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.