A weekend in Siquijor

Siquijor is known to many Filipinos as the home of witchcraft and enchanted forests. It’s a smallish sized island off the coast of Dumaguete, easily accessible and surrounded by crystal clear waters, marine sanctuaries and the world renowned dive sites of Apo Island and Dauin on Negros Island.

It is surprising given it’s relatively easy access, natural beauty and white sand beaches that Siquijor is not a more popular place for tourists to visit. There is some development, but compared to some other islands I have visited here it is still quite unspoilt and retains it’s charm and makes it ideal for a relaxing quiet get away. Another bonus is that the prices are very reasonable. I guess that the ghostly stories are a double edged sword, they serve to keep people away but at the same time allows the island to maintain it’s backwater appeal.

My trip started by flying into Bacolod Silay airport in Negros. This was then followed by a 6 hour bus ride to Dumaguete. In future I would recommend definitely flying directly to Dumaguete. I effectively wasted a whole day in travel to get there, and the same coming back, making my 4 day trip only really 2 days of actual activity. There’s two boats going to Siquijor a fast craft that takes a little under an hour, and the slow boat that takes around 90 minutes. Travelling to Siquijor I opted for the fast craft. It was the next boat leaving and I just wanted to get there after the long journey (flight from Manila in the morning, bus ride all afternoon). The fast craft gives airline style seating in an air-conditioned communal cabin area. Sure it was comfortable, but in reality I prefer the slower boats where you can sit out on the deck and watch the sunset and the view. They also have the added bonus of being cheaper!

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Upon arrival at the port of Siquijor it was going to cost 250 peso for the trike going to our chosen hotel for the night. It was around a 20 minute journey from the port. Instead of this we opted to rent a motorcycle for 300 peso a day. We would be needing one anyway to get around the island to the places we wished to visit.

The forest tunnel to Salagdoong beach
The forest tunnel to Salagdoong beach

There is one main national highway that runs around the circumference of the island pretty much following the coast line the whole way around. This makes navigating your way around the island pretty straightforward, it’s hard to really get lost.

We had chosen to stay at Charisma Beach resort in the town of San Jose. We found the place pretty easily as it was well signed from the national highway. It’s a quant little resort with several rooms available. Beach front cottage with fan, poolside rooms with aircon and a dormitory style backpackers room at the rear. There was only one other person staying at the resort when we were there, a single female traveler from the UK. This made the place very peaceful and we pretty much had the place to ourselves.

The resort is owned and run by a nice husband and wife couple. Daniel, who is originally from London, England, and his wife Giselle from General Santos City, Mindanao. They were both very accommodating and entertaining giving the place a real feeling of being “part of the family”. The place is very homely and great value. 1,750 peso per night got us a nice room with hot shower and aircon, poolside. The fan rooms can be had for 1,000 a night. Very reasonable considering that there is a well maintained pool and nice beach front to be had. The beach was a little dirty in places with plastic and trash being washed up on shore. However it was clear that Charisma and another resort up the road had been trying to take care of the beach area infant of their property by cleaning it up. If the barangay put some effort into cleaning up the beach area it could be a much more pleasant area to sit and swim. We actually considered changing hotel for our second night possible on the other side of the island where we might find a cleaner beach. However, after looking at a few other places during our tour around the island, on balance we felt the good value and the friendliness of the staff at Charisma meant we decided to stay for another night.

On our first full day at the island we headed first to the Enchanted Balete tree. This tree is around 400 years old and has a mysterious source of water coming from underneath it forming a small pool that has fish swimming around in it. The true wasn’t quite as impressive as the one I had previously visited in Baler, Aurora, but it was still worth he stop off. it’s easily found at the side of the national highway and there is no official entry fee just a donation box. There was a lady sling Buko Juice there, I’m not usually a big fan of Buko Juice (fresh coconut juice) but on this occasion it was delicious with a pleasantly sweet taste. I had never tasted Buko juice like it before.

