The sun is scorching. Its blistering rays, at least forty degrees Celsius here, are burning my skin as I walk on the hot sand. I’m trying to enjoy the view in Urbiztondo, a village in San Juan, La Union, looking at people ride their surfboards. They’re cutting easily through the swells, which, being the offseason, aren’t that large. I watch others lay on the sand, talking and laughing. They all look young enough to feel they are impervious to defeat. As I struggle walking with the sand burning the soles of my feet, I realize I may have outgrown that phase where I think of myself as invincible.

A surfer riding the waves in Urbiztondo beach
The beach in Barangay Urbiztondo draws surfing afficionados for its consistent waves.
A strip of beach at Barangay Urbiztondo
Surfers waiting for the next big one
A makeshift cottage provides shelter from the scorching sun.

I’ve taken a trip that took me seven hours in a bus from Manila to La Union, a province in the northernmost Ilocos Region that’s traditionally bypassed in favor of its more popular neighbors – Pangasinan to the south, Benguet to the east and Ilocos Sur to the north. But in recent years, it has become a vacation magnet for city-dwellers with its consistent waves, especially from November to March, so much so that it has become the surfing capital of the north.

The tourist increase has led to a surprising boom in the province’s infrastructure, ranging from high-end resorts that mimic Santorini’s blue-domed houses, to chill hangouts that define much of San Juan’s foreign demographics.

Lamb souvlaki and grilled vegetables at Gefseis Greek Grill

“It’s your first time here, right?” asks the woman who serves my lunch at the Gefseis Greek Grill, a fairly new restaurant serving Mediterranean fare across the beach strip. I’m having my lunch of lamb gyros and grilled vegetables. The woman, upon hearing that I’m a La Union neophyte, gives introductions on her hometown.

I really don’t have a firm plan. I’m supposed to be here with a friend to do a surf-themed photo shoot, but life messed with our schedules and so I’m just following my whims. I’m hoping that creating as much distance as I can from home and the workplace will reignite me physically and mentally. That once more I’ll be a man fully plugged into the real world when I come back.

I want to heed the woman’s advice and take a hike inland to the falls, but I didn’t prepare myself well enough for this trip. I have a bus to catch, and I can’t miss it because I don’t have money to spend for an overnight stay. Three – or even two – years ago, I would have just gone ahead, but I’m realizing I may gotten too old for impulsiveness. I just eye the highway with a couple of jeepneys passing by.

The woman perhaps senses my indecision.

“La Union has a lot more than surfing,” she says. “When you visit again, set more time to explore.”

I bite off the last piece of gyros and wipe the grease off my hand with the table napkin. I smile at her. “Sure, another time.”


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