Brownouts are a drag. Especially if one is unfortunate enough to be surprised by a nine-hour maintenance blackout. For the true penitent, nothing beats sweltering away without air-conditioning, fans or showers at the tail end of summer in the tropics! Thankfully, our local electric company (NORECO), usually gives us a one-week forewarning of their monthly all-day vegetation clearings. Having received their Facebook notification and dreading a Sunday without electricity, I mentioned a two-day Siquijor island sojourn to my lovely uyab, Chichay. Having never been there and eager to see the mysterious ‘island of witches,” Chi readily agreed. For myself and having been there a number of times, I was just looking forward to refreshing waterfalls and an opportunity to capture one of those spectacular San Juan sunsets. So, after checking windy.com for the weather forecast and with our destination and dates decided, I popped open Tripadvisor, booked the hotel then zipped down to the port to get our tickets.
Time to go!
I wanted to get the most out of our first day on the island, so we took the 7:20 AM OceanJet. I had purchased the tickets a few days before (250 pesos/$5 USD each), so there wasn’t any frantic rush to get to the port. We woke up at 6 AM, took a cold shower, made sure that Angel and Brigette had water and food, and caught a trike to the Dumageute port at 6:40 AM. As soon as we got to the port, Chichay realized that she had forgot the SD card to her Canon 70D. (We actually met because of that camera, but that is a tale for another time.) Woopsie! No worries though – she just scamperd onto a habal-habal motorbike and zipped back to fetch it while I gulped down overly-fried eggs at a local carrenderia. When she got back, we headed through the checkpoint. The port of Dumaguete is pretty spiffy looking after its two-year renovation, with an air-conditioned waiting area and new tourism-themed guest center. We only had about a 20 minute wait until the boarding call. Gathering our pack and water bottles, we headed off to our luxurious inter-island conveyance, the OceanJet ferry.
Dumaguete to Siquijor is only about a 45 minute ride on the fast craft. After an uneventful trip, we got off the boat and walked down the long pier to the port proper. Being low season, there were a lot more Filipino vendors and motorbike renters than actual tourists. Negotiating the chattering press, we meandered down to my favorite rental joint and booked a Honda Beat automatic scooter for 30 hours (300 pesos/$6 for first 24 hours and 100 p/$2 for another six hours). I have become an automatic adherent over the past six years in the Philippines and I’ve found the Beat to be dependable and (fairly) comfortable. Dropping our pack to the floorboard, we helmeted up and headed off to San Juan to drop off our extra gear until the 2 PM check in. Siquijor doesn’t have the traffic that Dumaguete has so it was a pleasant 20 minute ride up and over the verdant hillock that separates Siquijor town from San Juan.
The road from Siquijor spits you out in the little town of San Juan proper. (Basically a curve in the circumferential road with a bunch of stores and homes on it.) Right at the intersection is a cold spring that is open to the public for swimming. Having never been there, we stopped to check it out and do a quick video. It seemed nice enough, with shaded swimming areas over the long rectangular pool, but along the way I couldn’t help but notice the “Bring Your Own Garbage” sign by one of the picnic areas. Lost in translation for sure, but it was cute and conveyed the actual message well enough.
We arrived at Fun-Ta-Sea about five minutes later and were pleasantly surprised when they allowed us to check in FIVE HOURS early. Sweet. Thanking the manager, I then ran off to shoot a quick video of the accommodations before we messed it up. Fun-Ta-Sea (2,500 pesos/night) is a small resort with only five rooms. It is run by a Filipino and is my favorite spot for catching the stunning sunsets over Mindanao to the left, Apo to the front and Negros to the right. It is clean and has free kayak use, a decent restaurant, a cool rope swing and – most importantly – boasts new Panasonic inverter split-type air conditioners. (I don’t travel without aircon in the tropics!) It’s not the Coco Grove by any means, but it’s nice enough for me – especially if there are one of those spectacular sunsets. That night, there wasn’t, but we found something to do in its lieu.
