Category: Philippine Travels



It started out as a heritage house tour and simple get-together of long time friends, then as bienvenida for visiting family members, and finally as a pseudo wedding reception for a young couple whose most significant ceremony we all missed because of the pandemic. There were 18 adults and 2 toddlers meeting for the first time who hardly warmed up and interacted with each other. Topics covered a broad range and the long table divided between the senior and younger members of the family. All’s well.

Palacio de Memoria

We nearly went overboard with the pseudo wedding reception. A bridal bouquet, a flower girl’s flower basket, the ring bearer’s pillow, the wedding cake. All in good fun. That happens when we all felt deprived missing a young couple’s wedding. The sprawling garden provided a beautiful backdrop for our group picture as well as bridal bouquet toss up between a spinster and a widow! The little girls from the past have all grown up, some with their adult children and toddlers. And the more senior members have done away with the dyes, proudly bearing their greying hair. The laughter across the long table sounded just as loud and crisp, the jokes nearly the same, and the banter seemingly endless but fun.

All In The Family
The Long Table

Here’s one unforgettable get together of family and friends. Never mind that the museum tour was cancelled and the bar housed inside one of the airplanes (spotted the 3 aircraft collections parked in the lawn) were closed. We enjoyed the antipasti and the main entrée as well as the refreshing beverages and vanilla-flavoured wedding cake. The pre-ordered al fresco lunch was seamlessly served and there was time enough to loiter around the gardens. For sure, I’d be back for the guided tour and the date at the bar. Por supuesto!

The Antipasti and the Wedding Cake
A Choice of Lamb, Beef, Salmon or Pasta

Palacio de Memoria is now an events and auction venue consisting of a historic mansion restored to its pre-war glory. Abandoned for 2 decades and now owned by the Lhuilliers to house their antique collections including the 3 aircraft, one of which has since been converted into a bar. One can just imagine how this heritage mansion cut a majestic vista right along the wide Roxas Boulevard just across the Manila Bay before parts of the Bay were reclaimed. I bet many parties were held in its sprawling lawn while the breeze gusts in from Manila Bay. At the time we visited, tents were being set up in the front lawn for what looked like a wedding event. I can also imagine what great parties one can host here to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries or just about any momentous occasion. And there’s La Loggia Restaurant housed in a separate al fresco structure right beside the Mansion to provide the Italian food and refreshments. I heard one can even arrange picnics under one of the trees or just outside the airplanes with a picnic basket packed by La Loggia. Swell!


The last 2 years were marked by non-activity and a much-limited social life. My last trip was just a few weeks before the lockdown and meet-ups with family and friends were restricted to zoom meetings and Viber chats. Finally, this.

Boracay

Flying into this island south of Manila was a thrill by itself. After all, it’s been 2 years since my last flight. Travel today involved many health protocols, but seeing this slice of Shangrila is worth all the “trouble”. The hotel was fully booked and it’s good that people are spending their holidays and traveling again. Overcast skies and intermittent rain didn’t deflate our excitement. In the four days we were in the island, we had 2 days of sun. Not bad.

Sunset Watch

Unlike our previous trips, this one tops the list in the leisure and R&R department. Most activities centered around the beach and the hotel pool. We even managed to put to good use the excellent hotel facilities for kids such as the entertainment center, fish feeding ponds and playground. There were shuttles to take us to the more crowded and busier boat stations and Resto/shopping spots, but the hotel has been our little corner of paradise we truly enjoyed staying in. A perfect way to enjoy this break from our pandemic confinement.

Happy thoughts. Happy memories. May this pandemic finally blow over so we can spend more holidays under the sun with sand between our toes, sipping our piña coladas, mango daiquiris and margaritas or cold beers. As the wind slaps our salty faces and ruffles our sandy hair, we feel grateful to enjoy these slices of paradise. A real Shangrila.


