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Crystal Neri | TRAVEL: Siquijor Island, Philippines - Crystal Neri

TRAVEL: Siquijor Island, Philippines

As I walked up the hill, people gathered in small groups, vendors stationed their dried-leaf potions on the sides, and signs were put up advertising for hilot (massage). I’m in Siquijor for its annual Healing Festival, nothing like your typical fiesta. There were even horses you can ride for 10 pesos and live music by a local guitarista.

I was at the Bandilaan Mountain Park in Siquijor, Negros Oriental. That day was Good Friday and my friends (Nelia, Rachel, Mya) and I trekked up the mountains for the Healing Festival. The signage said:

The Healing Festival was a showcase of healers and herbalists gathered together to perform their rituals, traditional healing practices, the renewal of their healing powers and the preparation of the medicinal potions believed to cure a variety of ailments.

I positioned myself in front of the small huts and patiently observed the healers. One man who had been working with an elder lady, did something I’ve never seen before: he blew bubbles in a round glass filled with water and one blue ball. He’d then chant prayers on a side, in front of a single white candle. I didn’t think much of this until a 15-something girl approached him. He blew the bubbles, as usual, but sent her away immediately. “You’re OK, nothing’s wrong. You can leave,” he said quietly.

I was able to observe this because I tried the traditional healing myself. I walked up to an elder lady dressed in white. Since I don’t speak Bisaya, I just gestured and said, “Ako din po. Gusto ko din.” (I’d like to try that too). To start, she massaged my head with oil from a small, roll-on container. It hurt. Then she would press parts of my chest and arm that made me wince. “Ate, bakit masakit? (Why was it hurting?), I asked. “Kasi masakit ulo, mo diba?” (Because your head hurts, right?). I did have an oncoming headache at the moment.

After a few minutes of doing that to parts of my leg, she rubbed me with lana. As I understood, it’s their version of homemade massage oil. I saw that hers had bits of leaves in it. To give respect, I didn’t shower until the next day to let whatever she did (including the chanting and blowing) absorb fully. Turns out, this wasn’t your typical fiesta.

LOVE POTIONS. Siquijor, Philippines

Siquijor had no malls, no big stores, a few cars and zero phone reception. The town was incredibly slow and quiet. I was delighted to see houses made in either nipa (a material made from a palm tree common in Pacific islands) or bare hollow blocks. It was so simple, so different from what I’ve seen in Cavite, California or even rural parts of Cebu.

But then you’d get pockets of luxury like U Story. Owned by a Frenchwoman and her Filipino chef husband, together they built this Bali-inspired resto, lounge area and guest house. The woman owner designed the furniture herself and had it custom-built. I appreciate that attention to details–it made the place texture-rich yet cohesive. My friends and I had dinner there on Maundy Thursday and came back the next day to enjoy the views in daylight.

Starting from back left: Tony, Mel, Crystal (author), Nelia, Mya and Rachel
My new friend, 10-year old Mya
Good Friday lounging at U Story


Bali-inspired decor
Holy week spent well with these girls
I’m back to Cebu now, after three days and two nights in Siquijor. I’m happy to get WiFi and sleep in an air-conditioned room again, but I was so glad I took the trip.
Rachel and her daughter, Mya

I’m thankful to have met new friends–Rachel and Mya Roberts–both so kind and game. I have a kindred with explorer personality types, ones that don’t care about mosquitoes, bumpy tricycle rides, and backpacking-style travel. As expected, vendors and drivers raised their prices on us as we looked like foreigners, but we negotiated hard. The total cost for my trip was barely Php 3,000.

Nelia (left) and Mel (right) at the Danish Lagoon

I’m also thankful for Nelia Monet, my colleague at JFDI and new-found travel buddy. We’ve only known each other for a month but she’s tagged me along Malaspascua and Siquijor already. On this trip, I also met her sister, Melanie.

At the end of the Healing Festival, I had my palms read. I also tried card reading, just to see what psychic would say about my upcoming wedding. In general, they were all positive readings–with a few reflective points. I immediately typed them on my phone, so I won’t forget. However, no details will be revealed in this blog. That’s it, Siquijor–I can’t wait to explore more Philippine islands.

Author’s sunset shot at the Santander Express Port

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