Part 5: Siquijor – The Party Continues

The next morning greeted us with the sounds of the waves, blue skies and delicate palm-tree shades on the sand.  That was on the outside.  On the inside we were dying.  Gone were the days when we could party all night and wake up in the morning fresh as daisies ready for more.  We were ready for more, but not before serious resuscitation attempts would be applied.

A beautiful Siquijor morning – view from Sunny Side

To add injury to the insult, I woke up with a UDI (an Unidentified Drinking Injury) on my knee.  The cut and bruise were colorful, although relatively painless, and I had a hard time remembering the origins of this decoration.  Vague memories of the Italian restaurant started surfacing up in my tired and hangover brain.  I desperately needed a shower to wake up, sober up and clean up.  Alas – no such luck!  Nic, ever the gentleman, went out to explore the facilities of our VIP room, and informed me with disgust that he could pee stronger than the water pressure in the shower.  Nature wasn’t on our side either – the morning low tide also prevented us from dipping in the nearby seas.  We put on yesterday’s shorts and T-shirts, and crawled out onto the deck.

Chris was sitting under the umbrella with a standard cold San Miguel as if he never left, and a couple of neighbors were chilling in the loungers next to him.  The bayots were as chatty as yesterday, although fewer in numbers.  Overnight, two of them disappeared, leaving without pay or warning.  That left the proud owner short staffed and puzzled.  Chris was genuinely hurt – he really embraced all his staff members, provided them with food and board (in addition to pay), treated them like family, and gave them the opportunity to be themselves.  Although bayots were recognized and accepted in the Philippines, the general public standing was that they were to keep quiet, know their place and stay under the radar.  Dressing up in women’s clothes, wearing loud makeup and (God forbid!) singing or dancing were all inappropriate behavior in public, and generally frowned upon.  Chris did not give a shit about makeup or dresses, and Sunny Side presented the bayots with a rare opportunity for self-expression during working hours.  The fact that two staff members would leave without saying good-bye, and losing their well-earned wages was a mystery and a disappointment…

But we had our own and quite urgent problems.  If we could not have a shower, we at least needed breakfast to start resembling humans again.  As we already noticed last night, Sunny Side’s engine was powered by beer, and beer alone.  This was fine for the evenings, but if we wanted to sober up, we again needed solids.  We went back to the Italian.  It turned out to have a name, Marco Polo, after a famous Venetian explorer, and in the bright hours of early morning it looked quite different (not that we remembered what it was like last night!) – everything was calm, serene, and welcoming.  Unfortunately, they remembered me, as the first question we heard coming through the door was “How’s the head?…”  My acrobatics with the chair last night apparently did not go unnoticed…  Well, what you gonna do?…

“Marco Polo” (lovely roofs on the right) – view from the sea

In the light of day, we had a chance to not only appreciate (and remember) the surroundings, but chat with the owners.  Two proud sons of Naples and Sicily, they ran the restaurant together, and like true connoisseurs of good food, somehow managed to sneak in proper Italian prosecco, prosciutto, cheeses and wines onto the menu.  We have readily partaken in all (minus the wine – we were here for breakfast, after all!), and enjoyed the wonderful views from restaurant’s terrace.  For the next couple of days on Siquijor Marco Polo will be our go-to place for everything.  If you happen to be in that neck of the woods – make sure to visit.  You will be as delighted as we were!

Breakfast view from “Marco Polo”

Happy, sated, and slightly less hungover than we were (thank you, Italian prosecco!), we could now think about finding a place to stay.  Sunny Side was a designated party place, but one can’t live on beer alone – I needed a shower.  Anne’s place was a bit too far for a permanent base, and the potholed un-lit roads would be too much for us during party-time.  We went back to Chris’ and rode up and down the main drag, knocking on the door of every decent and cemi-decent looking place in the neighborhood.  Everywhere was full.  Turned out that remote as it was, Siquijor still attracted its fair share of tourists, all of whom were intent to have a New Year party on the island.  Most established places in the vicinity of Sunny Side were fully booked.  Luckily for us, new ones were popping up like mushrooms after the rain, and having rode down the road a little further, we secured one of them!

