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

Part 3. How to get to Siquijor.

Very chuffed with our organizational abilities, we arrived in Cebu with a quick AirAsia flight from Caticlan, only to find out that the hotel booking I made the night before was for a wrong date.  Exactly 2 months from now.  Fuck!…  Seriously?… Not again!  Unfortunately, I have to admit, that we’ve done similar dumb shit before:

And now we had a wrong hotel booking!…  Just like with Bali, I can’t even claim that I realized it myself – having smugly arrived at reception and dropped our bags in relief, we were met with puzzled glances from the hotel staff, who politely informed us we were a couple months early.  There were no other venues in the vicinity, we had a very vague idea of the topography of the area, and were too tired to run around looking for other means of accommodation.  The only reason we chose the hotel was its relative proximity to the airport, as Cebu was just a pit stop on the way.

Luckily for us, the forces looking after drunks, idiots and small children did not abandon us, and upon further inquiries the hotel managed to find a room for us for the night.  They could not change the booking we already made, so, unfortunately, we paid for our digs twice.  Gotta pay for experience…  To add some warmth to the cold comfort of gaining additional experience, the hotel was very nice, and even had a pool, which we immediately used to cool down our overstretched nerves.

Our digs in Cebu

The rest of our trip to Siquijor went smoothly.  Maybe you need to seriously fuck up once at the beginning in order to sail on smooth waters afterwards?…  Don’t know if there is some universal law about this, but it sure worked for us and the rest of the plan of getting to Siquijor worked out flawlessly.

In the Philippines Siquijor is widely believed to be the island of magic, witches and sorcerers.  This makes the local Philippine tourists stay away, and attracts only the craziest of the foreign travelers.  The absence of direct connections to/from major cities also helps with keeping Siquijor off the map of mainstream tourists.  At least for now.

To get there from Cebu, you can take a 2-hour ferry to Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol, stay the night there (as the next ferry conveniently leaves earlier than the one from Cebu arrives), and then travel for 5 more hours on a ferry to Siquijor with a stop-over in Dumaguete on Negros Island (this time at least without the need for an overnight stay).  All in all, the trip will take 2 full days, and you will be at the mercy of unpredictable ferry schedules, weather and waters of the Bohol Sea.

The “scenic route” to Siquijor, involving 2 ferries and an overnight stay in Tagbilaran

We weren’t too keen on this scenario, and having researched and googled further, found an alternative – a direct flight from Cebu airport to a landing strip in Siquijor with a tiny propeller plane, operated by Air Juan – a local Philippine airline we never heard of before.  Adventure – here we come!  The flights were easily bookable online, the directions on where to find the airline counter at the airport were pretty clear, and a one-way trip for both of us cost as much as the two ferries and overnight stay in Tagbilaran would have.  And – it will only take half an hour instead of two days!

A bit shaken by the whole “wrong date on the hotel booking” experience, we double-, triple-, and quadruple-checked our online flight tickets, made 200% sure Air Juan was flying from Mactan Cebu International airport, and arrived at said airport 3 hours before the flight, to make sure we had enough time for a potential next fuck-up.  The Air Juan counter was located quickly, and our flight was even on the departures board!  The check-in counter was empty though, but several representative of other airlines assured us that it would open 1.5 hours before the flight.  We parked our asses in a coffee shop strategically positioned right opposite the desired counter, and in 1.5 hours on the dot, the staff of Air Juan showed up and without further delay checked us and our bags in.

With our tiny plane and a happy Air Juan airport official
Our bags on the way to the plane

We were given our boarding passes, and found our gate in a far corner of the domestic departures, from which we had to walk with our luggage to the plane.  The plane was a cute 8-seater thing the size of a mini-bus, dwarfed by the surrounding huge machines of the airport.  The only thing tinier and cuter than the plane was the pilot – a beautiful miniature young lady, who had no problems bossing around the male airline representatives and her co-pilot.  I was in love!…  It’s quite rare to see women pilots in commercial aviation, which even nowadays continues to be a predominantly male business.  The global number of women airline pilots is only 3%, and our plane to Siquijor was going to be piloted by one of them!

Our extremely cute pilot!

Our bags were brought on board, and piled up in the back of the plane, and having taken our seats, we realized that Row #2, proudly listed on our boarding passes was actually the first row for passengers.  The only two seats right in front of us were those of the pilots.  Now, I’ve taken small planes before – from 1-hour flight in a propeller plane between Bulgaria and Romania in Europe, to numerous local flights between small islands in Indonesia.  However, all those “small” planes still had capacity of at least a couple dozen passengers, and there was always the door between the pilot cabin and the rest of the plane.  This was officially the first time when I could sit within a hand’s reach of the pilots, and watch them fly the plane – I could barely contain my excitement!

We are sitting right behind the pilots!

After the plane took off, I believe I must have giggled and smiled like an idiot child throughout our 1-hour flight over the bluest waters I’ve ever seen.  The plane was flying relatively low, so you could see the boats and ripples of the waves in the Cebu Straight.  All shades of blues and turquoise colors were shining in the bright midday sun, and the islands in the straight were picturesquely adorned by the yellows of the beach sands, and the white puffs of clouds sitting on top of them.

Bye-bye, Cebu!

We chose the flight due to its shortness, but once in the air, we were sorry it did not last longer – the views were simply too beautiful and too amazing not to try to admire them for longer!… Alas, after exactly 60 minutes of admiration gasps over the scenery, we were coming to a landing on Siquijor.

Landing in Siquijor

If the plane that brought us here was the smallest I’ve been on, the landing strip at Siquijor and the airport that greeted us there (if it can be called as such), were definitely the tiniest facilities of this kind ever!  The little shack with a faded-out sign “Siquijor Airport” has definitely seen better days, and upon closer inspection (when we made a mistake of trying to walk through it) turned out completely un-inhabited and dug out inside. No wonder it did not even had an IATA code!…

Siquijor airport
Siquijor airport up close and personal

What happened next on our trip, and how the Witch Island greeted and treated us, will have to wait till the next part of the story.

Our beautiful plane upon landing in Siquijor