Yes, I’m talking about St. Scholastica’s College standing on a 3.5 hectare-block hemmed in by 4 streets: Leon Guinto, Pablo Ocampo (formerly Vito Cruz), Singalong and Estrada. This college in Malate was established in 1906 and predates the neighbor campus of De La Salle University. Run by Benedictine sisters, St. Scho moved from a modest residential house in Tondo to San Marcelino (where Adamson University sits now) until it finally moved to its present Malate site in 1911. Of note is the fact that this college founded by German nuns pioneered formal music education and established a Conservatory of Music only a year after it was founded. At the time we visited, we were lucky to listen in on a pair of Music students practicing a Kundiman classic, “Pobreng Alindahaw”.  Check out the YouTube link below.

Photo Credit: Old Manila Walks



https://youtu.be/1T1fYBeYjdw


Art Deco adorns the campus chapel, the jewel-box theater, corridors, reliefs and many nooks and crannies. Despite the heat and humidity, we were enthralled by the Art Deco elements around us. Though ravaged by World War II, the post-war (from 1946) reconstruction of the school buildings was pursued and completed within a decade. Thanks to Ivan (Man Dy) who conducted the Manila Moderne Art Deco Walking Tour, we were educated and adequately guided to spot these oft-ignored details: the lines, zigzags, geometric patterns in all Deco-inspired heritage! 




Art Deco here is not all colonial-American as I earlier understood.  The architecture and style found in this campus lent itself to Bavarian influences as the chapel photo above shows. Another style is evident in the concert hall, aptly named St. Cecilia’s Hall. St. Cecilia is the patron Saint of musicians. And guess who was the architect of this premier concert venue of its time? No less than Andres Luna de San Pedro, son of Juan Luna who built the concert hall in the Egyptian Art Deco style. 





No wonder then that the National Historical Commission declared St. Cecilia’s Hall as  a National Cultural Landmark. Notwithstanding that bigger concert halls and performing arts venues now exist, this iconic theatre hall was clearly the forerunner of the Cultural Center of the Philippines as many notable musical artists had their recitals and concerts here. 






The Deco style manifests in the college’s courtyard, grand staircases, wrought-iron grills, ceiling art, sleek lines, arches, and geometric shapes adorning walls and columns. Such inspiration for its many outstanding alumnae which counts one President (Cory Aquino), 2 beauty world titlists (Gloria Diaz and Aurora Pijuan), and the first woman Supreme Court Justice (Cecilia Muñoz-Palma). 






We often forget that many of our universities and colleges are hidden cultural gems, having withstood the test of time. Though many were bombed out in the last war, thankfully their reconstruction restored many of the architectural elements prevailing at the time. After this walking tour, I am now inclined to visit as many campuses within and outside Manila. Yes. Before some idiot think of demolishing old buildings which have been part of our history. 





A fellow blogger once asked how many countries I have visited. A friend once “humble-bragged” by advising I should start planning to cover all 7 continents to “round up my travels”.  Unfortunately, I don’t keep count. Why do they, I wonder? Nor does it matter to me what others think I missed or should have done. I go where it pleases.  And beyond the sights, my memorable experiences are always characterized by the people I interacted with. That includes the people I traveled with. I have the good fortune of traveling with many, varied circles of friends outside of family. The foodies, the sightseers, the adventurers, the history buffs, the art and culture vultures, the hikers, as well as those who just long for some R & R. Not stuck with any single group, I relish the company of each. That includes a peculiar group I’d call the “losers” — people who don’t care getting LOST, seeing the ”mishap’ as another opportunity to explore! 






In Bhutan, I found a very admirable tour and hiking guide. My friend Beth and I “adopted” Sonam whom we referred to as our godson. We are still in touch, thanks to Facebook. We were updated with Sonam’s adventures from a young man to bridesgroom to young father, moving from Bhutan to Australia. I credit Sonam for making it possible for me to hike up to Taktshang Monastery aka Tiger’s Nest. The hike is quite dramatic considering you see the site high up in the mountain from the base where pilgrims and tourists commence the hike or horseback ride for the first 1 hour. I chose the latter to conserve my energy for the hike and met Tring, the old man whose horse is likewise called Tring. Don’t ask why. Meanwhile, I left my friend Beth with our driver who grew years older (again, don’t ask me why 🙄) accompanying my friend up to the Halfway Station. Tashi Delek!