Stella’z Guest House had clean new rooms with functioning showers and water pressure (I checked!), big beds and even air-conditioning.  The location was perfect: less than 5-min ride away from Marco Polo, and about 10-min ride from Sunny Side.  We happily moved in and spend the next hour enjoying the water pressure and the aircon.  The only downside of our new digs was incompatibility of its electric plugs with my hairdryer.  In +35C degree heat, however, hair could dry out on its own, but could not wash itself.  With this conciliatory thought I gave up on trying to find a fitting plug, and embraced the hippy lifestyle.  In all further photos from the island I looked the part, and now you know why…

In front of Stella’z Guesthouse

The day that started so beautifully on the outside and so painfully on the inside also happened to be my very own and very personal birthday.  I guess I might still be relatively young, if the former sentiment about the dichotomy of the inside and outside world still applies…  Generally, the further one goes, the more these two seem to match.  And usually not in one’s favor…

While I fully intended to celebrate said birthday on Siquijor in general and at Chris’ in particular, I could not, for the life of me, predict or foresee the scope of the celebrations to come.  I had a strong suspicion that Richie had a big hand in it, as Chris was way too relaxed and on island time to come up with the organized havoc that ensured.  Having Anne and Cheryl as new friends on the island also played a huge role in what was to come.

With Anne and Cheryl

By the year 2018 I had a couple of weird and memorable birthdays under my belt.  Mad student years aside, the most recent ones included:

  • An impromptu celebration in the “Mushroom Bar” down the dodgy-looking alley in Aonang, Thailand.  The birthday cake was personally ordered by the president of the local MC, and “ladies of the night” danced traditional Thai dances to the “Happy birthday to you” sung by the highly intoxicated yet impeccably friendly biker gang (see here for the full epic story);
  • A more “refined” celebration in an Irish pub in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, accompanied by bottomless Lychee Martinis and a sing-along to the 80-es music marathon on TV (full story here).

The surprise celebration at Sunny Side got its proud place in the ranks of the most memorable birthdays ever.  Preparations must have started early in the morning, but busy with our shower quest we did not notice.  When the new hippy me and Nic showed up in Sunny Side, there was a commotion of people and tricycles, coming and going, bringing in trays and mysterious-looking boxes.  It was hot, but the thought of another San Miquel did not call for a welcoming response from my tired, soon to be one year older body.  I’ve never been a beer drinker anyway – while I can definitely drink the stuff (which last night happily demonstrated), the brewing liquid pleasures were largely lost on me, and I have always chosen wine as my beverage of choice.  However, the realities of life were such, that South-East Asia not being big on grapes, did not present a good platform for indulging in wine, and left one to enjoy what was available.  Hence the San Miquel evening last night, which was thoroughly enjoyed despite of the lack of beer-drinking inclinations on my part.

With all this said, my first birthday surprise of the day were two chilled bottles of wine brought by Richie.  God knows where he found them on a remote island in a region that is only vaguely aware of the existence of grapes, but there they were, and they were very welcome, indeed!

While I was enjoying my wonderful birthday present, the commotion continued.  The mysterious-looking boxes on the deck were now accompanied by a family of drums.  There were the tiny baby-ones hurdled together, a huge monstrous-looking papa-drum, the size of an average human, and every shape and size in-between.  This was getting interesting!…

Drummers

The mysterious trays, covered with banana leaves, revealed all sorts of wonderful snacks, hidden inside, and there were more to arrive – with hot food!

Amazing birthday buffet, courtesy of Anne & Cheryl

By the time the sun set down into the sea, party lights were up, Chris was DJ-ing on the deck, friends, neighbors and random strangers gathered around, and before I knew it, the birthday party was in full swing. 

We had amazing food, birthday cake, fireworks (more practice was apparently needed in preparation to the pyrotechnical mayhem of the New Year celebrations), and the local drummer band playing the wild assortment of drums brought in earlier surpassed themselves.  The music attracted even more people who seemed to have come from the other side of the island. 

My very own triple-cream-layered birthday cake!

The drum band was accompanied by the fire-eaters, juggling burning torches and fire balls to the beat with amazing grace and skill.  One of the guys managed to accidentally set fire to his substantial dreadlocks to the sheer delight and amusement of the public (no worries – the fire was quickly extinguished, and he did not even lose his dreads!). The fire-eaters also doubled up as “sexy-dancers”.  There was an impromptu semi-striptease (nobody got fully naked, though, to my sheet disappointment), the DJ kicked in, wine and beer were floating freely, and it seemed that half the island joined in on the party.

Fire-eaters!!!!

Another year older, and none the wiser!  A great party was had by all.  Needless to say, we again did not remember how we got back to our bed at Stella’z.

Part 4: Long-Lost Friends and Giant Penises

Not being particularly into black magic, shamans, or witches of any sort, we had a different and a rather prosaic reason for our trip to Siqujor – we were going to visit a friend. 

