Truth be told, I don’t have any expectations on what to expect upon the proposal to do an impromptu trip to Siquijor. I see the posts, the pictures and read the blogs but for some reason the island province is not on my list of places to go to. But seeing as my trips so far have been very planned and structured, this really is a spur of the moment plan and I was excited.
It actually started when we were invited to a wedding in Dumaguete and we have the third day allotted for sight seeing. There have been talks to cross the ocean to the island but most of us wanted to tour the city and its vicinity (I personally wanted to visit Balisasayao Lake). As we were winding down on our second day, one of us asked our locally based driver Roly to take us to the port to ask for ferry schedules, we look for the earliest boat ride (0800H) and our driver gave us a contact person for a van driver that will tour us once we arrive. I guess we just went along and decided that we will go Siquijor. On the day itself, we missed the fast craft by just a few minutes so we got the 1000H ferry which costs PhP 100 (these are the slower boats with no air-conditioning) and we arrived an hour and a half later.
The first thing you’ll notice upon arriving at Siquijor Port, which is different from other ports is how clear the water is. It was inviting to just jump into the water under the humid, semi cloudy, almost noon July day. We met our contacted driver Leo who told us that we will visit the main ones other than the cave that was previously agreed because of time constraints. Our first business was to book the last ferry which was scheduled to leave at 1800H. We have half a day to tour the island. The port is literally beside the ‘downtown’ of the provincial capital also called Siquijor and beside the Rotonda/Town Church is an eatery called Joel’s Lechon Manok. As it was near lunch time, the area is jam-packed and is full of customers looking at the displayed foods inside the ‘calderos’. Despite the eatery’s name we decided to eat like a local and ordered ‘mamsa’ in their vernacular or ‘talakitok ‘in Tagalog. After we ate, as we requested, Leo drove us to the ‘I heart Siquijor’ sign and took some pictures of us there. I actually like Leo because as a tour driver he is courteous, knowledgeable, adaptive to our requests and at the same time is honest when we asks ‘the tough questions’.
We next drove to an area called Paliton Beach and while it is popular with tourists, the beach was virtually untouched (very little commercialization) which Leo iterated that while the area is technically a private property, the local government intends to keep it the way it is now. Driving to the center of San Juan Municipality, we notice something interesting: there is a pool in the middle of the town! We found out that it was a spring emanating from the hilly terrain on the backside and atop on it is the local church.
The municipality of Lazi, Siquijor offers a lot of attractions; the first of which is the Centuries-old Balete Tree in which a spring emanates from its exposed roots (it was said that the deepest part of that spring is 24 feet!). The area is also home to (according to Leo) the biggest souvenir shop in the island. They actually sold voodoo doll key-chains alongside the usual refrigerator magnets! (I personally bought a Capiz magnet with a picture of the tree) Speaking of voodoo; Leo said that the biggest activities they hosts in the island for tourists are: longboarding competition during summer and the Healing Festival which happens around Holy Week – in my head I thought that good for them to embrace what they are previously notorious for and making it into a marketing strategy for the island. I actually asked him about this perception and according to him, maybe because there was no hospital nor affordable doctors in the island until recently so the residents will either travel to Dumaguete or to rely on traditional practices. The balete tree spring also contains doctor fishes (I forgot the local name) and curiously enough, tilapias and for Php 10 you can sit there and enjoy a fish spa underneath the shade of the Balete Tree.
By this time, it was already 1400H and we rushed to go Liza Church. The main road; the Circumferential Road is actually really nice (nicely paved and all) although because of the islands’ terrain you can get dizzy akin to sea sickness mainly due to lots of hilly ascent and descent that will be encountered (I guess this is good for skateboarding and mountain biking). There seems to be a lot of investment in road construction on the province which is good for everyone and with the relatively few vehicles, we arrive in Lazi Church and the convent across the street relatively quick. Lazi is a quaint town with the church, convent and the government buildings seems to make up the Poblacion. A Wikipedia search will reveal that it is on the shortlist for UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the expanded lists of Baroque Churches in the Philippines and with its wooden floors, very Spanish Colonial days charm you can see why it is a popular tourist attraction. The convent, on the other hand is under renovation/conservation and we just took pictures from the outside.