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Me and Elle at the enchanted Balete tree

From the Balete tree we headed to Cambugahay falls. These are one of the main highlights or tourist attractions on the island. Easy to find (it’s not on the national highway but on another road that cuts up towards the centre of the island). If you don’t have a motorcycle of your own a trike can take you there for a reasonable price. There is a small but very cheap entrance fee. No guide is needed it’s simple to get to the falls just follow the 136 stone steps leading down from the road. The falls themselves are not spectacular and high, but they are very quant and pretty to look at. The main thing here though is swimming in the turquoise waters. It’s a very beautiful place to spend an hour or two relaxing and swimming. There’s a tarzan swing that you can swing out on and drop into the water, and the falls are safe enough to jump from the top into the waters below. The water just underneath the falls is deep, but it quickly becomes shallow, making it safe place for all the family to swim and enjoy. You can walk upstream a little way to several other falls and small lagoons that are a bit more peaceful and away from the “crowds”. The area is clean, either being kept clean by locals, or rather I would like to think that people are not littering at all. It’s always bothered me when travelling in the Philippines that often the visitors leave their trash behind. If you were to ask them why they have gone there, they say to enjoy nature, well there won’t be any nature left to enjoy if people keep on littering.

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Walking on water!
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Tarzan swing at Cambugahay falls

From the falls we headed back down to the coastal road and to Salagdoong beach resort. This is on the opposite side of the island to where we were staying at Charisma beach. There is a lovely forested road that leads to Salagdoong from the national highway. The canopy of the trees has formed a tunnel like road through the forest. It certainly has an enchanted feel to it and adds fuel to the fire of the Siquijor spooky forest stories. Again, I was surprised at how well priced entry was, 15 peso per person! Great deal I thought. There’s a small restaurant there serving Filipino affair which we ate at as by this time we were feeling a little hungry having not eaten since Breakfast. However, before eating, I wanted to partake in the main attraction that brought me to Salagdoong, cliff jumping! They have erected several concrete diving platforms at various levels up the cliff beside the beach. The highest is probably around 20 or 25 feet high. The crystal clear waters below are deep enough to jump into safely. However as they are so clear you can still see the bottom when you look down from the dive board and wonder if it really is deep enough! Don’t worry, I didn’t bottom out or come even close. For those who aren’t yet very confident at jumping from heights, the best method is to run along the platform and just run off the end of the board. Standing at the edge and actually jumping takes a lot more thought and seems to cause every fibre of your body to scream at you not to jump! It’s quite an exhilarating jump, and definitely good for those who haven’t done any cliff diving before.

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Cliff jumping at Salagdoong beach

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From Salagdoong we continued our drive around the circumference of the island back to Charisma beach.

On our second day we decided to head to Cantabon cave. There are some 45 caves in Siquijor island, making it a spelunkers paradise. Cantabon cave is not very technical but still provides some enjoyment with stalactite and stalagmite formations that are comparable to those found in the more famous caves of Sagada. You secure a guide complete with helmet and head torch at the barangay hall in Cantabon. It was 300 peso per person including the gears and the guide, which again I found to be quite reasonable. The trip to the cave including the short walk from the barangay hall to the cave and back takes around 2 hours. It’s not a through cave, but and out and back. The exit at the opposite end is too small to really fit through.

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In Cantabon cave

The motorbike ride up to Cantabon is also quite nice, with views across the island and the sea towards Apo island and the mainland of Negros.

Our short trip to Siquijor was interesting and fun experience. 2 days wasn’t enough time to do everything this place has to offer, I will definitely be back to spend more time exploring other waterfalls, swimming in the turquoise waters of the enchanted lagoons, dive the clear waters and marine sanctuaries around the island and run the trails through the forests.

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At the beach in Siquijor

MF42 – Miyamit Falls 42km Trail Marathon

On October 4th 2014 I entered my second trail marathon. This event differed from the Banaue – Batad marathon in that it goes through much more remote areas with little to no permanent settlements. There’s almost only a few hundred meters on road, with the rest being dirt roads, and the majority single track trails. There’s also 2,000 meters of total ascent and a sting in the tail at 30km with a steep climb back from Miyamit Falls itself. The route is an out and back trail, starting at an activity park called the “Sandbox” in Porac, passing through the small native Aeta settlement of Sapang Uwak (crow river), then up to the peak of Donald McDonald, with a panoramic view across to the Mount Pinatubo Caldera. From there, turn around and head back, with about 5km side trip to the falls on the way down.

There’s only 3 aid stations on the route, all in the first 12km, up to the junction with the falls. This makes you self supporting for the approximately 20km out and back (10km each way) from the junction to the peak and back.

