For one reason or another, Siquijor doesn’t seem to make it on to the majority of backpackers’ Philippines itinerary.
To be fair, I’d never heard of the place either until someone recommended it. After three nights in Manila (too long) I planned to meet a friend on Bohol but found myself with a few days to spare. I figured I had nothing to lose, so jumped on the boat and headed over to the small island of Siquijor – just to the south of Bohol.
It turned out to be a great impulse decision as – despite sounding like a riddled prostitute (it’s pronounced ‘Sicky Whore’…honest) – my five days there were some of the most relaxing and enjoyable I’d had in a long time. For such a small island there really is quite a lot to keep you occupied, and when you can hire a scooter for 250 pesos (just over £3!) per day it all becomes very accessible. Here’s a quick rundown of just some of the things I got up to on Siquijor.
If waterfalls are your thing, then Siquijor is the place for you! I only went to see a couple of them, but as far as I’m aware there are many more on the island. On my first day I decided to go for a wander around San Juan – the area where I was staying – and before I knew it I was up in the hills on my way to the beautiful Lugnason Falls.
The walk was an experience in itself; I don’t think I’ve ever said “Hello” to as many people, or been asked where I’m from or what my name is as many times in my life! All the local children were running to tell their friends and family that there was an ‘Americano’ in town, and I’m fairly sure one local guy was trying to set me up with his albino daughter at one point. All very bizarre but the falls were worth it.
A few days later I’d seemingly not had enough of waterfalls so jumped on my bike and headed over to Cambugahay Falls. Just like Lugnason, this was a beautiful place to just kick back and spend an hour or two relaxing and, in my case, reading a book. For some reason, I didn’t bring my swimming shorts so couldn’t go for a dip, but the water looked absolutely crystal clear and warm – my bad!
Another gem that is tucked away in the hills (like just about everything else on Siquijor!) is the Cantabon Cave.
The cave is absolutely huge and you have to rent guides for the trip, as well as hard hats and flashlights which were an absolute godsend, as I bumped my head countless times. One of our group was well over six foot tall – I dread to think how many times he took a whack!
It was definitely a highlight of Siquijor, as we found ourselves scaling countless rocks, wading through fairly fast flowing rivers and mini waterfalls as well as avoiding the odd bat. One thing they neglected to tell us before we actually went in to the cave though, was that the water often came up to knee height (or thigh height in my case). Guess who had his phone, passport and a wad of money in his pocket? Just another excuse for even more suspicious looks when I reach the immigration counter in the future!
The Enchanted Balete Tree
Siquijor is known locally as something of a mysterious island. In fact, some natives refuse to visit the island and are even scared of it due to the old tales of witchcraft and such. The Enchanted Balete Tree – a 400 year old tree covered in vines and roots – is known as one of many enchanted attractions on the island and is quite nice to look at.
The highlight of visiting the tree though is, without doubt, the fish spa in the lake at the bottom of it. You know the type: those places you see at the Trafford Centre where people pay a tenner to dip their feet in and have loads of little fish nibble at their feet for a few minutes. Here is similar, apart from it’s outside in a pond of sorts. We sat there for a good 20 minutes until the ticklish feeling got a little too much. Just as we were leaving a guy came over and demanded 15 pesos – about 20p – for our visit there. You know what’s the best bit? We were apparently overcharged!
If you thought an enchanted tree was a little spooky, then you’re in for a real shock now. Siquijor is known as the healing paradise of the Philippines, as many locals are known to partake in natural healing practices and so called ‘witchcraft’ to help cure ailments. Seriously.
There was absolutely no way I could leave the island without at least trying to find a healer to visit about my back problems, so I set aside a full day to go riding up in the hills on the lookout for one. After a long but beautiful drive without success (they don’t signpost, unsurprisingly), I was ready to admit defeat. This was until a local guy pulled over on his bike and asked what I was looking for. After I told him, he instructed me to follow him and pulled away on his bike.
Another long winded drive up the mountains followed before he pointed me in the direction of a rundown hut on the left-hand side. I was initially very pessimistic, but I figured I’d come all this way so I had to at least go inside and see what the deal was.
To my surprise, I walked in and there was a woman sat at the table with a rash: a promising sign (you know what I mean!) I thought. Just a moment later, an old fella with bad teeth and manky hands walked out with a couple of coconut shells containing burning rocks and insence – this was the real deal!
I took a seat and the lady with the rash translated my problem to the healer. He checked my pulse on both arms, looked at my fingernails and set to work on giving me a very firm back massage. The massage lasted around half an hour, and about halfway through he pulled out an old Coca Cola bottle containing a dirty black liquid which smelt like a mix of stale alcohol, vinegar and old potatoes and proceeded to rub that all over my back. Lovely stuff. All this whilst barking orders at the woman sat in front of the burning coconuts. Why do I always end up in this situations?
In the end I paid him 200 pesos for the privilege. It was a system of ‘pay what you want’, and I didn’t want to insult the man but didn’t know what was too much so in the end I asked the lady if 200 was enough and apparently it was! His parting words of wisdom were to take a certain tablet and not to shower for a day. My back still hurts.
Since getting my open water certification in October, I’ve been itching to dive again. Siquijor was the perfect opportunity for this so I went down to Sea Pearl Divers and arranged a couple of fun dives. It turned out the owner of Sea Pearl was from Huddersfield, so we had a good chat about all things northern England – small world eh?!
Sadly, the visibility wasn’t all that good but for me this was more about refreshing my memory for future dives. By the end of it I was completely on the ball again, but all the other divers were certified dive masters on holiday so I’m sure I was probably irritating them a little with my rookie questions! I was also that guy who cut the first dive short due to breathing too heavily. Oops.
By the time I was due to leave Siquijor, I found myself deliberating staying longer. I decided against it though, as I find it’s often best to leave when you’re enjoying something as opposed to getting bored of it. As the old saying goes: you can have too much of a good thing, right?