Our Siquijor trip was our planned outing for the priests of the Sts. Peter & Paul Parish of Ormoc. Upon hearing of our plan, the other priests from the vicariate of Ormoc wanted to join because they have not yet been to this famed island of witches. There were 12 of us who came along. We took the Cebu Pacific flight from Cebu to Dumaguete which cost only 327 pesos and additional 200 pesos for the terminal fee in Cebu. The flight was at 6:20 in the morning of Monday, April 27. We had to come to Cebu the night before to be able to take this early morning flight. We could only take the evening fast ferry Supercat trip to Cebu and arrive at past ten as we still had to celebrate our Sunday masses. I figured it would have been a waste of money to check in at a hotel or pension house since we had to leave early for the airport. I was glad that the RVM Sister in-charge of the Betania Retreat House was able to accommodate us for the night.
By seven o’clock we were already in Dumaguete. We had our breakfast at the Food Net and then took the fast craft Delta 1 which left at 9:30. The other fast craft Delta 3 which they said was faster would leave an hour later. The boat trip was only 45 minutes. I had earlier booked at the Hotel Agripino in Salagdoong Beach Resort in Maria, Siquijor (cel 0909-662-1991). We were met at the Siquijor pier by the hotel van and another Multicab jeepney, which they call Easy Ride since we could not be accommodated in the van.
From the pier, we made our first stop at the church of Larena, dedicated to St. Vincent Ferrer, which was the next town from Siquijor. Although founded in 1836, the church was already new. The granite tile floors were newly installed, and they were still finishing the sides. The centerpiece of the altar was the image of risen Christ on the cross. Aside from the central nave, they extended the church sideways with a row of pews on each side. The stations of the cross were painted on the walls of the central nave. The only old structure in the parish was the belfry which was across the street from the church. At the back of the church was the two-storey convent which was also near completion. The parish priest was Fr. Ramon Duran who upon knowing that we were priests invited us right away for lunch. Since the invitation was so sincere we had to cancel the lunch that we ordered at the hotel. We were surprised to see when we went up the convent that food was already prepared complete with lechon. We were told by the parish priest that he was sponsoring lunch for a visiting basketball team from Dumaguete. They arrived just as we have finished taking our food. One of our companion, Msgr. Jimmy Villanueva had two classmates assigned in Siquijor. One classmate, Fr. Carmelito Torres, who was the Director of Catholic Schools in Siquijor came and joined us for lunch.
Even though there was a wind blowing from time to time yet it was too humid, that we were perspiring all over. By two o’clock we asked permission that we will leave for the hotel which was still about 15 kilometers away. We passed by the church of Enrique Villanueva (founded 1953) the next town from Larena. Dedicated to the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, the church was relatively new. The altar floor was made of marble and the main body of the church had granite tile flooring which shows that it had been installed recently. The church had a very simple altar with the statue of Christ with outstretched hands in the middle and the statue of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on the niche to the right and the tabernacle on the left niche. The rectory which was also two-storey was also newly built and nearing completion.
The next stop was the Hotel Agripino in Salagdoong Beach which is part of the town of Maria. The hotel has the cheapest rate in the province. Run by the Dept. of Tourism, it charges 800 pesos for a standard room with twin beds. The first thing that you notice after veering from the highway to the hotel/beach resort which was about a kilometer away, were the toog trees (molave) that grow abundantly along the road.
The group decided that we just take a rest at the hotel and just have the tour around the island the following day. They just wanted to rest and take a nap, only to find out that there was a brownout. Most still managed to have their nap but some of us took to the beach right away. Hotel Agripino sits on a hill overlooking Salagdoong beach. The beach has two coves divided by a huge boulder which has a cemented footbridge. Although not powdery white, yet the waters were very clear. They say this is the most popular beach in the island. On Saturdays there is a live band that plays all night at the function house. I did not get to see any corals on this beach instead I saw at least three small sea snakes slithering around the sea grasses.
In the late afternoon after swimming and taking a nap for the others we decided to visit the Monastery of the Poor Clare nuns in the town of Maria which was about 4 kilometers away from the resort. Although it was already past visiting hours still we rang the bell hoping they would open. True enough a sister came and we introduced ourselves. Upon knowing we were priests she called the other sisters to come and meet us. Two of the sisters were Waray speaking, one from Calbayog and the other one from Carigara, the latter inviting us for her silver anniversary this coming May 23. They asked us to say mass in their chapel. I did celebrate the mass while the rest just attended since we were all in our vacation shorts.
