hard, and so fast, that the tiny airport had no choice but to cancel the only flight that day.

It seemed that Siargao was not done with us yet; and only when we slowed down to accept everything it offered us, did we realize that nothing in this life could fully be under our control. Not the waves, not our flights, and definitely not mood swings: the weather’s or ours.

We stayed for three more days, just enough for us to surf a new and proper swell, and just before we started missing La Union. The trip back was going to be longer than ever: just as much long driving and the same amount of flying — airport delays and Manila traffic included.

And yet it was necessary for us to overcome the distance no matter how tired and restless we got. After all, the first thing a surfer must know is balance.

To keep balance, you only had to keep moving.

So we left Siargao, and this time I understood the pain that welled up in my chest. It was not a reluctance to leave; it was space expanding for growth. When you stay in a place long enough to feel its pulse, it becomes part of you, or you become part of it; and you carry it with you wherever you go. That’s why you feel heavy right before you leave a place that feels like home. The sensation always starts slowly, like a pinprick. And then it rushes in all at once, until you can barely move.

But you have to move. In fact, you have to go. If you never leave a place, you never grow.