Still on Bhutan, I have to say I’ve been so impressed with how kind and caring their people are. Whenever I stopped for oxygen breaks, there were locals eyeing me as if asking if I need some help. They’d only stop staring and got on with whatever they were doing when I smiled to reassure them I’m still alive 😊 Also, I never found a race so detached from material wealth as these Bhutanese. Sure there were poor people around, but I never once felt that money mattered most to them. I sure hope that didn’t change over the years since I’ve been there. 






Because I run a blog site, one of my followers learned I was staying in Madrid for nearly 3 months back in 2013. He messaged to invite me to a good Cocido de Madrileño lunch plus an afternoon tour of the city’s hidden gems. The best tour I ever had! Under the tourist radar sites included trespassing on strangers’ apartments to view better preserved medieval walls of Madrid. Well not exactly trespassing — Marco actually knocked on strangers’ apartment doors to view the walls from their porches!  And these locals were most accommodating. 




Because I made many solo trips in and around Spain, I met a lot of new friends and interacted with many locals. Before getting off a bus, I’d ask the driver which is the best way to reach the Plaza Mayor. Invariably, the bus driver will advise me he’d be back on that dropoff by a certain time for my ride back. Better than riding a cab! On that New Year’s Eve I was in Madrid, I jumped up and down with the locals,shared drinks with them, and even hugged them as the clock struck 12. My niece and them locals were family 😘




In Mongolia, my friends and I had a chance to visit a ger, eat an authentic lunch, and observe how a typical Mongolian family lead a nomadic lifestyle. I parted with my locally-crafted necklace to give to the “lady of the ger” who cooked and served us some dumplings and tea right inside the ger. We didn’t sleep in a ger. I don’t think I could unless one goes to the gers put up for tourists with modern conveniences 😜 






In Hanoi, I found children playing “sipa” which literally translates to kick. It’s a native game in Vietnam, Philippines, Thailand and other Asian countries. I joined those kids for a game in my wedged sandals while carrying my bag. Beat that! Then in India, I strayed from our travel group and found ourselves in the kitchen of a Sikh Temple where they were preparing to feed a long line of devotees. The volunteer cooks looked tired but friendly. And locally? I remember spotting a fellow blogger in a Masskara festival in Bacolod City. I approached Enrico and here’s our photo before the parade started! Listen to the drum roll… 




For more photos and details, just click on the links/highlighted headings. 

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This is the Church of Saint Anne in Molo, Iloilo. Some coral rocks, some sand, some eggwhites. And then, the statues of 16 women saints. Seek their graces and feel empowered, woman!

 

 

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The church is right across the beautiful district plaza where one finds a domed pavilion with 6 Greek goddesses. Why Greek? I honestly don’t know. Our guide kept harping on the “Athens of the Philippines” bit, but I feel it’s a stretch. The Gothic Church stands on its own, and the plaza….well, let’s just say it’s neat and pretty without any reference to the Athens line.

 

 

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Molo. Say that, and what immediately comes to mind is a clear broth with pork and shrimp dumplings. In olden times, the districts and towns along the shoreline were constantly raided by Moro pirates. The place being Iloilo’s version of Chinatown had many Chinese settlers, who pronounced “Moro” as “Molo”. This also explains the Chinese influence on its famous local dish “Pancit Molo”, one of my favorites.

 

 

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The church interiors made great use of columns, many of which along the main aisle is adorned by a female saint. You may address your prayers for intercession to Saints Cecilia, Teresa, Monica, Mary Magdalene, Clara, Martha, Rose de Lima, and many others. The statues, woodwork, stained glass, carvings and paintings are worth a few seconds’ pause, if you will.

 

 

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The ochre color, the flying buttresses, the ornately-designed bas reliefs, the uneven belltowers, and the gold-plated retablo. All that speak of a history surrounding the St. Thomas of Villanueva Church, more commonly, and simply called Miag-Ao Church. 

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The church facade is unique. St. Christopher is depicted like a local, more so as he is illustrated holding on to a coconut tree. There are also other “local” elements represented here like local fruits and flowers. Interestingly, the typical village life is very much represented in this art form.

