It should be painful and shocking to see a serene tropical paradise turn into a disaster area in the space of a few hours. But this was what happened to the island of Siargao in Surigao del Norte when it was ravaged by super typhoon Odette (international name Rai) last December, one of the strongest recorded storms of 2021.
Resort owner Chunchi Soler recalls that for over five hours, he and his business partner Carlo Tanseco, with two friends and one of their sons, sought refuge in a single bathroom. Its cement walls and a boarded-up window kept them safe. Soler is aware they are luckier than most. Luckier surely than those whose roofs, walls and windows were blown off and shattered by the super typhoon.
“Like everything on the island, Munimuni was hit hard, but it withstood the strong wind and rain,” he tells ANCX.
Munimuni is Soler’s not-even-a-year old resort in Siargao. They started building in June of 2021 and opened to vacationers by November. The structure and roof survived the typhoon, having been built with stronger materials. “But since our roof was natural anahaw—in tune with the island vibe—water penetrated the ceilings. The strong winds also damaged glass, doors and windows.”
The morning after Odette was like a scene from a horror movie. “It felt like a zombie apocalypse,” Soler recalls. “The once green surroundings turned brown and grey. And there were fallen trees, electric posts, and debris everywhere.”
Fortunately, at the time of the storm, Munimuni was undergoing the second phase of its construction. The contractor still had his team with him and they were able to begin repairs and restoration immediately. “We are now back to operating at 100 percent and are in the process of completing two more units that will add four rooms to Munimuni,” Soler offers. “We expect to open these two bedroom units by September.”
With Odette’s lessons in mind, Soler says he and his team were able to build a stronger foundation for the resort. To prepare for any similar storm in the future, his contractor secured the roofs with more metal support, and added long span sheets prior to attaching the layer of anahaw roofing.
But apart from the Munimuni structure now having a sturdier foundation, Soler says it’s their team who’s become more solid than ever. “Our team has become stronger and more unified having survived Odette together.”
There’s something about Siargao that makes one ruminate on life’s big and small events. Which is why Soler and Tanseco decided to name their business here Munimuni in the first place. “We observed that everyone who visits the island contemplate where they are in their lives. They question decisions they have made and in fact many have made life-changing decisions on the island.”
The Munimuni villa was designed to be a home away from home, decorated with bright colors, handpicked furniture and artworks. It’s reflective of the tastes and lifestyles of its owners. In fact, most of the accents found at Munimuni have been collected by Soler and the artist Tanseco over time. “[Carlo and I] really just like to enhance spaces—to tell stories and give life and character to areas,” Soler offers. “So that nothing is boring or empty without being overly decorated.”
Pre-Odette, business was already in an upswing despite the pandemic. Tourists have began to return to the island. “We were doing quite well and Munimuni was well received,” says Soler. “We had great reviews even if we were the new kid on the island.” Apart from its charming facade and interiors, Munimuni’s Salosalo Café has also become a favorite among locals, says the owner; their beef tapa and longganisa are the crowd drawers. In the afternoon, they serve simple snacks like skinny fries, cheese sticks, and eggplant fritters, to accompany the drinks on the menu.
The rest of Siargao is on its way to recovery, observes Soler. Others say the rehabilitation is taking a little slow while some predict the island will be back on its feet by end of the year. There are still establishments that haven’t resumed operations but those that have seem to be getting by. A friend says there’s a rotation of featured bars every night so that every one has a chance to earn enough.
Soler shares the excitement of seeing many establishments reopen and how everyone is rebuilding structurally and aesthetically sound homes for their businesses. “Like Munimuni, many raised funds from generous friends and donors, to aid relief and support those in need,” he says. “And now businesses have focused on helping themselves and each other to continue to provide jobs and livelihood.”
Life in the island paradise may indeed be slowly returning to how it was. The previous months could only have given Siargao’s champions and locals time and space to gather back strengths and do some muni-muni of their own—ruminating on lessons from the past to guide the community towards a more secure future.