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THE MAGIC OF SIQUIJOR
It's fascinating how the mere mention of the island province of Siquijor could send shivers down a traveler's spine. Tales of witches and healers are the stuff of everyday among its common folk. The province even has an annual healing festival at Bandilaan Mountain View Park, the island's highest peak, with healers and herbalists casting their brand of magic to tourists and islanders alike.
Yes, there is definitely magic in Siquijor but not necessarily of the supernatural kind. There is a sense of mystery at how this speck of an island can offer a world of experiences. There is as well a sense of wonderment at how Siquijor can lull the traveler into some kind of stupor as one lazy day tumbles onto the next.
It may have something to do with the fact that Siquijor is downright laidback. While it is the third smallest province in the country, it is virtually underpopulated. The island has only six municipalities – Enrique Villanueva, Larena, Lazi, Maria, San Juan, and Siquijor – with some 95,000 or so residents over a land area of 343.5 square kilometers. By comparison, Makati City has a land area of 27.36 square kilometers with some 500,000 residents. One can only imagine how quiet things are in Siquijor.
But it is precisely such quietness that gives Siquijor its charm. In the town of Lazi, for example, there is a towering 400-year-old Balete tree whose roots, vines, and branches make a natural formation that's beautiful in its grotesqueness. A natural pool by its roots proves to be a refreshing contrast. It's been filled with schools of tiny fishes with a fondness for dead skin so that one can have a “foot spa” under a towering tree. Is it weird? Yes. Is it a misguided attempt at enhanching a tourist spot? Yes. But you've got to give it to the fishes. They do a mighty job at cleaning feet!
A quiet walk away is the 19th-century San Isidro Labrador Parish Church, known by the locals as the Lazi Church. One of the few remaining Baroque churches in the country, it needs a bit of a makeover but its grandiosity is evident. It is quite massive with its high concave ceiling and its coral stone walls. No wonder it has been declared a National Cultural Treasure. One fun fact: Its doorways are draped with fishnets to keep birds from flying in and getting trapped inside.
Across the church is Lazi Convent. It is supposedly the largest convent in the country, and by the looks of it, probably one of the oldest. Cathechism classes were held here once upon a time. These days, the state of the building leaves much to be desired specially where safety is concerned. It is quietly eerie inside, as if spirits have made a home of it.
But there is more to Siquijor than quiet. There is also peace.
San Juan is a lazy stretch of a beach with clear blue waters. A number of resorts are located here, but it never gets Boracay-crowded. If one wants more of a Castaway feel, go off to Kagusan Beach in Maria or Paliton Beach in San Juan. If one wants to explore the world under the sea, there is the marine sanctuary in Tubod for diving and another in Tulapos for snorkeling. And if one wants a bit of adventure, well, Siquijor has that, too.
A hundred steps somewhere down Siquijor Circumferential Road in Lazi is Cambugahay Falls. Three tiers of waterfalls cascade from one to the other, falling onto a river that's turquoise blue. Get refreshed with a swim at one of the pools. Sit below one of the falls for an instant back massage. Or, if one dares, swing from one ropes that tied onto a tree branch and make a big splash at the pool. The experience is downright exhilarating.
One can also do a bit of spelunking, meandering through the underground pools and the stalactites and stalagmites of Cantabon Cave. Fair warning: It can be pretty rough in there, so be prepared for anything.
While spells and potions are well and good, at the end of the day a good night's rest repairs all of those little hurts and pains. It is thus necessary to bunk down at dwellings fair and pleasant like Coco Grove Beach Resort. A veritable tropical retreat, the resort offers well-appointed huts in a garden setting. Coconut trees and fair amount of greens abound along with swimming pools and garden bars. The beachfront affords moments of solitude while the game room gives opportunities to meet fellow travelers.
One of the best things about the resort, it values a life offline. WiFi is only available at a specific spot, which is a long walk away from the rooms. A gentle reminder to guests that vacations are better spent unplugged in the magic and the mystery of Siquijor.