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One of those important blog posts I never got to write was how, for my 30th birthday last June, I made the last minute decision to board a bus going to San Juan, La Union.  I was exhausted, overworked, and I really wanted to do something special on my 30th–I was ready to do the whole Eat, Pray, Love shindig.  Scoff if you want, but it turned out to be the best birthday I’ve had in recent memory.  I hopped on a surf board for the second time in my life, enjoyed the beach, and booked at The Circle Hostel where I met new people and made friends (which, if you know me outside of work, I hardly ever do).  All in all, it was an incredible experience, and I swore to myself I’d be back soon.

The first friends I made during my solo trip last year

The common area

My second time to surf since that time I spent my 25th birthday at Crystal Beach, Zambales (five year gap!)

This was waiting for me back in Manila, as a surprise gift from my friend Aliza.

Then life happened.  I’d forgotten about La Union until I saw Kira post about her recent adventures–which to be honest, was quite shocking.  I love my friend, but as I often describe her as prissy, she didn’t exactly strike me as the adventurous, outdoorsy type.  Yet here she was, posting photos of herself surfing and hanging out at *gasp* The Circle Hostel.  I always wanted to go back with friends but it was just exhausting trying to convince people to go that I just gave up on it.  Then the last person I expected to be all gung-ho about the outdoors was suddenly raring to go.  She didn’t need to talk me into it and for once, it took less than 20 minutes to agree on a date (if you’re the designated planner of barkada outings, you know what I mean).  Plus, our friends Krissy and Anne came along, and we all agreed to stay at The Circle Hostel as well.  I had such fond memories of the place, and it didn’t disappoint this time around, too.

The lockers

You can leave your mark at the hostel, they have paint and brushes for your use

If you’ve never been to The Circle Hostel in La Union, here’s what to expect: a charming, artsy and affordable beach lodging consisting of tree houses, huts, bunk beds and hammocks for sleeping space.  There is a common area where people gather or lounge around, and this is where new friendships start (usually powered by alcohol or sugar intake, if you’re not a natural extrovert).  You’ll be walking barefoot for the most part, which isn’t a big deal considering you’re in a surfing town, really.  While you’re not guaranteed any privacy (except if you hide behind your curtains and mosquito net around your bunk bed) the whole place is well-kept and regularly cleaned.  In fact, I find that the caretakers are quite OC about the bathrooms and toilets, they’re cleaned so often.  It didn’t fit with my idea of hostels, really–I often thought roughing it was never that comfortable.  The Circle has got all the basic necessities down pat: Wi-Fi, clean bathrooms and an occasional hot shower, a common area, sleeping space and lockers (you have to bring your own padlock but from experience, your belongings are safe even if you don’t use one).  And aside from the gecko lizard who was trolling me during my first visit there, it was pretty much a happy place that’s always filled with good vibes.

Kira and I didn’t want to share the waves with so many people so we avoided the weekend.  Along with Anne and Krissy, we traveled Saturday night via a 9pm Partas bus from Cubao and arrived Sunday 2am at Urbiztondo, San Juan.  More than half of the guests who were from Manila were leaving that day, presumably to go back to work, so we were pretty much left with foreign travelers.  Big groups tend to make me panic, so this was a relief for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I can be very friendly and sociable when I put my mind to it (it’s a requirement in my line of work after all), and in fact the first time I was in Circle I made friends with a barkada of Ateneo kids.  But it does take a lot of effort on my part, so I find it easier to deal with individual strangers.

As I mentioned, there was quite a number of foreign guests who were at the Circle, too, as expected of summer (and a good wave forecast).  It’s always an awesome experience, being able to chat with people who come from different backgrounds and countries like France, Sweden, New Zealand and Canada.  Looking back, I picked up on a few things.

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