I had done very little training and preparation for this race, as I was trying to rest up the ITBS injury I sustained in the Banaue – Batad marathon a few weeks previously. However, I know I have a pretty good base physical fitness, can walk faster than most and have the mental fortitude to get me through. I wasn’t expecting to put in a good time, or race hard. There’s a good field of runners who I would have difficulty competing with even in my best shape. My aim was to finish within the cutoff time, of 10 hours. Which should be quite feasible, even if I walked most of the route I reckoned on 9 hours.

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Things started well for the first 7km then I felt the unmistakable twinge of the ITBS coming back to haunt me. Rather than push on and cause more pain and difficulties, I decided to slow the pace. Power walk and use my new trekking poles for some assistance to help propel me along on the uphill sections. I was able to keep a pretty good pace still despite the injury, and was keeping to my target of 5km per hour. The uphills with ITBS aren’t so much a problem, but I knew I was going to struggle coming down. Even I was power walking, I was able to pretty much keep a good pace even against those running. I caught up with most of them on the hills, where they ran the flats and walked the hills, I walked the flats but then was able to catch up with my good fitness and steady uphill pace. Some of them were blown out by the time they reached the hills after running the flats. I knew it wouldn’t last though, the long downhills coming back from the peak were going to be agony for me and slow moving, the runners would be bombing past. I reached the peak still in the top 30 out of approximately 100 participants. Not bad considering I had barely ran more than 7km of the whole route.

Coming down things started to get painful. ITBS causing intense pain in your knee when coming downhill especially, so I was overtaken by many runners in this part. It’s very frustrating to know I too could be running down these parts. Knowing your body has the fitness, but an injury is hampering you I found to e very bad for my moral. My pace slowed to around 3km an hour coming down, where as I was averaging 5km an hour going uphill. I must be the only person in the race who was slower coming down than going up! I still figured I could make the cutoff time though, and that I did, crossing the finishing line in 8 hours and 39 minutes.

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A great race, and although I didn’t put in a fantastic time, I was happy to finish, and I know that I could easily knock an hour off that time given my ITBS injury recovers in time for next year. Now it’s 8 weeks until CM50, my first ultra distance race, and time to rest put hat knee, stretch it out, foam role it and try to get into shape to finish within the 18 hours cutoff time!

Here’s the official race results

Banaue – Batad 42km Trail Marathon

On the 24th August 2014 I participated in the Banaue – Batad Marathon. This was a 42km mixed trail and road race that went through the beautiful scenery of the Banaue and Batad rice terraces, as well as the spectacular Tapiyah falls.

The race started at 5am in front of the Banaue Municipal Hall. The first 6 or 7 km was on the road that leads from Banaue towards Batad. After this a sharp turn off the road leads to a 7km trail that leads steeply uphill and winds it’s way along the side of the mountains towards the town of Cambulo. From here it follows a narrow trail towards Batad, and then down steep concrete steps to Tapiyah falls. Then follows a 3km steep climb up to Batad saddle, then it’s all downhill back on the concrete road for 16km back to Banaue.

I started strong quickly overtaking the majority of the runners, and tailing the lead pack. I wasn’t sure my exact position but I knew I was somewhere near the front. At the turn off tot he trail going to Cambulo my race strategy kicked in, I know I can power walk fast up hills, faster than most, so I stopped running and put in a good uphill pace. Aiming to do each kilometre in 9 minutes while walking. A few runners overtook me here, but soon gassed out due to the steepness of the hill. My plan was working, I soon overtook them and was able to power walk ahead. As soon as the hill got less steep I kicked into a high gear running. I knew the trail here was very runnable and gently went downhill for most of the next 6 or 7km. I put on a good spurt and aimed to put as much distance between me and the people behind. I still wasn’t entirely sure of my position in the pack, but I didn’t let that concern me too much. I was not going to be drawn into running someone else’s race, I stuck with my own strategy and aim for finishing in less than 7 hours. Soon I was running on my own, with the leaders not in sight, nor the person behind. I got into a good stride and I soon found myself at Cambulo town already. Here I picked up a ribbon at the checkpoint and was told I was in 3rd place. I was surprised to hear this, and when I checked my watch I found I had been doing a pretty bolstering pace so far. Could I keep this up for the rest of the race? I was not quite half way yet, but I was feeling pretty good.

