Siquijor diary

While there are trips from Cebu City going to Siquijor (ships that still make stops in Bohol & Dumaguete), I decided to go to Dumaguete first, taking the usual bus trip from Cebu’s south station terminal, going to the port in Santander then crossing Tañon Straits to Sibulan, then finally Dumaguete. I left Cebu at 3am. The bus ride to Santander would take around two hours but the trip down south is most practical if you want to get a foretaste of Cebu’s bucolic landscape, passing by the charming towns of Carcar, Sibonga, Argao, Dalaguete, Alcoy, Boljoon and Oslob. The winding stretch close to Santander provides a breathtaking elevated view of the Bohol Sea.

Siquijor, Siquijor

Siquijor, Siquijor

I’ve always wanted to go to Siquijor even if it’s against my Bisayan Mother’s wishes (she’s a firm believer in asuang professing she had seen one) I could not pass up the opportunity. I’ve always dreamt of its wonderful heritage sites, the unparalleled beauty of its coast and the warmth of its people. Old belief are so hard to change, they die hard and even though I’m not from the island I feel bad, frustrated even, that this peaceful paradise like island is associated with all these negative images. Siquijor’s black legends has long fueled the imagination of outsiders, many still have this picture of an evil time and place where witches and asuangs wanders freely around the island. Some people even advised me, “don’t let people there touch you, they can put you under their spell!” I can’t fathom where this mindset comes from, considering that they’re all from the same region, speaking the same language, sharing the same religion, culture and tradition. Kawawa naman ang mga kababayan natin, napakaganda ng Siquijor at napakabait ng mga tao. It’ll take more than these horror tales to stop me! Shamanism and witchcraft exists in many Filipino culture, these practice even predates Christianity in the islands. Why everybody seem to believe that Siquijor is the center of all these baffles me.

Siquijor time

Siquijor time

Travel time from Dumaguete to the port of Siquijor is an hour and a half but it depends on the prevailing weather and sea condition, for those who can afford the fast cat (catamaran type boats) it’s less than an hour I think. At the time of my crossing the waves were quite scary. I couldn’t sleep even if I wanted to; the restless motion of the sea and its massive waves was driving me crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it. Ok, I have yet to conquer my fear of the open seas, I’m Red from Shawshank telling Andy how scared he is of the pacific, “Shit, about scare me to death, something that big” but when you travel around the islands you’ll just have to live with it or else nothing gets done. I could be the only one restless on board, dahil ang iba’y nakukuha pang matulog! Most of the passengers were just watching some movie inside. I guess it’s just a matter of getting used to it.

The port of Siquijor was very simple and modest, it doesn’t look like a port actually. It could accommodate ro-ro shipments and it has regular daily trips to Dumaguete, as soon as the barge’s flap opened it began unloading the two trucks it was carrying. I was among the first to get off, Yes! What a relief! From here, the beautiful Iglesia de San Fracisco de Assisi can already be seen, and here you get to sample the islands pristine splendor – if their ports have crystal clear waters and white powdery sands, how much more are the resorts tucked away in the tall coconut forest far from the populated communities?

Not far from the port are some local eateries and bars where there are many locals but they don’t bother vacationers. I approached some of them and asked if they know any discounted rooms where I could stay. Some of these folks act as agents for lodge owners – a guy offered to show me a house where I could rent a room. So I hopped on his scooter and was taken to a house near the provincial hospital, it’s called Das Traum guest house. I believe they also own the bar beside the port. The room cost 200 pesos. It was a pleasant house, I was told that the place is very popular with scuba divers, mostly European; I saw some of them in the house. The room that was provided to me was fresh and comfortable; it has cable tv and a veranda that offers a panoramic view of Mt. Bandilaan.

