FIRST PUBLISHED IN Zest Magazine
PHOTOS BY TONY MENDOZA
The island of Siquijor in Central Visayas has always mystified me as a kid because of a memory of one Halloween special of a weekend TV show that showed a man who was able to make paper dolls dance on their own. Numerous local films and stories have always portrayed this country’s third smallest province to be one of the top destinations for mananambals (folk healers) and other mystical arts. Desperate to escape the sweltering summer heat of Metro Manila and to answer long unanswered curiosities, an invitation to the island from a gay couple from Cebu City was finally my chance.
Reaching this Island of Fire or Isla de Fuego, as it was called during early Spanish times, could be done through flying or sailing to its bigger island neighbours, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, or Mindanao.
I flew to Cebu City and rode for three hours with my friends to Liloan (South Cebu). To commute, one has to take a bus bound to Liloan at the South Bus Terminal and the fare for non-aircon buses is about P 162 and P 200 for air-con buses.
At the Liloan port, P62 is paid for the terminal fee and the 30 minute ferry ride to Sibulan (Negros Oriental). From Sibulan pot, an P11 jeep ride can be taken to Dumaguete city. At the Dumaguete Port, one can choose between the Delta Fast Craft and GL Shipping Lines Ferry to Siquijor. The ride costs P160 and would take roughly an hour.
Upon arriving at the Siquijor port, the sight of the clear turquoise waters of a white sand beach was one awesome welcome. We then headed to U.Story Guest house in the village of Tag-ibo, San Juan. At P1, 900 per night we stayed at a charming bungalow made of indigenous materials that exuded a very relaxing tropical ambience. I just coiled and dozed off at the porch cushion the whole afternoon while enjoying the calming sea breeze and serene atmosphere of the surrounding flower gardens.
Their bar-restaurant boasts an array of French-Filipino cuisine that would cater to both foreign and local palates. Having the same indigenous construction, wide openings for the sea breeze and view, and adornment of artworks from India, Africa, and all other parts of the world, this place is one unique hang-out.
The U.Story guesthouse is perched upon a rock cliff and a concrete stairway that conveniently leads down to the clear waters and corals below. It is a different feel from a white sandy beach but on high tide, it still is one refreshing dip and a sight for snorkelers.
When it comes to sunsets, this part of Siquijor would just take one’s breath away. Starting late afternoon, the sky’s colors then start to shift. Hues of blue, yellow, orange, and gold transform into unique canvases that change every few minutes until the night sets in. These dreamlike and picturesque sights are indeed a must see for all.
Apart from seas and sunsets, the island offers much more sights to visit. We rented motorbikes for P300 per day and sped off to our first stop: Lola Conching. Lola Consolacion Achay is one of the island’s remaining bolo-bolo healers. Bolo-bolo, in the old Visayan language, means “bubbles.” We found her living in a bahay kubo with a videoke “waiting area” in the village of Tag-ibo. She was already busy with a middle-aged local who complained of her sore eye. A tourist from Croatia then arrived after us.
Lola Conching had three basic tools: a black stone, a drinking glass, and a six-inch bamboo tube called bagacay. She blew bubbles into the glass and hovered it around the patient’s body, most frequently to the area of complaint. When it was my turn, I had an up-close observation of the clear water turning mysteriously murky and then the sudden appearance of onion-like skins as she blew bubbles in the glass. The session lasted for about six minutes and ended when the recent water refill did not turn cloudy anymore. The closing ritual was a whispered Latin prayer while oil was rubbed to my forehead and chest. There wasn’t any rate of payment, any amount of donation will do.
Our motorbike journey then covered just some of the few spots worth visiting such as the century-old balete tree, Cambughay falls, Bandilaan Natural Park (highest point in the island), and the century old churches. Given much more days, beach hopping at the various white sand options, cliff jumping at Salagdoong beach, swimming at the natural spring parks, visiting other home-based folk healers, and spelunking in the Cantabon, Eugenia, Dacanay, Tagmanocan, and Baljo caves would have been additions. Most of these adventure options have no entrance costs at all. Just find your way there though a map and enjoy.
Driving a motorbike around the island was a breeze as there was virtually no traffic at most times and routes. We have been able to find other white sand beachfront accommodations in San Juan such as the End of the World that charges P 400 per room and The Bruce that offers cottages with kitchen amenities and have short and long stay rates (P1,200 for two per day/P1,500 for four per day).
This idyllic island has had me spellbound of its natural charm. A short stay proved to be inadequate to immerse oneself in the mysteries that abound. Siquijor indeed has its wide array of magic (natural or otherwise) to trance all explorers and seekers to return.