To many Filipinos, the name Siquijor conjures up images of witchcraft and bizarre rituals. This tiny island composed of six towns has been unfairly labelled for centuries, but for those who have discovered its hidden beauty and treasures, they make Siquijor as their second home.
For the nth time, my visit to Siquijor last Holy Week (the best time to explore the island) was truly enchanted where magical delights beckon around every corner.
Our group â€” Butch Bernas and Guilly Quibir-Licayan (of Tagbilaran City Science High School), Arjame Deniega (of Sevilla National High School), fashion mogul Maximiel Tallo, radio personality Edward Guyano, Clarence Pesquira and Michael Lawrence Castillon â€” was the latest batch to be invited by Fiel Angeli Araoarao-Gabin and her hubby Engr. Jerome John Gabin who, we soon found out, was an Apostoles at14 and heâ€™s serving as Saint Peter for 17 years. We were together in the boat with Amy Arayan (of the Bohol Chronicle) and balikbayan Alot Bagotchay who had their own itinerary. We stayed at the house of Mrs. Laura â€œMommy Louâ€ Jumawan-Gabin (former Department of Education Supervisor), together with daughters Lanih Lei Flores and Monette May Burgon and their families.
This much the group saw and did:
On Maundy Thursday, we went to visit the St. Francis de Assisi Church, Capilay Spring (San Juan), the 400-year-old balite tree for fish spa in Lazi (where we chanced to interview actor-singer and Siquijor Vice-Governor Dingdong Avanzado with his wife Jessa Zaragosa), St. Isidore Church and Convent (Lazi) and Mt. Bandilaan for the Healing Festival. We were able to witness the traditional washing of the feet of the Apostles. The parishioners brought food to be blessed by the priest and shared with the Apostles. According to Mommy Lou, the locals keep the bones of the fish, chicken, pig or cow and hide it atop the â€œabuhanâ€ in the kitchen with the belief that one will never run out of food for guests in any gathering in oneâ€™s house.
On Good Friday, before 12 noon, we dipped ourselves in the sea, as we were told that we will be spared from evil spirit if we did that. Others roamed around the ancient cemetery to collect â€œthingsâ€ for the ritual.
The next day, Black Saturday, we went to the house of the late Juan Ponce in San Antonio, Siquijor to let Arjame, Maam Guilly, Maximiel and Lawrence see for themselves the ritual of mixing exotic herbs and rather â€œunusualâ€ ingredients to come up with a potent â€œsumpaâ€ (antidote) for illnesses and hex.
Of course, we didnâ€™t leave Siquijor without visiting the Lugnason Falls and namiesta in barangay Tambisan in San Juan! Itâ€™s very Boholano that after we ate the tagbalay gave us a bringhouse! Burp! Burp!
We missed the visit to the famous centuries-old Cang-Isok House, which is made of native material like nipa. Maybe next time.
Here are the â€œmust-seeâ€™sâ€ and the â€œmust-doâ€™sâ€ in Siquijor:
â€¢Visita Iglesia. Siquijor is also the home of centuries-old churches. The starting point for the tour is the St. Francis de Assisi Church in Siquijor, Siquijor. It is only a walking distance from the Siquijor port. Few meters from the church, in the middle of a plaza, stands the bell tower that has served as a watch tower for the sea raiders during the Spanish colonial period. In the town of Lazi, you can visit the San Isidro Labrador Church, one of the most outstanding cultural heritage churches in the Philippines, and the San Isidro Labrador Convent which is said to the one of the biggest and oldest convents in the Philippines. In the town of Maria, the Sta. Maria Church houses the statue of Santa Rita de Cascia, an Italian saint touted as the miraculous Black Maria that is dressed in black garb and carrying a human skull on one hand and a cross on the other with staring eyes!
â€¢Giant Balete Tree and Fish spa- The 400 year-old Balete tree is believed to be enchanted because of its eerily hanging roots and vines. Folks believe that it is home to mythical and scary creatures like agta and engkanto. But the balete has real dwellers- the doctor fish or garra rufa! It is a new and fun alternative health and beauty treatment in Siquijor to safely and gently exfoliate the feet. The fishes clean pores, remove dead skin cells and also serve as a micro massage of the feet and legs, improving blood circulation. The experience is slightly ticklish at first, but skin instantly becomes softer and smoother.
â€¢Cambugahay Falls- Swing like Tarzan from here! Cambugahay Falls in Lazi is one of the attractions in Siquijor. It has a multi-tiered waterfalls with clear turquoise waters. Look for the swing rope hanging on the tree and do a Tarzan jump. Swimming lagoons are formed downstream where tourists can get a refreshing dip in the cool water.
â€¢Capilay Spring Park. This is a natural spring-fed swimming pool located in the town of San Juan. Visitors can have a picnic, dine and swim here. Donâ€™t forget Tatingâ€™s creamier ice cream! It can bring delight during hot and humid days!
â€¢Mt. Bandilaan National Park. Going up a mountain can be exhausting but not in Siquijorâ€™s highest peak. The Mt. Bandilaan Nature Park has natural springs, hiking trails, caves, and even a butterfly sanctuary. The more spiritual might be moved to reflecting by the Stations of the Cross. Visitors can climb a tower to get a panoramic view of the island and Bohol.
â€¢Beaches â€“ Siquijor has a postcard-perfect scoop of pristine white-sand beaches. Salagdoong Beach in Maria town is famous for its climb jump and rock formations. The town of San Juan has the best resorts in Siquijor. The undeveloped Paliton Beach in San Juan has sugar-fine, white sand that could very well match Panglaoâ€™s white-sand. You can enjoy Paliton beach without the noise of overdevelopment and the nightlife. It’s a place where you can relax and enjoy the beach…and to catch beautiful sunsets!
â€¢Oging- They are not foreigners but many of them can be found in Siquijor. People who have very white hair to the point of being snow-white, flour-like freckled white skin and very white eyes are called â€œOgingâ€ in native Siquijor. Since, the island is associated with magick and mysticism, most of the people believe that â€œogingsâ€ are children of engkantos. In medicine, â€œOgingsâ€ are known as albino, people who lack color pigmentation in their bodies. Albinism as a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to the absence or defect of an enzyme involved in the production of melanin.
â€¢See a mananambal- In spite of the long presence of Christianity, Siquijor is noted for herbal medicine, witchcraft, magick and superstition, with San Antonio as the center of shamanism. There are many mananambals in San Antonio, most prominent is the Ponce family. The province of Siquijor has gathered the mananambals who practice several styles of healing for tourism through a Healing Festival during Holy Week. For seven Fridays, the herbalists and sorcerers roam the forests, seas, caves and cemeteries to gather medicinal herbs and roots to make amulets, charms, love potions and other concoctions. They cook their concoctions on Black Saturday. If youâ€™re still craving a taste of Siquijorâ€™s mystical side, ask a local to point you to a faith healer or sorcerer. The famous Bolo-Bolo folk healing method is a must try.
How to get there:
Sea- Travel to Siquijor by fastcraft from Cebu (five hours) or Dumaguete (45 minutes) and Lite Shipping from Tagbilaran to Larena, Siquijor (three hours) every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7 p.m.
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