Photos and Fun Trips -
Paul and Cherry's Trip to Siquijor (9/26/01-10/1/01)

Siquijor is the smallest province in the Philippines, consisting of only one island about 75 km. in circumference with an area of 343 square kilometers. It is located about six hours south of Cebu, south-southeast of Negros, southwest of Bohol, and just north of Mindanao. The Spanish used to call it Isla del Fuego, the Island of Fire, because of the thousands of fireflies that can be seen there at night. Legend has it that, following a large fire, thunder and lightning, the island emerged from under the sea. Although the island itself is not the site of a volcano, fossils of clams and other sea creatures can be found on the ridges of Siquijor's mountains. To many Filipinos Siquijor is the place of arbularyu (faith healers) and abat-mananambal (witch doctors). It's the island of spirits and witchcraft, where one can be cured through massage (maghihilut) and traditional medicines (tambalan), or where a curse can be placed on someone else.

The original inhabitants of Siquijor are fishermen and farmers from Cebu and Bohol. The island is protected from typhoons by the surrounding larger land masses, and the fishing is good. The mountainous regions of Siquijor have fertile soil and provide for many different varieties of crops. The population density of the island is also 30% less than the rest of the Visayas, due to the large outward migration to the cities. The standard of living, while relatively simple, is actually better than in many parts of Cebu.

Tourism has not yet become a major industry, despite the fact that the towns of Larena and San Juan have excellent white sand beaches and good diving. There are also old buildings from the Spanish era, plus waterfalls and caves in the central mountain regions. Many Filipinos are reluctant to go to Siquijor, saying that it is a dangerous place - a sign that the tales of supernatural powers are still believed in. To me, Siquijor has always seemed like it would be a fascinating place to visit, but obviously better accomplished with someone who knows their way around...
The church in Lazi, built in 1857
Cherry's mother, Paping, is from Timbaon San Juan, Siquijor. Each year she goes back to the island to attend the fiesta on September 28-29 and visit the other members of her family who still live there. This year Cherry invited me to join her on a trip to see Siquijor, meet all the relatives on her mother's side of the family, and attend the fiesta. Cherry herself has only been there twice before in her life, so it was something of an adventure for both of us.

Paping and her eldest son, Avelino, had gone on ahead of us to help with fiesta preparations. On Wednesday, September 26, Cherry, Zenaida (one of Cherry's sisters) and I boarded a ship for the nine hour journey (via Tagbilaran, Bohol) to the port of Larena. For the next five days we explored the towns, mountains and beaches of Siquijor, attended the fiesta, and got aquainted (or reacquainted, in Cherry's case) with many relatives and wonderful people.

We spent some time traveling around the entire island. There are only six main towns on Siquijor, but each has its own unique character and charms. There's the bustling port of Larena, the largest town and former capital; Siquijor, the provincial capital with its markets and well-kept houses; San Juan, where the town park has its own public swimming pool; Lazi, with buildings from the Spanish era and the oldest convent in the Philippines; Maria, a picturesque town with spectacular views of both the mountains and the ocean; and Enrique Villanueva, another quiet and peaceful town, where what seems like millions of fireflies can be seen in the molave trees at night.

If you travel into the central mountains near San Antonio you can also explore the caves and witness the making of many traditional herbal medicines. For a relatively small island, Siquijor is also rich in its variety of plant and animal life. The people I met were all exceedingly gracious and friendly, eager to share their simple lives with us. I hope that these pictures capture a little of the magic of the island and the people.
A large part of our trip naturally involved Cherry's many relatives and all the traditional fiesta activities. I met her grandmother and grandfather, aunts and uncles,
and seemingly countless first and second degree cousins. Each house was eager to see Cherry and her brother and sister, and to meet me. Everyone was curious about what was happening in Cebu and what the rest of Cherry's family were doing. There were also many questions for me, regarding my stay in the Philippines and my impressions of the people and their culture. I really felt honored to be greeted as a close family friend, rather than as a foreign tourist. Of course all the gracious hospitality meant that Cherry and I had numerous meals, snacks and drinks, and were not allowed to pass by a home without at least dropping in for a few minutes to chat. Nearly every day would start for me with sunrise games with all the local children and not end until late in the evening when the food and drinks finally ran out or people just began to fall asleep.
Our companions during the tour of the island
Cherry and Paping in San Juan
The fiesta activities also consumed a large part of our time. In addition to the feasting at each house, there were many actvities at the town plaza: Basketball games, the Bingo Social (Grand Prize - 3,000 pesos!), the Sing-a-Gong Contest (a combination of karaoke and the Gong Show), plus of course the nightly disco. We attended as many of these activities as we could, usually in a group of at least a dozen relatives.

After several days of activity, those of us from the big city (Cebu) needed a day off to just relax. There are a few small resorts in Siquijor, most of which are inexpensive, simple and pleasant. We all went to Coco Grove (near San Juan) for a day of relaxing and swimming in the ocean. It was a good way to recharge our batteries and prepare for the long voyage back to Cebu.

We came back home on October 1, with pictures and stories to share with all our other friends in Buyong, and plenty of fond memories of the people and places we had seen. I have to thank Cherry and all her family for showing me such a splendid time. I'm already looking forward to my next trip back...
Two of Cherry's relatives
Preparing for the fiesta
Washing and bathing is done at the local well
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