I really liked Siquijor. It was small enough to miss the traffic, noise, congestion and sprawl of a larger island. But large enough to explore, with lots to see and do. We only got to see a corner of it, but if I had time, I would love to go back. Paul and Nikki managed to have their own adventures, exploring the town and a Mangrove swamp. Paul took some fabulous pictures which I’ve included in other Siquijor posts, but many didn’t really have a place in any of my stories. Here’s a few more that he took that I loved, and that really help capture the spirit and feel of the place. They all look better when you click and enlarge them. Enjoy!
Dumaguete was only on our schedule as a point of arrival and departure at the airport. It was supposed to be a short drive from the dock over to the airport and back to Manila for a couple days of touring Taal and perhaps some more shopping before Paul and Nikki had to leave. However, we woke up on our last scheduled morning to a tropical depression and a canceled ferry. The pages of the newspapers the next day showed people in the sea with life jackets being rescued from another ferry that chose to sail Our canceled ferry meant that we would miss our flight and the rest of the day was spent calling, faxing and emailing the airline to try and solve the problem of rebooking our flights. It was a problem that needed constant feeding. Philippine Airlines were not cooperative, and we very grateful to have a travel agent to assist us. We never really got to enjoy our extra day at the resort because of the stream of airline demands and Manila arrangements needed canceling too.
The next day we took the first ferry out, which meant an unscheduled afternoon and night in Dumaguete. The short drive from the port to the hotel was enough to make sure I wasn’t too excited about going out to explore. I’d been around enough small, poor towns here to feel uncomfortable and almost voyageristic walking around. There’s usually nowhere to really eat, drink or hang out and you often get mobbed by beggars or small children. But I decided to venture out with Nikki and Paul anyway, thinking I could just turn back. But Dumaguete was a small, college town worth a look around.
We drew a circular route down the main street, and then back along the tree lined coast road to the Mexican restaurant where we planned to eat that evening. Latham and Robert joined us at our last destination and we watched the world go by for 2-3hrs, through the rush hour traffic along the coast, and on into the early night. It was fun looking at all the different passengers on the tricycles, trucks, cars and bikes that paraded by. School kids, people coming back from work, college kids, families, goats and chickens. Paul sat and clicked away at the procession and we drank margaritas and ate funky nachos. After the evening traffic died down, the street vendors came out and a makeshift street restaurant just materialized down by the water. It was a little bit of unscheduled fun salvaged from our disrupted plans and I was grateful for it. Sometimes its nice to have something unexpected in the mix.
Apo Island is a small island destination about 1.5hrs away from Siquijor by boat. We had originally tried to book the boat privately to take us over on our anniversary as a way of marking the day and making it extra special for everyone. With our own boat the idea was that we could stop somewhere else along the way, or have a picnic lunch in a quiet cove somewhere. We really didn’t know what to expect on Apo and it seemed like a way to avoid what could be another one of those nightmarish vendor-infected scenarios. There’s never anyway of telling in advance. But hiring the boat didn’t seem to offer us any advantage. There was probably a way to do make the way you wanted it, but without inside help, I gave up.
So we took the group boat, which was fine. Its always annoying to wait for (really) latecomers who can’t get themselves out of bed in the morning, but the boat was clean and comfortable, and not too crowded. We sat on the back deck watching the waves and water spray up on to the deck.
About an hour later, the island came into view and our boat slowly manouvered on to the beach.
Apo island has a small, attractive resort right on the beach. It would be a lovely place to stay and a way to enjoy the peace of the island after the daily boat (us) has left. Maybe next time….
Upon arrival everyone has to pay a small environmental fee. Hopefully this is going toward the job of preserving the reef and beaches. It was certainly kept unspoilt. It actually could have used a little development, though, to help protect the shoreline and the visitors. A small wooden dock extending into the water a little would have made entry across the spiky coral much easier. But Apo is still very pristine and low key. I would never have picked that particular shallow, coral beach covered in algae and rock pools to enter into the water and explore. But they were right….it was totally worth it.
Nikki held back a little. She was the last in the water, but the first to see a turtle. I wish I had been there to witness it. As she worked on her resolve to enter the water, a turtle head poked out of the water to get air. I can only imagine the scream! To her credit she got in anyway, and we all managed to see and swim with the turtles. I didn’t see one for a good 10 minutes, then Latham started signalling me to turnaround. I turned, expecting to see something the size of a large tortoise, but no, it was the size of a small kitchen table, swimming around just a foot or two away. It was kind of disturbing that something so large was so near and I had only just spotted it.
After about an hour or so, we had had our fill and headed over to the resort for lunch. We could hear the drummers playing from a distance, our entertainment for the meal. On the way back across the beach, we passed this excellent Christmas tree, that is made from fallen, dried palm fronds, driftwood, and discarded tourist gear. Loved it!
Apo island was a great location, and still undeveloped enough that everything was pleasant and friendly. I sure it will become more popular in coming years and I hope that they continue to care for their environment as well as they do now. Responsible tourism attracts responsible tourists. And I got to swim with turtles…..!
Sign on the back of a Mobile Health unit parked in Dumaguete. I’m not sure what “temporary contraceptives” are? I can guess at what they really meant but, on a symbolic level, this is an old sign. A new sign would offer permanent contraceptives since the landmark passing of the Reproductive Health Act last month despite heavy opposition from the Church.
Its a very important change for the Philippines, allowing free access to contraceptives, instrumental in decreasing the exponential birth rate here, and an important component of the country’s development in the next few years.
On the way home from our Cambugahuy trip, we stopped at an amazing old tree by the side of the road. It been called the Century Old Tree, or “centuries old” I’m sure that no one really knows. But I could easily believe it was 400 years old. It had a massive girth, amazing hanging roots, and huge crawling roots that spiraled out from its base. It sits next to what must be a natural spring, and probably the reason for its longevity. Kids were jumping and playing in the water.
