View part 2 of the Siquijor series here.
Many, many summers ago, my friends and I found ourselves in a beautiful, laidback island called Siquijor. It is the third smallest province in the Philippines and straddles in the Visayas with Cebu, Negros and Bohol as close neighbors.
It is due to this unique location that people on ferries plying the Mindanao – Visayas routes, would know that they already passed by Siquijor because their vessels are rocked by the rough seas. The Spaniards of long ago however, remembered it for the fiery yet eerie glow of fireflies nesting at Molave trees at night. Thus, they named the island as Isla del Fuego or island of fire.
But the Siquijor that captured my imagination had to do with the mysterious, the enchanting and the magical. I could never forget one Halloween special aired by Magandang Gabi Bayan, a now defunct local TV show, where they showed two paper figures that stood up and then danced. Their movements were seemingly controlled by the stick being tapped by an unidentified man. It was also shown that every Good Friday, shamans, faith healers and the like, all converge at Siquijor to recharge their energies or to make potent spells or to concoct medicines for various illnesses. They believe that during the death of Jesus, there are spirits that freely roam the earth and are able to share some powers as a result.
All these have brought many unnecessary sleepless nights when I was growing up. But surprisingly enough, when that opportunity to visit Siquijor opened up, I grabbed the chance without heeding my small childhood nightmares and the stern warnings from people who have also watched that same TV episode.
So one Friday in 2008, my friends and I traveled to Siquijor. After we reached the port of Larena, we hailed a trike that took us to the municipality of San Juan. We spent an evening here and one where we particularly tried scaring each other just to have that paranormal experience we could share to our friends on our return.
Thankfully, there was nothing other-worldly that happened on our first day. Maybe because we were too engrossed with all the jumpshots that we practiced that afternoon. The long stretch of beaches at San Juan served then as the perfect background to all our attempts at freezing in midair. I recall that there was only one resort that was operating back then. I don’t know though if that still holds true now considering that tourism has already taken off in Siquijor.
Nearby is the Capilay Spring Park which has clean, deep pools. Although the clear waters were very tempting, we did no swimming that time. Some in the group took a nap by the picnic benches instead. While the rest of us climbed the flight of stairs that led to the San Agustin Church (or the Macapilay Church). The church is visibly modern but its century-old belfry is still standing to this day.
We returned to the beach shortly to prepare our dinner. The sun was then slowly setting behind the mountains of Negros Oriental, casting a soft amber glow over the still waters of San Juan. A fisherman was paddling his small boat which beautifully interrupted the glorious frame before us. I said to myself that this was the closest to a magical experience that I had at Siquijor, which was more than enough to shatter my unfortunate misconceptions about this place.
I imagine though that there were probably a lot of spirits lurking over us as we took our dinner that night – by the beach, over a small bonfire and under a full moon. But they might be too busy to notice our evening swim, silly games and boisterous laughter that ensued afterwards. None of us cared too. By the time we dozed off, that MGB episode was already a distant memory.
I do wished that I met the fabled puppeteer or talked with those that dabble in the dark arts or photographed something spooky. I am not saying that they do not exist. We just did not see any of these when we visited Siquijor.
But this I can say with absolute certainty: the Siquijor that I experienced that weekend was different from the Siquijor that I thought I already knew. And looking back now, I am very, very glad indeed that to have made this trip.