Friday, May 18, 2012

Siquijor: Bewitched by her Fire (Central Visayas, Philippines)

Published by Action and Fitness Magazine, 2008

Be warned: Siquijor can bewitch.

 Her name is Siquijor, a powerful and beguiling enchantress. She is known for her curses, black magic and powerful potions. Considered as the marine paradise of Central Visayas in the Philippines, Siquijor can be reached by sea through the provinces of Cebu, Dumaguete or Tagbilaran in the Visayan region. Before my visit, Siquijor was an island I would never have dreamed of visiting. The fear of being cursed had little to do with it. It was simply because I had no reason to see her. Siquijor was a fearsome and mystical island because she was distant. For me, she was nothing more but a name that was uttered in dramatic whispers. 

Charmed by Cambugahay Waterfalls.

But fate would conspire with the elements to change my mind, and the wind took me to La Isla del Fuego, or Island of fire. In the 1600s, the Spaniards first set foot on the virgin island and called her the island of fire because of the eerie glow that surrounded her.  Siquijor’s radiance, a glowing mist around her head, turned out to be the light from clouds of fireflies that swarmed the numerous molave trees on the island.

I was enchanted. She bewitched me not with magic potions or curses, but with her quiet beauty and charm. Circling the small island in one day - the lush roadsides, the clean quiet streets occasionally disturbed by crossing chickens, the archaic churches sitting on rolling hills, reminiscent of old European structures, the charming locals, the verdant mangroves in the middle of the beach and the calm pastel sunset - showed me a different kind of Siquijor.

Looking out from the St. Isidore Labradore Convent,
                      the oldest in the Philippines.
    La Isla Del Fuego revealed the beautiful face of magic and witchery, the kind that is calming, spiritual and in no way fearsome. Her fire burned my picture of a western witch with long claw-like fingers, a sharp crooked nose and a black pointy hat. Instead, I saw a sorceress that is one with nature. She works not with toad’s eyes and human fetuses but with the whim of the wind and sea. Her powers are not brewed in cauldrons but in the force of her waves, the light of the moon, the energy of her sunsets and the secrets of her caves. She does not cast spells to covet or harm, rather she protects and heals. Beautiful, nurturing and beguiling, Siquijor offers a respite away from the horrors of the metropolis.

Open and inviting, Siquijor is not only an enchantress, she is also a mother, embracing her citizens and guests in her bosom, characterized by hilly and mountainous terrains and bordered by tranquil beaches. She protects her people from the full force of typhoons and blesses them with bounties from the coast. White sandy beaches make up most of her 102-kilometer coastline. But Siquijor shies away from the noise of typical commercial white beaches. She doesn’t flirt with loud club music and fancy resorts, rather she beckons with quiet mysteries I have never seen in any beach in the country before. Once, during low tide, she invited me to walk far into her beach with the water reaching only up to my ankles. On some patches of sand, I found army crabs. They skittered on the soft ground in organized groups, burrowed, then disappeared all at the same time. It was a strange but astounding phenomenon. I stood still for a few more seconds, and a new batch surfaced from another direction.

St. Isidore Church sits on a hill in Lazi.

Vast blue skies serve as backdrop for Siquijor’s tranquil beaches. Generous mangroves sprout in the middle of its waters. At sundown, I sat in the water, kissed warm by the sun. It was like a therapeutic bath as I watched the day disappear in swirls of pinks, yellows and blues. From a far distance, fishermen’s children sang joyously about how life is more colorful with a bowl of vegetable soup.

Enchanting Siquijor offers more than just the idyllic life. Her coral reefs are also ideal for water adventures like snorkeling and diving with spectacular wall drop offs, sloping terraces and World War II dive wrecks. Siquijor has two known dive resorts, Kiwi Dive Resort and Coco Grove. Kiwi offers quiet charm and personalized service while Coco Grove boasts of high-class commercial amenities.   

Warmed by the water and the setting sun.

 To explore Siquijor’s various terrains, all we needed was a day and a little jeep that runs on gas sold in Coke bottles. The driver often also serves as the tour guide. We started out the tour at the little town of Lazi, located at the southern tip of Siquijor. Lazi, with its small town charm and quiet appeal, keeps a big secret. The St. Isidore Labradore Convent, the biggest convent in Asia, sits atop a hill in Lazi. The low rise two story structure was once used as a vacation house for friars and priests. Built in 1857, St. Isidore is also known to be one of the oldest convents in the Philippines. A walk inside the ancient building told of its age and history. The ground floor is made of thick stone while the second floor is made of hard wood panels.  It was a precarious walk   on the second floor where some of the wooden floor planks were missing. Bright light, coming in from generous windows, washed the stained stone columns with some colour, bringing life into its otherwise sagging condition.

I crossed the road fronting the convent and found the St. Isidore Church. The 19th century church is made of coral and stone. The rust tinted roof and the moss growing between the stone cracks, gave life to a structure hundreds of years old. Inside, shadows hid several delightful surprises. Period pulpits, intricately hand carved renditions of the station of the cross on the windows and hardwood floors with herringbone patterns speak of the church’s old grandeur. Up in the belfry, the antique bells silently echoed St. Isidore’s pride. Outside, the grassy slope led us to a garden with gracious acacia trees hiding the path down to a mini amphitheatre.  In this green alcove, you can get lost in the past when Spanish friars and locals once tended the gardens while the image of the Virgin Mary silently watched.

Mystic Siquijor’s hilly terrain also has something for the adventurous heart.   Her rock formations had been gently shaped by the cold wind to form over a dozen caves, rivers, waterfalls and springs perfect for trekking and spelunking. The Cantabon cave is one of the most famous caves of Siquijor. It has a little bit of everything for the intrepid spirit. The one and a half trek took us on an uneven shadowed path beside mini streams and tiny waterfalls, through pitch dark chambers, and around protruding stalagmites and crystal white stalactite formations hanging overhead. Deep within the cave, a pool invited us to take a dip to wash off the grime we had acquired from the trek and more importantly, the worries and stresses of the city. Locals said that no one has ever ventured to go far into the cave’s bowels perhaps out of fear of dark spirits that may be lurking there.

Spirits seem to roam everywhere in Siquijor. I could feel them in the trees and in the wind, singing us songs of enchantment. At Tigbawan in Lazi, we took a refreshing stop at the Cambugahay Waterfalls, rumoured to be charmed with its multi tiered  water cascades. Then there was the century old Balete tree in the Campalanas area. The tree revealed hundreds of years of history in its roots and vines hanging from its branches. The knotty whorls on its bark, told of the magic it had witnessed through the ages. Below it, running water flowed, heading straight to a manmade stream.

On my way home, I didn’t stop to buy a bottle of Siquijor’s famous potions.  What I brought home with me was far more powerful than her concoction of roots, barks, leaves and fairy dust. I brought home her spirit, which will forever remind me that there is still such a thing as magic.


Love the new look! :P I think this article of yours should be bottled up like a potion and given to the residents of Siquijor, so that they can stop sometimes, take off the cork and smell the beauty of their land once in a while.. Your words are magic.

i never dreamed of going to siquijor but now you make me curious about this place

Siquijor is just amazing!

Siquijor is just amazing!

Siquijor is just amzazing!

Amazing and enchanting! Thanks for dropping by juncarl!

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