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The Retablo

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Impressive Altar & Sanctuary

Inside, the interiors are simple, but very elegant. The antique gold plated retablo is impressive. So with the altar. A story goes that the altar dates from the late 1700s which was subsequently lost during the 1910 fire and later found and re-installed during repair excavations in 1982.

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The Flying Buttresses

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One of 2 Bell Towers attached to the church.

You’d wonder why the 2 bell towers at the church front are uneven, or simply different, unmatched. Used as watchtowers against Moro pirates, the 2 towers were built separately. The older and taller belfry is the one on the left side. Apparently, the 2 priests who commissioned the work thought it unimportant to match the design and architecture of the 2 towers. If you ask me, I think the disparity makes it unique.

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The Baptistery


Mangoes. Nothing’s sweeter than the Philippine mangoes. We have them good from Cebu, from Zambales, but the sweetest come from Guimaras Island, just a 15-minute boat ride from Iloilo. By the time we visited, it was almost the end of the peak season and prices have more than doubled. Yet the mangoes remained sweet.

Just a 15- minute banca ride to the island of Guimaras!

Just a 15- minute banca ride to the island of Guimaras!

Sweetest Philippine mangoes!

Sweetest Philippine mangoes!

We visited the oldest Church in the island. San Isidro Labrador Parish in Navalas honors the patron saint of farmers here. Small but charming. And terribly in need of restoration work. Since the church forms part of many itineraries for day-trip visitors of this island, perhaps the local authorities and prominent families here can help restore and preserve this part of Guimaras history.

Navalas Church, oldest in Guimaras

Navalas Church, oldest in Guimaras

Roca Encantada, the Guimaras Resthouse of the Lopezes

Roca Encantada, the Guimaras Resthouse of the Lopezes

Unlike the church in disrepair, Roca Entanda looks grand and well-maintained. The power scions — Lopez Family — has this all-white mansion by the edge of the waters, built on a rock looking out to sea. I can imagine all-night parties here with the seawind breezing through the spacious verandah. Or quiet weekend escapades with a coffee mug or a glass of wine, waiting for either sunrise or sunset. The life!

View from the balcony of Roca Encantada

View from the balcony of Roca Encantada

Mango Ketch, anyone?

Mango Ketchup, anyone?

Local residents line up streets with stalls  selling fresh mangoes, ready to be boxed for those who care to bring home these sweet fruits. There are also stores like McNesters selling mango byproducts like mango piaya, mango ketchup, mango bars, mango barquillos, etc. A foodie’s delight! More of the same stuff can be bought from the Trappist Monastery. As for lunch, how about that famous KBL (kadios, baboy and langka) soupy dish, soured by the local batwan, from Jannel Glycel Beach Resort? You can even opt for a quick swim before your lunch, if you like.

Janna Glycel Beach Resort

Janna Glycel Beach Resort

Trappist Monastery

Trappist Monastery


I confess this trip was hatched as a serious “food trip” with friends. My love affair with shellfish has withstood the test of time and coming home, I’ve been dreaming of my favorite hard-shelled loves. But 4 days of marathon dining can get us into serious trouble so we arranged to visit some heritage churches and ancestral homes as well.

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Of the churches we visited, I was impressed with this Church. Tigbauan’s architecture has Latin American influence ….. “Churriquesque” it’s called. It doesn’t register at all with me. Admittedly the first time I heard of it. Otherwise, I would have thought it refers to some barbecued specialty dish. (I’m hopeless) . I wonder how it looked back when it was constructed in 1575 before a 1948 earthquake destroyed much of it but for the bell tower, a few pillars and church facade. The mosaics which were actually what caught my attention in the first place, were installed when the church was restored following the 1948 destruction.

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Officially named Saint John of Sahagun Church, many simply refer to it as Tigbauan Church after the town where it is located. San Juan de Sahagun was an Augustinian friar who earned many enemies during his time in Salamanca, Spain where he was known for his sermons and scathing words which offended many from the upper echelons of society. It was believed then that the fierce saint died from poisoning by a woman who sought revenge. The woman was a nobleman’s concubine who was “enlightened” by Saint John of Sahagun . Wicked woman!

