|Salagdoong Beach in Maria is the most popular choice, complete with water slides and cliff-diving platforms|
For an island its size, Siquijor – the third smallest province in Philippines after Batanes and Camiguin – packs a punch with its surprising variety of attractions. During the Spanish period, the island was called Isla de Fuego or “Island of Fire”, because of the massive colonies of fireflies that lit up its coastline at night. Today, like moths drawn to a flame, tourists are gravitating to this island for its enchanting attractions.
|Built in 1884, St. Isidore the Laborer Convent (Lazi Convent) is the largest in the Philippines|
|Hardwood tiles of St. Isidore Church in Lazi|
Upon arriving at the pier in Siquijor, one cannot help but notice the crystal shallows of the shoreline. If there’s one thing this island province is proud of, it is its white-sand beaches. The most popular one is the government-managed Salagdoong Beach in Maria town. Aside from lazing around the pockets of white sand, one can enjoy the water slides and cliff-diving platforms built on a central limestone outcrop. Other notable coastlines are Kagusuan Beach in Maria, Paliton Beach in San Juan and Siquijor Beach in Siquijor town.
Constructed of coral stone and timber, the churches of Siquijor cannot be missed. Stout and austere, they lack the embellishments of Baroque religious structures elsewhere in the Visayas. In a way, they look more like fortresses than places of worship. In the past, these edifices did serve the purpose of providing a vital vantage point to watch out for Muslim pirates. The best examples are the church and bell tower of St. Francis of Assisi in Siquijor town, near the pier; and the church and convent of St. Isidore the Laborer in Lazi. Buit in 1884 as a vacation house for priests, the Lazi Convent, in particular, is often considered to be the largest and one of the oldest convents in the Philippines, and even in the whole of Asia. On the other hand, the Lazi Church was the first church I’ve seen with wooden tiles made of apitong and tugas, species of native hardwood. Other examples of Spanish-period churches are the St. Vincent de Ferrer Church in Enrique Villanueva, Our Lady of Divine Providence Church in Maria and the St. Augustine Church in San Juan.
|Lush waterfalls and natural pools of Cambugahay Falls in Lazi|
|400-year-old Balete (Banyan) Tree|
But far older than these colonial structures is the enchanted balete (banyan) tree growing by the roadside at Lazi town. Believed to be over four centuries old, the ghoulish behemoth looms over a cold spring where townsfolk bathe and wash their clothes. Supernatural voices and apparitions of engkantos (forest spirits) are frequently in the vicinity.
Besides enjoying its coastlines, one can take a refreshing dip in the island’s verdant interior at Cambugahay Falls in Lazi, or the Capilay Spring Park in San Juan. The former is a series of small waterfalls and swimming pools of the most inviting hues of blue, surrounded by lush vegetation; whilst the latter is a public swimming pool fed by a clean, cold spring right the middle of town. At Cambugahay, just keep an eye on your things, as theft is commonplace.
Another aspect of the province, one that both attracts and repels tourists, is its reputation as an abode of supernatural powers, both good and bad, harnessed by mambabarangs (witches and sorcerers) and mananambals (folk healers). The provincial government, however, is strongly discouraging tourists from availing of occult services, putting up a cautionary billboard at the pier of Siquijor town. But isn’t this mystical aspect something that makes Siquijor special? I appreciate the contribution of folk healing for its socio-cultural values, so we made it a point to visit the most famous healer on the island, 87-year-old Consolacion Achay, to experience a bolo-bolo ritual, which I will talk about in greater detail in a succeeding post.
|Blue Wave Inn Resort, Siquijor town|
HOW TO GET THERE: The jump-off point to Siquijor island is Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental, which can be reached by air or ferry from Manila or Cebu. From Dumaguete, fast crafts (45 minutes, PHP 140-160) travel throughout the day to Siquijor town.
Contact the boat companies for the latest schedules: Delta Ferries – +63 9175323588 or +63 9351321658; GL Shipping Lines – +63 35 4805534; and Ocean Fast Ferries – +63 32 2557560.
The most convenient way to explore the island is on rental motorbike (PHP 250-500/day, exc. gasoline) or jeepney (up to 12 persons, PHP 2,000/day).
WHERE TO STAY: At the popular Salagdoong Beach in Maria, there’s the government-owned Hotel Agripino and Salagdoong Beach Resort, where rooms start at PHP 900 for A/C twin rooms. Look for Lucy Looc, Mobile: +63 9068229044. A good value midrange option in Siquijor town is Blue Wave Inn Resort, where non-A/C double rooms start at PHP 1,250, with breakfast for two. The best rooms, however, are the A/C island view family rooms with balconies facing the beachfront at PHP 4,000 (4 to 6 pax). Tel. +63 35 4809190