We boarded the 11-pm bus, rain heavily sprinkling on one side of the bus while the other side was dry and shielded by the wide roof overhang of the bus station. I wasn’t worried about the rain or about not being able to surf on the waves of La Union. All I had in mind was finding a nice local café and great local grub.
Silly. People go to La Union to surf!
To be at the beach, away from the metro, the central source of all that’s mundane and stressful, was the primary goal. Even if it was raining, I couldn’t say the weather was bad. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t go into the water and stand on a board with a shark fin underneath, but it wasn’t that bad. It was just different.
You face the rage of the ocean, stand right at its jaws. It taunts you to enter the water, and you taunt it back, your feet right where it can snatch you away. You think it can’t, but it can. The next wave pushes on your feet and pulls back harder, and you stagger and struggle to stay up on your feet. You know you can’t go into the water because then it’s never going to give you back to the land that once owned you.
It’s not a scary thought. Just exhilarating.
There’s something about simply being by the beach, even when you’re not soaked and swimming in it—I didn’t have to. It was just the perfect environment that I needed. It was enough that I could dip my toes in the subsiding ripples of water and bury my feet in the soft and squishy black sand in every step, while listening to the sound of the waves and feeling the breeze that came with them. It was titillating.
We stayed at Puerto de San Juan on our first night. It was a little far from the surfing area, but that was okay. The beach at Puerto de San Juan was more secluded, so it let us have a long peaceful stretch of walk. The hotel is age-old and has maintained its retro interiors. It felt like we were in an old mansion. The facilities provided enough comfort for the duration of our stay.
That night, the hotel held an acoustic night at their restaurant, which redeemed me from the displeasure of the day’s indecision and bad choice of restaurant for lunch. Our dinner was great.
We had a mouth-watering serving of sinigang with kimchi in a big palayok (clay pot). It was the first time I encountered this concoction, and it was perfect. The kimchi contributed to the sourness of this sour Filipino delicacy and added a very mild spicy taste. I also enjoyed the grilled tuna, beautifully presented on a wooden plate, with vegetables and, of course, kimchi on the side.
I just sat there, on a table nearest to the swimming pool, watching rain pepper the pool. It was dark out there, in the ocean, but I could hear the waves from where I was seated. The waves were so strong that, even if I couldn’t see them that night, it felt like they were thrashing on my chest.
The light of day let me find the waves.
In the morning, I left our room and went back to the restaurant for some brewed coffee and pancakes. Again, I took a seat near the pool. Beyond the pool, even if I couldn’t see the shoreline, I could hear and see the tall waves. I held my pen and wrote and doodled on my journal. It was a great time to be alone.
With the persistent and fitful downpour, we left Puerto de San Juan to get closer to the main surfing spot, Urbiztondo beach. We knew we couldn’t surf. We just wanted to be there.
We found and got settled in Sebay Surf Central hotel. The beach was just a few steps away from our room. But then again, I could only get as far as the shore, content with staring far into the horizon while breathing in the ocean breeze.
Cafes and restaurants were also just a stone’s throw away from Sebay. The best part of the (second) day was finding The Coffee Library just across the road. It’s a two-storey Vietnamese restaurant and café with Asian-inspired rustic interiors. I was, once again, deeply satisfied with a spot in one corner of the café. I stationed myself at a small wooden table, unconsciously listening to crowd murmurs that served as background music to the local café scene while I reviewed my journal.
The pho ga of The Coffee Library served as a great complement to the chilly downpour outside. I was happy to be sheltered in a cozy restaurant enjoying a mildly flavored Vietnamese noodle soup.
I also enjoyed their pan-grilled pork chop! It was, as far as I remember, the first time that I could actually do away with gravy and just enjoy the chops. Every bite was tender and flavorful.
Other restaurants that we tried that afternoon (what else could we do but to go on a food crawl!) were Surf Shack and Olas Banditos. In the rainy afternoon that we came, Surf Shack was a sleepy little food corner with a few diners, but this place is known as a chill and musically charged hangout for foodies and surfers alike. Olas Banditos meanwhile is an airy Mexican diner with colorful graffiti walls that serves mouth-filling burritos.
The rest of the night (our last night) was pretty much uneventful. I just went on strolling around nearby establishments before grabbing some beer from the hotel bar to serve as a finale to my mellow out-of-the-metro vacation. I spent a few more moments contemplating while looking out to the once again dark sea. All I could hear was the roar of the waves. They were fierce and relentless, but nothing could be more comforting.