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Siquijor, the cursed island of fire…

Siquijor, the cursed island of fire…

You can read this post in : French

Siquijor (pronounced Siqui Hor) is a small island located near Cebu in The Visayas. For those eager to get there from MoalBoal, it takes about 5 hours. Get on the ‘Ceres” bus to Bato, then a motorcycle- taxi to Uban where  embarking on the ferry towards Sibulan, arrived there, get on a tricycle to Dumaguete, and then on the last ferry to Siquijor, it is rather easy …
siquijor-carte-map

Siquijor is a cursed island, many Filipinos refuse to go there, fearing to be lifetime bewitched. It is the island with  Voodoo, Shamans, not to mention strange legends and rites of black magic. The Spanish called it “Isla del Fuego” (Fire Island) because millions of fireflies were the blaze, visible phenomenon, from vessels. Cursed, bewitched, really ? ?  In any case, mystic !! I conducted a little investigation, warned by my friend Laetitia, who did not fail to relate her own adventure, here,  last summer, sudden itching all over the body, near Bandilaan national park, and the meeting with Anicita, a healer with magical potions …

Sandugan, my first destination in Siquijor

From Dumaguete, the arrival is in Siquijor- town, the main destination for travelers is San Juan, south-west. I decided to isolate in  “drowning” into the wild, direction Sandugan, going  north. Time to convince touts, and no … really,  i will not go to San Juan, now !
Sandugan is truly rural, i opt for  the Islander paradise, a quiet resort …. almost too quiet …. What a joy to discover on arrival, this bungalow, guarded by its hammock right outside the door, on the beach. It’s low tide, a large extent, a bit muddy and further the sea, a little bit rough.
sandugan-resort-baungalow-beach

A good nap in the sounds of nature and it’s already sunset time, a few mangroves trees shyly dress the horizon, some fishermen return from the open sea …… i like that : nobody about !

At night, only the sea breeze and the noise of the waves  singing in the bungalow, it’s high tide, the water is in my room, a strange feeling, it’s splashing about for hours. Sleep will not come easily. Early morning, i take advantage of the low tide to go swimming for one hour, i meet again a sea snake, same specie met in Samal, but bigger. This time, i am not daring it, this animal waves in a determinated way, it knows it is lethal. Lots of hard and soft corals, and several species of clown fish, no picture, because Gopro 3 has a detector for clowns and gets in blur mode, straight away.

In the afternoon, i discover the other side of the beach, mostly planted mangroves and small surroundings of countryside up to the main road, where every inhabitant wishes me a Merry Christmas and starts  conversation. I return to the same place as yesterday for sunset, this time the colors and textures are unbelievable, the isolated mangrove seems parachuted into an alien scene.

The next night, the water is back, it twirls around the room while the wind pierces through the mosquitos’nets in the whole bungalow, all the curtains rise and fly  like in a fantasy film, brushing  my feet on the bed, all this is intoxicating and i was soon to rewind  my whole day : what does the snake do at night ? Does it hunt in the broth of life, at the foot of the bungalow ?  And what about these strange shapes and huts spotted earlier ? Footprints of the witch ? Why the children, i photographed earlier looked so serious ? The place gently bewitches me. I feel  a welfare mingled with curiosity that continues to grow… it’s decided : tomorrow i will go to SanJuan, back to civilization, and i do want to meet the healer from Mount Bandilaan.

SAN JUAN, LOOKING FOR ANICITA THE HEALER.

10 a:m  I put my bags in my shed at Casa Miranda, near San Juan, it is held by a friendly family, it’s their home, and “mine” too. They just tend to watch TV  from 7 in the morning till 11 at night, without interruption, the volume is quite high and i miss no dialog or sound effects from my room … the sea always at my feet , seems far to me this time, “magic” has evaporated. I have never driven a motorcycle or a moped, so it will be a scooter to start with. My driving licence is in France, i am in Philippines  … well … not so hard to find a rental for 300 pesos per day (5€). After a successful test, i escape on the “national road” bordering the island, everything is ok, i get lost in altitude, find myself in villages with no names, twilight soon, i am good for tomorrow … the two of us … Anicita and the famous Mountain Park Bandilaan.
10 a:m next morning, i am not far from the Park, the road to get there is through Candura, Cansayan, San Antonio and Cantabon. In San Antonio, i ask my way  to an old man (who has only one tooth) to go to Anicita’s place, the “fortune teller”. He answers to  me  : “this way” and without asking , gets on the back of the scooter, ok … this way …
She is not there, but it is her place, the board on which it is written in broken english says so ! I should come back in one hour, OK …
I’ll take the opportunity to go scratching myself in the park of Bandilaan.

gueriseusse-siquijor-ile-philippines

It is not very far, less than 5 km, there is the entrance, at last, some trees, real ! First trees  that i meet  on the island which is completely deforested.

bandilaan-parc-siquijor

Freshness wins the place quickly, the place is windy, the more i get into the forest the more the wind blows … it rains a little .

Three minutes later i find myself again in a bare place, it’s already over, i must have missed something, where is the tower to access to the view point ? ?
Looking back, this concrete place that i noticed on the way, maybe, is the entrance, a busy gardener is weeding between slabs,  he tells me that this is a public garden ….. oh yeah, yeah , but it does lack  public !!!! Metal structures allow to take a peep on the forest, but that’s it ! Yes, it is a bit of a jungle, a test for deforestation … there’s a job : a few centuries and it will be perfect !

This guy tells me that the obsevation tower is 100 meters further up the road, in fact, slabs depart from the edge of the road. I go … not far, 3mn later, here i am in front of the metal tower ( such as  a “firefighter of the moors”)  but it’s  more rotten at its foot, cement crosses are planted in honor of the last three tourists who attempted to climb … no hesitation !

