Today I landed on Siquijor Island. It’s a small island in the southern part of the Philippines. Tanya and Grendell, the local women we were working with back in Manila, thought I was nuts for coming here. Apparently amongst most Filipinos this island is known for little more than being a haven for witch doctors. So far I haven’t seen any. I have seen lots of palm trees though, and local people living simply in small homes made of palm fronds and wood. I have seen goats on the side of the road, and chickens and roosters and cows. I have seen dogs playing with each other on the beach and little girls searching for sea urchin at sunset. I have seen the sky light up orange and purple and pink as the sun dips behind the mountains and I have seen the colors of the sky light up the calm sea like a painting.
I have never traveled alone. It’s quiet, especially after spending three weeks in the bustling capital city of Manila with three women, all of us full of laughter and chit chat and the city constantly alive with car horns, the sounds of generators and rainfall and television and voices. Manila is a huge, sprawling mega city. More and more people from places like Siquijor and its neighboring provinces flock to the seventeen cities of Metro Manila every year in search of more. It is always hard for me to really understand urban migration when I come to the rural areas people leave. I understand it logically – need for money, no opportunities for livelihood here, must go to the city – but it breaks my heart to think of people leaving places like this for the congested, polluted, strange streets of that big city. It breaks my heart to think what they think they will find, and what reality presents them with.
On Tuesday a local man is meeting me here at nine o’clock to take me around the island. I’m looking forward to seeing what else is out there – what island life looks like and what natural beauties this island has to offer. It’s hard to slow down, to slow my pace down to the speed of doing next to nothing. Today I read, sat in the sun, swam, took a walk down the beach and back along the road, watched the sun set and ate a delicious dinner of mango curry with chicken. Now it is eight thirty and I am in bed. It helps that I woke up at four o’clock this morning. It also helps that I have hours of television on my computer and a four-hundred page book to read.
Tonight, before coming into my cottage for bed, I took a moment to look up at the sky. There are few things I love more than a dark sky full of stars. There are just so many stars. I am pretty sure I saw the milky way, cutting its way quietly across the South Pacific sky. It is simply amazing to look up and see that never-ending darkness speckled with worlds of stars.
The sky is pink in the distance
Behind deep blue clouds
They have covered the sky all afternoon
Brought cool breeze on their heels
And now are off to sea.
The way the clouds move,
Shift against the glowing sky
Following the wind
Inland above us or
To neighboring islands
In need of rain.
Today I saw a good bit of the island. It was cloudy and rainy, but I think that actually might have been better both for the trip and my sunburn. I’m glad I got to see the island: the waterfalls and flowers, people living life as farmers and fishermen, working in rice paddies and walking home from school. The homes here are made largely of woven palm fronds, made into tightly woven patterns that form the inside and outside walls of many of the homes. They have palm-frond roofs and many sit above the ground on stilts. The island rises in the middle into a high peak, Mt. Banda Na’an. We stood at her top, at the top of a rusty tower, and you can see the whole island and off to Cebu and Negros.
The combination of Asian and Catholic culture is an interesting one. It’s reminiscent of Central America in many ways – the indigenous culture and language mixed with the remnants of Spanish colonialism, all set against a tropical backdrop. Of course, here the indigenous is Asian, Filipino to be exact, and is influenced by centuries of Asian culture, all mixing together to make something supremely unique. At first, during my first week or so in Manila, I found the Philippines harsh, jarring and disorienting. The West meeting East in such unexpected and, sometimes subtle sometimes overly overt ways. But it has grown on me. I am not sure I could grow to truly love Manila, per se, but the culture of the Philippines, the warmth of the people, the way the country carries herself, confident yet humble, with so much beauty and so much to learn, is admirable.
Every night the sun dips behind the mountains of Negros. They are hidden behind thick clouds just until sunset, when they emerge in time for the sun to cast her silhouette against their gentle slopes. The colors of the sky are always beautiful; deep blues, golden yellow and purple, dusty pink and fiery orange. Once the sun is down, the wind is brisk, blowing in off the ocean throughout the night and into the morning. I can never tell if it’s rain or just the wind in the palm trees at night. It’s really amazing to have the only sound you hear out the window be the wind. Eerie in a way, I suppose, but when you think about it quite beautiful.