Siquijor: the mystic island

There are a number of famous islands among the 7.000 + that make up the Philippines archipelago. Boracay is popular among Western package tourists and immediately pops to mind. Palawan is known for the crystal diving, Bohol has the Chocolate Hills. Mindanao Island in the south is known as a place to avoid, as there is a strong MILF presence there. That’s the Moro Islamic Liberation Front… what were you thinking?!

With the luxury of a full month in the Philippines we managed to stray onto some of the islands that are lesser known internationally, but still fairly famous within the country. My friend Oskar, visiting from Sweden, actually had the foresight to find some worthwhile places to head towards, instead of following my normal aimless-wandering lead.

On his suggestion we ended up on Siquijor (see-kuh-whore) Island, more or less in the middle of just off the southern tips of Cebu and Negros Islands.  Siquijor is known within the Philippines as the “mystic island,” with giant baobab-like trees dotted about and plenty of stories about spirits, ghosts and black magic. We spent four days there snorkelling, celebrating St Paddy’s Tagalog style and motorbiking around, all while staying at a slightly kooky hostel. Our sightseeing was largely packed into one day, where we did a two-wheel tour around the ring road.

Me and the boys on St Patrick's day - the guesthouse owner made crowns for us.
Me and the boys on St Patrick’s day – the guesthouse owner made crowns for us.

Around the island in 80 Ks

Consistent with how most of my day-long adventures start, so began the day with motorbike rentals. At the crack of 10:30 we were off for a counter-clockwise tour of the island!

Oskar had the illustrated map in hand and the first stop was the ‘century old tree,’ (aka the ‘Old Enchanted Balete Tree’) which we were mostly curious about as a century isn’t actually all that old for a tree, but I guess the fact that it is nominally enchanted is also a draw.

After a warm-up cruise along the water, whizzing by the sari-sari shops, drying coconut, water-buffalo and fields of corn the road led slightly inland up a gradual hill. In no time we had located this old tree, which turned out to be a reasonably ancient banyan tree. Banyans are a type of fig, considered holy in many religions, and are pretty cool since they drop down branches that then take root – so the whole tree becomes a labyrinth of trunks and leaves, gaining girth and complexity over time.

The Old Enchanted Balete Tree

The tree was readily identified as a tourist spot by the small series of shops selling buko, or young coconuts, in front of it. We hopped off the bikes and were promptly met by a series of men in nice official looking shirts asking us to sign our names and pay the 5 peso (11 cents US) ‘entrance fee’.

In front of the Old Enchanted Balete Tree is an aquamarine pool filled with pedicure fish!!! So, why wasn’t THIS on the map? We quickly kicked off our shoes and let the dead-skin eating fishes go to town on us. At first it felt just plain unnatural – I don’t like creatures taking bites out of really any part of me – but after a while it was weirdly soothing. These are the same little nail salon fish that people pay top dollar to subject their feet to in spas around the world.

I still got a little nervous when the bigger fish came up, suspecting they might prefer a toe to the meagre supply of dead skin I had on offer, but they were all pretty friendly in the end.

Fish pedicure at the old tree

After a chat with a Filipino-American family that lives close to where I grew up near Seattle we decided our feet were sufficiently clean and soft and we could head on to the next stop: Lazi. Because when you’re on vacation Lazi should always be the next stop.

Let’s go to Lazi. Now.

We had a quick peak at the old Lazi monastery, left over from the Spanish era and the adjacent Lazi Convent that is now a school.  During their occupation of the Philippines, the Spanish built churches. The Americans built schools.  These legacies both live on, as almost all Philippinos today are Catholic and speak American English.

We took a left at the old buildings and headed up the hill on dirt roads to the Combugahay Falls (or the Lazi Waterfalls!).

Waterfalls Philippines Daytrip Mystic Island

We stripped down and enjoyed a freshwater dip – and suddenly I was aware of the added buoyancy salt water affords… I felt like a stone trying to float! Miloš was crazy enough to take a few hops from the top of the falls into the pool below. 

Eventually a group of about a dozen local guys drinking fresh-fermented coconut wine became a bit overbearing and it was time to hit the road again. But before that I had managed a refreshing swim and even found some nice ferns under one of the smaller falls!
Lazi waterfalls and some ferns

At the top I got a shot of the Lazi Lifeguards – who lived up to their name seeing as they were no where near the water where lifeguards might actually be useful.

Lazi waterfalls lifeguards

Back to the saltwater and sea-life

After a quick break to pick up some mangos and bananas we made our way to the final stop of the day: the beach at the Salagdoong Resort for some shell collecting and snorkelling. We paid a sort of insane entrance fee of 50 Pesos ($1.10), a rip off in a country of thousands of islands and millions of beaches, but at least we knew our bikes were being looked after.

Before we had even stripped back down to our swimsuits Miloš was the first to start spotting shells, and within minutes we had amassed a treasure trove of colourful curls and coils (as well as very red shoulders and necks).

Gastropods beach-combing bounty

In the water we took turns with the mask and snorkel and saw a few cool critters. Oskar spotted a sea snake and I thought I saw one as well, but it turned out mine was in fact a spotted snake eel – a fish rather than a reptile.

On the right is a banded sea snake, on the left is a spotted snake eel. Convergent evolution in action!
On the left is a banded sea snake, on the right is a spotted snake eel. Convergent evolution in action! Wikimedia.

We headed home and stopped off at Siquijor City for a quick dinner of siopao – steamed pork buns – made all the quicker by the mozzies trying to eat us while we ate. This turned out to be for the best, as the sun was setting and of course my bike lacked a functional front light.  Not long after sunset we made our way back to Chelle’s Guesthouse to enjoy some of the lingonberry vodka Oskar had brought from Scandinavia, chased by local rum.

**This is a belated post – I was on Siquijor in mid-March, 2015

Total cost for a day of sightseeing around Siquijor Island: 510 pesos ($11.30) per person

  • Motorbikes: 400 pesos for two bikes, about 135 pesos each ($3)
  • Petrol for motorbikes: 50 pesos each ($1.10)
  • Beach and park entrance fees: 55 pesos each ($1.20)
  • Food (bakery goods, fruit, steamed buns and pancakes): 270 pesos each ($6)

We also paid 300 pesos each ($6.60) for a four person dorm room at Chell’s Guesthouse in San Juan, bringing the total cost for the day to 810 pesos, or $18.

Where in the world is Allison?  

She’s with Oskar and Miloš on Siquijor Island in the Philippines!

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