Marcus Adoro has little use for fancy clothes. Shirtless, in shorts and flipflops, with a ratty straw hat askew on his head, he scarfs down his lunch of chicken afritada and rice at Nak-Nak, a roadside carinderia in San Juan, La Union. No one minds him because everyone else is as casually dressed as he is.
“First two years ko rito, ang damit na dala ko lang, dalawang T-shirt, isang polo, dalawang shorts,” Adoro says. This was 17 years ago, two years before the Eraserheads (where Adoro was the lead guitarist) broke up.
Back then, only locals and hardcore surfers knew about San Juan’s tall waves. Today, however, a steady stream of weary city dwellers—more coffee chuggers than surfers—keeps San Juan’s roadside cafes and restaurants full. It seems this part of La Union (or Elyu, as La Union has come to be known) has become the place to be for people fed up with noisy, complicated Manila.
Do they know something we don’t?
“Nung 1997 pa lang, may nagsabi na sa’kin na may surfing community sa La Union,” says Adoro. But the Eraserheads were at their peak then; Adoro had no time to surf. “Three years later—patapos na yung ‘Heads nun—sabi ko, ‘Surfing muna ko, ha?’ Ilang buwan na pabalik-balik ako rito [sa San Juan]. Every week, nandito ako.”
Through the tumultuous last months of the Eraserheads, Adoro found more and more time to spend atop the tall waves of San Juan. And when the group finally broke up, word around Manila was that he had left the music scene and gone to La Union to become a surfer. That was more or less true.
“Nagsawa ako sa kakakanta,” he says. “Binenta ko oto ko, pumunta ko rito. Tapos yun: I lived the surfer life.”
He eventually moved into a one garage apartment in San Juan, paying a monthly rent of P4,000. Years later, San Juan’s cluster of surfing school resorts would pop up on the other side of the highway, across Adoro’s apartment. But when he first moved in, there were just a few resorts up, including Sebay Surf Central, where Adoro spent his weekends before finding his apartment.
For two years, Adoro used that apartment as his homebase. He didn’t need much space. All he had were his few clothes, a laptop, and his wide collection of DVDs. “Lahat ng gamit ko, naka-box lang,” Adoro says.
His move didn’t come unnoticed, of course. And because the Eraserheads broke up under a shroud of mystery, everyone was clamoring to know why they did it. Adoro found out just how far some people would go to find out: “Minsan, nagsu-surf ako, nasa malalim na ko. Tapos may sumunod sa ‘king isa pang surfer. Paglapit, tinanong ako, ‘Marcus, bakit ba talaga kayo naghiwalay?’”
Unperturbed by all the attention and unwarranted questions, Adoro went ahead and planted roots. After the ‘Heads’ first reunion concert in 2008, Adoro used part of his talent fee from that gig to finally invest in a plot of land in San Juan.
A METHOD TO MADNESS
He’s done with lunch now and is back home, relaxing with a beer. Home is a traditional Pinoy open-air hut, an airconditioned metal cube that’s the size of a hut, and, at the front of the property, a half-finished four-storey structure—a four-story modern hut is the laid out plan—that has an indefinite finish date. A green VW Combi is parked beside one of the huts.
When asked when he and his family can move in, Adoro throws the question at one of the workers welding some beams together: “Kailan daw matatapos to?” The worker grunts in reply. Staying true to the laid back manner of locals in any Filipino province, Adoro takes a swig of beer, shrugs, and moves on.
“Yung pagtayo ko ng kubo, that was my appropriation of the surf culture a long time ago,” says Adoro. “Di ba dati may isang kubo lang sa beach, tapos dun lang nagco-converge lahat ng surfers? Ngayon magulo pa rito kasi di pa tapos yung tinatayong bahay namin, na magiging puro glass at wood. Pero may method to the madness yan. May order itong chaos na ito sa utak ko.”
When he and his girlfriend, Mika, moved to the property, though, the huts were yet to be built. “We lived in a tent for the first few weeks,” says Mika, who’s also the mother of Adoro’s youngest daughter. “Madalas, may mga palaka at tuko kaming kasama sa labas. Kaya alam na ng mga kapitbahay pag may marinig silang sigaw—may palaka na naman.”
Once they were more settled, Mika taught Adoro how to bake. Sensing a potential source of income, Adoro installed a big oven in one of the huts and started baking. He eventually became known for it and would receive orders to supply the resorts around with their daily bread. Unfortunately, he’s had to stop because of conflicting work schedules.
But when he was still baking, even Adoro’s chickens appreciated his talent. He had four of them, and apparently, all four developed an appetite for butter and milk, leftovers from Adoro’s ingredients. The guys building Adoro’s house would feed these to the chickens when Adoro wasn’t around. The native chickens eventually grew to the size of turkeys, each weighing eight kilos. They’re gone now; what remains is a fifth chicken, Magi, who loyally stays in Adoro’s property. “May stretch na wala kami rito ng ilang buwan,” says Mika. “Pagbalik namin, nandito pa rin si Magi; at marami na siyang itlog.”
As more and more people discovered Elyu, the rural vibe of San Juan began to shift. On both sides of the highway, B&Bs, resorts, restaurants, and coffee shops slowly cropped up. Today, it’s not uncommon to see groups of young people clad in beachwear walking single file by the highway on their way to get a flat white at a café a few meters from their resort. Obviously used to buying meals at urban prices, these “weekend warriors” inadvertently support the local industry by never batting an eye at paying Manila prices for meals that were locally produced.
But the locals, including Adoro, know better. “Paglipat namin dito, ang gastos namin per week, P500 lang. Kasama na dun yung gatas ng baby,” he says. “Maganda yung palengke sa San Fernando. Mura ang fresh seafood. Bagsakan din dito ng gulay mula Baguio. Ang okay rito, ang baba ng cost of living. Kung marunong kang humawak ng pera, tatagal ka rito.”
While he relies on the provincial capital, San Fernando, for most of their food, Adoro also takes advantage of his yard to plant fruit trees. “Pag season ng kalamansi, lagi akong may calamansi juice na bitbit sa beach. Isang litrong calamansi juice,” he says.
Living in a rural setting was never a problem for Adoro. He had an itinerant childhood. But because of his father’s job at the Philippine Port Authority, Adoro and his family always lived within spitting distance of either the sea or the mountains. He also spent many summers in Bacnotan, La Union—the next town north of San Juan—in his mother’s family’s tobacco farm.
Perhaps it’s his affinity to the rural lifestyle that gave Adoro quick friends among San Juan’s budding entrepreneurs.
“Ano sa’yo, Makoy?” the bartender at popular coffee shop El Union asks Adoro for his order. “Kiss lang,” replies Adoro, disappearing into the back as if he owns the place.
Like the other establishments along the highway, El Union has no vacant tables (it’s a Monday). Millennial-age coffee drinkers nurse their cups of latte to the music of Bob Dylan. Upstairs, under a slanting anahaw roof, is a co-working space with highspeed Internet.
“Ayos na,” Adoro says, emerging with a vinyl record of the Rolling Stones under his arm. There was a stash of old wax at the back of the coffee shop. Apparently the owner had dug them out of its grave. “Pinapili nila ko ng isa, tapos binigay na sa kin,” he says.
To read the full story, grab a copy of the July 2017 issue of FHM Philippines.
*Some minor edits were made by the FHM.com.ph editors.
Photography Winston Baltasar