Saturday, April 08, 2006

Biking Siquijor

Oops, I did it again. After last weekend's escapade, I just felt that I had to do Siquijor Island this weekend.

I told myself that I wouldn't fall into the same trap that I fell into last week. I would just do a couple of hours in one direction and turn back. Did I listen to myself? No. The same demons were egging me on: just a little bit more....

So in the end, I did over 70 kilometers today. In some ways, it was better as I was travelling on asphalt road. In other ways, it was worse, because this trip included a 7-kilometer trek up a mountain (thankfully followed by a steep descent on good, smooth road).

The map below should give you some idea.

I took the 6:00am ferry from Dumaguete and landed in the town of Siquijor, Siquijor at 6:45am. I dropped by the church briefly, then tried to figure out where to go from there.

There's a circumferential road that rings Siquijor Island. From Siquijor, I could either head over to Larena in the east, or San Juan in the west. I opted for the latter, taking a counterclockwise route.

The westerly route is deceptively easy as it starts out with gentle climbs and descents, all the way up to San Juan. I came upon the church of San Juan, incongruous because of the old bell tower paired with a modern church.

Next to the church is a little plaza where they have a crystal spring that was turned into a public pool.

At the plaza, the lady operating the concessionaire called to me, inviting me for some breakfast. "It's our opening today," she said, "and we want to celebrate." I was grateful for the offer as I had only had one chicken sandwich for breakfast. Without much hesitation, I settled down for their fare of biko, all the while making conversation with the owner, Irene, and her schoolteacher friend, Othello.

I didn't linger too long as I wanted to cover more road. The ride from San Juan was getting a little difficult because there was a long upward slope. But that soon gave way to another easy descent, so things were fine for a while.

I came upon this sign, and it brought to mind a humorous essay written by a Brit on Filipino names.

San Juan gave way to Lazi, and now the ride became difficult. I had to get off the bike and push because the grade was getting steep.

I came upon this large balete tree. It impressed me enough to take a picture. I later found out there was a giant and ancient balete tree that was a tourist attraction on the island. I thought this might have been it, but I think I was wrong. (Balete trees are said to be the dwelling place of spirits. Woo-ooooo....)

I would stop for pictures often. Sometimes, I would have to use the self-timer, but that produces less than stellar results. Sometimes, though, I would get lucky and make friends with the locals (who are really very friendly) and I would ask them to take my photo. As it turns out, the picture of the kids I asked to take my shot turned out better, so....

I finally hit the Lazi town proper, dominated by the old Lazi church. The church was really old, and still maintained its old furnishings. The floors were made of wood instead of cement or marble. And it still had those old style pulpits which priests of that time would ascend to give their sermon.

It fronted huge convent, apparently the largest in Asia, which had been turned into a museum. The museum housed statues, furniture, and decor from the church. No pictures because the National Heritage Foundation disallows it. Sadly, it wasn't very impressive, a common lament among Philippine museums. Still, it's worth a visit if you're passing through the area. They have a web site.

After Lazi was the town of Maria. The church there was huge! It was hard to get a good shot because it was blocked by trees all around.

After Maria, I had the option of going through the town of Enrique Villanueva on the coast, or of taking the mountain path through Basak. The coastal road was 22 kilometers, so I opted for the shorter mountain path which was only 11 kilometers. Big mistake. It turned out that while it was shorter, the first 7 kilometers were a steep climb. I had to push all the way.

I hit Larena at around 2:30 pm, expecting to take a boat back to Dumaguete from there. It turned out I was wrong. The boat docking there only made one trip a day, in the morning! So I had to bike back to the town of Siquijor, another 11 kilometers away.

I missed the 3:00 pm trip, so I had to settle for the 5:30 pm ferry. Fortunately, there was a decent cafe near the port where I could get a good meal. Food prices were very reasonable, although the room rates were a little upscale.

After my very late lunch, I took some more photos, and still found time to give love advice to a stranger I met.

Now, that was another record for me.

Note: See also Ivan Henares' account of his visit to Siquijor.


  1. Bike Man Strikes Again! :) Excellent start to the Summer. Pachada gyud ang mga laag nimo, Doms.

    Now, love advice to a stranger? Since when have you started being Doctor Love??

  2. Ah, you forget. I have some experience now.

    Doing Vigan in a couple of weeks.

  3. hahaha galing. i've been longing for the longest time to do biking trips in the visayas...inggit... hehehehe

  4. Yeah, you should try it. You just have to put your mind to it.

  5. Wow, 70km bike ride... cool beans.

    love the pics

  6. Hmmmm, I should try getting myself a bicycle too. Looks like fun and good exercise.

  7. waah.. puede mukuug??? hehe

  8. it made me remember my own escapade to Siquijor with my i'd like to go back to the siquijor!

  9. Hi, all, thanks for commenting.

    Ivan: yup, my bike has been my best purchase. I think my health has improved because of it.

    Marianne and Dirg: sure, ba! Pero...I go mostly on foot, so kapoy ko ka-ayo kauban.

