I was privileged to cover the Siargao International Surfing Cup (now on its 22nd year) last week. For a non-surfer, however, I tend to believe that going to Suhoton Cove from General Luna (GL), the surfing venue, is the highlight of the trip.
Suhoton, which is part of Bucas Grande island two hours sail away should be a “sidetrip” every Siargao visitor must not miss. Last week was my fourth visit and I am glad nothing much has changed. In fact, the place has even improved. A few environment-sensitive structures have been set up to make the visit convenient and truly memorable — a substantive encounter with nature — not just a tourist attraction.
It’s commendable that local and national government agencies aspired and successfully turned it into a responsible world-class visitors’ haven. If young people would tell you, “you haven’t gone to Siargao if you haven’t surfed,” mine is “you haven’t gone to Siargao if you haven’t splashed in Suhoton.”
The adventure begins with the cave-entrance. “Doesn’t it remind you of Palawan’s underground cave?,” a friend asked me. This one is narrower and shorter, though and one has to bow one’s head as stalactites hang like sentinels.
As our pumpboat sailed through — leaving first-timers speechless upon seeing the craggy hills covered by clambering roots and branches rivaled by the crystal-clear water — our guide Arnel pointed to a limestone tower (devoid of trees). “That is where the bell rings,” he said. But there is no bell that can be seen. None before and none now.
There is a story that has been passed on by local fisherfolk from the ancient times that they could hear a bell ringing from the top of the tower. They believe that up there is a cathedral of the “dili ingon nato” (spirits not like us). I asked Arnel if they have heard the bell and he gave me a blank smile.
We had our first stop-over, the tiny Hagukan underground cave. One has to swim under it and come out the other side. (Not another dimension, I thought). I asked how it got its name and the shy boatman said the cave snores. “Hagok” is snore in local dialect. Everyone who went inside came out smiling, obviously satisfied and encouraged the others to try it.
We missed the second cave, a much larger one, we were told, so we sailed farther and reached the floating cottage where lunch was served. Many guests were already there. I befriended an older fisherman/guide and our conversation went like this:
Me: I bet there’s a change in your life as a fisherman before and now?
Fisherman: (nodding). Yes, many people come here now. Before, it was only me and my father, uncles and neighbors and the place used to be silent
Me: Do you like the change? I guess you’re earning more now. Do you still fish?
Fisherman: We get extra now. But we will never leave fishing. This (boat guiding) helps send the children to school and other expenses.
Me: Tell me, have you ever heard of the unseen bell?
Fisherman: No, not everyone has heard or seen it. Not even my father but he said my lolo (grandpa) claims to have heard it and a few others.
Me: Do you believe it?
Fisherman: I do. Nothing wrong with it. And I was told you won’t hear it unless you want to or really believe it. Then the spirits will let you hear it.
After a good meal and a swim, we retreated towards the entrance cave, passing once more the “bell tower.”
I thought we computer-crazy and techno-hungry folks will never hear the bell ring. And many, perhaps just unfortunately, don’t care. (Ramon Jorge B. Sarabosing is a writer and visual artist based in Butuan City).