Once at the top, which is not very high , the view is indescribable, see by yourself :
siquijor-bandilaan-panorama
ok this is my speciality : FOG , everywhere i go beyond 1 meter  above sea level, it’s blurred, it’s crazy, but this time  i can share my disappointment with a new friend : a tree, like me he’s got the “balls” …
tropical-tree-seeds

I have 3 bananas left, i gobble up 2, and wait for the “thaw”, one never knows, a good gust of wind and hop … either the tower is carried away or the mist goes. I hope for the second option . In the meantime, here, it’s nice. Twenty minutes later : THE miracle happens, and there, this time, it is Christmas, one day in advance.
bandilaan-siquijor

Lovely, i go back down.

Going to see if Anicita has returned and is ready for the  healing session. She is not there, yet.  I must wait for another 15 mn …..
AHH …. here she comes, big smile on her face : “nice to meet you” etc … i tell her about Laetitia and Anita’s story, the itching, their meeting …”is she has always skin problems, still itching ?” ? Hummm.. i say it’s getting better,  but i am astonished by the question, and i say : “thank God and thank you” … “oh good, she is delighted that 6 months later the mixture is still effective   Then i tell myself that i am saved ! Hummmm what else to do ??? I am not sick, the spell of the sea and the wind was raised by San Juan …. Oh yes ! I do have this injury due to a swimming fin at the back of my left ankle, it is purulent and painful and i am sick of it.

In Anicita’s hut, not a lot, just herbs in jars, lotions, herbal teas “cooking”, at the back a man lights some sticks, put them in an earth bowl and brings it to the healer.

She places it under a chair, it does not take long to smoke, “sit here please”, ok, now my ass smokes, she covers me with a sheet, she breathes on my neck, begins incantations, prayers, in a low voice, i hand my camera over to a kid, i take care to set it to  ISO 3200, because of the dark room and the risk of blur, i tell him: “push” and he takes a picture, great remote ! You can see here …
OHH …. i am in heaven as i already feel lifesaving effects.
massage-philippines-herler-woman-siquijor
She lays her hands on my forehead, hummm … Anicita tells me that i was bewitched, which is not a surprise to me …. i am feeling better, free at last. For my injury, she applies a lotion, it smells a bit like the “tiger balm”, but softer.  A summary legs and shoulders massage with some oil, and that’s it ! Rural Bangkok massage for you …. She gives me some green tea to drink and that ends the session. We give her what we want, no fixed price for this type of treatment. I leave Anicita, her two children, the guy with one tooth and two other lads. It’s noon, i do have time, i really want to go through the park again and continue on the road down to Maria, stop here and there, meet people and back on the main road to San Juan along the coastline.

YES, BUT ….

At a road junction, i ask my way for the tenth time that day, it’s there, it goes down a little, becoming stony, but i carry on. A truck passes me and i say aloud “my day is going well”  … BUT … i just finished the sentence, i am on the ground lying underneath the scooter, i slipped a few meters, quite badly grazed my skin on the gravel, i now think to myself “no, the day is not so good”… gasoline is pouring on the ground, i get up rather quickly, the scooter is pretty smashed up, so is the helmet. I must have been the only one on the island to wear a helmet today, and good for me ! My camera that i had slung around my neck took a hit too, but it works perfectly. Two young guys stopped and helped me to fix with plants stems the dislocated parts of the scooter. They took me to their family so i could wash my injuries with soap : shoulder, arm and right knee, my hands and the inside of my left tibia. They asked me to take a family picture, Filipinos are just simply amazing, i must admit that i did not feel like taking a picture, but i did it.

famille-siquijor-philippines
One drove my “sick” scooter, with his twisted and damaged handlebar, to San Juan (he’s waving the key in the photo), the other (a twenty years old father, on the left), took me as a passenger on his motorcycle   In the meantime, my skin is burning and the use of antibiotics is essential under tropical climate, the injury created by the fin is a proof. To summarize I met the healer with a tiny scratch, I returned with a collection of wounds covering wide part of my body. Damn it! Cursed Island!

IT IS CHRISTMAS

Next day, December 24th, i recall that Philippines are practicing Catholic. This is the day of the year. Miranda family gets the dinner ready in the afternoon, several types of food and drinks sweetened with milk of young coconuts. Usually the food of Philippines is poor, no real flavor, unimaginative, even if the ingredients are of good quality, for Christmas, they doing their best and the dishes are by far much yummy.

family-filipino-christmas-cooking

In the evening, about 15 people will have real fun, dancing for a few hours. Rea, ultra dynamic young woman, heads the party offering simple games based on musical such as a variant of “our musical chairs”, they burst in laughter so much so the bamboo house creaks…it’s been built by an old English gentleman, actually the landlord.

The activity stops shortly before midnight, not even waiting for the birth of baby Jesus, a bit lazy these Filipinos…. I waited on my own, and … nothing happened !
From casa Miranda, during my convalescence i have been delighted with more sunsets, Philippine skies, heaven, forgive me they are Catholic, deployed colors contantly renewed, it is rare to have the presence of so many purples and pinks in the palette of sunsets. And then, when   the hours of afterglow are over, it is not the fireflies blaze, but the sun’s embers come to burn the sea surface, the island of fire deserves this name, cursed Siquijor.

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One comment

  1. Suphawadee Rungnobhakhun

    Great article. You write with such a passion and emotion which makes this whole reportage like an adventure novel. Vivid, detailed, and very enjoyable. What a characteristic voyage blog you created. Oh, and the photographs are all superb, not to forget your description that fits so well with the story. My kudos and applause to you. Guess I will have to find more time and make myself regular follower of your blog from now on. Awesome piece of work indeed!! 🙂

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Siquijor, the cursed island of fire…

par Stéphane Bidouze time to read: 15 min
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