Siquijor isn’t a place; it’s a time. Not a ‘where’ but a ‘when.’ The wandering Spanish explorers had called it the “Island of Fire.” Most people know it as a land filled with witchcraft and sorcery. I know it simply as the island where time stands still. There are clear, sparkling waters and lush green forests, mountain ranges silhouetted against one another under a setting sun, an ancient house – the oldest in the Philippines – that has stood the test of time, bamboo bridges and structures nestled under the overgrowth of mangroves, and little children, fully naked, leaping and flying from the tops of waterfalls into the running stream of freshwater below. It brought us back to a time when we could do the same – at first afraid and doubtful as we stood a few steps away from the edge of a 20-foot dive at Salagdoong Beach, the beautiful wide sea spread out before us, then finally jumping, bracing ourselves for the fall.
In Cambugahay Falls, we swung from a rope strung on a branch and spent the afternoon like kids, trying out different dismounts and Tarzan calls. The sounds of our laughter mingled with the crashing sounds of water on water. We took turns with the children and watched them in awe, wondering how they could swing so high. We tried talking to one of them, and he snubbed us as he swam back to the bank. One of the men explained to us that he was deaf and mute. His name is Jake and he came to the falls everyday to do the same thing. “He is happy,” the man said. We looked at Jake as he stood on the rock, gripping both handles of the rope swing. His tiny feet pushed the ground and he flew past us. But when he reached the peak of his swing, he didn’t dismount. He swung around and flashed a wide grin then circled back and finally let go.
Our clothes still dripping wet, we explored the quieter parts of Siquijor. We walked across bridges, entered a house on bamboo stilts and sat down to admire the beauty of forests, straining to hear the moaning of mangroves and waiting for the birds to emerge from branches.
As daylight began to fade, we hurried back to catch the sunset. The waters had receded, which left us with little strips of striated sand to walk and sit on. We waded across shallow waters and were delighted to find stars across the sand. The day gradually eased into night and we had the best view of a watercolor sky that turned blue, orange, pink, and violet. At night, countless stars dusted the sky and the full moon so revered by witches and faith healers came out to greet us.
The last two days we spent in Dumaguete. We left Siquijor reluctantly and boarded a boat back to the city. We ate copious amounts of food, offered a few prayers and wishes at the Dumaguete Belfry and pretended to be college students as we wandered the grounds of Silliman University.
We loved Dumaguete, a city far more peaceful and less crowded than Manila. But the island of fire and witches and magic had cast its spell on us. We walked along the boulevard recalling the experience of flying and falling. We couldn’t wait for the time we could do it again, and live like kids who were happy enough to have their rope swing, water falls, and river. We yearned to get back to that time when we could watch the sunset and have an abundance of stars on our feet and above us at the same time. I noticed the glint in my friends’ eyes as we talked about “doing the Tarzan” or watching the stillness of the mangroves. I looked at them and knew: we had all been spellbound by Siquijor.