The next section heading towards Batad involved some narrow slippery tracks balancing along the edges of the rice terraces in places. Knowing I have quite good balance I was able to run a lot of these parts that others would be taking their time along. I moved pretty quickly along here, and up the steep part to Batad where a second control point was positioned to pickup another ribbon. I could see the lead 2 ahead crossing the terraces and starting their climb to the saddle already. I knew there was little chance I could ever catch up, but I also knew I had a good lead on the person behind me, a pretty solid 3rd place position. I was still feeling good, as I set off down the steps towards Tapiyah falls. This is where the problems started. My left knee which was already injured a few years ago began to give me pain and difficulties. I think it was aggravated by the steep concrete steps. I checked my watch, I was at 26km mark, over half way, and had done it in 2 hours and 30 minutes. I knew I had a steep climb ahead which would slow me down, but then it’s all easy road downhill to Banaue that I could bomb down. I was pretty well on track for a 5 hours and 30 minutes time.

This was where it all started to go wrong. The pain in my left knee was debilitating, I could barely run at all. Soon I was down to walking, and every 10 paces needing to stretch out the joint and relieve the pain. My pace slowed to a crawl, 25 minutes for 1km, this went on all the way to Batad Saddle. By this point the person behind me had already caught up and he took off down the road towards Banaue. I hobbled behind, but just simply could not run anymore, a few steps and the pain was excruciating. I was resigned to the fact that I would just have to walk the next 16km. I was at this point at around 4 hours and 30 minutes into the race. I calculated that walking 1km in 9 minutes it would take me another 2 hours to get down to Banaue, that would still put me under my target of 7 hours. So that became my new focus, just finishing the race. I knew I couldn’t regain the 3rd place position, and I would likely be overtaken on the long downhill back to Banaue. I didn’t concern myself with this, sticking to my own race, to finis under 7 hours, I hadn’t come out to run for a podium place, just to finish the course in my own pre determined cut off time. The temperature was beginning to rise as the sunlight was reflected and bouncing off the freshly laid white concrete road. Around 6km from the end I noticed my hand was swelling up, a sure sign I was low on salts. I downed a gatorade and within a few minutes the hand was back to normal. Soon I could see the town of Banaue up ahead, with around 3km left to go. I knew I would make it under 7 hours, but didn’t ease up. I had counted a few more people pass me and I figured I was probably around 7th place by this point, maybe 10th. When I got into Banaue town, 1km from the finish line, I stopped off to buy a celebratory beer. I managed to push myself to gently run in the last few hundred meters to the finish line, while savouring the cold beer. Soon I crossed the finish line with a time of 6 hours and 26 minutes, more than 30 minutes below my target, in 5th place. Not bad considering I had been plagued by an injury for most of the second half of the race. My strategy had worked, I played to my strengths and the big lead I opened up at the beginning was the only saving grace.

Being of a competitive nature, despite my performance I was still a little disappointed, knowing that without the injury I would have been about an hour faster.

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Now the pain has subsided, and I’m working on some stretching exercises to try and help. I’ve signed up for a second trail marathon, MF42 in Pampanga. This has 2,000 meters of ascent, and hopefully no concrete steps. I believe it’s the steps that aggravated the injury. I’ve got 5 weeks to get well. Despite not being able to do much truing so I can let the injury recover, I know this isn’t too much of a problem. I know I have the ability to go the distance, and the fitness to put in a good time, it’s just down to getting my knee to cooperate. If all goes well by November I’ll try my first ultra distance race, CM50, 50 miles, or 2 marathons back to back.

Mount Ugo Traverse

In an effort to start getting mountain fit again, and prepare for some trail running races I joined a couple of friends for a 24km trek over Mount Ugo. This was the first mountain in the Cordillera region in the Philippines I have been to. It made quite a change from the tropical jungle on the mountains I have been to here before, or the sandy lahar trails on Pinatubo. Here is was more akin to Wales or Scotland, with pine forests, thick fog and constant rain. I believe on a nice sunny day the views are fantastic, so now I have reason to return.

We started by driving from Kayapa in the Nat Geo Explorer 4×4 to Barangay Tinongdan. The drive is quite fun, and a 4×4 is definitely recommended, or rather mandatory. Especially in rainy season when the trail can be slick with mud. From here it’s uphill for 7km to the summit of Mount Ugo. You will pass by markers on the trail, wooden posts with distances written on them. These are from a trail running event that is held annually in the area. Infact there’s several trail running events on Mount Ugo that take various trails and pass by as part of longer events.

