San Juan, La Union: Surf Town

If you'll give it to the town, San Juan, La Union will take you and your weekend on a quick summer escape in the midst of Christmas season, stopping at nothing to give you the sunniest of everything -- waves, welcomes, service, conversations, smiles. The 5 to 6-hour drive from Manila may be a huge pain in the butt (take it however you please), but once you've had a peek at the splendid beaches with strong quality waves and pretty coastline which boasts for being the fifth longest in the world(!), all body ache and discomfort from the land trip shall be forgotten instantly. And soon enough, you'll understand why San Juan is described as the North's haven for beach lovers and surfers of all levels, both local and international.

I went to this part of Luzon with my friends from Muni for a supposed team building, fulfilling the purpose of our trip mostly on the morning of our first day at a popular beachside shack (more about this later) and then spending the rest exploring the cool waters, a couple of relaxing restaurants and other of San Juan's provincial sightings, while meeting many wanderlust souls taking advantage of the holiday weekend along our way.

Beginning our trip at The Circle Hostel where we were lodged was also the beginning of our "no-stranger" adventure -- the intention of this eco-friendly hostel is to create a friendly community among their guests by having them stay under one roof, with no dividing walls or even cabinets for item storage! Living with two of my girl friends back in the city, you'd think that communal living is something I'm used to by now. But sharing the same roof with strangers newly-met friends from all sorts of places, I must say, is a different, bolder experience. And much so as it was also my first time to sleep in a kulambo (mosquito net)!

Almost every flat surface in The Circle is covered in inspirational writings and textual art contributed by the artsy and adventurous people that have come and gone to the place. It is the hostel's way of allowing them to express themselves and share their experience freely with the current roomers and the many others to come. 

Compared to some of the sour experiences that my traveling friends have had with lodging security, I didn't lose a single gadget, accessory, not even a hair-tie! Even when I stubbornly went out at 1AM to get ice, with nothing but a bikini on (not sorry), it felt as if I was was just walking my own safe neighborhood. And things only got better when the sun shone again. Unless you're a late riser, the guests of The Circle will get served Filipino breakfast of freshly baked pan de sal, PB and bananas(!) -- all this simply out of the staff's courtesy! And don't even get me started on the freshly brewed, climb-worthy coffee from Benguet that they sold at their mini shop...

When we were not talking work, taking on the salty waves or channeling our inner Top Model for impromptu shoots, we were seeking for handsome food places. And this is, I observed, something that the gluttons (okay, maybe Instagrammers) in us take very seriously. To prove, we walked about a good hour looking for this Greek restaurant that one of us had suggested to have dinner at, but we never got to have dinner at, at all -- don't ask. However, despite that one failure of a quest, we did get to find great shops and restaurants that foodies and artsies alike will ever regret not taking photos of.

Here are some that I visited with the team, or during my solo explorations:

  • Surf Shack - where I met a few new friends from Manila, who were on a spontaneous trip to La Union. It was an easy, relaxed place when I went at noon; it was a different story when I walked past it again at night.
  • Angel & Marie's Place - where we ate instead after not finding that unforgiving Greek place. A simple eatery that serves Filipino cuisine and ravishing veggie dishes(!), and features a romantically set patio -- candle lit tables and all.
  • El Union - where the photos above were shot. Staying here was particularly difficult for me due to the absence of vegan options on the menu. Thank goodness the interior was pretty enough to comfort, as well as the friendly atmosphere.
  • Flotsam & Jetsam - (you'll have to wait for a future post)
Although all these may lack the variety and options for different dietary needs/preferences, the food presentation and service are of par excellence! I don't know how other vegetarians/vegans would handle, but I honestly didn't mind the struggle, watching everyone enjoy their meals, the scene, the company, the life.

More than the cool spots, crazy water adventures and scenic places, my favorite part of the trip was, no doubt, the people -- foreigners, visitors, the townsfolk, everyone. I'm not kidding when I say that the locals here are one of the friendliest I've come to meet, and, having travelled many parts of the Philippines already, I think I can say that I've met a lot. From that Surf Shack guy who showed me the way to a resort, to the Kahuna boy who made me laugh and gave me the ice that they sold for free, to the lovely sari-sari store lady whom I had a vulnerable late-night conversation with over coffee, the warm, hospitable trait that Filipinos are generally known for, never once faltered. 

Much of this was a surprise, really -- maybe I have been resting in the urban jungle for far too long that I don't realize just how much of our beautiful social culture I'm missing out on. My heart smiles at the friendships that I formed and strengthened on this little strip of sand and ocean, and the memories that I made here shall forever be treasured. 

My La Union story isn't quite finished yet. I have another post coming up, detailing our stay in one of the hippest beach spots you'll find in Northern Luzon. For now, you can watch this video documentation of our trip that I made, in case my story and these photos weren't enough to capture the experience. I plan to make more of these for future travel posts so I hope you enjoy it!

Seas the day always,
Meek x

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