Surigao Sojourn…a Trip Through Tandag and Tago

Northeastern Mindanao, the so called “Caraga Region”, is one of those few places in the Philippines that can still surprise an unsuspecting “dayo” who manages to stumble upon the place. (“Dayo” is Tagalog for a stranger from another place.)
A piece of Surigao's coastline
The Philippines has become smaller lately, not due to any tectonic movement, but due to the recent surge in domestic travel. I guess it has something to do with increasing prosperity among the locals (I hope), and with airlines that are up on each others’ throats with low fares (I bet). “Juan” can now leave for Palawan or Bohol late on Friday, and be back early in Monday, in time for an office meeting. And he can do it several times a year, if he’s lucky enough to keep catching low fares. That’s almost unimaginable ten years ago.
Yet, inspite of this surge, there are still places that have managed to hide their charm from the public eye. These are places that have just made themselves visible enough to catch the eyes of the true-blue wanderlust, yet still discreet enough to not catch the attention of the horde. These are the places sought after by those looking to experience nature, and wouldn’t miss the luxuries of resorts, or those who keep yearning for “Boracay one decade ago”. I think Surigao is one of those places…unspoiled and intriguing.
To most of us, the mention of Surigao brings only one thing in mind…Siargao, that budding surfer’s paradise in the southern part of the country. To some people even, Siargao and Surigao is one and the same, which is of course not the case. All of Surigao, both the “Del Norte” and “Del Sur” provinces, is bordered to the east by the Pacific. The coastlines of both provinces bear witness to the beauty and power of the world’s mightiest ocean, and you don’t have to be a “surfer dude” to appreciate it.
I haven’t been to this part of the country for God knows how long. I’ve been to Butuan City, on the neighboring province of Agusan, a few times, and I have been to Surigao City itself, on the Northern tip of Mindanao, once. That was such a long time ago though, that I think I wasn’t even old enough to drive then.
The last holiday season, I had the chance to see the region again, upon my father-in-law’s invitation for us to visit their home province of Surigao Del Sur. The eager beaver that I am when it comes to travel, it didn’t take any effort to persuade me at all.
The trip from Davao City to the Municipality of Tago, right in the middle of Surigao del Sur, took almost 6 hours, on roads that were surprisingly good for the most part. I remember “ages” ago, when we used to travel to Cagayan de Oro via Agusan, that the road condition on that stretch was a bit…inconsistent  (for lack of a better word). Some sections were paved and smooth, yet others looked like they were cleared and bulldozed just yesterday. This time around, it was smooth sailing from Davao to Agusan, except for some sections that are in a stage of disrepair in Panabo and approaching Tagum (These are the two most proseperous municipalities on that route, but had the poorest road conditions…ironic).
Even though I have been to that region a few times before, it was my very first visit to the province of Surigao Del Sur, and it was my first time to pass the stretch of highway between that province and Agusan. The road was smooth through and through, with some sections visibly newly cemented. I’ve heard numerous stories of the horrors that travelers on that stretch had to endure until a few years ago, but there was none of that any longer.
It was raining hard when we arrived Tago, my father-in-law’s hometown. It’s an old,sleepy, little municipality in the middle of the province, a short drive away from the provincial capital of Tandag. It’s one of those little towns whose “munisipyo” or central area, can be covered on foot…laid out, I think, according to colonial spanish planning.
It sits on the pacific coast, though it does not have a notable beach. Even though it doesn’t have anything in particular that makes it a “must see”, it does have a “sleepy little village” charm, complete with old houses that look like Maria Clara still lives in them.

The parish church of Tago
Tandag, which we visited the following day, is the provincial capital. It’s just a short, 10-15 minute drive away from Tago, but unlike its smaller neighbor, it is busy with activity. It has a large public market, a few modest grocery stores, some restaurants and cafes, a small airport (that currently has no regular flights), and a small port. Plus, just like any busy Philippine town, the roads teem with Tricycles.
It sits on the coast, just like Tago, and the area around its port (or “pantalan” as locals call it), is particularly scenic and photogenic. The black coastal cliffs on both sides of the harbor’s mouth wouldn’t look out of place in a travel magazine. I haven’t been able to explore the coast beyond the port, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more spectacular sceneries there.
Just like it’s neighbor though, it also doesn’t have a particularly attractive beach. You can go swimming if you’d like, but don’t expect white sand.
Tandag on one rainy afternoon.
The entry to the port of the Tandag. After 2 days of grey skies, the sun finally showed up on the third.
The photogenic coastline near the port
The beach of Tandag
A moonlit evening in Tandag
The surprise on this trip was the municipality of Cagwait, which we passed by on the way back to Davao. Just a short drive off the highway is a small bay, with a magnificent white sand beach. There are a few modest resorts on one side of the bay, but for the most part, it’s still a relatively untouched piece of paradise, even more untouched than say, Saud Beach in Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. With the Philippines being a country of wonderful beaches, owing to our expansive coastline, this beautiful peace of coast is probably one of many of its kind scattered all over the country. But what really caught me the most, was how unspoiled and thoroughly clean the place was. It was the utter beauty of nature, right before my eyes.
There is undoubtedly a lot more things to be found in this province, and with just a few days stay, I have but only scratched the surface. The province has a very long coastline, and what I’ve seen is just barely a centimeter on the map. We do like things that have a bit of “mystery” in them, and this I think, is one of the allures of Surigao del Sur. *photos taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 or Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5* This trip was taken December, 2010


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