The Truth about Siquijor in the Philippines
STORY: Finally making the trip to this island took me three years due to unforeseen circumstances such as impeccable weather forecasts, sudden acceptance of a job, and the impossible myths this province holds. But as they say, if there's a will, there's a way. Before 2010 ended, i was already set on exploring the beautiful province of Siquijor.
On the 26th of December, i flew to Dumaguete in Negros Oriental for my trip to Isla del Fuego, the mystical island of Siquijor. With no expectations nor hesitations, i say "Bring it on, Siquijor!"
Siquijor is the smallest province of the Philippines. Located in the central Visayan region, Siquijor is south east of Cebu and Negros islands across Cebu straight, and south west of Bohol. The province is predominantly hilly and in many places the hills reach the sea, producing precipitous cliffs. Called Isla del Fuego or the “Island of Fire” by the Spanish, Siquijor is considered by many Filipinos to be a mystical island, full of witches and other supernatural phenomenon.
I have a great fear of the unknown. The reason why i'm heading to Siquijor is because i want to prove everyone wrong.
Getting to Siquijor
I arrived early in the morning on a Sunday, the day after Christmas. I went straight to the ferry port bound for Siquijor town, in the island of Siquijor. Traveling alone and on an island that's been often untouched by local tourists, brings out the fear and excitement in me. Somehow, the feeling grew more.
I hitched a ride on one of Dumaguete's main mode of transportation, the tricycle, and immediately got to chat with the friendly driver.
As soon as i arrived at the port, i discovered that the fast craft at 9:30 am was already fully booked of passengers. I was then referred to another shipping company called Montenegro, that will be leaving after about an hour. I bought my ticket which was relatively cheap, and made my way to the ferry to get a seat.
I am the first one to sit there apart from the crew. I started to wander around, and look at all the people coming in. I am assuming they are all Siquijornons, them with their bags and excitement in their eyes for they will be joining their families for the holidays. There were a group of high schoolers from Negros who all may be vacationing in the island, too.
There were a handful of locals with their little ones, and probably one Foreigner who's sweet with his Filipina girlfriend. But after a few minutes, i discovered they all knew each other. I am sensing, a neighbor or a distant relative perhaps. Before i knew it, they were already looking at me. I look like everyone else, but i must have made an impression that I'm not from their hometown. You see, everywhere i go, i always make it a point to blend in. In Visayas, no doubt, i look like a local.
I was there just wandering, and getting a feel of the people. They were speaking in Cebuano which i didn't really understand. I think i made the right choice.
The ship sailed, and i was bound for Siquijor. The movie that was being played on local TV was Enchanted. I just discovered now that the province boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the country at 92.3 %. It's quite impressive, and I've made a good move helping this go up higher (more on that later). A funny and entertaining movie, that most of the time, i was laughing with everyone else. Times like this, i will never forget. How can life be so complicated?
A few minutes later, and a few puffs of smoke, and we're approaching Siquijor port. From the sea, the island looked like any island in the Philippines. I have been told that as soon as you approach the island, there's a different feeling. I say, Nothing! If i ever have one feeling, it's excitement for i can see how gorgeous the beach is. It will take your breath away.
Siquijor Ferry Port
As soon as the ship docked, i stopped by and uttered "My God, your work is beautiful!" I think this is the most beautiful port i have ever been around the Philippines. Bantayan Island port is also equally beautiful, but here is a different class. It's calm, laid-back, and unbelievably sparkling. And it's right at the port. Under the midday sun, i walked till i got out of the port and near where the tricycle and motorbikes park. A few people approached me, and speaking in Cebuano. Of course, i didn't understand. Instead, i opted for a "habal-habal" and said "Villa Marmarine!" I hitched a ride and paid about a hundred pesos. Turns out, P40 is the standard rate from Siquijor port to Villa Marmarine. It's just P60, c'mon. I was carrying with me a plastic bag of surprises for the angels of Siquijor. My trip here isn't just about playtime, it's also about helping the Siquijornon people.
I stayed in Villa Marmarine, Lonely Planet's Top Pick for best value accommodation in Siquijor. Please watch out for the review on a later post.
I spent the rest of my days, lounging and doing absolutely nothing. When I'm tied up at work, and i need to relax and unwind, i prefer heading to the beach, preferably in Visayas where i am usually at. Lying in the sand and listening to chill-out music, drinking San Miguel Beer, are some of the highlights of the kind of trip i love when it's the beach.
Siquijor's priced possession are its white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, with absolutely no soul in sight. In the resort where i am staying, i am the only Filipino tourist staying there. And most of the time, i got the quality time i needed so badly. I have this special spot just under the rock formations where i would shade if it's too hot, and lie on my sarong sleeping.
I remembered Max (Villa Marmarine's main guest officer) who was apologetic when i asked what's to do in Siquijor. He said that apart from the island tour, there's not much to see. I told him, "Don't be sorry. Exactly, that's why i am here".
Witchcraft and Voodoo
Before i left for Siquijor, i have told a few friends of mine where I'm heading. Their reactions weren't so good. "What will you be doing in Siquijor?", one said. "Prepare to be hunted!", another one said. Advices started pouring in like when someone touches your back, do the same to him/her. Don't throw cigarette butts anywhere. Be nice to everyone. Don't take anything that's offered by a stranger. The list goes on.
To be honest, i didn't follow any of what my friends said, and i think that's what made all the difference. Subconsciously, maybe i wanted to prove everybody wrong. Maybe, a part of me wanted to find out the truth about Siquijor.
First night in Siquijor
I live to tell this story. It's an early night for me, and after chatting with other tourists after gate ball, i went back to my shack and started to sleep at half past ten. It was windy and breezy, and very quiet- a truly relaxing night. The waves from the ocean can be heard and i immediately fell to sleep in a few minutes. I woke up just before midnight hearing considerable sounds on the roof. It must have been something that i haven't heard the whole day and night. Although, first impressions were that of a typical horror movie, of manananggals, and other elementals. I shrugged it all off and went to sleep.
The next day, i was contemplating on what that was. It must have been the trees swaying, or bats. Who knows? All i know is how can something so hellish be found in an island that's close to paradise. God must have really loved Siquijor, He made this island perfect.
It's just so sad, that it took a Swedish family, two Dutch guys, two American girls, and a couple more Northern Europeans to make me realize how blessed i am to have visited Siquijor.
I got to chat with a lot of them, after they finished playing gate ball. Dagman was kind enough to treat us all for a couple of big grandes of Gold Eagle and SMB. It was a good talk, getting to know them, and how long have they been staying. I've also met the family who's been in Siquijor for ten days now. From that chat, i just realized one thing. All of them could only speak of kind words, and much appreciation for this island.
On a lighter note, I also made so many friends with a lot of the people in Villa Marmarine, Max who i initially thought was Japanese, turned out to be a native of Lanao Del sur, and Michael who was the go-to guy in gate ball, lawn tennis, and even day and night diving. and of course, all the charming waitresses of Villa Marmarine.
I remembered the tip i received regarding locals tapping you in the back. Nothing happened to me. In fact, it was a symbolic welcome to the family. I felt like a friend, a brother - a part of the family.
Every day and night of my stay in Siquijor, i have been drinking beer from the bottle and glass, and was offered a drink in one of the occasions. Again, nothing happened to me.
REALIZATIONS: When will the time come, that we Filipinos, see the hidden beauty of this province? We're all so afraid to discover our own heritage, and our country. If the people who are not bred in the Philippines can see something, there must be something. It is really, really sad. My heart is broken.
Good thing, people, it's never too late.