Fromt eh summit it’s pretty much all down hill going towards the Agno river and Itogon. Around 17km going down, sometimes slippery mud. The trail winds it’s way through pine trees and mossy forests that were shrouded in mist. Lower down you begin to cross rice terraces before reaching the Agno River and the hanging bridge that crosses it and leads to the steep road going up to Itogon. Overall it was 24km route, and covered some challenging terrain, with steep climbs and descents. I began to suffer a little from cramps in my right thigh from the downhill. Returning from Baguio to Clark the Nat Geo explorer began to overheat due to a leaking radiator. So now it’s matter of fixing that and resting myself for 6 days before the Banaue – Batad marathon next August 24th!

barrowclough's 7:17 h Trekking Move #SuuntoHike.

Bataan trail to Bagac beach

After yesterdays trip to Delta 5, despite the broken rear brakes, I was keen to join the Pampanga Adventure Team on their trip to Bataan. A survey of a new trail that goes from Balanga, through the Bataan mountains and finishes at the beach in Bagac. It’s a bit different from the sandy lahar that gets into the vehicle and wears away all the bearings. This was to be a jungle and mud fest. I had a few problems with the electrics on the car with the battery terminal not making good contact and the starter motor playing up. However, we made it through the trail in one piece, with a minor problem where I was almost rolled over and had to use the winch to pull the vehicle back onto it’s 4 wheels. All good fun and part of the off roading experience though!

Delta 5 Rematch

After getting the Nat Geo Pajero stuck on Delta 5 with broken CV joint and deciding to upgrade to a solid axle, it was time to go to Delta 5 trail again to try out the modifications.

Delta 5 trail is situated on the Lahar flow running down from Pinatubo into the town of Porac, province of Pampanga, Philippines. When Pinatubo erupted it was the biggest ash eruption by volume of the 20th century, sending tons of ash and lahar down the valleys around the mountain. There are several major lahar flows, one that runs to Sta. Juliana in Tarlac province, another towards San Marcelino in Zambalas, and the third, Sacobia in Clark/Angeles, Pampanga.

The Delta 5 trail is probably the most difficult of these lahar trails to negotiate. With large rocks and many river crossings to contend with. The trail runs for approximately 10km to the “end point” where further travel by vehicle is blocked by a large rock and waterfall. It is said that this rock is the one that “saved Pampanga” and held back the bulk of the lahar coming from above, stopping deadly lahar flows and mudslides from wiping out the towns below.

Boulder crawling in the Nat Geo on Delta 5
Boulder crawling in the Nat Geo on Delta 5

It was my intention on this trip to also attempt the first white water kayaking descent of the Pasig Potrero river, that runs down the Delta 5 trail. The rainy season is upon us here in the Philippines giving a good opportunity to try to kayak the river while it’s running a little higher and faster than usual. It was still a little low, another 1 or 2 feet higher flow would have made it perfect. Still it was possible to descend, and it was quite technical to have to nogitate some of the rocks. You really needed good control of the kayak, making it more like an Olympic slalom kayaking event.

Coming along was my friend with his Toyota Landcruiser 70 series, and a racing 4×4 Suzuki Jimney. It was a great day out, a little tiring, especially for our other friend accompanying us on his trials bike who found the rocks on two wheels rather difficult to negotiate!

The only casualty was the rear brakes on the Nat Geo Pajero that had shattered rotors and lost the rear calliper. So there’s some more work to be done on the vehicle yet!

Cordillera Great Traverse 2015 (CGT2015)

The Cordillera Great Traverse aims to connect the trails of 6 provinces that make up the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) in Northern Luzon, Philippines. This is one of my favourite areas of the country, the scenery and the climate is wonderful.

I will be following the progress of the team during the coming months as they prepare for the traverse. The hope is to blaze a trail for future ultra distance running events, and for hikers and mountaineers both foreign and domestic to be able to follow the route. The aim is to establish a sustainable eco tourism trail that not only provides a physical challenge but is beneficial to the economy of the CAR, and encourages an appreciation and conservation of the natural beauty and environment of the area.

You can follow the CGT2015 progress on social media, here’s a snippet of what they can expect!

CGT2015 social media

Adventures traveling around the 7,000 islands of the Philippines

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