Text by Grace Sumalpong Images by Grace Sumalpong & Kathlyn Torres
My family traces our roots to the little island of Siquijor in Central Visayas in the Philippines. It’s often called the Island of Fire or Isla del Fuego. During the Spanish times, it is said that during moonless nights, the island looked like it was on fire due to the fireflies dotting the trees that were visible across the sea in Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental. It’s also called mystic island, or the island of magic and witchcraft for its sigbins (mythical beast), mambabarangs (sorcerers) and mananambals (healers). But for us locals, it’s our little-known secret island, a place of refuge and respite from the noise and bustle of city life. My family’s place is in Campalanas, Lazi, where you can find the 400 old balete tree. A visit to the island can be done in a day or 2. Some visitors keep coming back. Others come back and decide to stay for good. To have a lay of the land, it is best to take a tour around the island first. At 70 kms of good coastal roads, one gets to see all 6 towns - Siquijor, Larena, Enrique Villanueva, Maria, Lazi and San Juan, like a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ tour. It is a tradition among locals to go around the island (we call this “mo round”) especially if we have not been home for some time and drop in at any of our favorite churches. There’s something for everyone to do - visit old churches and convent, go to the beach or waterfalls, go up the hills and mountain, go down a cave, see the old balete tree, visit a mananambal, check out some unique places, and of course, try some local delicacies. My hometown Lazi prides itself in the old Catholic church of San Isidro Labrador, declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines. Just across it is the Lazi convent, said to be one of the oldest and biggest in the Philippines. The convent now houses a museum of interesting religious artifacts and statues. Other churches worth a visit can be found in the capital town of Siquijor (St. Francis of Assisi) and Maria (Santa Maria). For beach persons, there are a lot of places to go to swim, snorkel, or dive, or to simply walk on the beach or watch the sunset. In one of my recent visits, I discovered the little known Paliton Beach, in Paliton, Siquijor. You can laze around and lie down on its fine white sandy beach to soothe yourself after taking a dip in its cool waters. Several white sand beaches can be found San Juan town where most resorts are located. It is likewise the best place in the island to watch the sunset. And to cool yourself, you may check out Capilay Spring Water Park right in the center of San Juan or go up to Campalanas in Lazi to see the old balete tree where you can dip your feet in its cool spring waters. Back in the day, we used to wash our clothes here and swim while waiting for the clothes to dry and bring home spring water to drink. There are 3 waterfalls in the island. One of these is Cambugahay Falls, about 2km from the center of Lazi and 135 steps down to reach one of the 3-tiered falls. Here, one can swim across or take a raft to get under the falls or go rope diving. Make sure you still have the energy to go back up as it can be an arduous climb. For the more adventurous types, there are caves to explore like Cantabon cave in Siquijor town. Be mesmerized by its stalactite and stalagmite formations. I suggest you go in with a local guide who knows the nooks and crannies inside the cave and bring you safely down to the underground pool. If you happen to be in the island during Holy Week (this year, it will be April 14-17), you can visit a mananambal and watch him make his potion of roots, leaves, twigs that he gathers from the mountains and mixes with coconut oil. There are love potions (lumay) or lana (oil) to drive away evil spirits. A form of healing called bolobolo is popular with the locals. The mananambal uses a bamboo tube and swirls water with his magic stone until something pops up in the glass. In my case, when I complained of itchiness in my legs, grass suddenly came out. He repeated the process several times until the glass became clear. My uncle had poor eyesight and out came shredded newspaper. And for my aunt, there were orchid leaves and roots. Other interesting places to drop in are Kanheron Ranch in Olo, Siquijor. Here you can find a wide array of old west articles and unique artworks of the owner. There’s a butterfly sanctuary, Olang Arts Park in Olang, Maria town and for Friday nights, the place to be is Czar’s Place in Maite, San Juan. My favorite delicacies are bibingka (ricecake) and fresh salawaki (sea urchin) in San Juan. You will have to go early as they run out pretty quick. Before leaving the island, drive to Elena’s bakery along the coast of Talingting for some pasalubong of local bread, giant otap, and torta. And if you plan on going back, it just shows that the lumay got you hooked! So come to my island and be hooked and bewitched by its natural beauty and allure.