You must have googled about Siquijor witches. Hence, you are here. This one, though, is an essay on my first trip to Siquijor. This was the first essay that led me to travel writing. And I hope you enjoy reading this narrative.
While sitting under the thick foliage of Acacia trees lining Dumaguete’s boulevard, we spied a blur of an island riding the edges of the sea. “Siquijor,” a friend said. The way the tongue curls for “jor” elicits an immediate longing to walk its beaches and start a conversation with a fisherman about the lights that can be seen across the strait.
Whereas Dumaguete’s night was images of lights and young love, Siquijor is of witchcraft and isolation. Yet, its appearance from afar is a big deception. Perhaps to mislead its visitors. Or perhaps to draw them more.
I was drawn.
Its inhospitable look from a distance was gone the moment the ship docked. Tricycle drivers with their expectant eyes impatiently waited for visitors like us. They dropped prices and places like shrewd businessmen.
“Pakyaw, Ma’am! One-five ra!” they chorused. I found out later, aside from the hefty price, they were affiliated with resorts and got a little commission if they succeeded in convincing the guests to stay with them. The amount for the entire day tour however was a little too much. Siquijor, on the map, looks like a bulinaw surrounded by several lapu-lapus and a shark. “It is,” according to its government website, “bounded on the northwest by the islands of Cebu, Bohol on the northeast, Camiguin Island on the east, mainland Mindanao on the south and on Negros Island on the west.” It is the third smallest province in the Philippines, trailing only Camiguin and Batanes.
Perhaps Siquijor’s magic lies in the fact that is abound of natural wonders that most islands of its size do not possess.
Its three-tiered Cambuhagay Falls is a cascading wonder. Pie, my travel buddy, had visited Siquijor before. And perhaps for her it was not as fascinating as at first. The prime reason I visited Siquijor was Cambuhagay Falls. I’m always drawn to the endless roaring of the running water.
“Wala pa ni sa una, yot,” Pie informed, referring to the concrete steps leading to the falls.
Capilay Spring, Siquijor, Siquijor
She rested under the coconut tree noshing on bread while I wasted no time and dipped into the basin of the first fall. A group of five arrived. A dog unhesitatingly crossed the shallow part of the river. I trod the shallow part between the first and the second fall. The other side was grassy. Bamboo trees stood tall by the river.
The riverbed is most slippery when the water is shallow. When I tried crossing the water between the third and the second fall, I slipped and almost lost balance. My slipper got carried away. My heart somersaulted. I found the courage to rescue my slipper, otherwise I would go back to Cebu with one barefoot.
Shaken by my little misadventure, I joined Pie and listened to the river’s contented falling.
Cambuhagay Falls, Lazi, Siquijor
A river disquiets me like a teenage love; a beach calms me like years-worn love.
For example, the beach in Salagdoong soothed my Cambuhagay-shaken limbs. Since we usually travel on a weekday, a relaxing Salagdoong awaited us. I only spotted a family having lunch.
At the center of the resort is a sizable rock, which serves as a good diving board. I jumped off from the cliff. I surrendered to gravity―falling into the water is one of the few falls I do not regret.
Fifty meters or so from where we lazed, a manhandled crane devoured the mountainside, while a bulldozer flattened its gut. And on the right is a cove. A woman and a young boy walked hand-in-hand on the white-sand shore and stopped midway. Curious, I approached them. A dying puffer fish floated ashore. I scooped it with a coconut husk. With the mom’s urgings, curiosity got the better of the boy. He poked the puffer fish and giggled like he experienced paradise. And perhaps he did.
Salagdoong Beach, Salagdoong, Siquijor
On our way to Salagdoong beach, the trees canopy the road. With the running tricycle accompanying the silence of the trees, I couldn’t help but ask Manong to pull over.
“Gitanom gyod nig tuyo, Ma’am,” informed Manong. The branches of molave trees are like snakes’ bodies curling up. The tree tunnel is part of Salagdoong Forest Reserve, a reforestation project of the local government. Just like the balete tree, the tree tunnel becomes an attraction, even a mystery. I can’t help but compare Lazi’s balete and Salagdoong’s molave. The balete, with its daunting height and woolly aerial roots, emits fright. The molave trees, with their curly trunks and lanceolate leaves, offer silence and peace. Perhaps these two trees are apt metaphors for Siquijor. Molave because it offers serenity. Balete because it is feared by some. And that is the character of this island of fire.
Or perhaps, Siquijor indeed houses enigmatic stories and characters, earning its “island of sorcery and black magic” title. Like St. Rita in Sta. Maria Church, her eyes terrify onlookers. Hers are far from the solemn eyes most saints have. They are bulging and surrounded by dark circles. “She holds a skull that, according to legend, belonged to a woman’s husband whom she killed for reasons nobody on the island seems to know. She also holds an inverted cross,” recounted Giallo Antico―a writer who is drawn to mysticism.
For a small island, Siquijor surprisingly has four old churches: St. Francis of Assisi Church and Bell Tower by Siquijor port, San Juan Church, Sta. Maria Church, and St. Isidore Lazi Church and Convent, which look dilapidated.
St. Isidore Convent, Lazi, Siquijor
“Ayaw mog tuo anang mga istorya, day, ha,” shared the man who rip-rapped the shore behind the resort where we were staying. Some traveled to Siquijor, he says, in search for habak―a kind of talisman. Some visited to find a cure for a life-threatening illness, which they believed was caused by a satanic magic. He said there are only a few witch doctors, and they live somewhere in the thick woods. They become a myth even to the locals. (When you google Siquijor, Siquijor witches is one of the leading keywords.)
“Sa akong nadunggan. Gihimo naman na nilang negosyo, day. Naay magpabarang. Nya ang gibarang adto ra sad nila magpatambal.” I didn’t know witch doctors, just like the tricycle drivers, are shrewd businessmen too.
“Mingaw ning Siquijor, day,” he added, taking a break from his job. Mingaw can either mean peaceful or longing for something or someone. And perhaps for Siquijoranons, it is more of the latter. To have Dumaguete for a neighbor, whose lights dance on the water at night, it is hard not to entertain the thoughts of living across their island, of living in a light-filled place.
That late afternoon, fishermen arrived with their nets, outriggers, and mostly likely, exhaustion. Kids welcomed them. Their silhouettes danced in the sunset. Perhaps, I am wrong. Perhaps they never pine for Dumaguete’s lights since their own sun outshines them.
That night, we slept with the key left in the keyhole in the comfort of night.