Mary Oliver | A River Far Away and Long Ago
March 2, 2012
Budlaan Falls, Cebu City
Mt Kan-irag Travel Guide and Itinerary
April 3, 2012
Show all

Where Does Siquijor’s Magic Come from?

Siquijor Travel Guide

Photo by Ferdinand Guarin

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.

Salagdoong Forest Reserve, Siquijor, Philippines

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.

siquijor witches

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.

siquijor witches

Somewhere Siquijor

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. 

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

More Posts


  1. magsx2 says:

    I can see why you were drawn there from the distance, but the photos look fantastic, and those waterfalls are gorgeous with so much greenery around and in-between.
    How on earth did you manage to get your shoe back? That couldn’t of been easy, you were very lucky, the rocks sounded like they were very slippery indeed.

    Even though the price to get there may of been a bit much, I think if you hadn’t of gone you would always wonder what was on the Island. 🙂

    • It wasn’t really that much for Westerners, Mags. It cost us around $50 to round the whole island inclusive of accommodation, food, and transportation. 2 000 pesos can be a pain for a Filipino pocket. Haha!

      About my slipper? It was an interesting adventure! It got trapped by the second fall. I will write about it on a separate entry. This essay is for the newspaper!

      And, Mags, thank you for reading it! Most people find it boring to read through! Thank you!

      • magsx2 says:

        I enjoyed reading your post, I like to know about the place I am looking at in the pictures, I thought it was very well written, easy to read. 🙂

  2. I enjoyed reading…you’re a wonderful writer. I think it’s difficult for bloggers to read through all the posts of those they follow…because there’s not enough time. Your photos are beautiful also! ~Sherry~

  3. Jona such beautiful pictures! Beautiful words too. Glad you are ok after your near fall. The Falls are amazing.

  4. Fergiemoto says:

    Your photos are beautiful!…and that first photo – WOW – breathtaking! It is perfectly composed!

  5. […] Backpacking with a Book "A backpack full of everywhere else that I've been." Skip to content HomeADVERTISELINKSPUBLISHED WORKSREAD A BOOKTRAVELCONTACT ME ← Where Does Siquijor’s Magic Come from? […]

  6. […] the travel essay: Where Does Siquijor’s Magic Come From?  Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  7. […] the travel essay: Where Does Siquijor’s Magic Come From?  Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  8. […] An excerpt from the travel essay: Where Does Siquijor’s Magic Come From?  […]

  9. Love 2 Type says:

    1,500 pesos for the tricycle rent to take you around the island?? we are planning on heading there at the end of this month..

  10. Why frightening??? I’d rather say mystical and that what makes it so charming, I’m putting it in my book this year.. 🙂

  11. […] >>And, yes, Siquijor’s magic lies on the fact that is abound with natural wonders that most islands of its size don’t possess. —A line from the travel essay: Where Does Siquijor’s Magic Come From?  […]

  12. meriam angana says:

    ikaw najud jOh :))

  13. […] have written several essays for magazines and newspapers on Siquijor. My essay on Siquijor started my career as a travel writer which then later led me to travel […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *