Long time ago, Spanish conquistadors went to this little island and explored the mountains cutting through its thick forest. They would often see tiny lights coming out from the trees illuminating the evening sky during nightfall, when they lay to rest. Fireflies were everywhere during that time and it was a wonderful sight to see. From that moment on, the island was dubbed as “isla de fuego” or island of fire. The island gained notoriety over the years through folk tales and legends. Many believe that mystics who perform mambabarang(witchcraft) reside in the hinterland of Siquijor. But contrary to popular belief, suiquihodnons are very much in touch with their religion and the witches believed to be engaging to arts of black magic are loosely based on faith healers with unconventional rituals. For the next two days, I and Ice will be cycle touring around the mystical island and rediscovering its beauty, treasure and magic armed with a camera, an appetite and the spirit of adventure.
Dumaguete and Siquijor is only an hour away via Delta fast craft and they have daily trips going to and fro. I reckon, one should follow a golden rule–never eat before boarding a small fast craft. Heed my warning, as the rough seas can be very tough on land lovers. Obviously, I am neither a mariner nor do I easily get seasick during a boat trip. This time I am making an exception. Rough seas are a normal sight during the months of January and unfortunately for me, I experienced the worst voyage thus far. Needless to say, after an hour from the port of Dumaguete to Siquijor, I was left enervated while onboard the fast craft. It was like a bad case of vertigo, my vision spun around like spinning top. We were seated at the back of the vessel and diesel fumes is putting me to the edge. Nauseated, I stared only at one fixed point and tried to focus. Wave after wave my gut crunched and I started to salivate for no reason. The crew started going around and gave out plastic bags. I suppose they knew somebody would give in and make a mess all over the floor. So i grabbed two and just like my mind was playing on me, as soon as i held the bag, i gave in. I was sweating bullets, wishing it would all be over soon. Then finally, i hear siren and creaks. I gape outside the window and mooring rope were thrown out from the jetty. I waited for everybody to alight and mustered all the strength I had left. At last, I’m back in solid ground! It only took a few minutes till my color went from pale to flesh. Thankfully, I survived this ordeal.
Visiting a small rustic town through a bicycle offers a free glimpse on what the locals do with their everyday lives. These slow mechanical contraption we call bicycles become an ambassador on trips like these. It allows you to engage on local chats and somehow people become interested in you. I would like to think that riding a bicycle is the most benign form of traveling, the humble pace with inconspicuous presence glared by meek smile would consistently gain a warm reception from locals. That is why cycle touring is the best way to discover the islands and its people.
St. Francis de Assisi
Surviving a ridiculous boat ride from Dumaguete, I was greeted with cool breeze and fine white sand. The impeccable quality of white sandy beaches was evident, located unexpectedly just in the port area. A promising cycle tour is on our way and we couldn’t be more excited about it. Just a few meters away from the Port of Siquijor, one can visit the old church of St. Francis de Assisi and its rugged bell tower situated a few meters away from the convent. We headed east, towards Salagdoong Beach, and our objective was to get there before nightfall. We had a very relaxed pace considering I rode a full loaded Brompton while Ice rode a 14inch single speeder. A cycle tour is often rode on a slower pace. The amount of time riding allows the cyclist to engage in a sense of contemplation and draws fine attention to appreciate the details where most motorist pass through unaware. Siquijor roadways are bicycle friendly, the smooth pavement stretched out like a long winding serpent that laid beside white sandy beaches. Cycling here can be blissful or intense depending on the speed of the rider.
Pin Size trouble
Riding a well inflated tire helps a rider cover much distance with efficient time. Sometimes trouble can come your way, and in my case a flat tire. I have noticed an abrupt change in my tire pressure and stopped to check it out. Hissing sound from my rear tire alarmed me to take out my tools and started to break it down. Bike tools should be in your tool bag at all times and should be checked with utmost importance. You could never know when you would get into trouble and having these essential items can spell success or failure in your bike adventure. I took out the inner tube and started to sand off the hole for a nice patch. For some dumb luck, the unopened vulcanizing cement came out empty with no spare cement in sight. I quickly reached for my pack and then a sigh of relief, I found a brand new inner tube c/o my friend from singapore. So Diane, if you are reading this..”you are a life saver!”