We walked around marveling at the thing, and circled around to the back of it. Latham climbed up the roots to get a closer look. Then I saw the tshirt he was wearing. Rasta guy in a rasta tree. Way, cool man!
New Year’s Eve is often an anti-climax for us. After all the pre-Christmas activities, Christmas, and birthday and anniversary stuff…by New Years Eve we’re usually ready for bed at 9pm. However, this year we were in no place for an early night. Coco Grove had a big dinner buffet planned and a self-proclaimed show extravaganza. Who were we to say no?!
We got a great table near the front, ate a very decent buffet dinner and everything was so pretty with lantern, candles and flowers. It was, however, nearly impossible to get a drink. But that’s big party events for you. Almost no one does them right….! I waited 30 minutes for a bottle of oxidized white wine, sent it back and ordered red. Half an hour later, we got a bottle of chilled red wine….but I digress…let the show begin!
But what I liked the most were the wish lanterns. Its a Filipino tradition to light them and make a wish, and set them airbourne carrying your wish up into the sky. They are simple paper lanterns with a wire base that holds a wad of fuel-soaked cotton. It takes a little practice to make them take. They gave instruction, but most people needed more assistance and most lanterns crashed and burned after a few seconds. However three did take off and soar, floating and throwing their light like traveling stars until they were no longer visible. Latham’s was one of them:
Day two of our Siquijor adventure was our 25th wedding anniversary. I had struggled to plan something special for the day from afar, but it was proving to be too difficult. I had tentatively reserved a private boat, but it quickly became clear that the considerable extra cost wouldn’t get us much value over taking the tour with everyone else. Some times you wish you had made a plan, other times an ad hoc approach is best.
It quickly became clear today was an ad hoc kinda day. Robert took the impulsive decision to rent a tricycle. Nikki and I immediately couldn’t see how the five of us could crowd on to the tiny bike. But we were wrong. On we all crammed. Destination was Cambugahay waterfalls, but just like life, I found the journey to be the interesting part.
The Falls were a fair drive away, about an hour I think. But the driver and the road surface were good, and it was reasonably comfortable. (At least for me.) Locals watched and waved, chickens crossed the street, other vehicles overtook our overloaded bik and we passed a few interesting spots to stop on the way back.
Lazi was an interesting town, and we stopped at the wonderful St Isidore Labradore church. It was huge and surrounded by ancient acacia trees. We snuck inside and took a look inside. It was cavernous and seemed way too big to me for the location. It was build in the 1850’s and parts of it looked at least 150 years old, but other parts like the roof, altar and floor were well cared for. Other parts were crumbling. I loved the mix of old and new, it gave it a special kind of feeling. Like we were discovering something old and abandoned but secretly cared for.
After that energizing side trip, we traveled a little further along and finally made it to our Cambugahay Falls destination. Upon arrival, it was clear we were in a tourist location because the vendors descended. Paul and Nikki got their first taste of vendor chaos as several vendors approached at the same time, all selling the same drinks. We ended up in total confusion with multiple drinks purchased for the same person. It took 10 minutes to break away from them and start the descent down the stone steps to the falls.
It was midday and we were not alone. There were some tourists from our resort and local kids playing on the vines, diving into the water. Not swamped with people, but a bit crowded for my liking. Early morning would have been the best time to come. Paul, Nikki and Latham followed our taxi driver to a spot higher up where no one else ventured and they had a waterfalls pool to swim in alone. Much nicer!
No sooner had Nikki and Paul settled in to our home and grabbed their first night of real sleep, we were up at the butt crack of dawn and hustling to get on a flight to Dumaguete, on the island of Negros. From there it was a one hour hydrofoil trip over to Siquijor island to stay at the wonderful Coco Grove Beach Resort. The trip wasn’t dreadful but less than smooth. It was just one of the travel days where the pieces don’t come together: the lines are too long, your tray table won’t stay up, the ferry is late, and the terminal had no electricity. We were very glad to arrive at Coco Beach. Fortunately, the resort was totally worth the wait. Just beautiful! And big! On the first day it felt enormous and we wondered around among the pretty cottages, palm trees and powder white sands.
It was also Robert’s birthday and it took a little hustling to organize the evening birthday dinner. Its hard picking the right location when you don’t understand the restaurant layouts or dining options. But I found a nice spot down on the beach and they did a fantastic job of glamming it up for the celebration with palm fronds, candles and bunting.
Then came the fire dancers. I wish I could take credit for organizing them, but it was the resort’s Saturday night entertainment which took place right on the beach under the stars. Drummers drummed, and the firedancers danced. It was pretty entertaining.
And, of course, no Birthday’s complete without a bit of cake. And these days one slice is just enough for both of us! And this slice came with a singing troupe. One of the more memorable birthdays, I think.
I’ve been to Greenhills enough now to start feeling more comfortable in its giant maze. Its still organized chaos in there, but a least I’m starting to notice the “organized” bit, and its less scary as the jigsaw puzzle pieces that make up the layout are starting to come together in my mind.
If you don’t know Greenhills, its a giant covered market with distinct sections selling a wide variety of stuff. There’s the clothing section specializing in “knock offs” of everything. There’s the shoe section, the handbag section…and of course, the best known section: pearls (which are not knock offs, by the way).
Greenhills was the first stop on Paul and Nikki’s packed 8-day tour of The Philippines, as they came out to visit over Christmas. It was a lively first stop and they did very well, especially considering the jetlag and mental overload of stepping out on to the street of Manila for the first time.
There’s just so much stuff! Shop fast and hard, and live to shop another day!