Chris disappeared from Munich a couple of years ago.  He signed up for a well-paid job in Bangkok, completed the project ahead of time, and then went down the slightly less-traveled roads.  He met a girl, told his employer who wanted him back in Munich to fuck off, and moved in the direction of the Philippines, his new partner’s home country.  Part of his adventures can be traced here (in German), but after several irregular website updates Chris went off-line.

From his blog, we knew that he had a traditional Basnigan fishing boat built in Cebu and traveled from there through the unsteady waters of the Cebu Straight to and around the Virgin (Pungtud) Island off the Bohol coast, and after several weeks at sea arrived in Siquijor.  This was where any further traces of Chris’ trail ended.  There were no replies from any of a dozen E-mail addresses we had for him, all messages on Facebook were left un-answered, and his phone was apparently disconnected.  Chris has always been a crazy fucker, and has been known to disappear for weeks and even months even when he lived next door in Munich.  However, a year completely off the grid was way too long, even for Chris.

We all silently envied him, of course – giving the finger to the corporate world and setting off into the sunset to live the dream!…  Deep in our hearts we all wanted to follow suit, and were quite curious to see how it all worked out for him.  Many were pissed off at him for cutting off all the ties of friendship, and not bothering to give any sign of life to our increasingly desperate attempts to get in touch. 

We were also worried, of course – mad as Chris was, he was a foreigner living in a country the language and laws of which he did not understand.  The islands to the South of Siquijor had a serious ISIS problem, the seas in that part of the world were swarming with pirates, and while Basnigan was probably not the most attractive vessel for them, we did not want the next piece of communication to be a ransom demand, or a beheading video…

Richie, Chris’ best mate was the first to take action.  He booked the flight to Cebu, and with 2 weeks of vacations on his hands, was intent to find the fucker (hopefully alive, and not sold into white slavery or chained to a bed somewhere in a drug den), and give him a good bollocking after hugging the shit out of him.  After leaving Munich, he checked in every other day, as promised, and upon reaching the Witch Island, did find the prodigal son of the Austrian Alps, happily sipping beer next to a relaxed-looking construction site on the beach, soon to be a backpacker hostel.  The “proof of life” photos were duly sent out to all concerned friends and family, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.  Crazy or not, Chris had a heart of gold, and we all loved him dearly, so it was a happy day, when the intermittent communication was re-established.

This was half a year ago.  Despite all promises, Chris continued keeping incommunicado after that first visit, but we hoped that he was still alive, and the hostel must be finished by now.  Much as we loved Chris, we weren’t in the mood of spending our vacations making bricks for building his hostel.  Yes, you read it right – making bricks.  Of clay and sand.  With one’s own bare hands…  Apparently, there was nowhere on the island one could buy bricks (or any other construction materials, for that matter), and said materials had to be ordered and shipped from either Bohol or Negros, at an extortionist (by local standards) price.  Chris has never minded roughing it up, and having moved to the Philippines, lived like a Philippine – simple and tight, not like a foreigner protected by the power of bank savings and credit cards.  So, according to the reports from his mate’s first visit to the island, Chris took the time to make each and every brick for his hostel with his own hands.  The process was long and tedious, and was complicated by the fact that the sun was shining every day, the sea was turquoise blue, the beer cheap and ice cold, and being his own boss now, Chris did not need to watch the clock.

We figured half a year should still be enough to finish a 1-storey shack even at the snail island pace.  In case the construction works were still ongoing, we had a back-up plan of staying somewhere else.

Naturally, we did not breathe a word to Chris about our intent to visit.  Still pissed off at his silence, seeming abandonment of all friends, and his cutting off all ties to Europe, we were fully intent on giving him a heart attack by showing up un-announced right before the New Year.  Richie was going to be on Siquijor at around the same time as well, and was the only one privy to our plans.  He knew the date of our arrival, and promised to pick us up at the airport, but we did not hold our breaths over that.

Back to the original story.  We landed at Siquijor Airport (too grand a name for a little hut with dug-out insides, but still…), hauled our bags from the plane, and having surveyed the surroundings spotted exactly one tricycle driver loitering about.  Needless to say, Richie was nowhere to be seen.  We sprinted towards the only available tricycle, beating the remaining 4 fellow passengers to it, and secured a ride to Chris’ place.  The tricycle driver claimed to know where it was.  We had no idea.

Welcome to Sunny Side!