  10. Hi, Dominique:

    Got your link from Philippine Commentary. But was drawn to this entry on Siquijor.

    Because as a child growing up in Northern Mindanao, Siquijor Island had cast an ominous spell and mystique on the boat trips we took from Mindanao to Cebu, my mother's hometown.

    We were always admonished to go to sleep as Siquijor approached, because then the sea would become choppy and the night would get darker. And this we kept unto early adulthood.

    This was awakened when I read this bit of news from our local paper here (San Francisco Chronicle)way back in 1997. But as FYI, here it is attached and one wonders what has happened since then.

    Patch in the Pacific Holds Hard-to-Find Medicinal Marvel
    - Charles Petit, Chronicle Science Writer
    Friday, January 31, 1997

    Somewhere stuck to rocks in the western Pacific Ocean are strange sea creatures like blobs of stiff jelly, their tissues rich in a chemical unlike anything known to science -- a substance that has killed colon cancer cells in laboratory tests.

    Unfortunately, the people who found them cannot find any more.

    The frustrating story starts with William Fenical, a chemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego. He led an expedition in 1991 to the Philippines, prospecting for marine creatures that might produce medically useful compounds. In a cavern 100 feet under the sea near the remote island of Siquijor, he and other researchers scraped about two pounds of living material from a rock.

    Testing extracts of the tissues of this cave-dwelling invertebrate, they isolated from its tissues a bizarre chemical that kills colon cancer cells.

    It was a perfect setup for further study, with eventual testing in animals and then people -- if its initial promise holds. But the thimbleful of the mystery substance has long since been used up.

    A subsequent expedition could find no trace of the sea creatures, said Fenical. ``Obviously, there are more of them out there. Chances are, it is abundant in many places. The question is, where? If you don't see it where you saw it before, it becomes like the needle in a haystack. The ocean is so vast.''

    To him, the episode illustrates both the potential payoffs of chemicals produced in the sea and the challenge of finding them.

    Now, the main hope for studying the intriguing compound comes from a laboratory at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where chemists using a blueprint of its structure are trying to make it artificially.


    Even if it does not cure cancer, the material is impossible to resist, said Santa Cruz organic chemist Joseph Konopelski. ``This is the most challenging problem I have even been associated with as a professional chemist -- 13 years here as a professor, and before that as a graduate student.''

    Only further testing can demonstrate whether the compound, called diazonomide A, will be useful medically. But already, Konopelski said, it is clearly very odd. Standard chemical rules suggest that it should not even exist. When Konopelski tries to put together a model of it using plastic balls and other shapes to represent atoms, it won't work. ``The pieces don't fit, you have to jam them in,'' he said.

    And the resulting molecule is so rigid that it may have unique biological properties. Most proteins, enzymes and other organic molecules can bend easily. ``This thing is like a board,'' he said.

    The molecule consists of 99 atoms, including 40 carbons, 45 hydrogens, six nitrogens, six oxygens, and most important, two chlorines. The chlorines are shoved unnaturally closely together, pinned by rings of carbon. They stiffen the whole structure.

    So far, Konopelski and two graduate students have synthesized about six components of the molecule, and they think they may be able to assemble them into a duplicate of the original in a year or so. Then, if they can make enough of it, medical testing can continue. The American Cancer Society has paid more than $500,000 to back the effort.

    And Fenical expects to resume the search for the animal, which has been seen before and has the scientific name Diazona chinensis.


    Although its adult form is stuck to a rock like a plant, it is an animal. It is an ascidian, a member of a group of animals called tunicates that includes things like sea squirts -- resembling anemones. The creatures live in colonies, embedded in a tough, semitransparent tissue. The single colony found in 1991 resembled a translucent cow pie, about six inches across and two inches thick.

    ``It's kind of pretty when you look at it close up,'' Fenical said. You can see the little animals inside. They are slightly orange tinted, all lined up in rows.'' Because such animals seem so vulnerable to predators, he said, they often depend on chemical defenses that make them poisonous to other creatures -- and which often offer novel medical properties.

    After discovering the potential anti-cancer properties in the animals' tissues in laboratory tests, Fenical and colleagues at Cornell University bombarded the material with X-rays and subjected it to other tests to determine its molecular structure.

    Konopelski at Santa Cruz said that trying to make the chemical ``is not like building a television or something, where you know how to put it together. It is more like climbing a mountain for the first time. You plan your route, but when you actually start up, you find yourself going up blind chutes and have to turn around and try something different.''

    In the end, synthesizing the compound may be the scientists' only choice if further tests show that it has medical value. Although the creatures, if found, would be a boon to initial testing, Fenical said harvesting them would not yield enough of the material for widespread medical use.

    Page A - 4

    ©2006 San Francisco Chronicle

  11. Thanks for visiting, Amadeo, and thanks for the story. I can use this in my column in the local weekly.

  12. It's funny how I missed this post when you first wrote it. This is my "old stomping grounds"....had I known you were going, you could have looked up a manananggal I once knew.

  13. Hi, loved your story about biking in Siquijor. I did the same thing, except by scooter. Check it out here. I loved Siquijor!


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