The old Balete tree
Going uphill on some parts are bearable. There were times we dismount and happily stride towards the highest point. Once on top of a hill, we gradually tucked ourselves for better position and gripped firmly on the handlebar all senses working for a white knuckle decent. The Lazi territory had an abundance of rolling hills but we kept our momentum, cycling steadily till we reached the century old Balete tree. The whole scene was surreal. The hazel clad vine curtain that shroud the big Balete tree seemed like looking at the portal to the unknown, as if it was covering something behind. All of these played into Siquijor’s mystic allure. We were all alone in the spot and we noticed concrete benches sited lightly near the free-flowing water. Apparently, you can sit down and let the fish nibble your feet. Tiny little bites felt like blunt knives plucking bits of your skin that often leads to a weird sensation.
Lazi Church and Convent
We had a brief respite and then pressed on towards the town of Lazi. There were more hills to take on yet we still remained oblivious to the challenges. Eventually we saw old structures that seemed like bastions made out of coral stone. The old convent of Lazi is said to be one of the biggest convents inAsia. During its heyday, it served as a vacation house for the diocese’s priest. The presence of baroque style architecture is visible on San Isidro Labrador Parish Church. The wide and thick walls were made to withstand time and weather. The church was partially built in the mid 18th century by the Augustinian Recollects. The structure was based using stoned coral walls and the best mahogany timber the town folks can find. The site has been a candidate for UNESCO world heritage list.
Exploring Siquijor offers a wide array of places to visit and one of them is waterfalls. Multi-tiered waterfall with turquoise basin invites a hiker for a refreshing dip. We made our way far up the inner roads that lead up to the jump off point of Cambugahay falls. One has to manage to get down through steep steps. Deep within the forest, nestled in the mountain gully, is the only waterfalls found in Siquijor. By the time we head back to the town of Lazi, the sun was slowly slipping down the horizon and we had a couple of miles left to cover till we get to Maria, Salagdoong beach. We decided to hire a tricycle to take us to Salagdoong just before 8pm. The perks of having a fold up bikes is when anytime we run into trouble, all we do is fold our bikes into a small package and hitch a ride from any help that would come.
A wonderful rise in the morning from a previous long ride was literally a breath of fresh air. Salogdoong Beach was located in the tip of Salagdoong Forest located in Maria, Siquijor. The site offers white sand beach and towering stone ledges perfect for cliff diving. Sunrise at the east was visible from the beach’s vantage point. Warm colors reflect over the horizon, which offers a fantastic play of fleeting light that can only be treasured from a sublime memory of a vivid photograph. Shortly after having breakfast, we packed our things and started to ride through a delightful canopy in the forest. Tree line pathways on a sunrise made light streak through branches and morning mist, it reminds me of a scene from the movie-A walk in the Clouds, where a war veteran Paul played by Keanu Reeves, walk outs into a narrow path slowly disappearing into the haze of light ray and morning mist.
Tulapos Marine Sanctuary
We were in high spirits as we had a perfect weather to start off our second day in Siquijor. We were scheduled to visit Tulapos marine sanctuary in the nearby town. It is known to be the largest mangrove forest in Siquijor, we set out to view the forest firsthand. A quick detour meant highways transform into narrow pathway to unpaved single tracks. I was told that there was a tree house hidden deep within the mangrove forest. A hidden treasure only few have known. Unfortunately, we were not able to locate the tree house and even locals knew little on its whereabouts.
Completing the Loop
Road signs show that we were well on our way to completing our cycle tour of Siquijor. Passing through the town of Larena, we held on for few more hills and rushing cars. Finally, a familiar sight, the bell tower of St. Francis of Assisi is now within reach. Our ride covered a total of 83km in and around Siquijor. Not quite an epic distance but definitely fun in epic proportion.
Even today, many people still believe in witchcraft and superstitious legend about Siquijor but all of that are delusions of stubbornly unreceptive beliefs. In fact, during our sojourn on the island, the only magic we have seen is the magic within its people. The whole experience made us realize that there is much to do to promote cycle touring in the Philippines. I was pleasantly surprised by my girlfriend–that she overcame all cycling challenges on this trip. She went to slug it out with me on tough uphill climbs and rode as much as hard on white knuckle descents. Truly an amazing feat considering she rode a single speed and 14inch wheels, bravo! I am definitely looking forward to our next bike adventure!-JBA