Arriving back from Coron Town we were a bit defeated…we knew we’d chosen to go on holiday in the middle of the rainy season, but that part of Palawan isn’t really known for tons of rain, and a bit of rain is OK anyway (we made it through several years in England, right?). But the rain really ruined that trip for us. So it was only about a week before we started talking about whether we’d make it to Siquijor, an island we’d wanted to visit ever since we’d arrived.
Siquijor is famous around here…just as, upon learning that we’re living in Mindanao, any non-Mindanawan will inevitably ask, “Aren’t you scared of the Muslims?” so, upon learning we want to visit Siquijor, will any non-Siquijudnon ask, “Aren’t you afraid of witches?” Indeed, among most Pinoys, Siquijor is not famous for its waterfalls, beaches, or hospitality, but for the magic – both black and white – that allegedly takes place in its mountains. Alas, with only two days to explore, there was little we could extract with regard to culture and society. So I’m afraid I’ve got no juicy stories about healers or spells.
The trips to and from the island were tenuous indeed. A straight line between the two ports (Siquijor Town and Cagayan de Oro) measures about 150 km (93 mi). But because of the very confusing schedule of boats between the various islands in the Visayas, we had to take an overnight boat from CdO to Dumaguete in Negros and then a quick ferry to Siquijor. Coming back we took a ferry from Siquijor to Dumaguete to Tagbilaran in Bohol, a bus from Tagbilaran to Jagna, and then a 5-hour trip from Jagna back to CdO. All in all we were gone from Saturday night to Tuesday night, but 27 of the 69 1/2 hours were spent in transit.
Still, what an island. Even as we came off of the boat we were in wonderland. The water at the port was crystal clear. There was more or less no rubbish – not on the streets, not on the beaches, not in the water. The people were incredibly friendly – no surprise there – but what was special was how familiar they felt…those who smiled or said hello did so warmly; even better – many people didn’t take any notice of us at all! Of all the people with whom we crossed paths, hardly anyone said anything about our height – a first for us!
The first thing we had to sort out was a motorbike. We’d decided to just rent one for the two days to minimize stress. As we came off of the boat, there were the typical greetings offering tricycles and jeepneys to our destination, but we simply said, “motorbike,” and the keys were in our hands. It was practically new, Php350/day (about 5 squid, or 8 bucks). People readily gave us directions to our destination, and we set off. About 45 minutes later we arrived…the dirt road to our resort was dodgy at best…stones and potholes marked its entirety. But as we neared the entrance to Casa de la Playa, vibrant color and overwhelming character burst out at us from every angle. The land is owned by a Pinay and the resort is owned and managed by a German who came for holiday 17 years ago and never really left. Terry – the latter – teaches yoga at the resort. She was there when we arrived, and I can tell you that the energy this woman emanates is that which I aspire to with every asana. Sadly she was away to Bohol the night we arrived so I wasn’t able to experience a course with her.
Our cottage was quite literally on the beach. A wall comprised of two steps led to the shore, which was entirely white sand speckled with dried coral and seashells. Everywhere there were adorable little hermit crabs scuttling along – in the sand, on the paved walk-ways – as if daring my klutziness to deliver their demise. Luckily, I don’t believe I was responsible for a single crab’s death. The water was so clear that from the hammock on our deck (ahem.) you could make out the checkerboard of sea grass and white sand that led to a small copse of mangroves just in the distance. From the mangroves came the song of cicadas morning and night, but it was a perfect addition to the trio that included gently splashing waves and toko lizards. The sand was so fine it was like grainy mud in some spots, and swirling clouds arose with each step in the water. The water was like a bathtub left to cool five minutes too long, shallow and calm. These waters take their tides very seriously – high tide brought the lapping shore to about 2 or 3 feet from the wall beneath our cottage; low tide saw it creep to 100 or more feet away. Watching the sunset’s violently pink reflection in the horizon of crystal clear sea at our feet was almost more than I could handle. This is truly a place of rehabilitation and rejuvenation, of novel-writing and path-finding…I would not have felt our time wasted if it was spent entirely in the vicinity of the cottage.
But we wanted to explore, and given our brief time, we made a go of it. Driving along the national highway that follows the island’s exterior, we were met with stretches of rice paddies so beautiful they rivaled any I’d seen. And for all I’ve seen, I suppose I’ve never been on the back of a motorbike, on an island with just about no air pollution. So I can say that this was the first time I smelled the rice…and it was a delicious smell indeed. We decided to get some tuba, or palm wine, to take to the beach. We asked along the way and were directed to drive down a tiny dirt path that led to a compound of two or three houses, one of which was not a house, but a dilapidated old “bar” of sorts, serving all tuba, all the time. We were invited to sit with the men there, bought a liter and had a glass while we sat. Not much could be said in light of the language barriers in place, but we felt anything but uncomfortable. And the tuba was divine.
Looking for a stretch of public beach on the second day we met the bright smile of a 30-something Siquijudnon with a ponytail stretching to the middle of his back turning into a road we were eying. We pulled up next to him to ask if the beach was public, to which he replied it was. Turned out he was the owner and operator of a company called Siquijor Hikers we’d seen advertised both in Siquijor and Dumaguete. Joel invited us to a live gig (or gimmick, as they’re known here) in celebration of Siquijor’s liberation from Negros Island.
(A side note – in true Pinoy style, in spite of having asked three different people, we got three different rough estimates for the actual date of independence, and it seems their fiesta – which was how two of the three referred to the celebration – lasts roughly 3 weeks…incidentally, that independence date was September 17, 1971)
I know I speak for Chris when I say that quite possibly never in our lives would we have turned down such an excellent invitation…Alas, we are no longer spring chickens. And, as previously mentioned, we’d been doing a lot of traveling. The drive would have been poorly lit and hence a bit dangerous, and, frankly, my bum hurt from being on the bike all day. So we had a delicious meal at the resort’s restaurant (which specialized in vegetarian food! I know, right? And the one other place we ate lunch had a menu that was easily 1/3 vegetarian, too!) and a couple of beers and settled in for what turned out to be a pretty sleepless night since we had to borrow an alarm clock from the resort that turned out to be broken and therefore rang every hour on the hour until our actual wake-up time of dark-and-early 4:00 am.
One last thing…entirely by accident we happened to book our trip for the full moon. Having written so much already, I won’t go on – suffice it to say that the beauty of driving to the port under its gentle blanket of luminescence was second only to watching it quietly succumb in a lavender mist to the pinks and oranges of the new dawn as we boarded the ferry to leave.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get the chance to visit the Philippines again, but if we do, I will see to it we spend more time in Siquijor.