Travel

DOWN SOUTH | Why I Keep Coming Back to Siquijor

BACKPACKING WITH A BIKE. When In Siquijor, always do something new, like pedaling your away around. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

BACKPACKING WITH A BIKE. When In Siquijor, always do something new, like pedaling your away around. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

My friend Pie and I forgot about the key. We were sound asleep inside the room and perhaps slightly snoring after a day of following the must-dos in Siquijor to heart: San Juan’s Capilay Spring: checked. Salagdoong’s molave forest: checked. Jumping from Salagdoong’s Beach Resort’s outcrop: checked. Taking photos of Lazi’s church and convent: checked. Lazi’s balete tree: checked. Taking a dip at Cambugahay: checked. Photos of San Juan sunset: checked.

We were young and did not know any better.

We remembered about the key when we were about to check out and started looking for it. It was where it should be. It was where it should not be.

With the summer heat, locals enjoy the cool clear waters in Capilay Spring. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

With the summer heat, locals enjoy the cool clear waters in Capilay Spring. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

My first visit in Siquijor felt like that. It was a place others thought it would not be. No stories on witches and witchcraft. One could trust anyone.

On the first visit, we just laughed at our forgivable stupidity.

The second visit resembled the mythical Siquijor that others feared about: the resort staff gave me the scare of my life. He stood by the glass door and did not say anything, his face pressed against the glass. The electric fan swayed the lacy curtains covering the door. I was alone in a fifty-bed dormitory one September night. Quite a material for a horror story in a place where everyone expected it to happen. But he was asking for my payment least I would scamper out early in the morning; a ninja move some broke backpackers practiced.

Siquijor was a blur on my third. My consciousness centered on the stranger I was traveling with. The third smallest island in the country took the form of a man. The illusion did not last long.

My first three visits were too short, too hurried in a place known for its slowness.

I owe it to Siquijor and perhaps to the self to stay longer. On my fourth visit, there were no itineraries to follow, no friend or lover to think of. I woke up when I felt like waking up, the latest at eleven in the morning, and marveled at the distinct songs from the siloy (black shaman)—songs that I rarely heard in the city unless I spent a good moment at my workplace’s treed backyard.

After hours of writing by the sea and realizing for the first time that the sea hue changes as the day gets an hour older, I alternated long walks with hours-long cycling.

When we revisit places, the often asked question is, “Why do we come back?”

The town of San Juan is a preferred location by many travelers because of its glorious sunsets and white-sand beaches. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, interAksyon.com.

The town of San Juan is a preferred location by many travelers because of its glorious sunsets and white-sand beaches. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, interAksyon.com.

I thought, maybe because of discontent. I felt that there was a Siquijor that I had neither seen nor experienced. I felt that somehow I was left behind—that the Siquijor I had experienced in my past visits was not the real one. I felt that I was out of place.

Or Siquijor perhaps felt so out of place. Or Siquijor was left behind. There was too much selfishness involved.

I just turned thirty. Siquijor now feels younger than me. Its sounds, feels, and looks keep on evolving. The empty lots now have signs “Private Property. No Trespassing,” while some lots bear sign boards like “Lot 4 Sale. Direct buyer only.” The highway along San Juan is now dotted with resorts, mostly owned by foreigners with Filipina partners. There is now live music at night in some restaurants.

The highway though now smooth and wide remains dark at night, making the stars look nearer and brighter.

Siquijor, a budding travel destination for many, will not do the romantic and the nostalgic any good. Martin, an expat who has lived in San Juan for the past eight years, finds the changes too much: too noisy, too many white travelers, too many cars. And Siquijor has just started.

It is summer, and drought is real. Martin has the money to have another line of water installed in his little well-kept bungalow, a place he shared with his gay partner, Rhenz. I rented a mountain bike from them. Back in the resort I stayed, the water did not run for most hours of the day. I could imagine the difficult lives of the less fortunate locals on the island.

It was hot. But the siloy kept on singing. Personally, there was nothing to complain about.

Jessrel, a good poet friend, said, “Places leave people, too.”

He reminded me of Martin and some travelers who hesitated going back to places, fearing the place they come back to is not the one they left behind, fearing the place has moved on—for better or for worse—and they haven’t yet.

I asked myself if I feel the same? And I do not.

At some parts, I am happy that I can now find a room for Php300, which would be impossible if Siquijor remained feared and intimidating. I am happy carenderias along the highway exist at night, and I am unapologetic for spending Php150 for a meal. I am thankful the road now smooth was kind to my legs and knees after biking the stretch of San Juan and Siquijor and back for eight hours.

Perhaps I am getting older and there are certain things I am willing to compromise for an affordable room and a good meal by the sea instead of having canned sardines and puso bought in the market before sundown—the dinner Pie and I had on our first visit.

U-Story Bar and Restaurant, located in the remote Tigbao, San Juan, is the author's go-to place for food and for its artistic and quaint interiors. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

U-Story Bar and Restaurant, located in the remote Tigbao, San Juan, is the author’s go-to place for food and for its artistic and quaint interiors. Photo by Jona Branzuela Bering, InterAksyon.com.

The old Siquijor did not leave me. It continues to change, and so do I. And it will be like that in the coming years. There is no nostalgia, only acceptance.

I come back to this little island province knowing every visit adds another layer of understanding. Here, old people by the sea fenced a little lot with dried tree trunks and raised two or three hogs. Here, people do not only hunt suwaki but also tuyom.

These tiny details I failed to notice in the previous visits.

Perhaps because it was not the ripe time. Perhaps because I did not stare long enough. Perhaps because it was more on the “I” than the “place.” Perhaps because places have the right to choose which side to show to the outsider. And I am exactly that for the past years: an outsider. And I would be so in the coming years.

• Jona Branzuela Bering is a writer and photographer from Cebu, Philippines. When she is not traveling, she gardens, teaches, and becomes the slave of four cats. Follow her travels on Instagram @backpackingwithabook or on her blog Backpacking with a BookE-mail: backpackingwithabook@gmail.com.

InterAksyon.com
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