It was one of those times. I had 48 long hours in my hand last week, and Bacolod was getting trite and stifling, and I thought it was time to get out. Not just get out but go to grounds totally unfamiliar, to soak in new energies, to change pace, so to speak.
I thought of going out somewhere far away enough for things and people to be different but also accessible enough – not to mention affordable — for me to do it in 48 hours. The first choice of course was Dumaguete, which is as far away as accessible can be, but I’ve been there many times, I thought that wouldn’t count. I needed some place strange enough to engage or intrigue me, maybe even restore some childlike wonderment back. Eventually, the choice got down to Siquijor, that island off the bottom of the boot that is our island. Why not Siquijor, indeed? It’s just there, and I’ve never visited it even once.
Fabled Siquijor: far away enough but still accessible, with people talking in a different dialect, and the landscape altogether different from ours. Siquijor: famed for its folk magic and mysticism—there couldn’t be a better choice to jolt one’s tired bones back to life, is there?
So at around 1:30 one morning, I bundled up and together with my niece took off for the South. The highways were generally neat and devoid of traffic at this time and 15 minutes later, we were gliding through ‘Dolid, peaceful and calm, and soon navigated the pock-marked roads of Hinigaran, and then Binalbagan and Himamaylan. By 2:30, the highways smoothened anew as we got to Kabankalan. The plan to sleep through the ride did not turn out feasible after all; there was too much to see, and yes, feel, along the way it was difficult to pass up the views.
It was an experience seeing our towns in their peaceful, languid best, sleeping, with few souls stirring in its corners and fringes. The nocturnal sight of these places which we usually see in the light of day take an altogether different perspective in the wee hours of the morning. It must be the cold. Or the darkness. But certainly the shadows falling on these old towns as they are lit by the sallow moon and a few flickering lampposts are a dramatic real-life tableau no photo or video can ever capture; you have to see them live, moving before your very eyes, even from the warm comforts of your own moving car. Yes, it was poetry in slow motion.
Soon, our headlights started furiously fighting their way through fog, and I knew we were now in the Mabinay circuit, spinning on the edges of the mountains, soaking in the crisp cold as we wound and wound our way around. There were a few palpitating moments there, such as when we had to back off because the road could only accommodate one car – the other half was being repaired – and it was on a cliff, and I could see tiny flickers of lights down, down there, very small, just enough to remind us how far we will go if we fell off.
Between 3 and 4 a.m., I don’t know exactly as I had lost time already, unmistakably industrial lights spread out in the distance like a thousand flickering diamonds. “Bais,” the driver muttered. From here, the road started to straighten, and I could feel us going down, and down, until the road smoothened and straightened into more towns.
It was 5 a.m. when we got to the pier, still dark, and it, too, was just slowly waking. I was looking at the schedules of the ferry boats that will cross to Siquijor when an old, sprightly woman brushed past me, barking: “Budbud! Budbud!” It was a call that was simply irresistible, so that there in the dark corner of the terminal, with the faint sound of the distant waves rushing in and the cold brushing my face, I had my first bite of Dumaguete and downed it with coffee from the garishly-lit P5 vendo machine nearby.*