This Guy Left Corporate Life and Opened a Resort in Siargao
The government imposed restrictions on movement because of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, but Reuben “Junjun” Ganaden II had an inkling something was about to go down as early as February. The landscape designer had been flying in and out of Siargao, where he owns Lubihan Resort, when cases of COVID-19 started to spike.
Right before lockdown, or what the government terms enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), was announced, Ganaden hightailed it to Siargao with his wife Marie Heidi Dyangko and their daughter Zari. They’ve been living there ever since.
“We’ve decided to stay a bit longer than planned due to all the uncertainties we all are in at the moment,” he says.
Entrance to Lubihan Siargao. The signages of the property were hand-drawn projects during the lockdown
Not that he minds being stuck on the island. Ganaden actually lives in Parañaque, which is fairly close to Bonifacio Global City where he and his wife used to work. But then he saw a movie that would significantly alter his world view.
“(I saw) Siargao the movie,” he says, when asked what led him to the island in the first place. “Seriously. Aside from seeing most of my friends investing in the island, knowing there is good to perfect year-round (almost) surf anywhere around the island, the movie really captured my attention at how beautiful life is and its closely knit community.”
A new life in Siargao
Ganaden wasted no time and went on his first-ever trip to Siargao in early 2018. Things moved pretty quickly after that. By the end of the year, he says he dropped his corporate life, flew back to Siargao and started setting up a 14-unit resort in General Luna, which he called Lubihan Resort.
Seating area near the creek that the owners adopted and cleaned up. Ganaden says they have also adopted pups (Siargao is known to have a lot of street dogs). The teepees in this image are their shelter
“I’ve been here from the start of 2019,” he says. “ I just went back to Manila to attend to clients.”
By the third quarter of 2019, Ganaden’s wife dropped her corporate life as well. The couple has since been making regular trips to the island to check on the resort.
That is, until the pandemic hit.
Now life’s quite literally a beach for the couple.
“During the first weeks of the lockdown, we were advised by the LGU to stay within our premises,” Ganaden says. “Lubihan Siargao is located in a quaint coconut grove compound in General Luna, where some of our friends live. When things became more loose, we were able to go out surf, dine in restaurants, go to the market, do groceries and the like. From there on, we were able to do a good routine.”
That routine involves waking up at 5 a.m. to get a quick surf in for about an hour or two. If the waves are good at other isolated spots, the couple would take a 15 to 30-minute boat ride to get there, extending their surf time to three to four hours.
By around 8 a.m., they’ll squeeze in a CrossFit workout, if they’re still up for it.
“From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., my wife would do rounds with our housekeepers and give instructions for the day while I would normally start morning virtual conversations with my team in Manila, Singapore and Spain. Just to do regular catchup on projects, finances, and business development.”
There's a good sized garden inside Lubihan Siargao
Ganaden currently works as studio director for award-winning firm Land Design One Landscape Architecture (a subsidiary of a Singapore-based company). Thanks to the wonders of technology, he says he’s able to manage his business virtually.
At 12 noon, the family either cooks or walks over to their usual lunch favorites around the area, right before they put little Zari down for her afternoon nap.
The afternoon is spent on getting more work done, although Ganaden admits they would sometimes sneak out and go surfing one more time if the waves are good.
“At 5 p.m., we’d head out to Cantina Luna, which me and my friends operate and manage, along with Reuben’s Hotdog, the best hotdog in the island!”
"We got these lamps from a social enterprise in Bicol where my wife Heidi and one of my business partners is also from"
Numerous foreign and domestic travelers got stranded in Siargao when the lockdown was initially announced, although Ganaden says most of them chose to stay, since they were uncertain about the situation outside the island. The general thinking was that they were better off staying in Siargao than anywhere else.
“After a few months, sweeper flights became available and the number of travelers decreased,” he says.
Falling in love with Siargao
The designer may still be fairly new to Siargao, but it seems he’s settled in quite nicely and has fallen in love with the island just like countless others before him. Ask him about what makes his new home so great and you might not hear the end of it.
“Siargao is famous for surfing,” he says. “There are a lot of surf spots (some known and some kept as secret and maybe some are yet to be discovered). It also boasts of beautiful white sand beaches, enchanting lagoons, caves, sand bars, coral reefs, bizarre rock formations, exotic wildlife, endless rice fields and coconut groves, waterfalls, a large mangrove forest reserve, and so much more.
“No matter how many days you plan to stay in Siargao, let me tell you it won't be enough. That's because you will fall in love with the island and the people.”
"This was taken during the first month of the quarantines. The owners of Crossfit Siargao stayed with us so we would have these workout sessions in the morning"
But Siargao isn’t just about surfing. For first-time visitors to Siargao, Ganaden already has a list prepared for things to do and sights to see.
“There are so many things Siargao can offer aside from surfing. There’s scuba diving or freediving, kite surfing and wake boarding. Aside from doing water sports, you can also do land tours and visit all the different sites around Siargao. Island-hopping is another thing you don’t want to miss. There are a lot of nearby islands you can visit where you can do day trips or stay for a day or two. There are also a lot of interesting restaurants around the island, but most of them are concentrated in General Luna. You can indulge in all the different kinds of cuisine from regional Filipino, good variety of Asian restaurants, to European, American, etc.”
Of course, there is a concern about overtourism, and how Siargao might go the way of other spots in the coutry that were once laidback and pristine only to become congested and charmless because of the influx of visitors. That might not be such an issue for Siargao right now because of the pandemic situation, but Ganaden says there are a few ways to help stave off this problem in the future. Accountability—as a traveler, businessowner and as a local—should be top of mind.
“Like how we envisioned Lubihan Siargao to be,” he says. “We respected the current state of the land we built on, kept all the existing trees (mostly coconut trees), celebrated the once-upon-a-time smelly adjacent waterway and turned it into our small riverpark vegetable farm where we get our kangkong and other vegetables. We took care and fed local dogs who later on we called our own, created smaller businesses to create more jobs for the locals, making use of sustainable and locally available materials. In Lubihan Siargao, we try to give our guests the experience of being in the island, with the comforts of home.”
Heading out for an early morning surf session
Yes, Ganaden admits to missing the city from time to time—the conveniences, fast-food, entertainment, malls, friends and their families that they see on a regular basis. But for now, at least, Siargao is home, and he’d like to share its beauty and everything else it has to offer with more people. He’s optimistic that things will get better soon enough and when that day comes, those who’ve always wanted to visit the island should just go ahead and do so.
“After lockdown, most of the people stuck in the cities are definitely longing for nature,” he says. “Fresh air, salty ocean water, fine white sand and lush greens. You can get them elsewhere aside from Siargao. But I’m sure everyone from the cities is eager to get out and get active. That’s what sets Siargao apart from the others. Instead of lounging, which I’m sure people have done too much already, it’s time for you to go and surf, or at least learn to surf, run around, and be free.”