travel bite: Siquijor, Philippines

THE unthinkable has happened. A country notorious for its lacklustre approach to food has captured my imagination and run away with my heart. And the island of Siquijor (si-kee-hor) is predominantly to blame.

Led solely on the recommendations of those I met on my travels in Bali, my instinct directed me to scrap plans of visiting rainy Malaysia and set my compass on course for the Philippines instead; a decision that I have not once regretted. In fact I now marvel at how close I was to missing out on this wonderfully varied country.

Great instinct-driven decision number two: I passed on plans to launch from the island of Bohol to Mindanao’s peaceful offering of Camuguin in favour of exploring the island of Siquijor.

So after beers and tears (I am yet to fully overcome my fear of the sea) I braved the three hour evening boat journey by imagining the water to be dense black tarmac on which the white ocean spray streaking behind us was the chalky off-shoots from a flaking centre line.

I arrived on this island – renowned for its witches and fireflies – in the blackest of nights. A long tricycle journey then ensued in search of somewhere to stay (I have developed an aversion to booking ahead) during which I cursed not taking heed of the Lonely Planet’s recommendation to wear a sports bra. Female readers make note – these rides involve a lot of jiggling about. Not good. Thankfully I was eventually jiggled in the direction of a Japanese run ‘resort’, where the attention to detail (there was shampoo and conditioner in my bathroom) felt like luxury living in comparison to my backpacker expectations.

Thus started my 9 day stay in Siquijor.

On this not so large island you will find a compact summary of much of what the Philippines has to offer. Beautiful beaches line the coast: from the rugged to the placid to the preened, all predominantly deserted, and of course offering snorkelling opportunities. The interior nurtures waterfalls, historic buildings and churches, healers, fireflies, a butterfly park and a mountain (complete with viewing platform). Modest rice paddies – glistening green – and lovingly tended front gardens are also to be glimpsed when riding the empty roads on a bike. Above all however, it’s the welcoming islanders – young and old – who make you settle quickly into island life, never missing an opportunity to wave and say hello.

Kagusua Beach - deserted apart from the odd local fisherman and random snorkeller

giant rocks intersperse the hidden coves of Kagusua Beach

Salagdoong Beach

view from the top of the slide at Salagdoong Beach

this 82 year old bula bula has been a healer ('witch doctor') on Siquijor since her youth. All day long people come to her for general check-ups as well as for treatment of ailments such as neck pain or rashes.

the bula bula's instruments - two jugs of water, a glass with a solid 'nut' in it and a straw

the modestly sized waterfalls where you can swim

the water flows downstream towards the sea from the falls

It’s back to the simple life on Siquijor, though peace and quiet are not to necessarily a given; the eternal alarm clock of the Philippines – cockerels – and the numerous karaoke enthusiasts are to be embraced here, not escaped. Cars however are rogues, not-so-subtly infiltrating the genteel motorbike community.

When busy doing nothing, cloud watching becomes an enticing pastime. As magnificent formations ebb and flow, you find yourself flicking away the odd sand fly, catching a glimpse of a soaring sea eagle if your lucky.

cloud watching from the beach at Villa Marmarine

When you do manage to coax yourself away from the shore and venture onto Siquijor’s empty roads you will come across many a cow grazing. But these are not your average cow. Ombre markings show ashen greys and charcoals, tans and inky blacks, merging into one another. The image of a lone cow, kneeling, regal, has embedded itself in my mind. The sun beaming off its smooth hillocks, shoulder blades pushed up against taught black skin. There was something elegant about the definition of this cow’s bone structure: the ebony angular mounds gleaming as though polished. Statuesque and silken is how this bovine creature will remain in my memory.

As evening draws in the fireflies – famed for leading the Spanniards to nickname Siquijor the island of Fire – come out cautiously to play. Sadly not in such abundance as they once were, these delicate beings may still be found if sought after by a guide. As you crane your neck to the silent buzz of flickering white lights it’s as though shooting stars have been captured within a cage of branches. Afraid of the wind, they descend down to earth at the slightest swell of warm air. Some imagine the fireflies as reincarnations of the soul, returning to the world as a glimmering guides.

JJ's encourages beach-side lounging with hammocks between the palms that are perfect for lazing on

But where to stay on this enchanting island. Villa Marmarine was an unexpected surprise and a great find, but it’s JJ’s that has won my loyalty. A simple dorm and basic double room at relatively low prices are all that’s on offer at the moment, but with welcoming staff, friendly guests and good food it’s worth nabbing a space there if you can. The squid curry is perfectly cooked and delicious – be sure to try it early on in your stay as you will no doubt want it more than once, their sunny-side-up eggs, again, are cooked to perfection, and the chips are a guilty pleasure worth treating yourself to. Throw in a beautiful beach and exquisite sunset views and you really can’t go wrong. Even if you can’t get a bed at JJ’s, a stay on Siquijor would not be complete without visiting this backpacker favourite.

the beach at JJ's

breakfast time at JJ's is accompanied by a fantastic view from the comfy seats in the cafe

even if you're not staying at JJ's make sure you head there for sunset drinks on the beach

great chunky homemade chips at JJ's cafe: this is the Philippines - Western food (when done well) is by all means allowed

One Response to “travel bite: Siquijor, Philippines”
  1. thehaleyway says:

    I feel transported to JJ’s and the other beautiful places you visited. I just love living vicariously through you!

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