Here be witches.

Following from the last post, I was pretty pissed off with Philippino bureaucracy, garbage music and just about everything else when I finally paid the last "tax" and got out of the port in Siquijor City.  If you are lookng it up on Gogle maps or whatever, let me try to explain.  Siquijor is the name of the Municipality where you land, it is also the name of the island and the name of the Province, which is the youngest in the Philippnes, having been formed in 1971.  Confused?  You will be.

Before anyone contacts me, yes this is a cut and paste from my Virtual Tourist page but I don't believe in duplicating effort just for the sake of it.

Mention the word Siquijor to any Visayan, or indeed Philippino and the first thing they will say in return is, "Witches". There is a complete and powerful belief that there are people, generally women, on Siquijor who can do magic and curse you. I know Philippinos, intelligent people, who will still talk in slightly hushed tones about the place. The power of the myth is strong. The island's authorities are very keen to play down the notion (see the appended image) but it does add to the allure of the place. Let's be honest, any place I visit where 50 yards off the ferry I see an official poster offering a hotline to report black magic practices is good for me.

OK, it's official, no witches here.
When I visited Siquijor, I visited some fairly out of the way places, spoke to numeros Siquidojnons and never heard so much as a mention of witchcraft, either black or white. Then again, I wasn't really looking for it. Strangely, a few days after I returned, a friend pointed me in the direction of a rather good and very recent article on the BBC website which explains the whole thing rather well. The link is posted below.


There appears to be some confusion about whether the witches are benign or malign or possibly both dependent upon circumstances. Certainly, I am a believer in natural remedies for certain things and I regulary take a non-pharmaceutical product for a medical problem. I have no doubt that it has assisted me without resorting to chemicals. Had this treatment been administered by one of Siquijor's islanders would it count as witchcraft or just a careful use of natural products based on many generations experience? I really don't know.

Undoubtedly, anywhere there are people practicing alternative treatments or places where people have a strong belief in the supernatural there will be charlatans, and I have no reason to think that Siquijor is any different but you never know, maybe these ladies do know something we don't. Perhaps the demonisation of the "healers" is something to do with the extremely strong influence of the Christian Church in the Philippines. I know they have a particular view on things like "pagan" practices.

Incidentally, if you want to appear a little savvy, refer to the healers as wokwoks (phonetic spelling) but I would say it pretty respectfully if I were you, just in case!

So, off the jetty road and straight in front I see this.
Pretty nice welcome.
 I later found out whilst reasearching that the church was deliberately sited here to welcome travellers with Christian blessings.  OK, that is not my scene but it was appreciated anyway and now the eternal random travellers question.  Left or right.  I remember some years ago taking my bicycle to France, coming out of the ferry port at Boulogne and literally tossing a coin to determine left towards Picardy and Belgium or right towards Normandy and Brittany.  I went right and had a great trip but that is a story for another time.  In the event, I decide on left for what may appear the strangest of reasons.  Sorry if this sounds wierd but this is the way my disordered little mind works.  nI decided to go left as that was clockwise on the principle that Buddhists will always walk round a religious site ina clockwise direction and you always spin a Buddhist prayer wheel clockwise.  I know, I know, the Philippines is not a Buddhist country but that was the vague thinking.

Off down the rather grandiosely named Siquijor Circumferential Road, known locally as the Highway and the beginning of a 75km. round trip.  Happy days.

The road goes on forever.
I defy anyone who has ever ridden a bike to look at this and not want to ride down it.  Best of all it was totally devoid of the psychotic, suicidal lunatics that seem to compose the driving population of Negros Oriental.  I genuinely have difficulty thinking of a time in my life when I was happier.  I know this sounds overblown but I really mean it.  A small, supposedly edgy / haunted  tropical island with an open road, bright sunshine, no map, no accomodation booked, no idea where I was going and even less worry about it.  Anyone care to discuss the concept of freedom with me at this point?

The first place I hit was Larena, only about 12 or 15km along.  I told you it is not a big place.  Those that know me will remember that my digestive system does not kick in until about four hours after I rise, whatever hour that may be.  Well, the requisite tempus had fugit to mangle the Latin (apologies to the wonderful Wilf Mulryne who tried to bash it into my unreceptive brain so many years ago) and the tummy was rumbling a tad so off to a local eatery.

Pork adobo.
I have spoken before about adobo and I love it.  This wasn't a bad example and certainly hit the spot.  On, ever on, and that beautiful road was beckoning.  It is now gone two o'clock in the afternoon and I have many miles to go without the faintest idea what kind of road was ahead.  Just my kind of fun and only four hours before sundown.  I have never understood the workings of the thing but it appears to me that wherever you are in Southeast Asia, regardless of season or latitude night falls bang on six o'clock.  No such thing as dusk, it is day and then it is night so moving on was the order of the day.

I shall digress, yet again, at this point to tell you that I may have just been talked into running the first mud-wrestling venue in Negros.  Heaven knows what might happen now.  I told you my life isn't ordinary!

Back to Siquijor, the Isla del Fuego.  Why was it so called?  Actually, nothing to do with volcanoes which would be a reasonable guess in these parts.  When the first Spaniards arrived at Siquijor they were taken by the huge amount of indigenous fireflies who present what looks like a fire over the island.  I don't know if they are seasonal or whatever but, sadly, I didn't see any.

I rode on, singing my heart out for the sheer joy of the thing, through the Municipalities of Enrique Villanueva, Maria and Lazi.  I stopped on the way to take a few photos, some of which I will share here.  I could almost write a generic description of a Visayan settlement.  It is based along the Highway, and runs from the sea to the foothills of the interior mountains.  It will have a market (normally), a recreation area normally featuring a basketball court (basketball is huge here) and, obviously, the largest and grandest building in town is the Church.  Always the Church.  Children in the Philippines die for want of 200 pesos (£3) worth of antibiotics, yet the Church sees fit to adorn it's ceilings with exquisite paitnings of the "saints".  Did I read somewhere, "Suffer the little children to come unto me"?  Am I imagining the concepts of poverty,  chastity and obedience (italics mine).  I'd better stop now, I suppose.  I certainly do not want to offend anyone but a trip here will challenge the most ardent churchgoer if they have not been so far brainwashed as not to see what is around them.

Beautiful, isn't it?
This place freaked me a little.  A Filipina friend of mine had joked to me that Christmas is celebrated in the Philippines from September to April. I sort of laughed but the presence of the wonderfully rendered nativity scene on the 17th February made me wonder a bit.
February nativity, Siquijor.
A closer inspection showed the most wonderfu workmanship in driftwood and bamboo, it really was impressive. Perhaps they are so proud of the scene that they leave it up all year, it is certainly worthy of it.

Philippine "recycling" workmanship at it's best

The church itself is pretty unremarkable, a fairly modern edifice fairly sparsely adorned but, as always, far and away the largest building in the community. Wandering a few yards away I came upon the parish office with the sign as shown displayed outside. It confused me a little. My Biblical knowledge is minimal but I am sure I remember something about Christ throwing the merchants out of the temple. Perhaps things have changed. 
Merchants in the temple?

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