Right when the pandemic threatened a lockdown, people immediately went back to their home cities, back to their families, back to lives less complicated with apartment rent, traffic, or shared groceries. I would have done that too, except I got stuck in La Union and moved my life permanently to this surf town.
I traveled to La Union early February on what I thought would just be a 2-week vacation. Even before the closing of Manila, my hometown, Davao, banned all the flights back home which left me and my friend wondering over a glass of Old-fashioned and Negroni at an empty Shrine of Satisfaction what we are supposed to do now. The unrecognizable Urbiztondo roads and the deafening waves that were once masked by tourists' footsteps and laughter made me more anxious about having to live the lockdown in isolation, although that proved to be the contrary.
We were lucky enough to have found ourselves living with other beautiful people under the care of the worst landlord any of us ever had and if it had not been for our friends, we would have hopped on the first flight out. Six months later and three more moves after, we got a long- term lease, a dog, and a signed contract for an upcoming business venture along Urbiztondo.
Although I have been coming and going to La Union for a time, just like some of you who have turned the province into a weekend break from city life, the abrupt move plunged me into learning the realities of moving to the surf town. The Instagram photos make it look glamorous and easy but when you start asking people what it's really like, they will reveal how much work comes into living a simpler life. Perhaps, the sweetest part of moving to the beach was having to downsize my lifestyle to the essentials—what we want, which was only good food and great coffee, and what we need, which was community.
The community was one of the things I especially loved about La Union—people here support each other. The pandemic showed how vital solidarity is when most of the income came from residents rather than tourists. By the time tourists return to La Union, a lot will have changed; with the disappearance of establishments you once loved, but what you will see is the hard work everybody put in to keep the community afloat. And it's not just for themselves but also for the other people around them (me included) that they now consider family.
La Union taught me the importance of growing a small but healthy circle with people who will always have your back and you’ve got theirs. It's not safe traveling alone as a woman and a few bad things happened to me in La Union during those travels. But what happened made me want to look out for other people, too, which I hope is what other people will try to do for me.
A lot of the people who now reside in La Union have been regular visitors to the vibrant surf town, visiting increasingly often before finally making the move. But some, including myself, will say it took them a while to “find their people”, with countless nights spent loathing yourself for having a hard time making friends. In fact, when I first got here, I didn't have a circle of close friends, save for the ones I always come up with, and the people I pay a visit to. And I'm still working on being friendly, to be honest. What you will observe, of course, is that when you learn to positively assimilate with a community, you will see people are more than willing to help you get through it.
Although it was tough to start a new life in a new place, especially during a pandemic, the past several months really showed me what I'm made of and what quality of life I really want, with the kind of company I genuinely enjoy.
A friend of mine once said that the people who stay in La Union are either rich or damn good at something. People usually say they moved here because they are simply sick of Manila, some people have moved here to find themselves. There are varied reasons people move to the beach and although it took a lockdown, I know now why I'm staying. And if you think the simpler life by the beach is for you, well, we will be right by the shore, waiting for your arrival.