The coffee from the vendo machine wasn’t bad and it came piping hot, enough to warm and awaken the body that had been stiffened by the cold from the mountain air and the four-hour aircon blast in the car. The “budbud”, as usual, was glorious, nostalgia and hunger both conspiring to make it even more so.
Good Friend R whom I had asked to join me to the island did not make it for the 5:45 a.m. fast craft that would take us to Siquijor from Dumaguete so we sat there in the terminal — surprisingly clean and orderly for a Philippine port — and waited for the next trip: a cargo boat that was meant to carry cars and other stuff and maybe even livestock.
I was trying to beat myself to a deadline – just 48 hours – to make this trip and I did not want to wait for the supposedly more comfortable and faster fast craft that was leaving at 10 a.m. yet. So it was the cargo boat for us, the kind that I remember taking when I was a small scout, all steel and tough and harsh. Even the stairs going to the second-floor passenger section was all-steel and steep. I’m used to this, I told myself, except that my knees were now heavy and joints painful every time I made a step up. It was a minor struggle now to get seated.
Mercifully, there were no odors and not too many passengers, it was possible to lull oneself to sleep. But then again, we were sailing on open sea, and I thought it was a waste to sleep and ignore the experience of rolling through the blue waves that seemed to have a stronger vibe to them.
An hour and a half later, we dropped anchor and the first thing that impressed me was the water on the pier: blue, and very clean, a fact that should say a lot about the ecological balance hereabouts. There were a few shouts here and there as the boat settled and the passengers disembarked and the cargo rolled out unto the pier. But the noise was drowned out in the open air. The air was slightly cold but the sun was out, its early morning rays soft.
It was a nice walk through the pier to the jeepney terminal, and the white sand beaches and the blue waters that are now even clearer you could see the floor of the sea greet you. There were plenty of Caucasian and student-type back-packers.
As you approach land in Siquijor, what greets you, aside from the row of jeepneys, is the centuries-old St. Francis church, mute sentinel and comforting symbol in an island famed for hosting a world of dimensions other than the one we see.
We took a rickety jeep for Larena town, reputedly the center of commerce of the island-province. Ten minutes into the ride, it stopped and the driver apologized; it cannot go any further as it has broken down. He referred us to a trycicle, “just P20 per person”.
The tricycles here were built to accommodate many passengers, believe it or not, 10 medium sized people can ride in one, and I supposed these are used to traverse the province, and not just within towns.
That was what we took, going round the province, and crossing four towns and climbing a mountain in three hours. A pass-through Larena public market, and this ride was all there was to my first Siquijor sojourn. The newness of it all, plus my hyperactive imagination made it one thrilling experience.
The trees were old and huge, and the colors of the plants and flowers seemed more vibrant. But I swear, as we went up the mountain and deeper into the forests, the roads got narrower, the anthuriums and lilies were a lot larger, the air colder. It also got a lot darker.*