Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Mystical Island Adventure

Siquijor Island is known as the magical and mystical island of the Philippines. Ask any Filipino not living in Siquijor and they will tell you the island is home to witchcraft and warn you not to go. But hearing about all the superstitions surrounding the island of Siquijor only make it more enticing to visit. So when Stacey proposed an impromptu trip to the island to meet up with some other volunteer friends, it didn’t take me long to request for a couple of vacation days and pack my bags!

The trip came at a perfect time. I was just finishing up the Bantay Dagat (local coastguard) training that Rob and I coordinated on. We had great attendance from our two municipalities and were able to make it an overnight training, which not only ensured attendance for the second day, but also gave an opportunity for community bonding and sharing of experiences as the participants talked about starting a new reserve in their respective villages. Coordinating with the different agencies involved in the training gave us a rough planning start, but everything came together in the end (as it always does) and the fisherfolk and police men participants seemed to really enjoy the training and get a lot out of it.

working with the Jordan participants

The newly trained Bantay Dagat fish wardens for the new marine reserves in Jordan and Buenavista

After the training I immediately prepared for the trip starting that following weekend. Since its rainy season the Philippines has been battling many storms and at the time there was a typhoon to the northeast and a monsoon coming from the southwest. I was hoping that since Siquijor is a small island (even smaller than Guimaras) located in the central islands that it would be protected from most of the stormy weather.
And it was J

It was a long trip involving an hour ferry boat, a 5 hour bus ride and another hour ferry boat but we finally made it to Siquijor! As usual we had heard of where to stay from previous volunteers. (The wealth of travel knowledge of PCVs should never be underestimated!) The place is called JJ’s and is located in San Juan, Siquijor. They are known for their beachside cafĂ© but have recently expanded to have two small dorm rooms to rent. However we were there for camping! JJ’s had very recently added the option to sleep in tents on the beach for a very low price. They set up a huge 6 person tent and provided foam pads and other beddings to make out stay comfortable. The beach scene was beautiful!

the beach at JJ's

the tents we stayed in - we had to put the tents under cover for nightly rains

Kris relaxing in our huge tent

The best thing to do in Siquijor is to explore the island (which, since it’s so small, can be done in a day or less) and to find some native healers! Since locals are the best source of information we talked to the owner of JJ’s to find out where we should go to find a natural healer. She told us where we could find a bulo-bulo healer. On our way to see the bulo-bulo we ran across a small stand selling natural remedies. We couldn’t help but to check it out! She was selling many different mixtures of herbs and tree barks that were mixed with coconut oil. Some of the other volunteers bought an honest to god “love potion”… only time will tell if it’s effective!

the local remedy stand we ran across

love potion!

all of the herbal remedies being sold at this local stand

I wanted to bring back some gifts for my co-workers since none of them had been to Siquijor (they are too scared to go!) The woman was also selling panagang or defense bracelets. Inside each bracelet is herbs and coconut oil, said to ward off evil spirits. If you are wearing a bracelet and come into contact with a witch or aswang (Filipino version of vampire) the bracelet is said to burst, spraying the evil one with the herbs and oil and casting them away.
So I bought 20.
herbal bracelets

My co-workers LOVE them! I had no idea that this was something common place, but many people put these bracelets on young children to protect them from harm. And the fact that the bracelets I brought were from Siquijor I guess made them that much more powerful! I was so happy to see my 10 peso gift bring so much happiness and wished I had bought more!

After we bought our herbal remedies, we headed off again in the direction of the bulo-bulo healer. Bulo-bulo is a native healing method, where the healer uses a small glass, a black stone and a bamboo straw. When we finally found the healer she was just as you might expect her to be! We learned she is 87 years old and one of few people left practicing the old healing method.

First you have to tell her where your problem is. I told her my back (true story). So I sat down and she began by blessing me with a coconut oil mixture and praying in a dialect I don’t understand. Then she poured water into the glass with the black stone. Using the bamboo straw, she blew bubbles into the glass as she rubbed the glass along my back. After a short time, the water became discolored and had floating particles in it. She examined the glass and expelled the dark water. After refilling the glass with clean water, she repeated the process. The second time also resulted in dark water. But the third time the water remained clear. Dun Dun DUN! I was healed!

the bulo-bulo healing mu back

Sooo my back still hurts.... but many of the locals really believe in what the bulo-bulo healer does and will go to see her if modern medicine fails them or if they can’t afford to be seen by a doctor. In fact after we were “healed” by the bulo-bulo, there was a mother with her small child waiting to be seen after us. The Bulo-bulo doesn’t charge but only accepts donations. Even though she didn’t cure my back, we all made sure to give appropriate donations J

Siquijor is really a magical island. We had an amazing time there talking with the locals, experiencing the culture, exploring the island and finding beautiful and remote beaches. Siquijor is not a main tourist stop; there are no big attractions aside from some diving, snorkeling and the superstitions surrounding the culture. But this means the island still has its charm without being overdeveloped. Mainly other backpackers visit there, wanting only to enjoy its natural beauty. One of the things I love most about the Philippines is that you can think you know its people and culture, but only travel to the next island over and you will be surprised again! The diversity of the Philippines is more than just the marine life. The people and culture are amazing and I will sorely miss it when I am gone.

Less than 4 months left! Where did the time go?