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Old, original, or not, I am impressed with the mosaic interiors. The altar looks lovely in an austere way. The niches with the Last Supper, saints as well as the Stations of the Cross, look just as charming in an old world way. I just hope the local parishioners and authorities work on the full restoration of the belfry and facade, remnants of this centuries-old church.


Lazi Convent proudly stands across the pink-ish late 19th century church built by Augustinian Recollects in Lazi, Siquijor. The stonewalls echo a deep history of this convent used as “rest and recreation” of the Augustinian friars then. A collection of sorts is housed in the 2nd floor which now serves as a museum that impresses as well as breaks one’s heart.

 

 

 

 

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Lazi Convent. R & R. In late 19th century for men of the clergy.

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Centuries-old acacia trees line the road separating Lazi Convent from the Saint Isidore Church. Siquijor.

 

 

Impressive that the same acacia trees still line the road separating the Saint Isidore Church and the Convent which has since been converted into a school and Museum. That the basic elements of the old structure — pillars, capiz windows and staircase — remain. Heartbreaking that there is no semblance of security and preservation concerns relating to the Museum. In the first place, the use of the ground floor as school premises doesn’t augur well in preserving this historical site.

 

 

 

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The corridors on the 2nd floor of Lazi Convent which now houses the Siquijor Heritage Museum.

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Capiz-framed window slides on the 2nd floor of Lazi Convent cum Siquijor Heritage Museum.

 

 

 

When we came across a tabernacle on display, it broke our hearts to read that the piece is a reproduction, a fake, a switched copy of the genuine piece which was earlier sent for restoration. Only time will tell how the other treasures within the unguarded museum would fare. God forbid.

 

 

 

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The FAKE Tabernacle. Siquijor Heritage Museum. Lazi Convent.

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Historical treasures inside Siquijor Heritage Museum. No glass encasing to protect them. Unguarded. Poorly maintained.

 

 

 

The 2nd floor with capiz-framed window slides reminded me of my grandmother’s house, except that these ones offered a view of the Lazi Church across the road. No wonder men from the clergy chose this convent for R & R. The church is beautiful and this convent equally so, as well as huge in size. A friend reminded me that Siquijor was then center of studies on herbal medicine during the Spanish time and that many scientists from Europe visited the island for research then. I may also add that religious men, many of whom are botanists and pseudo-scientists, may have visited for these same reasons. Rest and Recreation AND RESEARCH!

 

 

 

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Lazi Convent. Rest, recreation and research!

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Saint Isidore Church just across the road from Lazi Convent.


 

The 2 structures in the sleepy town of Lazi are the iconic landmarks of this 3rd smallest island province in the Philippines. It has more to offer but many visitors shy away from spending more time, if not nights, in this province which gained notoriety as the country’s black magic capital. The beach scene here is quiet, even secluded. And the waterfalls and cave sites offer more for the more adventurous. With more tourist arrivals, perhaps local government here will consider a more serious upkeep of the island’s historical treasures.

 

 

 

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The stonewalls on the ground floor. All original. Lazi Convent. Siquijor.

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Lazi Convent. Midday. Siquijor.


I have long postponed this visit to Siquijor. Blame them tales about sorcerers and voodoo magic. Poor Siquijor. The urban legend spun by the locals themselves worked to dispel evil forces represented by pirates then, but somehow the “horror stories” stuck through the years. Obviously, the residents of this tiny island were good storytellers. Good enough to scare off the sea pirates who used to pillage the former Isla de Fuego. The island was then called Isla de Fuego or Island of Fire by the Spaniards in the 16th century because of the glow created by the swarms of fireflies found on the island. Who would have thought it would later earn notoriety as a haven for witchcraft and nest for sorcerers?

 

 

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From Dumaguete Pier at the end of Rizal Boulevard, an Ocean Jet can whisk you in 45 minutes to the tiny island province of Siquijor!

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We left the Dumaguete Wharf just before 8am and our Ocean Jet
reached the “voodoo capital of the country” some 45 minutes later. A hired van fetched us from the pier and we were soon on our way to visit the top island attractions after a brief stop at the 18th century Saint Francis Church. The church doors were adorned with rope curtains to keep the birds off. Ingenious.

