A few weeks ago, around the beginning of June, some friends and I took a weekend trip to La Union.
None of us had ever been, although the boyfriend and I have gone surfing in Baler (check out my Travel Journal here and my Travel Guide here). We were in luck. The north swells had come and gone, but strong June winds had sent a few rogue waves our way. The surfing was prime.
More than the surfing, however, I enjoyed the small, sleepy town of San Juan because it put me in mind of a dream that many millennials have; that is, to make a life somewhere where the rhythm of the day is a little slower.
This train of thought left the station when my friends and I checked into our accommodation. We stayed at Circle, a no-fuss, no-frills place along the MacArthur National Highway, just across from the beach. A budget-friendly, eco-friendly place with the tagline #ThereAreNoStrangers, Circle Hostel is relaxed, friendly, and – everything a tired, burned out millennial from Manila needs to unwind. Sobrang chill.
(Not nearly enough photos of Circle Hostel, I’m afraid. But rest assured, it’s really nice!)
We arrived in San Juan at around nine in the morning, but checkout was at one in the afternoon, so we couldn’t yet claim our beds. Since the Circle staff said that the roads were pretty safe, we left my car parked on the side of MacArthur, just across the hostel, grabbed towels and sunblock from our bags in the trunk, and headed for the beach.
One of my friends had brought with her a large round beach towel, so we spread that out on the sand some distance from the water and sunbathed a little, luxuriating in a lengthy stretch after the seven-hour drive from Manila. When we finally got into the water, it was to discover that the waves were intense. Just sitting down in the shallows, you get buffeted about like a limpet torn from the shelter of a rock pool. With waves like that, we couldn’t not surf. And since the boyfriend and I had already gone surfing before, we just rented our boards from the San Juan Surf Resort and made do on our own. Our friends stayed on the shore, taking pictures of each other.
(Unfortunately, at this point, the battery of my boyfriend’s GoPro ran out, so we have no pictures of us surfing. It’s all right though, it’s not as if we can’t go back!)
After surfing, we headed to the Coast Call Kitchen & Bar, San Juan Surf Resort’s restaurant, for lunch. (Protip: order the vanilla latte. It’s freakin’ delicious, and only costs Php 80!) The timing was perfect, since after we finished eating, we could then check into Circle. Surfing and playing on the beach had tired us out, so we spent a couple hours just napping.
When we got up, we decided to go check out Tangadan Falls. A tricycle driver agreed to take us to the jump-off point and be our guide for the day. The hike up to Tangadan Falls was tiring, but worth it. We stopped at the cliffsides where people could jump off into the water, at varying heights of ten, twenty, and thirty feet. Typically, I decided to jump off the thirty-foot cliff. With my friends cheering me one, I teetered on the edge, took a deep breath, and leapt into the water. All I can recall is the strange sensation of nothingness around me, and the notion that it was taking such a long time before my feet hit the water. I was also vaguely aware of myself screaming.
When we got to the falls, we realized there was absolutely no one there. I don’t know if we’d just chanced upon the right time in the afternoon, or if the oncoming clouds made people wary of a storm. Whatever it was, we had Tangadan Falls all to ourselves.
We spent a couple of hours swimming and taking pictures before we hiked back up. The tricycle we’d rented took us from the jump-off point back to Circle, where we showered and had a quick (super alcoholic – two pitchers of rum coke and three beers each) dinner before heading to bed.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a morning person; that day, though, I was up at the crack of dawn. I couldn’t muster the energy to get out of bed and cross the street over to the beach, but I did lie awake and listen to the chirping of birds in the trees and the clucking of chickens in the empty lot next door. When I’d had enough, I got up, brushed my teeth, made myself a cup of coffee, and sat down in Circle’s common area to read a book while waiting for my friends and boyfriend to wake up. It took some time, but they eventually did. We walked down the road to The Coffee Library, a small cafe some distance from Circle, to have breakfast.
The plan was to leave La Union at 3pm, so we had some time to chill before packing up and checking out. Naturally, we all returned to the beach. My friends stayed on the shore, sunning themselves, while the boyfriend and I went into the water. The waves were still good, but we didn’t have time to surf again. Time and the tide wait for no man, unhappily.
We checked out at noon, piled back into my car, and went down the road to Flotsam & Jetsam for lunch. On the advice of several friends who’d also been to La Union, we stopped by El Union for iced coffee and s’mores before getting back on the road to Manila.
That weekend in La Union made me wonder what life would be like if that were may day-to-day existence. Get up, eat, go to the beach, eat, go to sleep. Of course, you’d have to have a little work in there, too. Otherwise you’d have no money to eat. But droves and droves of people have done it. Moved to a beach town, I mean. They’ve opened up businesses, hostels and restaurants and coffeehouses and surfing resorts. They open up for the day, surf or swim on their breaks, and go back to work. They wear bikinis and boardshorts under t-shirts or tank tops, and when they look right outside the windows of their workplaces, they see the ocean and the mountains.
Isn’t that just so goddamn ideal?
I have dreams. I have life goals that I want to fulfill, plans I want to execute. And all of this necessitates me staying in the city. But it’s a nice dream, isn’t it? So calm and relaxing, beholden to no one but yourself. You own your own time, and paradise is right outside the door.
Still, upon further examination of my priorities and ambitions, I realize that such an existence would probably bore me out of my mind within a month. I’d be happy and relaxed and content for a while, but then soon I would be longing for the hustle and bustle of the city. I guess I like life fast-paced, and occasional breaks to slow down are all I really need.
It’s a nice dream though, although I guess it’ll remain just that – a dream.