By David Haldane
Dec. 6, 2018
It was as if somebody had dropped a burning matchstick onto my lap. First, there was a surprise, then the conviction that I must stand. Without further ado, I jumped to my feet. “Wow,” I said, “let’s get to that graveyard right now!”
The cemetery I was referring to is the sole receptacle for corpses in the town of General Luna. For the uninitiated, that charming little hamlet– commonly called GL for short – is a well-known icon of Siargao Island, a teardrop-shaped gem-of-a-land-mass off Mindanao’s northeastern coast. What GL is primarily known for is the presence of Cloud Nine, named after an American candy bar; a surf break that Surfer Magazine dubbed, in 1995, one of the “ten best surf trips of all time.” So, ever since then, surfers from around the world – and, more recently, non-surfing tourists as well – have been flocking to Siargao in droves.
Recently my wife, Ivy – who was born on Siargao – and I joined the flock to celebrate GL’s fiesta. As is true for most such events, this one featured lots of lechon, alcohol, good company, and food. There was also a friend there who blurted out that she knew the location of Mike Boyum’s grave.
Let me explain. As is befitting of any place with a colorful history, Siargao is rife with legends and one of the more intriguing ones has to do with an early American surfing entrepreneur named Mike Boyum who helped put the place on the map. According to Wikipedia, he was also a convicted drug smuggler who spent his final years hiding out in General Luna where, in 1989, he died after a self-imposed 44-day “spiritual cleansing fast.”Other accounts claim that he was murdered for the ill-gotten cash that he reportedly kept stashed in his mattress.
To be strictly accurate, our friend – who was born and raised in GL – didn’t know Boyum’s name. She had, however, heard of the eccentric American surfer who died under mysterious circumstances and was now buried near the grave of her father. Who, incidentally, had been assassinated while running for barangay captain a few years earlier but, hey, that’s a whole other story.
“Can you take us to the American’s grave?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said, and off we went.
Anyone who’s ever explored a cemetery in the provincial Philippines will tell you that it’s kind of like playing a game of Where’s Waldo. First, a motorcycle ride, followed by a long walk along the shore until, voila! seemingly out of nowhere loomed the first of many graves. As we traipsed among them squinting our eyes to make out the names engraved on the stones, my excitement grew. Could this really be the final resting place of such an enigmatic character from the past? How many people before us had visited his grave, and from where had they come?
Suddenly we came to a large moldy stone that stopped our friend short. “This is where my father is,” she announced, “and right behind him lies the surfer.”
Eagerly I moved forward, stepping over the unfortunate would-be barangay captain’s grave to kneel at the other stone. The letters were so moldy that I could barely make them out. 1-9—-91.
Hmm, I thought, not the right year but close. Perhaps they’d made a mistake. Maybe they hadn’t buried him immediately and recorded the wrong date of death. Carefully, I brushed away the dust and mold from the rest of the inscription to see what it said. It was very light and almost indecipherable, but gradually the letters came into view; R…u…d…Rudi J. Bischof! My heart sank; it wasn’t him.
But then who’s grave was I looking at? Was it possible, I wondered, that there had been more than one wayward surfer who came to an untimely end? Did Bischof know Boyum; had they spent time together braving the waves and snorting the snuff? Was this another early adventurer that legend forgot?
And then it occurred to me that it was somehow right, at least for the time being, to leave those questions unanswered. For legend needs mystery, and islands need a legend. Better not to uncover too quickly what time had obscured. Better to let mystery spread like the shadow of the moon before disintegrating into the morning light.
As we walked back towards our bike, I nonetheless felt a sense of disappointment. Perhaps we would find the lost grave another time. One thing was certain; that we would keep trying.
A former Los Angeles Times staff writer and winner of a 2018 Golden Mike award in radio broadcast journalism, David Haldane fell in love with the Philippines on his first visit there in 2003. A few visits later, he also fell in love with the beautiful young Filipina to whom he is now married and, with whom, he has returned many times. David has written extensively about his experiences in the Philippines for several publications including Orange Coast and Islands Magazine. Today he and Ivy, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, divide their time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City, Philippines. His award-winning memoir, Nazis & Nudists, recounts, among other things, the courtship of Ivy and finding a place to call home. For David that turned out to be at the tip of a peninsula marking the gateway to Mindanao where he and Ivy are building their dream home next to a lighthouse overlooking the sea. This blog is the chronicle of that adventure.