THE WITCH DOCTOR
Many Filipinos fee that Siquijor Island is haunted. This belief is so common, in fact, that a lot of provincial folk are scared to go there. Part of this mystery might have something to do with the island being a mecca of sorts for traditional medicine men across the Philippines. Every year, in fact, a national convention of witch doctors is held in the mountain town of San Antonio on Siquijor. From all accounts, it seems that this annual ‘Witchstock’ is an opportunity for these practitioners of the ancient ways to trade spells and brew potions. I don’t know about the efficacy of all that stuff, but I DO know that the ride up from Siquijor town to San Antonio is a pleasant one, especially on a hot day. The last time I was there I had purchased a love potion from an elder shaman named Vincente. Not being totally satisfied with my purchase (oh, how I wish I could share THAT story…), I decided to revisit the old shaman. And no, it wasn’t to demand a refund – it was simply to bring Chichay and get our ‘readings’ to see if we were compatible. Hey, amidst the inanity of modern digital dating, what’s a little old-school fortune telling, right? Vaguely remembering where his house was, we meandered further into the jungle and finally saw the signs (and guide Aaron) to his home. Walking into their ‘home office’ we were greeted by his gracious daughter, who I think is also learning to become a faith healer herself. Vincente then came down from his room on the second floor. After the usual greetings, I said that I was hoping to see if Chichay and I were destined by the god spirits for (un)holy matrimony. We agreed on the price, and he then sat us both down for some palm readings. The light was rather dim in their home, so his daughter helped him read our futures with the light from her smart phone.
Along the way, we learned that I was destined to live a long life, have good business ventures, and be blessed by two children and a wife with a ‘nice body.’ He also noted that I don’t have “crocodile hands,” which means that the kids will be healthy. Chichay’s reading showed that she would have three kids (wait, what?), a long life and that she would (obviously) live longer than me. Unfortunately, she did have crocodile hands, so if our kid is born with two heads, we’ll know who to blame. Finishing up, I thanked Sir Vincente for his prophetic visions and we headed back out for the rest of the day’s adventure.
BANDILAAN NATIONAL PARK
The ride from San Antonio to Bandilaan is incredibly nice. It is not a well maintained road, however, and once you get to the park proper, you will often find yourselves facing a narrow asphalt pathway though banks of fallen vegetation on both sides of the road. (Note that this road can be very dangerous when wet!) The road continues to rise up from San Antonio though the cool thoroughfares of the ancient inner-island forest. An observation tower is in the center of the 271-hectare park, on the island’s highest point of 632 meters. Now, that might not seem very high when compared to, say, the Rockies, but there is a huge (yuuuge) temperature difference between 600+ meters and sea level in the Philippines. Huge as in nice.
Arriving at the observation tower, we were a bit dismayed to see that a sign had been put up: “Temporary Close.” But since this is the Philippines, where rule of law and regulations are more of suggestions, I decided to head up the trail and see what was going on. The ascent isn’t all that difficult and you’ll notice a bunch of Stations of the Cross along the way (the summit is a popular religious pilgrimage for Catholics). The parks caretakers had installed a new path a few years back with flagstones to provide footing on rainy days. Reaching the summit, we soon discovered the reason for the “Temporary Close” sign: The tower was gone. I mean, it was there, but its once-soaring heights had been reduced to a few hundred pieces of mangled, green-painted iron scattered about the peak. Weird. All was not lost, however – at least for future visitors – as new footings had already been poured and rebar was thrusting up from the earth in heady anticipation of a new tower. I am not sure if the previous tower went down due to environmental factors (mudslide and/or rust) or if they had simply torn it down. I could understand the latter, as the old tower wasn’t tall enough to see over all of the surrounding foliage. Here’s hoping the new one will give a true 360 degree view of the beautiful vista once it is completed.
After consulting with shaman Vincente and our excursion into Banilaan, it was about 3 PM and time to head back towards San Juan. It was also the perfect time to take a nice refreshing dip in the roaring waterfalls of Lugnasan, by and far my favorite waterfall in Siqujijor. A bit of disappointment awaited us, but you will have to wait for the next installment of the series in order to find out what that was.
If you want to check out the videos of our Siquijor trip, you can simply click on these links to be swept away to our YouTube channel: Departure and Fun-Ta-Sea Resort and The Witch Doctor and Bandilaan National Forest.
Until next time, be well and keep dreaming!