Good life: Cebuano entrepreneurs in Siargao

·6 min read

The sweeping views of the crystal-clear waters, the calming sound of the waves, the relaxing sight of palm trees swaying along with the sea breeze—there is something about being on an island that make us hang loose, take it easy and unwind. It’s an ideal place to escape to when we want to slow down a bit.

While most of us go to an island to have a sweet escape from the hustle and bustle, these Cebuano entrepreneurs who moved to the beautiful island of Siargao—the surfing capital of the Philippines—are living the island life. They are acing the work-life balance department, the kind of lifestyle most of us dream of.

After falling in love with the island in 2016, and with a goal of resetting his life from the city, Ronald James decided to move to Siargao. He started as a tattoo artist and two years later, he opened the only 24-hour restaurant on the island named HabHab Café. The restaurant serves a variety of food choices from Western, Filipino to Chinese comfort food.

“When I saw the opportunity of opening a 24-hour restaurant since there was none here, and the prices of food were expensive, that’s when I decided to open HabHab Siargao Restaurant,” he said.

Fast forward to 2021, Ronald James was able to open a café and called it Habhab Siargao Café, a garden café, and Bonzu Boutique Hotel, a 2-3 star accommodation that is located in the heart of General Luna.

“My life on the island before pandemic was so good to the point, I was able help a lot of people who are my staff with my business. Now with the pandemic, I’m still blessed because my business is still surviving but just enough to sustain my staff and the business but I am hoping for a brighter future for all of us to recover.”

For 27-year-old Geli, it was Siargao’s sense of community and shared passion toward sustainability which immediately drew her to the island. After her first visit in 2017, she did not want to leave the island anymore. So she found ways to stay on the island, did her own research, visited every year and secretly made a feasibility study—all while she maintained a full-time job. In 2019, she found the perfect opportunity to start her own business, Himaya, with six private villas each set up differently to fit the various needs of guests, and a well-equipped common kitchen where all in-house guests are free to create their own meals, as well as a spacious common area where guests can relax, work remotely, exercise and dine comfortably.

Geli runs the business with her surfer boyfriend who is also from Cebu. She takes care of operations and accommodations, and he takes care of landscaping and organizing their guests’ activities and tours. Together, they create experiences and give a personalized brand of service for all their guests.

When asked how her life is on the island, Geli answered, “It’s been quite challenging as the pandemic has hit the tourism industry pretty hard. But I’m so lucky to be able to go to the beach, watch beautiful sunsets, breathe fresh air, surf and the list goes on. I’m also blessed because I have such an amazing support system here on the island and such a supportive family back in Cebu despite the distance.”

Anna Paula’s love for coconuts led her to open Coco Frio, your coconut oasis that serves coconut refreshments, homemade coconut ice cream, iced coffee and ice-cold coconuts.

The 27-year-old entrepreneur relocated in Siargao Island in 2015 to change her lifestyle and learn how to surf. “Siargao has been home for the past six years now. Truly grateful for the land, the people and the experience,” Anna Paula said.

Erika first laid her eyes and set afoot on the island in 2016 with her boyfriend. The couple had an intimate conversation and the profound topic was settling one day on the island as they were enticed by its charm and alluring beauty.

When they got back to Cebu, they felt like a part of them was left behind. The two couldn’t help themselves thinking of opportunities on how to get back to the island and establishing something that would help them realize their dreams.

Erika made a major move when she decided to leave her corporate job in the city and searched for work opportunities in Siargao. Fortunately, she got hired as a supervisor in one of the primer hotels in Siargao. For three months during her tenure, she was also able to immerse herself to get to know more of the island particularly General Luna, to also search for business opportunities.

Fast forward to 2019, Erika and her boyfriend were able to find an investor, the latter’s aunt who believed in them and their vision, to bring their dream to life thus, Banakod Homestay Siargao was born.

Erika and her business partners drew inspiration from the great pacific waves, thus “Banakod,” which means “rolling waves.”

“Life in Siargao is like living the island dream. I have experienced getting wiped out and washed away to the shores—the ups and downs in this life. This entire experience developed me as a person. It taught me patience, determination, true grit and power for change—to be more aware of myself, to be mindful. It is not an easy journey but it is one of the most rewarding. I am glad I took the plunge into this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It has enriched my life and helped me in ways I never thought possible. This dream that turned into reality that I am forever grateful for—to the people, to this paradise, and above all else to the Almighty Father,” Erika said.

The reason Gino wanted to relocate was because he wanted to learn how to surf. So in 2018, he made the first step to tick this off his bucket list by moving to the island. Gino soon found the life in Siargao amazing.

“The community, the people here. It is good to wake up every day and see the ocean. We plan our day with the tides and I love how everything is just laid back.”

April this year, Gino opened Haole Surf Hostel, a hostel and a restaurant that serves Hawaiian-Filipino fusion dishes that can accommodate up to 30 to 40 people.

“I came up with this concept because Siargao has the same vibe as Hawaii in terms of the surf scene and culture. ‘Haole’ in Hawaiian means a foreigner or someone who is not from here. Hawaiian cuisine is diverse, a melting pot of different flavors from different countries and I’m just doing it my way,” he said.

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