The second day was our tour around the island. The first stop was the church of Maria founded in 1877. The church structure was old with thick coral stones. The belfry stood beside the entrance of the church. It was hexagonal with two levels made of cut stones. On top of the second level stood a wooden structure where the bells were hung. A new canopy in front of the main door was erected. The church has a retablo for its altar with two levels. The uppermost level niche was a crucifix, the three niches below had the statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle flanked by the statues of St. Joseph and San Roque. The tabernacle was in the center just below the lowermost niche. There was large painting of the church on the inside wall by the front door.
From Maria we visited the church and convent of Lazi (founded 1857). Of all the churches in Siquijor, the church of Lazi has the best maintained lawns. The church still has wooden floors. It has a dome and a retablo for the altar. There are also two side altar retablos and also two pulpits facing each other. Started in 1857, the church construction was finished in 1884. The convent is said to be the largest in the Philippines. It was blessed in 1891 after four years of work.
The Cambugahay Falls in Lazi was the next to be visited. From the main road, one has to go down the 163 cemented steps to the falls. The falls just about two or three meters high had several levels which were near each other. Although not that cold and could have been refreshing after sweating in going down to the falls, I did not take a bath there anymore even though I was tempted to jump down to the waters since it was not so high.
We passed by next the parish church of Campalanas, which belongs to the town of Lazi. It is one of only two barrio parishes in the island of Siquijor. Afterwards we stopped by to take pictures at the Century old balete tree also in Campalanas, Lazi.
Our lunch break stop was at the church of San Juan, founded in 1863 and dedicated to St. Augustine of Hippo. The parish priest here was also the classmate of Msgr. Jimmy Villanueva, Fr. Victor Fontejon. He invited us to have our lunch in his convento. What was old here was only the hexagonal belfry which was beside the church. Just like in Maria and Larena, the bells were hung upon a wooden structure on top of the one level massive stone structure. The church was already new which had a bare marble altar. There were three saints: that of the Blessed Virgin, of the risen Christ in the center and St. Augustine on the other side, placed on some pedestal without a niche. The wooden tabernacle was free standing on one side opposite the lectern. The two-storey convent was across the church. What was interesting here in San Juan was that from the church and convent one overlooks at the Capilay Spring Park below which was the main park of the town proper. The spring which flowed from underneath the church was made into a huge rectangular swimming pool for the town.
After lunch we had a picnic at the baybayon just across the Capilay spring park at the back of the town gymnasium. Here the parish priest said was the best beach in town if one would just go for swimming as the sea had powdery white sand. Although there was no beach to speak of as there was a cemented breaker, one had to go down the steps to swim. There was a wide expanse of white sandy sea to bathe. The sea was so alluring that I had a grand time swimming.
The last stop for the day was in Siquijor (founded 1794). We visited the church and checked in at the Legacy Inn which was right by the gate of the pier. The rooms were good but a bit expensive than Agripino. However, it was convenient for us as we will not be waking up early to catch the six o’clock Ocean jet trip to Cebu the following day. Souvenir items were bought from the Mar and Peck souvenir store in town. The last activity of the day was the dinner at the Yanz Kainan just across the town tennis court. The classmate of Msgr. Jimmy, Fr. Torres offered to sponsor our dinner. Invited to the dinner were the parish priest of Siquijor, Msgr. Larry Catubig, the Governor Orlando Fua, Jr. and Vice Governor of Siquijor Andre Jesu Cortes who were good friends of the priests. The governor was telling us that they are trying hard to change the image of Siquijor. There are no witches in Siquijor he said but beautiful white beaches instead. Even the priests vehemently denied about the circulated texts about the gathering of Satanists and witches last holy week. No such thing happened, they said. There are manambals but they are herbalists using the various plants and trees in the islands to make their herbal medicines. The governor was saying that the province is very peaceful. It has very low crime rate and there are no insurgents in the islands. There are very good diving spots around the island that can cater to the tourists aside from the churches, waterfalls and caves. With the increased number of flights to Dumaguete, they were hoping that more tourists will visit the island. At the end of the dinner we learned that the governor footed the bill to the pleasant surprise of our host.
There were still a few other attractions that we were not able to visit like the Cantabon caves which reportedly is the best one of the many caves in the island, the Bandilaan Butterfly Park and the many diving spots around the island. We were able to go around the six towns of Siquijor in one day: Larena, Enrique Villanueva, Maria, Lazi, San Juan and Siquijor. All in all I would say that Siquijor has something exciting to offer to the tourists. The roads around the island are almost cemented. If one would go for a quiet and leisurely vacation Siquijor is the place. There are no night spots in the island except for a few live band playing during weekends. The people are friendly and hospitable. So for a short break of two to three days Siquijor sure would be a good choice.
The Oceanjet fast craft is filled with pictures of tourist spots in their ports of call: Siquijor, Dumaguete, Bohol and Cebu.
Centuries old house by the sea along the road to Maria from Enrique Villanueva.
The church and convent of Enrique Villanueva
The church and convent of Enrique Villanueva