It was Christmas of 2010. We had decided to continue the tradition of experiencing Christmas in another country. The year before it was the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. A Christmas made of shwarmas, desert safaris, and religious mourning rituals.
This year, after much debate, we settled on the Philippines. The country comprised of 7,107 islands drew us in for many reasons. Being of half-Filipino descent, I had been regaled with stories of Filipino Christmases by my grandparents. A holiday where Christmas carolers still sung from house to house, Christmas parties are celebrated with a feast (complete with lechon, a delicious whole roasted pig), and there’s no shortage of Tanduay rum.
I had always wanted to go to the Philippines, but I knew Chris would need a little convincing. Being the storytellers and travel videographers that we are, he wanted to know what hidden adventures we could uncover while there. It didn’t take him long before he discovered the magical island of Siquijor.
Siquijor, referred to as Isla del Fuego (“Island of Fire”) during the Spanish colonial period, is the third smallest island in the Filipine archipelago. The Spanish coined the term “Island of Fire” for the mysterious glow surrounding the island after sunset. This glow actually game from the swarms of fireflies that called Siquijor home. Aside from its beautiful beaches, fireflies and friendly people, Siquijor is also widely known for its witches and healers. That’s all we needed to know. We bought our tickets and packed our bags for Siquijor, the island shrouded in mystery and enchantment.
After stops in Manilla and Dumaguete, we found ourselves settling in to a nice beachfront hut at Casa de la Playa on Siquijor island. We were introduced to the resort’s owner Terry, a German ex-pat who has taken nicely to island life. Terry informed us that she knew where a few of the island’s “healers” lived. There were two kinds of witches (locally known as “mananambals”) that inhabited the island of Siquijor. The white magic healers and the black magic sorcerers.
It wasn’t until after the Christmas celebrations, feasts, and parties that we were able to actually make it out to one of the healers. I had my preconceived notions of what meeting this “white magician” would be like. Visions of dancing brooms, bubbling cauldrons, and magic wands floated through my head.
Was I wrong? Not completely. We left behind the sunny, white sand beaches and trekked deep inside the lush, misty center of the island. After slushing our way through a muddy, forested path we came along a few wooden shacks in the middle of a small clearing. A mother hen scooted her half dozen chicks out of our way as we walked to the hut situated in the center of the others. There was smoke escaping from the doorway and a young man in only his shorts was using a machete to chop what looked like a pile of bones.
It gets better. Upon entering the hut we saw a cauldron (okay, a pot) bubbling and steaming atop a fire. To enhance the experience, there was also a cat that was suspiciously staring at us as it kept an eye on the brewing cauldron.
We sat down upon wooden stools as Terry translated the healer’s daughter-in-law, Indie. She informed us that the white healer, Juan Ponce was 95, blind, and no longer practicing white magic. Instead, he passed down his skills and traditions to her in the same way that they were passed down from his father.
We asked Indie was she could do for us. “Everything”, she replied. Chris ended up asking her to heal his shoulder blade that had been bothering him for years. She went to another room of the hut and emerged holding a small jar with an oil-like substance inside. She had Chris remove his shirt as she gingerly massaged his shoulder in a circular motion. Chris said that he was relieved of his pain almost immediately.
Not having any current ailments, I asked Juan Ponce if there was anything he could suggest for myself. He had Indie bring us an assortment of amulets. The wooden figures were packed with an array of herbs and oils that were meant to heal and protect the owner. We each bought one in the shape of a cross and tucked them into our pockets.
After leaving Juan Ponce both Chris and I felt refreshed. We had stumbled upon a tradition that we didn’t know existed until a few weeks before. Do we believe in the magical healing powers of Juan Ponce and Indie? That, we’re not sure. We do know that Chris’s shoulder no longer causes him any problems, and our amulets are still on our key rings.
As for our time in the Philippines? I couldn’t have asked for more. It is after all, the land of my people.
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The island of Siquijor is ripe with day trips. From cave exploration to butterfly gardens the island is a never ending labyrinth of things to do. Some of the highlights though involve water sports and magical encounters. Take a look at some of the best ways to spend a day on Siquijor.]]>
The small island of Siquijor is renowned for magic and gorgeous views. It is also known for it’s white sand beaches. We have compiled a list of the most beautiful and exclusive of those very beaches, just for you]]>
In the sleepy colonial town of Dumaguette it seems like all there is is bars. For a look at the local flavor check out our video and see the highlights of the main avenue. Take a left at the main ferry terminal and you’ll see the many bars and street vendors of Dumaguette. For the more adventurous pallet try Balut, a soft boiled egg with a fetal duck still inside.]]>
A list of the best spots the locals took us to while on Siquijor. Ati Atihan chicken stop is in central Larena, on the southern end of the main drag. Chan’s Chicken eatery is located right on the ferry dock and makes a great place to spend some time while you’re waiting for your boat. La Casa de la Playa is on the Northern end of Siquijor just past Larena, it’s a 200 peso ride in a tricycle or a 20 minute ride on a scooter.]]>
While you are at La Casa de la Playa you are family. All of the staff know your name and everyday you are welcomed back to a place that feels more like home than the home you left. So much so that 16 years ago German ex-pat and owner, Terry found herself unwilling to leave. If you aren’t careful you might end up staying forever too, and for the price, you can.
La Casa de la Playa is an experience as much as lodging. Ten bright stars from Captain and Clark. The also offer: -Island tours, home cooked meals , a chance to meet the witches of the island, rental motorcycles, boat tours, laundry facilities, and so much more.
Check them out at:www.siquijorcasa.com
It should be noted that while we received complimentary accomodations from Casa de la Playa, our thoughts and views are completely are own. No one puts baby in the corner.]]>
La Residencia Al Mar is the luxury hotel of Dumaguette. It is right in the center of the scenic main strip of downtown and is a five minute walk from the main ferry terminal. It is also a 50 Peso ride from the airport. The accommodations are stepped in Spanish colonialist flair with all the charm and amenities of the modern world. For $30 a night it isn’t a bad deal, especially if you’re looking for a little more comfort.
If your are looking for a great place to spend a couple nights in Manila and still be close to the airport then this is your place. It is extremely affordable and fairly comfortable. The rooms are clean and the neighborhood is safe. It is also a great chance to get to see a genuine Filipino neighborhood or to savor the local savoir faire for the more adventurous traveler. For booking information look up: Isabelle Gardens on Bookingbuddy.com]]>