• Don’t be a stranger in your country

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    Ma. Lourdes N. Tiquia

    THE Philippines is an archipelago and a maritime nation. We have a surfeit of beautiful beaches owing to our long coastline. We actually rank fourth in the list of top five countries with the longest coastline, at 36,289 kilometers. “Canada ranks first (202,080 km), Indonesia is at second spot (54,716 km), Russia third (37,653 km) and Japan in fifth place (29,751 km).”

    We have 7,641 islands, of which only about 2,000 are inhabited. The main islands of Luzon and Mindanao have bodies of water surrounding their outer limits while the Visayas is composed of various islands enveloped by the Visayan Sea. These islands have the best beaches in the country.

    Summer is the best way to see the Philippines. Although the infrastructures are yet to be fully developed, air, water and land transport will take you to your chosen destination safely. Land travel is the best way to go when exploring Luzon to the north, as far as Santa Ana, Cagayan; or to Bicol; to Pangasinan on the eastern seaboard; and Batangas on the west. To go to the Visayas, you have a choice of air, or water transport via the roll on, roll off (RoRo) from Batangas to Roxas, Oriental Mindoro, and exiting to Caticlan, Aklan.

    One can in fact do a combination of land and water travel via the so-called Nautical Highway which got real attention during the Arroyo administration, connecting the three main islands via RoRo. The Nautical Highway stretches 703 kilometers from Manila to Dapitan City in Mindanao (the Dumaguete port links you to Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte and you are in Mindanao). This “highway” is actually a combination of overland highways and RoRo vessels.

    The areas of Badian, Oslob, Dumaguete, Bais, Siquijor and Tagbilaran are some of the jewels of the Visayas.
    You will see amazing sites and experience unique destinations. Badian, Cebu is host to Kawasan Waterfalls, a three-layered cascade of clear turquoise water that originates from mountain springs located in the jungles of Cebu. Oslob, Cebu, is known for whale sharks and Sumilon island is by far the most popular diving spot in the Visayas. Dumaguete and Bais are in Negros Oriental. Dumaguete is where you will find Apo island (dive with pawikan). Drive to Bais and you end up in the Majuyod sandbar where you can watch the dolphins. Majuyod is a “pristine 7 km stretch of premium white sand accessed via a short 15-minute boat ride from Capinahan Wharf in South Bais Bay.” Bohol has so much to offer, both inland and on the coast. And we are not even looking at the pink sand beaches of Southern Leyte and Samar.

    One of the island provinces that Filipinos often leave out of consideration is Siquijor. It was known to the Spanish conquistadores as Isla de Fuego or Isla de Fuegos for the “Siquijor of lore is literally lit by fireflies at night swarming the branches of its numerous molave trees.”

    “Siquijor’s long-time reputation as a place of magic and sorcery both attracts and repulses visitors. Siquijor is also well known for its festivals that focus on healing rituals where incantations are sung while the old folks make potions out of herbs, roots, insects and tree barks. In hushed tones, locals will share a story or two about folk legends pointing to the existence of witchcraft and witches on the island.”

    Folk legend has it that “many years ago, a great storm engulfed the Visayan region, and a strong earthquake shook the earth and sea. Amidst the lightning and thunder arose an island from the depths of the ocean’s womb which came to be known as the island of Siquijor, hence the name Isla del Fuego, or “Island of Fire.”
    Oddly enough, highland farmers have found giant shells in their farms, supporting the theory that Siquijor is indeed an island that rose from the sea.” The island’s 102 km coastline is made of powdery white sand. Siquijor is like the Boracay of 20 years ago but its mystique makes it unique.

    Part of the island’s mystique is that it has been spared the natural disasters experienced by neighboring islands, such as Yolanda and the earthquake that devastated Bohol.Some old folks say that Siquijor is blessed and that the spirits hovering around are good ones. The negative branding of the province has actually led to cottage industries that embrace the seemingly negative play of magic and sorcery. Potions are sold, voodoo dolls are available as magnets and keychains, etc.

    Interestingly, the crime rate stands at zero. Natives are hospitable and offer a ready hand to strangers. One would see foreigners renting motorcycles and touring the island all by themselves, discovering wonders that only backpackers would.

    The road network the new governor is rolling out fast is of good quality, two ports are being revitalized, a runway is awaiting the go-signal of the Civil Aviation Board, a new provincial hospital is in an advanced stage of construction. After 27 years of Siquijor being under the thumb of one political family, the incumbent has shown what sincerity means after only 10 months in office.

    We need to support small provinces like Siquijor to build and move. Let’s help get the economy moving during these summer months. Go out and explore our country. Buy local and patronize our tourist destinations. The Philippines has much to offer so don’t be a stranger in your own country. We have 81 provinces, go and explore.

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