Wake Up, Philippines!

The other attractions of Siquijor

Posted in Tourism, Travel by Erineus on March 6, 2009

In this age of technological wonders, Internet, iPods, and what have you, when one talks of the mystical island of Siquijor located in Central Visayas and easily accessible from  major  cities in the region, the talk will invariably shift to the island’s famed mambabarangs and mangkukulams, or those who practice witchcraft and black magic.

The fact is, even before I could even set foot  for the first time on the island, I was already warned  about strangers suddenly tapping me at the back for a greeting or about the danger of accepting drinking water from a glass, The advice was when someone taps me, I should return the tap immediately so a cast spell does not have any effect. For the water, that I should stick to drinking from sealed mineral water containers.

Another person warned me about going into the interior of the island and if ever I do, there are certain days and times of  the day that it is better to stay indoors because of lurking evil spirit.

Another interesting  story I gathered was about the mambabarang, Aling Busya, who was supposed to have treated Imelda Marcos way back when fish-like scales  started growing on her legs, supposedly, when the San Juanico Bridge was built  connecting Leyte and Samar. There were water spirits who were angered and vented their ire on Imelda.

The same Aling Busya was killed, again allegedly by her own relatives about five years  ago when  she started going out of control and cast spells on anyone who crossed her path, even if they were her own relatives. One person I talked to actually had the chance to meet her a long time ago and admitted getting scared by her stories.

Then there are those who also use their powers for good as Siquijor is also known for its bulo-bulo healing method where the healers use a small pipe-like  stem to blow on the afflicted part of a person seeking treatment and lo and behold, all sorts of objects appear as if by magic and the person is healed.

I was able to talk to somebody who actually underwent this treatment. And to his surprise, what came out were river sand and pebbles. And when he was asked if he had been near a river recently, he remembered that indeed, he went to the riverside. He also saw with his own eyes another person getting healed and a stone bigger than a golf ball  came out of nowhere.

These healers gather during Black Saturday in secluded caves in the hinterlands in San Antonio. And after collecting medicinal herbs and roots, they do rituals called tang-alap that are supposed to make them powerful healing materials. Healers not just come from Siquijor but from all over the Visayas and even Mindanao.

Of course, there are also local folks who do not believe anymore in the mambabarangs, particularly in the coastal towns. It seems the new generation of people do not want to accept anymore powers that  used to be transferred from  one generation to the other.

Mayor Gold Calibo from Siquijor’s commercial capital of Larena is one of those who personally does not believe in witchcraft. Instead, he points out to the numerous natural attractions of the island for visitors to visit. The island does get its share of local and foreign tourists.

For one, the place has no insurgency problem. It has one of the lowest if not the lowest crime rate in the Philippines and jails are seldom occupied. There are no squatters and local people go out of their way to make visitors welcome.

‘‘Actually, that is what we want to focus on. We cannot avoid all those tales of mambabarangs and mangkukulams. But Siquijor boasts of  natural attractions like white sand beaches with beautiful rock formations and very clear water. We have caves and waterfalls, and historical places, particularly churches. And during the month of May, we get a lot of visitors who celebrate with us our fiestas,” said Mayor Calibo.

And he helped me get around the whole island literally, using the circumferential coastal highway and stopping by to take shots of some attractions he was talking of except for waterfalls and caves where one has to go to the interior to enjoy them, and maybe meet also the mambabarangs.

I visited the century-old San Isidro Labrador Convent, a historical landmark and believed to be one of the oldest and biggest convents in the country. It is located in Lazi fronting another historical place, the San Isidro Labrador church constructed in 1884 and up to the present still maintains the same old  wooden flooring. One can also see towering acacia trees near the convent, attractions by themselves.

There are other old churches and an old bell tower in the province but then what I wanted to see were the island’s famed beaches. And I was not disappointed at all—the guide from the provincial tourism office brought me to a secluded public beach in Kasuguan in Maria.

From the highway, we turned into a side road flanked by tall trees and ended up seemingly on a dead-end spot. But there was a small hidden cemented stairway that brings one down to the white sand beach, a favorite week-end swimming spot for locals and visitors even if there were no facilities except for a few picnic tables.

But the next place we went to was even better, Salagdoong Beach, still in the town of Maria. Here, there were  overnight lodging places, cottages and the provincial government-run Agripino Hotel, the only hotel in the province and which rooms offer a beautiful view of the surrounding area as it is located on high ground but still accessible to the beach.

Some smaller rock formations even offer shade for swimmers while a big one was converted into a viewing deck. There were several cottages and a restaurant in the area and the place, when we visited, had a lot of people frolicking on the water.

According to our guide, all their beaches are white-sand beaches and practically most of the major coastal towns have their own resorts, some owned by foreigners who have settled down for good on the island.

What we missed because of the shortness of time was the island’s waterfalls like the Cambugahay Waterfalls in interior Lazi, going through either a forest or taking a river boat to reach the place, the caves of Cantabon where one treks inside the cave for over an hour to reach the other end while dodging stalactites and stalagmites inside this live cave. Adjacent area also has the Talawog and Boljo caves and while in the area, one can also go to the Bandilaan Nature Park located at the center of the island.

One can go all the way to the highest area of the park, 557 feet above sea level and get a view of the entire island and the waters surrounding Siquijor. The park also features natural springs, a butterfly sanctuary, a shrine, and an outdoor way of the Cross.

For divers, Siquijor also offers  several marine sanctuary teeming with underwater sea life and live corals. The Tulapos Marine park is the biggest among these marine shelter and protected areas.

You see, Siquijor indeed casts its own brand of enchanting spells with its beautiful beaches, waterfalls, nature parks, caves, and marine parks, and who can refuse the island’s allure after experiencing these places.

This summer, consider Siquijor among the local destinations one can visit and enjoy. I did and I have not even taken a dip in their beaches.

By Lito Cinco

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