I was born and raised in Siquijor, a very small island in central Philippines. It is my home so I am biased when I say it is a piece of heaven here on Earth. But please let me continue…
Siquijor is a cliche tourist destination — white sand beaches, cool waterfalls, numerous rivers, and Spanish-era churches. The time you step down the gang plank at the port in the town of Siquijor (one town is also named Siquijor), a long stretch of white sand welcomes you. The people are, like every where else in the Philippines, warm and friendly. Underneath this tourist-y exterior though is the real reason why you should and must pay Siquijor a visit.
Here are my top 8 reasons why Siquijor is a must destination in the Philippines:
1. SILENCE. It’s the noise that involves the chirping of birds, the croaking of frogs, the humming of bees, the rustles of leaves, the neighborly talks, the laughter of children, the barking of dogs at midnight, the occasional vrroomm of a motorcycle, the giggles of teenagers. It’s the noise that silences the noise of your own heart. It’s the noise that makes you realize you are part of nature, of a bigger community, and not a lone force battling your own troubles. It’s the noise that calms you, and the silence that lulls you to a deep, comforting sleep.
2. ISOLATION. Siquijor has giant neighbors — Cebu, Negros Oriental, Bohol, and Mindanao. But the island is very small. It has six towns, and you can tour it by motorcyle in less than a day. The island stays connected with the rest of the world through boats, occasional airplanes, telecommunication sites, and the Internet. But if you want to escape from the world, Siquijor’s unintentional isolation will help you do just that.
3. QUAINT. Strange and unusual, in an old-fashioned and charming way. There are horror stories. There are heinous crimes. There are drug addicts, pushers, and users. There are strange creatures — wakwak, abat, kaskas, wekwek. There are out-of-this world, unbelievable stories. Siquijodnons love stories and story-telling. We have lots of legends and myths, riddles and words of wisdom. Our “good times” involve a lot of beer drinking, laughing, music making, and story-telling. We gather to tell stories, and we welcome anyone who wants to listen and tell their stories too. There are strange and unusual things in the island — sorcery, witch craft, love potions, black magic, faith healing, paper dolls dancing — but we are more old-fashioned and charming than strange and unusual.
4. UNEXPLORED. Sure there are beach resorts, paved roads and signs pointing you to “tourist destinations.” There are tourist brochures and maps tagging the “places to see” in the island. But the island, the whole of it, is THE place to see. There are hidden coves, secret beaches, pathways only locals and animals have tread on, caves only the drunk has ever set foot upon. Our forests are brimming with flora and fauna, some or most remain undocumented. The sea surrounding us is so rich, you can take a plunge anywhere and you won’t be disappointed. Take a boat ride and you might be treated to an impromptu show performed by dolphins.
5. INTER-RELATIONSHIPS. Through the years, Siquijor has remained the most peaceful in all of Central Visayas. We have almost zero crime rates. How did we do that? We did nothing. We just lived our lives. We are a poor island — not blessed with vast agricultural lands and strategic geographic location to make us an economic hub like our neighbors — but we are a peaceful people. We are a respectful people too. We respect both the people we see through our eyes and the creatures we do not see with our eyes. We know everyone, and we make it our duty to know everyone. We take care of our families, our children, our neighbors, our neighbors’ families, everyone. We look after everyone. We may be poor, but we care enough for other people that we never let anyone beg in the streets, especially children. We enjoy doing communal activities — sabong, picnics at the beach, tipok-tipok, inum, videoke, tukar-tukar, liga, baile — and we invite anyone who wants to join. We value our inter-relationships. No man, woman, or child in Siquijor is an island.
6. JOYRIDE. You don’t just breeze through the island. You savor each and every nook and cranny, and try to return each smile, wave and greeting. You spend the mornings walking, biking, or driving to the sea side to check the freshest catch. You spend the dusk with your family or loved one behind you in your motorcycle to join the sun in its setting ceremony. Just like life, you can’t enjoy it when you’re speeding. You have to slow down, take your time, and do the joyride.
7. ORGANIC. Eating is one of the best things to do in Siquijor. When you tour the island, you’d notice the scarcity of restaurants, diners, carenderias and other food places. One would always think that in order to advance as a tourist destination, the island must encourage more food businesses. Now, Siquijor will not become a tourist destination. Siquijor is A destination. You don’t do touristy things here. In order to enjoy the island, you’ve got to do what the locals do, and — in terms of food — you eat home-cooked meals. We create occasions to give us reason to cook and enjoy food, and we culminate our love for food during our fiestas. Home-cooked food in Siquijor is the soul of the island. Food has even inspired many of our local musicians to create songs dedicated to a dish. Siquijor’s utang kalamunggay tastes richer. No fancy equipment, no fancy spices, no fancy ingredients. Nothing chemical, everything is local and organic.
8. RAW. There will be a few scripts, a well-written pitch on why you should go or stay. As I said, Siquijor is a cliche tourist destination. But if you are keen on exploring the island beyond what is written in the brochures, the places you see, the food you eat, the sounds you hear, the scents you smell, the people you meet, and the feelings you’ll have — they’ll all be unpolished, genuine, raw.
Please vote Siquijor Island as one of top emerging destinations in the Philippines. Vote HERE!
Top most photo by Joel Lopez