Sunday, February 05, 2012

Solo Flight, Siquijor, Philippines

"there is no black magic in the island-province and if someone offers you these services they are fakes and should be reported to the local government." the big billboard literally screams at you from the entrance of the port of Siquijor.

you can just imagine the reaction of my friends when i told them that i was heading there, alone, first time, no contacts.

the last time i traveled alone to a completely new place was way back in 2003 for a business trip to kuala lumpur im malaysia. then again, one of my "bestest" friend is based there so it was not such a daunting experience as i had someone to meet me up during my down time.

some koreans i met that were having their photo op in the Siquijor port, yes, this is the port of Siquijor - gorgeous beach and all

the reputation of the place precedes the island-province. and if i paid any attention to the jokes of my friends, i will soon find myself a grand addition to a buffet in the middle of the mountains. witches, warlocks and all the nocturnal denizens would celebrate my arrival by having me for dinner. literally having ME for dinner.

a few uttered "tabi tabi po" acted as my instinctive ward of protection, the phrase was meant to warn unseen friends that i'm trespassing on their territory. I prayed rather often during my trip, one can never be too sure.

That aside, whether you believe in these stories, what is real is that Siquijor is a GORGEOUS place. The island province is made up of six towns and traversed by a circumferential national road that measures 75 kilometers, a drive that can be done in less than two hours.

tour guide, we ran out of gas on our way back to town. he had to run down the street to get bottled litters of gas that sari-sari stores sell on the street.

on my second day in the island, i booked a day trip to visit the places that i plotted in my itinerary. a friend gave me the contact of Nonoy, a Department of Tourism registered tour guide in Siquijor and for a total of  Php 1,800, he took take care of an 8-9 hour tour that practically went around the whole island. the local government regulates the tour operators and they can't just charge an arbitrary rate. fees change depend on the mode of transportation as you can get a habal-habal (motorcycle) or a multi-cab. If you are carrying a lot of equipment I would suggest you take the multi-cab.

when making an itinerary, make sure you know exactly what you want to accomplish as it would be impractical to visit both mountain and shoreline features of Siquijor in one day. since i don't have any intention to be part of the buffet, i decided on a coastal course for my tour.

grabbed this map from the web, it highlights most of the places i visited in siquijor

For Quick Facts about Siquijor (Getting There, Getting Around, What to Do, Places to Stay) click on this link.

Here are the places i visited in sequential order, click on the header name for more pictures of the location.

PRINCESA BULAKNA <- click on link to see more pictures
early morning scene in princesa bulakna, locals go out to pick  shells (locally referred to as sisi) that are usually attached to coral stones

the tour started in Princesa Bulakna resort in the town of Maria where i was billeted the previous day. Reminder to self: don't forget the resort orientation and the seasonal wind direction. if that sounded cryptic, here's a quick summary, resorts on the north-eastern side during Amihan (trade wind, north east direction from September-October to May-June)  will generally have rough waters and debris on their shoreline, and in the same manner, when the Habagat winds come in, the south-western side resorts should be avoided.

from Princesa Bulakna we traveled to Lazi town that is home to the first four tourist spots for the day.

ST. ISIDORE LABRADORE AND CONVENT <- click on link to see more pictures

St. Isidore Labradore Church, viewed from the convent and framed by gigantic acacia trees

St. Isidore Labradore Church and Convent are National Historical Shrines that date all the way back to 1857 when Agustinian Recollects started the construction of these magnificent structures. The convent is considered to be the biggest in Asia during its time and feature wooden floors and pegs that hold together the structure instead of the modern iron nails.

interiors of the convent, a bit run down though it still had the original flooring and wooden pegs used to hold the structure together


CAMBUGAHAY FALLS <-- click on link for more pictures

three layered cambugahay falls, the water invites you to take a dip in its cool embrace

Still in Lazi, we went to Cambugayay falls that is accessible from the main highway. a marker indicates the top of the 135 steps that leads to the landing area of the three tiered waterfalls that beckon visitors to take a dip in its gorgeously blue green pools. side note, manong nonoy totally avoided the trek down to the pool in the pretext of watching over our car. moderate fitness is required for this one.

CENTURY OLD BALETE TREE <-- click on link for more pictures

the old balete tree provides shade the spring that comes out of its roots. it is purported to be 4 centuries old.

i would have missed the last tourist stop in Lazi if not for Manong Nonoy who pointed out a spot along the road that featured a towering balete tree whose trunk is so huge that it would have taken a dozen people just to put their arms around it. Nonoy quipped that the tree is close to four hundred years old, i'm inclined to believe him.

at the foot of the tree is a natural spring where you can take a dip, and in some instances, locals wash their clothes here. they should discourage the practice too close to the source of the spring as it pollutes the otherwise pristine waters.

the spring is home to a local variety of piranhas. well, for lack of education i really don't know the name of the fish that gather around your foot and nibble at dead skin if you dangle your legs along the side of the pool. tip, if you want to "encourage" the local piranhas, throw a piece of bread or cracker in the water before putting your foot in the pool. better yet, wedge a cracker between your toes and they'll soon start nibbling on your foot as well.

don't giggle too much or laugh out too loud, the engkanto probably won't like loud mouthed tourists.

