Siquijor- the witching island

Tagibilaran port was busy and you have to queue 3 times, if like us you’ve bought tickets in advance; once to change your online confirmation into a ticket, once to pay a small port charge and once to check your luggage in (which also costs extra). Usefully at this port each is next to the other and we’d arrived when the queues were short.

We had open class tickets, the same price as economy we prefer to be outside, this turned out to be on top, we had a roof and plastic drop down sides but it was a beautifully calm day. The waters were crystal clear and there was not a ripple it was had to believe this was the ocean. Definitely the flattest calmest waters we have ever sailed.

With a journey time of less than an hour and a half we docked in the heat of midday and were grateful our accommodation had arranged a 3 wheeler pick up to take us the 20km to our digs to save us the time negotiating with someone.

Siquijor is known as an island of healers, witchcraft and magic to the extent that many Filipinos are a little too superstitious to visit. Its location close to both Bohol and Cebu made it a logical stepping stone for us and a chance to experience a small island.

With bigger sidecars than others in the Philippines it was a comfortable ride. We immediately noticed how much quieter and calmer the island is and the smiling locals. With narrower roads and cleaner air we arrived about 45 mins later to a welcome drink of fresh pineapple and were taken up to our room which was one of a few cabins in a small private garden just away from the main road.

With the sun still blazing we decided to start by having a compete repack of our rucksacks to return them to normal after having consolidated into only one on Bohol. We also took the chance to put some laundry in given nothing had dried properly in the dampness at the last place and some of our thicker colder weather clothes, like hoodies we’d used in the mountains needed washing.

Siquijor is known for its marine reserves and snorkeling spots and there was one less than 5 minutes walk away. So we packed our snorkel, waterproof camera and beach gear and headed off We took the wrong track down to the beach, it was a cow track. Literally there were cows on it. We paid our 50 pesos environmental fee at a hut and hit the water.

We were perfectly timed as the sun had disappeared behind cloud. The water was deliciously warm and very clear. We saw heaps of tropical fish in the coral reef which was not far from the shore. We found Nemo.

The next morning we had breakfast at the owner’s restaurant on the main road and tried to decide how to get around the island. Everyone here rents scooters but with Marie not confident she can ride a scooter well enough to put Emma on the back we had a debate as to whether to do that or hire a three wheeler. We asked one of the drivers and it was going to be 3 times the price for a day tour. That sealed it, even if we only did one thing on a scooter and ditched it for a 3 wheeler it wouldn’t cost anymore.

By the time we’d made up our minds all the scooters for our place were hired out so they took us to the shop across the road and the guy there rented us his motorbike. Most of the 125CC local bikes are small and semi-automatic, meaning you have gears but no clutch. All 4 gears are down (which took Marie a bit of getting used to). A tidy bike the engine barely ticked over. Marie’s helmet was basically a bit of polystyrene in a bit of plastic, the chin strap was fixed and tied with a knot. It was too big but it stayed out of her eyes. Emma’s was better, a newer BMX helmet. We had the tank filled, all 3 litres of it. Fuel was put in from recycled glass old Pepsi bottles. It costs 50 pesos a litre, almost as much as the 250 pesos bike hire for the day.

Marie crossed the road on it and picked Emma up at the bottom as we’d decided first to head inland on the quieter roads to some waterfalls rather than tackle the main road. The road wound upwards. The bike had little power but managed it fine, the road was rough in places but it had good trail bike tyres on it so we had no problem on the rough stuff at all.

There are 12 waterfalls where we headed, buried in the jungle. Each named after a sign of the zodiac. It being the wrong season (not enough rain) we only headed to the main fall. There wasn’t much water in it, but with a beautiful deep blue plunge pool at the bottom there was a rope to jump off at the side and you could also jump off the falls. Surprisingly few people were there. We didn’t want the effort of getting wet and then getting dry and having wet stuff to deal with so we watched others jump for a while.

We decided to continue to stick on the inland roads and head for the top of the highest hill on the island.

We loved riding through the small villages. We also rode through San Antonio where all the healers live. Rather than keeping getting the map out we stopped and asked locals each time there was a junction. Clearly far fewer tourists head inland. At the last one before the hill a woman at a shop warned us to be careful of the road up because dry leaves make it slippy. The jungle closed in on each side narrowing the road to a foot track width. We took it slow and when we found the walk to the viewing tower we also found a handful of tourists had made the trip via a more conventional route.

The tower was metal but was rusty, so didn’t feel fantastically solid – certainly not for the 10 people it can apparently hold and the tree tops have claimed some of the view so we didn’t hang around too long. We decided to continue across inland to one of the eastern towns where we’d pick up the main road. Again we hardly saw anyone else, the only tourist we saw were 4 people on scooters that were at the viewpoint. We crossed the main road and headed down a rougher narrower road. It followed a ridgeline with better views than the hill had offered so we took a break and sat on the hill for a while. Locals that went past waved and shouted hello.

We hit the town and easily found the church we were looking for. Helpfully it also had a toilet in the grounds you could use for a donation, because remember a pee is not free and God is always watching you. Most of the old churches in the Philippines are huge stone affairs. Not much to look at on the outside but inside often quite amazing. Some have huge murals on the ceiling. Not at all what you expect. The size of them and the number of pews shows how strong Catholicism is.

We headed back on the main road which was still quieter than any road on Bohol. We stopped to check out a cemetery and discovered there was a track to the beach opposite so had a snack break on the beach. A few boys were playing basketball on the court behind us. Basketball courts are a common sight in the Philippines, even small places will have one, a hang over from when it was US territory post the Spanish rule.

When we hit our village we continued through and then through the next town. We headed to a beach known as being a great snorkeling and sunset place. The marine reserve was set off the shore, swimable if you are a confident swimmer no one in the water was venturing that far. Emma got in for a snorkel, Marie stayed with the valuables. After we had a great chat to a British couple who had come the opposite way around the island. We got back to our digs before dusk.

With dinner options being limited in our village we’d checked out an Italian place a couple of kilometres away on the edge of the town. With technically having the bike for 24 hours we decided to risk riding in the dark to eat there.

It was pretty disorientating and tiredness was taking its toll so we wobbled there and back but the pizza on the beachfront was worth it. Given we were leaving early the next morning we returned the bike to the shop and got a couple of provisions before calling it a night.

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