Going a little bit to the interior, we traveled to the Cambugahay Falls. From the road side there is essentially no structures there aside from the signage of the falls, the makeshift tourist information center and (maybe because of the sign of the times) a makeshift nipa hut with soldiers in it. Leo dropped us and said we have an hour in which I monitored religiously. At the makeshift tourist center we have to pay (on our group trips, we gave a specific amount beforehand that will cover for these expenses for convenience so I can’t tell all of our costs – sorry!) for us to have a guide/s which will guide us through the approximately 150 steep steps, the slippery rocks and will take pictures at your request (TBH, their picture taking quality needs improvement). It is actually a series of falls with its turquoise blue waters which is worth all of those descent as it will cool you down with its lukewarm temperature. Sadly though (as the presence of the soldiers made me suspect), an influx of tourists are here both local and foreign (maybe there are about 75 of us tourists there) which is not ideal for your privacy especially if you consider that it is July and that there should be lesser tourists (a report said that Siquijor experiences rapid growth as a tourist destination so I shouldn’t be surprised). On one side of the falls, there is this rope swing contraption in which you will pay an additional Php20 (around $0.40 USD) for its unlimited use you can take advantage of. You will fall from the swing at the ‘uppermost falls’ to a lagoon with a depth of around 8 feet.
We ascent before our hour was up, gave the guides additional money, and Leo drives us to our next location. I asked him about the presence of soldiers and he said that the recent events in Bohol and Mindanao did make security an issue as there is lot of cancellation in the wake of those events. He personally had lost some potential income and he is thankful that there are some (like us) who will come to the island relatively unannounced. It was and is sad because with the recent tourist boom, almost everybody in the island seems to be in the tourism industry nowadays and having cancellations because of events far away is income lost.
Our second to last planned destination is the Salagdoong Beach on the Municipality of Maria (Salagdoong can be translated as bird’s nest: ‘salog’ equates to nest & ‘doong’ is said to mean bird). The beach is actually enclosed by the Salagdoong Forest; a man-made forest with molave trees that are said to be 40 years old (again, according to Leo). Upon entrance, there is an entrance fee of Php 25 per person plus Php 35 for the van.
The white sand beach is fine although it can easily become rocky as you go far from the shore. There are amenities which I suspect is mostly initially for local usage which became for outsiders. There are cliff jumping activities in the area (we arrived during low tide – so alas). There are still soldiers just watching everybody from afar but at that specific time of our trip it was nice to take a dip at the sea and to also to have facilities to rinse off after our consecutive river and sea swim adventures as there are showers available for use in the complex.
As we were traversing the fifth municipality, Enrique Villanueva, we made two detours: one is the Cang-isok House said to be the oldest house structure still standing on the island and ‘Lilibeth’s Pan Bisaya’ bakery beside the Circumferential Road made famous by being featured on ‘Biyahe ni Drew’ (recommended watching – her segment starts at 19:30. BTW, the breads are really really good and freshly baked).
By this time, it was already past 1700H and after buying breads, Leo rushed us to our last destination: Larena Triad Coffee Shop. The coffee shop is situated atop a hill overlooking Larena Municipality and the ocean. To say the least, the view is fabulous. While the weather is cloudy, you could just imagine how it is during a perfect sunset. Due to time constraints (it is coming down the wire at this point) we just take the obligatory nature shots, bought stuff from their bakery and speed down to make it to the port in time.
The trip from Larena to the port can be described as intense. Leo’s driving is now near uncomfortably fast for us to make it back to the port and we are now making impromptu plans if we didn’t make it. (Looking on Google Maps as I am typing this, it was a 9.7 KM drive and approximately 18 minutes) Thank God, we made it in time as we were the last booked ones being waited to board the last ferry back to Dumaguete. We said our thanks to Leo for his work for that day and we said we will come back.
As I am looking out from the ferry into the cloudy July horizon feeling the winds and sometimes the currents, I couldn’t help myself but think that I am going to return to Siquijor. For an island-province that is the third smallest in both population and land area, there is a lot to see and explore that it is unjustifiable to spend just a few minutes in each area. Looking at top searches for ‘Siquijor Tourist Attractions’ there are still a lot of things to explore aside from where we went and Leo’s initial first destination cave (called Cantabon Cave). While initially a side trip, it became the highlight (of course aside from the wedding) and I recommend to do it if you are going to Negros Oriental, but we (you and me) should start considering it a main tourist destination because with its beauty and mostly Spanish Colonial/small town charm it is justified to be such.