COCO GROVE RESORT <-- click on link for more pictures of Coco Grove
the restaurant, non-guests are not allowed to go to the other areas of the resort

By this time it was almost noon and I asked Nonoy to drive us to Coco Grove resort in San Juan town to get some lunch. The place is the only upscale resort in Siquijor situated in San Juan that boasts of a very long coastline of fine white sand. Cheaper resorts are available in the area with the same access to the gorgeous beach front, in some cases, you can even access the beach front from the poblacion. Coco Grove boasts of carefully manicured lawns, gardens and a pool aside from a decent enough dining outlet where non-guests can stay.

CAPILAY SPRING PARK

this is just a portion of the spring park in capilay, the whole length stretches to about 100m and one section widens to about forty meters across close to the source of the spring.

Right in the middle of the poblacion is a huge fresh water spring, the local community built a pool around the spring at about 100m in length and subsequently built a park with benches underneath trees where local groups and a number of foreigners hang out during weekends. not to worry, the pool is big enough to allow you to have a leisurely swim without having to bump into each other.

CAPILAY PUBLIC BEACH

white sand, shoreline that stretches to forever, trees that shade the reinforced banks, perfect place for a lazy sunday

the Capilay Spring flows out to a canal where laundrywomen do their trade, the canal washes out to the sea that opens up to a gorgeous stretch of white sand along the capilay public beach. surprisingly, few people are inclined to go swimming here as most of them would rather take a dip in the fresh water spring right in the middle of the park.

old picturesque trees line the "boulevard" where a quick snooze can be done with the gentle wind lulling you to sleep.

PORT OF SIQUIJOR

this makeshift stage serves as a mock up platform where bands perform during fiestas in Siquijor Town

it was a short drive from San Juan to Siquijor where we made our first stop in the Port of Siquijor where i previously landed the other day from dumaguete. white sand that stretch far and wide before the turquoise water start to get deep, the docking port on the left remind you that you are right in the middle of the "busiest" town in the province, the line of houses on the far shore are sheltered by the palm trees that frame a magnificent view of the mountains beyond. most of the residents probably don't realize that they have the best view of the island. additional opportunities for tourism can be done if the residents get together to clean up the shore of the debris that wash up and form a local homestay program for tourists. siquijor is the perfect spot as it has access to the town and the port.

ST. FRANCIS DE ASSISI CHURCH


In the middle of the town, a mere five minute walk from the port is the old church of St. Francis de Assisi and a separate bell tower that stands about fifty meters on the right side of the church set on top of a hill. old structures are done this way as a lookout for invading moros. the church is nothing spectacular but it reminds us of the far reach of the catholic church in the Philippines.

I went back when the sun went down and got nice creepy pictures of the church and the belltower. we are indeed in siquijor and a picture set won't be complete without the required "horroresque" shot.

right across the church is the balay pari of the parish priest that is set right inside the compound of the public school. priests and young kids. perfect for a horror plot?

GUIWANON MANGROVE SPRING PARK

the spring comes from the middle lower part of the picture, you can see the water move as fresh water gushes up to mix with the saltwater coming from the sea

From the poblacion, a short drive leads you to the entrance of Guiwanon Mangrove Spring Park in the last barangay heading north of Siquijor town. The local barangay developed the mangrove property by building hanging bridges set about twenty feet from the ground that goes in the mangrove area and winds itself through the area. at certain points, huts are set up named after trees and you can presumably rent one for an overnight stay although i doubt they have the niceties of proper plumbing.

the branching bridge eventually lead you to a restaurant on stilts and comfortably sits at the shoreline of mangrove trees. i can imagine a nice view of the sunset from this location, my tour guide said that on clear nights, one can see the lights in dumaguete's boulevard.

the real attraction for this location is the fresh water spring that comes out within the mangroves and mixes with the seawater. during low tide, one can see the bubbling spring coming from the roots of a mangrove tree whereas during high tide, you only see the water gurgling as fresh water mixes with salt water.

ST. VINCENT CHURCH

My tour guide mentioned that a few marine sanctuary dot the northern side of the island heading towards Enrique Villanueva. Swimming wasn't really in my itinerary so I settled for a small church in Larena town named after St. Vincent that featured an old tower similar to that of St. Francis'. This place is not really worth visiting as the church has long since been refurbished as a gawdy new structure with too much pink paint, the tower still stands a few meters off the church and is shaped like a trapezoid compared to the conical shape of the tower in St. Francis.

I would have wanted to visit Salagdoong in Maria but considering that it is in the north eastern side of the island, i didn't want to disappoint my first experience of the penultimate beach destination in siquijor at this time. perfect reason for me to come back during Habagat season.


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