Sometimes you get to a place and you realize it’s just not for you.
Clue #1: The Ferry
The ferry to Siquijor was less of a ferry and more of a water bus. Shaped like a submarine, but distinctly less seaworthy, the lumbering beast waddled back and forth in the agitated ocean. Waves washed halfway up the windows as the hull tipped to and fro. Sweat beaded on my forehead. I glanced at the air conditioner that wheezed in the corner. The motion on the boat left everyone feeling sick. I kept my eyes trained on stormy sea, watching the edge of the window dip below the surface as belches of black exhaust roll over the window, leaving it dirty. The smell of gasoline and exhaust pervaded the small room until it was nearly unbearable.
Siquijor is located right in the middle of the over 7,000 islands in the Philippine archipelago. Superstitious Filipinos avoid the small island and its rumors of black magic. It is said that Siquijor can be seen glowing at night from the coast of Negros Oriental, the neighboring island. Whether it glows from dark magic or fireflies, we found ourselves drawn to this mysterious island.
Clue #2: The Drive
After docking and renting motorbikes for our stay on the island, we confidently set off. The sun, which had begun to set as we disembarked from the water bus, had finished its nightly descent. Once we were out of the city proper, the empty country roads were pitch black. An occasion headlight would appear, pass us, and then fade out of sight.
The road was unreliably paved. Portions of the paved road simply stopped, sometimes marked with cones, sometimes not. The cone marked spots left us driving on the wrong side of the road, hoping to pass the construction site before meeting an oncoming car or tuk tuk. The unmarked spots simply disintegrated into dirt-tracks-recently-turned-puddles.
The straps of my 30-pound backpack dug into my shoulders and the stress of navigating an uncertain road at night left me gripping the motorbike handlebars until my hands ached.
The only directions we’d been given to find the house we’d rented was it was near a well-known cock-fighting stadium. When asked everyone we passed if we were heading in the right direction. Each time the question was met with a blank stare. Finally, a kind woman recognized a description of the house, jumped on a motorbike, and showed us the way, which was down a long, bumpy dirt road.
There was a small selection of canned food items at the house including sausages, sweetened spaghetti sauce, and corned beef hash. Exhausted and hungry, I opened a can of tuna, drained it, and ate it straight out of the can.
Clue #3: The Storm
We awoke to the sound of a motorbike screeching to a halt outside and rain dripping onto pavement. The storm knocked the power out. The maid laughed. “Yeah, typhoon. No power. Maybe later.”
When asked if there was a grocery store nearby, we were met with another blank store. “No, only small store,” she eventually replied.
“What about a restaurant?”
“Yeah, in Larena. If you give me food, I cook it for you.”
The maid didn’t seem to understand that the problem wasn’t cooking food, it was not having any food at all. Larena, the biggest town in Siquijor was a good 25 kilometers away. Spurned on by hunger and lack of other options, we mounted our bikes again and rode the half an hour back into town.
We circled the town as a fresh army of clouds marched above our heads. We found a restaurant, but the power outage severely limited our dining options. Eventually, bellies full and my purse stuffed full of only slightly expired snacks from a dusty mini-mart we spied, we began the journey back.
The sky opened. Fat water droplets fell and stung our skin like insect bites as we hunched over the handlebars of our motorbikes. Giant, fallen bananas trees became an impromptu obstacle course on the road.
Upon our return, the maid laughed when she spied our rain-soaked forms. “It’s wet out there, eh?”
Clue #4: The Food
Pushed out of the house once again by hunger, we drove hoping to find a resort with a restaurant after the previous day’s failure in Larena. We turn down a road, wheels slipping on the gravel. The path wound through a forest, before ending abruptly at a chained gate. We parked, stepped over the chain, and began to walk.
At the end of a road, was a resort with a restaurant up a winding staircase. The prices: outrageous. The view: decent. Kelly ordered a bowl of chili con carne, I, a lasagne. The food came. Kelly’s chilli came sprinkled with green peppers and a side of garlic bread. She gave me a taste. It was the first food I had eaten in two weeks that was not only edible, but delicious. Spicy, rich, complex. “I forgot food could have a flavor besides sweet,” I said.
I quickly commandeered the bowl for myself.
A day later, I begged Kelly to return. I ordered the chilli con carne and ate every bite.
Clue #5: The Money Situation
There are no ATMs on the island.
Correction: there are no working ATMs on the island and we realize that we don’t have enough money for ferry tickets to get off the island.
My motorbike is out of gas. I sit at a restaurant with our bags, nursing a mango shake, while Kelly goes on a scavenger hunt. The last ferry of the day is about to leave in half an hour. This island might not be filled with sorcerers, but I’m starting to think it’s cursed.
I keep checking the time on my phone while I wait for Kelly to return. She does, empty-handed. Kelly still has some American money. She leaves again to exchange it to pesos. She returns and we race to port.
We board the last ferry of the day. I am not sad to say goodbye to Siquijor.