The isle of Siquijor has beckoned to me for years before visiting it became a reality. Proof of this long wait is the EZ map I kept unfolding and folding until the creases were crumpled. I anticipated, too, the unfolding of the mystery of the island. Siquijor has the unsavory reputation of being an island of witches and black magic brewed during the Holy Week (of all times!) each year. Even Lonely Planet plays up that sordid detail. Yet, the EZ map shows that it is also a province that offers much more than the sorcerers it is (in)famous for. Surprisingly, sorcerers do not mind having churches around.
The San Isidro Labrador church and convent are worth a visit. The coral stone and hardwood church was constructed in 1857 and completed in 1884. The 42 x 38 meter convent started being built in 1887 and was finished in 1891. This is one of the biggest convents in the Philippines. Both structures were initiated under the parish priest Fray Toribio Sanchez.
The San Isidro Labrador Church is huge with hand-painted ceilings trimmed with hand-painted peach flowers. The vaulted ceiling by the main altar is deep and wide and painted with stars on a blue background to mimic the sky. There is beauty in the child-like simplicity of the painted interiors. The stylized wooden floors are unfamiliar to me for I have never seen such design in the churches I’ve visited. The convent just across the church has roughly-hewn floors smoothened by over a century of polishing. One can still see the grooves created by crude carpentry tools in the 19th century. The building is not done in the grand style of our Palacio Episcopal, yet, is a testament to the pioneering spirit of the spiritual fathers of that time. There are other churches dotting the island such as the Our Lady of Divine Providence, and the St. Francis of Assisi Church and Convent, but the San Isidro in Lazi is the most impressive.
The island has agricultural products including corn, rice and coconuts; copra is sent to buyers outside the island. There is also a limestone quarry. And despite being a Visayan island where marine life is rich, I do not see their market teeming with seafood. Nobody could even tell me what the local cuisine is exactly. Tourism may be a major industry in Siquijor but is a far cry from what we have in Negros. The souvenir shop, for example, is not well-organized and managed. The salesgirl didn’t know anything much about the articles except for their prices. She shrugged a lot when I asked questions about the provenance of each item. The only ones “Made in Siquijor” were, expectedly, tiny dolls with messy yellow yarn hair meant to present Siquijor as the place to be for happenings odd and supernatural. The rest of the items were sourced from outside. Anything representing the Philippines are welcome here – shell craft, and bamboo thingamajigs that might lure foreigners into buying.
The beaches of the island were supposedly postcard pretty. I stayed at a San Juan beach resort. It is the kind that a European will find charming with its white sand and nipa huts. My room was clean with crisp white sheets. It was very comfortable and appealing. In the resort were various amenities such as an entertainment room where one can watch television, read books from among the several at the bookshelves, play billiards, work out at the gym, swim in the small resort pool, or have one’s meals at the restaurant/bar. The restaurant offered a mixture of seafood and continental fare on the menu. The waitresses were very young and inexperienced so it took some patience to get through ordering. A sharp ear is needed or you’ll forever wonder why the pretty young thing keeps offering you “sticks” i.e., beef stick pie, stick and mushroom pie, and oh-see (Aussie) beef stick pie. Prices here are not what I’m used to in Bacolod. They were a tad too steep (P45 for instant coffee) and it would have been consoling had the flavors been fantastic. My spoiled Negrense palate craved for good ol’ Negros cuisine at Negros prices. Yet, the servings were generous and quite pleasant to the palate. Those were the saving graces to an otherwise shocking discovery that this island with the white sand beaches and swaying palm trees wasn’t the innocent idyl after all.
A few meters from the resto was where water met the sand. The beach was littered with seaweed and empty sea urchin shells. I chose the pool, of course. At the popular Salagdoong Beach, the clean gorgeous postcard scene I took in included the stony beach there. I never got to swim there at all. And where are the sorcerers? They are up in Mount Bandilaan where my tricycle couldn’t reach. Instead, I visited a manug-bulong living just a bit lower on the mountainside whose skills were passed on to her by her tatay who also learned the craft from his tatay. I was very polite to her, if you know what I mean despite the fact that I didn’t go there for anything but a visit. On the way up to her hilltop abode, the trike driver told her I wanted to buy a “lumay” which I vehemently denied. In fact, I was a bit shocked that he would think I was desperate to land the love of my life through such methods. My friend, though, asked to see the potion and she was handed a brown bottle with bark of various kinds inside. The manug-bulong said the ingredients are gathered from Holy Wednesday to Good Friday for efficacy. Price: P500. If this gets you a Brad Pitt look-alike, then, the hassle of going up there will seem like a stroll through the Capitol Lagoon Park. Would she perhaps have a magic broom for sale? It could save me money on traveling. Of course, I have no choice but to take the red eye flights.