 

 

 

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The Saint Francis Church is the first island attraction to welcome you in this island. Nearby is a centuries-old belfry.

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We likewise visited the Capilay Spring Park at the base of another church. Then the ancient balete tree (teeming with more urban legends) where a local vendor has on display various bottles of “herbal medicine”. I bought one not exactly knowing what it was for. Inside the tiny bottles were tree barks soaked in coconut oil which oil can be anointed on any ailing part of the body. Or so I thought. Until my friend read the label : the oil is used to drive away bad elements much like what “evil eyes” in Turkey do for you.

 

 

 

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The Balete Tree of Siquijor. More urban legends here. Listen up!

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The Lovely Saint Isidore Church. Siquijor.


 

Soon we reached the Lazi Church (St. Isidore Church) and Convent, allegedly the biggest convent in Asia. Lovely centuries-old structures facing each other across a road lined with  acacia trees. The church interiors and the 2nd floor Museum in the Convent can do with some repairs, but it’s fascinating to find such treasures in this tiny island of just over 80,000 residents. Browsing through the Museum collections, I was reminded of Baclayon Church. Great treasures. Hardly a museum guard. In great need of repair in the name of preservation for future generations to appreciate. 😦

 

 

 

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Inside the Lazi (Saint Isidore) Church in Siquijor.

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Lazi Convent. R & R of men from clergy then?

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I wonder who painted this Last Supper mural inside Lazi Convent.

 

 

 

My eyes were drawn to a mural of the Last Supper. Painter unknown. Then
to this piece of art that told of a sad story. Sent for restoration, replaced with a fake reproduction. Such crime only thrives where there are unconscionable peddlers and willing, just as dishonest if not outright criminal moneyed buyers disguised as art collectors.  A sob tale. But we know it happens everywhere to a point I wonder over the pleasure of buyers keeping such treasures off-display, hidden, for their personal, exclusive viewing. Sucks, right?

 

 

 

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The FAKE Tabernacle. Siquijor’s Lazi Convent-Museum.

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Cambugahay Falls. 135 Steps. Up and Down. 270 in all.

 

 

 

Cambugahay Falls is just 2 kilometers north of Lazi and is a great prelude to our next stop: Salagdoog Beach Resort where we had lunch. Cambugahay requires a bit of hard work though as one goes down 135 steps, then climbs them back up. As for Salagdoog, some of the areas damaged by Typhoon Sendong were since restored but paved. I’m not a big fan of cemented walkways, but I’m awed by a couple of slides I spotted ending right into the sea!

 

 

 

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Care to slide straight on to the sea? Salagdoong Beach Resort.

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Salagdoong Beach Resort after Typhoon Sendong. Siquijor.

 

 

 

Finally, our meeting with JennyLou. This young shaman got her “gift” from her late grandfather who passed on his “gift” (and stone) to his grandchild. Still under 30, Jennylou typically has busy days when visitors and “patients” drop in for a session of faith healing. Armed only with a black stone dropped into a clear mason jar and a straw-like cylinder, Jennylou promptly went to work. She put water to submerge the black stone in the jar and then moved the jar all over the patient’s body where there are ailments, aches and pain. All that while blowing into the straw-like cylinder to make bubbles. ( Bula Bula or Bulo Bulo? ) Jennylou replaces the water as it turns murky and continues making bubbles, as many times, till the water stays “clear”. Three of us tried it. The first “patient” didn’t find any improvement in her condition. The 2nd felt her body “warm up” but the back pain remained. The 3rd claimed his knee joint pains are completely gone. One out of 3? Not bad. Good score! We left Jennylou to get back to our wharf to take the ferry back to Dumaguete. We spent our time well in Siquijor. Easy circling the whole province in just a few hours. Do it as a daytrip next time you visit Dumaguete!

 

 

 

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Bulo Bulo is a faith healing method where the shaman puts a stone into a jar filled with water and bubbles through the ailing parts of one’s body.

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You can take the 5:30pm RORO (roll on, roll off) ferry if you want to spend more time in this mystical island province. Or take the Ocean Jet!