After unloading my stuff and taking a quick shower, I decided to skip launch and go straight to Iglesia de San Francisco de Assisi, I wanted to give thanks for the safe voyage before going to the sites I wanted to visit. Actually, the church was one of them. The church was founded by a secular priest named Fr. Setien in 1793, since the island was under the pioneering Diocesan padres of Dumaguete. Then the Recollects came with their mandate “to build churches and occupy the existing ones”, entirely placing the whole of Siquijor under the bells. They were the ones who taught the early Siquijor natives of “the basic tenets of Christianity and counting, reading and writing”, the Recollect Padres was also “required to train and pay teachers, they took responsibility that the basic necessities for teaching purposes are provided”. These men also taught the Siquijoranons how to cultivate maize – wanting to keep their converts away from famish conditions that continually threatened the sparse population of the island. You could still see corn taking up portions of the road so it can be dried. Many wonder why the Recollects had to own vast lands in Cavite, the infamous estates that is often depicted as stolen lands. Most of it were donated, actually, like the one in Bacoor by a rich lady with the condition that the “Recollect Fathers of Intramuros would offer masses for her soul!” The friar estate is often misunderstood, today, sects that wants to grow their following no longer have  to keep and cultivate lands or engage in profitable business to fund their missions, that’s too much of a hassle when they can justify asking for money straight from their supporters pockets. That I can go in these islands and meet people who practice my faith is tribute to the labors of these great Catholic missionaries.

The islands oldest iglesia, San Francisco de Assisi

The islands oldest iglesia, San Francisco de Assisi

This needs to be saved! the Spanish coat of arms on the main door could be the biggest engraved in stone.

This needs to be saved! the Spanish coat of arms on the main door could be the biggest engraved in stone. The architectural design of this convento is unique because it was made to provide defense for the townspeople

The towns campanaria

The towns campanaria

Its campanaria stands a few meters from its side; it serves dual purpose of alerting the people of incoming piratical raids and reminding them of their spiritual duties. So frequent are the Moro pirates forays that the convento was built to double as a defense structure, with its undersized windows and door, it served as the perfect cover where the towns people could hide and defend themselves. Since there is no wood used in the outer portion of the convento, setting it on fire was impossible. No wonder this place has survived.  The convent is located across the church and now serves as the residence of the cura paroco, it’s surrounded by class rooms.  Perhaps the biggest Spanish escudo de armas carved from stone can be found here. The church complex is one of the most unique I’ve seen. Rarely do we see the church, its tower and the convento all built independently. Usually the Iglesia is attached to the convento or the bell tower to the church but not all separately. There must be some reason why it was built this way. I’ll ponder on the possible reasons but first I like to have a little something for my stomach.

I try to eat what’s not on the menu but instead what’s cooking in the mercado, they usually offer the cheapest and the widest selection of local dishes. I stay away from restaurants because aside from my scanty budget, it’s best to eat amongst the local rather than eat some pasta in some resort. I don’t see the point, if you’re out to discover how people live, you have to discover how they eat first and you can’t do this elsewhere but in their homes or their mercado. I read local tourist on some internet forum complaining that their food in the resorts were expensive, I guess that’s the price you’ll have to pay for the comfort of being there in those exclusive resorts. I was looking for dugo-dugo, yes, dinugaan! I wanted to tell my Nanay that I had dinuguan for lunch in Siquijor! But ended up eating tinola because there was none, not the chicken tinola like most of us are familiar with but fish with a delectable hot soup. Another soup dish I ordered was sinigang, it was weird because it doesn’t have any vegetables on it, this must be their way of cooking it or they just forgot to put the vegetables. Soup dishes are a favorite of mine, especially when I’m tired and sleepy, together with rice, gives me energy, keeps me awake.

I did a little walking around the town, para matunaw naman ang mga nakain, the market was more of a talipapa, it was not busy at all, and to think that it was weekend. A very simple, uncomplicated life these people have, I would want to enjoy such setting when I’m grey. Everyday feels like Sunday here I’m sure. After taking pictures of the town, I went to the surf. I was supposed to go to Cantabon cave, the most popular among the more than 40 cave in this little island but decided not to, I had nothing left and I was told that the trek would not easy. So I decided to stay in Siquijor town’s shorelines, from a distance I could see the port where we landed – I wonder where the expensive resorts are. But it’s not bad here, just gazing into the sea and the neighboring islands as the sun sets into the horizon, it’s nice… (more later)

Siquijor, Siquijor

Yutang among gimahal

Sa tanan mga kakulian

Ikaw among panalipdan

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