That Time We Visited The Haunted Island Of Siquijor On Halloween
There was a time in my life when I said yes to everything,without even thinking first. Or maybe I still do now, but with more mindful caution. Unlike in school when I’d come into almost every class prepared, in life, I sort of didn’t. Maybe it’s my rebellion against the structure, or maybe it’s me being adventurous. Or careless. However you choose to judge it is absolutely your choice.
Almost exactly a year ago, with a resounding yes, I went to travel to the province of Siquijor with my friend Joanna. In case it did not occur to you (as it did not to me, when I agreed to this excursion), we ventured by end October, which is Halloween, and in case you didn’t know, the island of Siquijor is in fact known for its mystic traditions.
I hope that gave you the shivers...
Joanna was actually prepared with what to do, e.g. make sure to touch every person who touches you back, which I am assuming is a way to identify if the creature you have interacted with is an actual living person and not an engkanto. I, on the other hand, was armed with nothing but my spirit and sense of adventure.
I have fortunately lived to tell you that my Siquijor experience on Halloween is a beautiful tale I’d like to be able to pass on to generations. You can choose a short story to read or indulge in all; the latter, of course, is what I would recommend.
SCARY-TO-AN-EXTENT STORY #1: AT ONE POINT, WE THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO DIE
Joanna and I have a record of several adventures together, including the six-hour (or more?) ride from La Union to Manila via the provincial bus, which only allowed us one brief stopover. It was definitely troublesome for our little stomach and bladder. From Uber rides to roros, Joanna and I have tried everything, and thankfully, neither of us were biyahilo nor are we sensitive to bumpy rides and all. We both just really need to pee often.
However, in our connecting ride from Dumaguete to Siquijor, we randomly just booked the earliest on schedule, which turned out to be a fast ferry. It’s a small, motor-propelled boat with a lower dock for passengers. The ride was mildly bumpy at first, and since we were in an enclosed space, the heat will made us felt like wanting to take a nap. Or pass out.
What made it worse was, as we traveled farther, the rougher the sea became, and the more water would splash inside through the windows. The passengers nearest the window seats closed the panels, which are, by the way, opaque wooden planks, without means for ventilation, making the condition inside only more humid. If there was air-conditioning on the boat, it definitely wasn’t working. I tried to keep awake by popping one TicTac after another and praying to God.
Initially, before we took off, everyone were busy in their own worlds, chatting with each other or on their phones, in different languages and dialects. But then came the time when none of us were speaking, and slowly, one by one, we were all falling asleep, dropping our heads in exhaustion. I cannot be certain if what we all felt was biyahilo—and more, because the heat was definitely making me feel like Gudetama, melting life away and lying on the edge of a toast. All throughout the rest of the trip, I closed my eyes, sat still, and focused on breathing heavily and deeply, like a true yoga practitioner.
Of course we came out alive and unwell, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this today. Joanna and I arrived nauseous, dizzy, but nevertheless thankful for our lives and sanity, all set and ready to explore Siquijor.
SCARY IN A DIFFERENT WAY STORY #2: I RODE A MOTORBIKE WITH A KUYA, GOT STRANDED, AND CRASHED A HALLOWEEN REGGAE PARTY
Throughout the trip, we met strangers and locals who would tell us about their hometown, invite us to a party nearby, or engage us in all our questions about engkantos and such.
One afternoon Joanna had work to do and it was our last day on the island. And I badly wanted to ride a motorbike. Since I’ve never ridden one on my own, I had to rent one and make angkas with the kuya driver. My goal was to see more of what I haven’t seen yet, considering that Siquijor is a small island that can be explored by motorbike in half a day, or probably even less!
With two hours to spare before dinner time, I rented the motorbike-with-kuya. We stopped over the best beach side destinations that only locals would know of, then rode up a mountain, where the view from the top was supposedly majestic. Again, this is one of the moments in my life when I felt infinite. It was four in the afternoon, and my specific instructions to the kuya was to be back by the hotel before dark. But as we rode higher and higher up the traffic-less route to the top of the mountain, the sky grew dark, and soon, rain started to pour.
At one point, I was stubborn-headed and told the kuya to keep going, until it began to rain really hard that we had to seek shelter for a few times. We would always drive off again, still hoping, determined to reach the top. But at one point, the sky turned as dark as night, the heavy clouds finally gave in, and what I thought to be an occasional afternoon rain turned out to be a brewing storm, and it was impossible to keep going.
There was a nearby place, an abandoned basketball court, where we parked. I was scared, and for a number of reasons I do not wish to enumerate here. I turned on my phone’s flash light, played music (thanks to my OPM playlist which made my mood better!) which we could hardly hear through the rain but whatever, I didn’t care, and pretended I wasn’t panicking after I noticed my phone was out of signal. Internally, I was restless, and even went as far as ask useless questions out loud, like when the rain will stop, until the wise kuya told me that uttering such nonsense it won’t make it happen.
So I sat down with the kuya and tried thinking of all the possible conversation starters I’ve ever used in my life. I was avoiding the quintessential awkward dead air, not even for a little pause that may invite unwelcome thoughts to run through my mind. The kuya shared with me their life in Siquijor, how they would go to Dumaguete because that’s where the mall is, to watch movies and, at times, they would even get to meet and greet the celebrities. He also disclosed that some of the artistas look normal in real life, and that certainly made me laugh.
The rain finally gave us a break and we grabbed the chance to ride down the mountain. It was almost past seven, after all. We missed the chance to see the splendid view before the sun set. Nevertheless, I was thankful we were riding home safe and sound.
The path was muddy, I could feel it splattering on my legs, and despite being a fan of the sun's piercing heat, that night's cold air slapping my face, the misty view, and the eerie fog of the mountain, all felt comforting to me. It was a great, après-rain feeling. The kuya asked if I wanted to drop by the Halloween party, and silly me said yes again. I was curious, and told him we would just drop by very quickly, since I still wanted to have dinner at the hotel.
The party was situated right beside the cemetery. There was a reggae band setting up, sound-checking their first few tunes. The actual singing and dancing hadn’t started yet. People were dressed in gory costumes, upping the spook levels of their looks. It was almost impossible to recognize or remember anyone. And while I was dying to see how the party would turn out, I decided that we ride back to the hotel immediately, as it looked like it was going to rain again soon.
NOT IN THE SLIGHTEST BIT SCARY STORY #3: I WASN’T USED TO THE CALM WATERS, BUT IT CALMED MY HEART
And so did everything else on the province. A tad different from the wild waves in La Union or Zambales, in Siquijor, the waters were as calm like Mama Mary. It’s like waking up to a still photo everyday. You can pick a spot anywhere on the beach, and lie down and take a nap—which was what I did.
In our room, there were humongous lizards, and since my friend Joanna has excellent hearing, she also claims to have heard a tuko. I, on the other hand, was disappointed all morning because I could not hear it. By the way, I am also the type who would choose cockroaches over lizards any day, so you can only imagine how I would carefully inspect every nook and cranny as I walk per square inch.
During the day we went through one calm beach after another, paid a visit to the famous Balete tree, tried the Tarzan-like jump by the falls, and had a relaxing time at the fish foot spa, which was a pleasant tickling experience.
On one of those lazy mornings when I was on the hammock, a local was walking his dog, er, carabao back and forth and I couldn’t help sit up and watch in amusement.
Overall, I thought of Siquijor as a true recluse. Despite the island being lined with hostels and resorts for would-be visitors, it remains feeling like a quiet place. As calm as the waters, the ambiance of the island can be as still and chill, so you can only imagine the great adjustment I had coming back to bustling Manila.