After a quick 15-min tricycle ride we were there.  Sunny Side Bed & Bar with its proud owner lounging in the front with a bottle of chilled San Miquel in his hand.  He looked skinnier and scruffier as we remembered him, but it was him all right!… We asked the driver to slow down and drove past, waving hands and shouting friendly obscenities at Chris.  The look on his face was to die for!  He jumped up from his lounge chair, knocking off the table and his bottle of beer, and just stood there with his mouth open and the look of total disbelief on his face.  Exactly the reaction we wanted!!!  Well, it’s his own fucking fault that he was not reachable by any normal means of communication, and his island was way too fucking far for the pigeon post to reach!…

Found him!

From then on – it was party time!  After the obligatory hugs, kisses and swears all around, Richie joined in (he was fashionably late for picking us up at the airport), our bags were thrown into the hostel’s only VIP room with en-suite shower (more on that later), cold beers were distributed, and we sat on the deck admiring the views. 

Party time!!!

Sunny Side, proudly carrying a rainbow flag, was the island’s first LGBT-friendly hostel.  It was strategically positioned on the West part of the Siquijor Circumferential Road encircling the island along the perimeter.  The building was finished, and with its bamboo front, arched windows, big roof-top deck and beautiful palm-trees growing from under the walls, looked every bit a pirate’s recluse from the “Treasure Island” one would imagine. 

Chris and his partner Lyka, were the proud owners, and permanent fixtures on premises.  The help staff consisted mostly of bayots (or bakla) – born as men, but identifying with female gender, they dressed and acted like women, and in the Philippines were generally accepted as an official 3rd gender.  They were young, pretty, friendly, and spoke zero to shit-level English, which did not stop them from chatting with everybody within earshot in every language they could muster.

View from Sunny Side

Having quenched our initial thirst with ice cold San Miguel, we realized that solids would be a good idea, especially if we continued partying (which we fully intended to do).  Sunny Side seemed to function on beer alone.  Which presented a slight problem, considering that the last food we had was yesterday.  This time, Richie had a chance to showcase his hospitality talents, as he had everything organized and waiting for us.  He did his home-work during his first visit, and realized that in our advanced age, it made total sense to party in Sunny Side, but sleep somewhere quieter.  The digs he rented through AirBnb were off the beaten track of the Siquijor Circumferential Road, and up on the hill, about 20-min drive away from Chris’ hostel.  He had a lovely room in a spacious house with communal terrace, a large swimming pool in the garden, and a giant penis shower next to it (don’t ask!…) 

The giant penis shower – great photo opportunity!

The owner, Anne, was amazingly welcoming, bubbly, pretty and spoke excellent English.  The house, pool, and penis were all built by her late husband of Finnish origin, and after his untimely death she was trying to make ends meet and improve her social life by renting out part of the house to the tourists.  She and her best friend Cheryl had a fantastic meal waiting for us in the house – meat, vegetables, fruit and chilled wine along with their wonderful company were our 2nd hearty welcome to Siquijor.  Both, Anne and Cheryl were so lovely, so friendly and so cool, that most of our time on the Witch Island was spent between them and Chris, and we continued being friends long after we left.

Anne’s house could boast not only amazing food and pool (well, a huge penis was a nice touch as well…), but also fantastic sunsets.  We admired the bright colors from the top of the hill, before taking a trip back to Chris on 3 unsteady scooters.  We could have probably camped at Anne’s for the duration of our stay on the island (the house sure looked WAY more comfortable than Chris’ hostel…). However, Siquijor’s roads away from the main drag weren’t overly inviting to transport, and doing an obstacle course pissed out of our minds on a scooter in the middle of the night was not in our plans.  We had serious party plans, and decided it was safer to avoid dark potholes in an unknown terrain.

Amazing sunset view from Anne’s

When we got back, Sunny Side’s party was just starting to kick in.  Turned out, it was a nightly event, and all local expats and misfits were drawn to it like moths to the proverbial flame.  Chris’ music was the best on the island (it’s amazing what a good playlist and an iPhone connected to speakers can do!), everybody was happy, chilled and well-lubricated.  Time flew fast – there was drinking, dancing, weak attempts at pyrotechnic exercises in preparation to New Year’s night, more people came, and the rest of the evening was rather hazy in our memories.  At some point during the night we went to a local Italian for food (how we got there – we have no recollection whatsoever), I tripped on a stool and fell, decorating my knee with a huge bruise (which was only discovered the next morning).  On the way back we stopped at a local disco with extremely loud music and what looked like hundreds of people dancing to the beat, and at some point must have returned back to Sunny Side (again, probably using a magic unidentified teleport) and fell into our bed under the slowly circling ceiling fan.

All that was just the beginning – we had 3 more days on Siquijor.

Palm trees over the Sunny Side deck