Driving to Cambugahay Falls from the Cantabon Caves, you’d have the opportunity to pass through the Bandilaan National Park, a forest reserve under the jurisdiction of DENR. It’s just a tiny patch of green on the island map; you’d be able to drive through it in a matter of minutes. The area is said to contain the best remaining forest of Siquijor, and indeed the amount of roadside greenery noticeably increases as you enter the bounds of the reserve.
A steel viewing platform has been constructed at the peak of Mt. Bandilaan, easily accessible from the road through a short uphill walk (my thigh muscles, still recovering from the 2-hour journey through Cantabon, were beginning to complain at this point). The view from the platform, alas, was partially obstructed by nearby greenery which actually rose above the structure, so you don’t get a full 360-degree view (Boo for the foresight of the builders but hurrah for the greenery. Of course, we weren’t about to demand that trees be cut down at the national park just so we could have an unobstructed view). One can still look out though, and spend a few minutes meditatively studying the sea in the horizon.
Past the Bandilaan National Park one descends upon a series of rolling hills with decidedly lesser vegetation. We encountered a group of bikers at this point, very friendly ones who actually stopped to turn and wave when they saw me trying to take pictures as our vehicle sped along.
The friendly bikers were probably tourists, but still, at this point let me address a common impression on Siquijor. The place is not teeming with witches or manggagaways or what-have-you, the people we came across were quite friendly, we didn’t have any qualms making eye contact with anybody, and at no point did we feel that an entire village is conspiring to hex us or make a sacrifice of us of whatever. Doing a bit of Google research while writing this account I came upon a blog post relating how their group was too spooked by the surroundings and the people that when they were taken by their guides to the entrance of Cantabon cave they refused to go in, imagining that some of the locals might have been trying to cast spells or lure them to a different cave. I was very sorry to read that, because as I saw in the accompanying picture the cave was indeed Cantabon, and they missed a great opportunity to explore it because they were too overcome by their preconceived but misguided fears. The locals whom they viewed with such suspicion were actually quite kind. When we were hunting for water to wash our muddy feet after the caving we puttered around some community faucet trying to make sense of the hoses and flurry of pails scattered around, and a woman came out of her house to give us a tabo so we could scoop water out of the pails. The only mildly discomfiting phase was when we were trying to haggle the rate of our guided tour, but that’s a common occurrence when traveling, when you always have this nagging feeling that people are trying to rip you off. I left the haggling to my Bisaya-speaking companions, who managed to get a hundred pesos knocked off from the original quote of 700 pesos.
Whew. So there. And we’re not even at Cambugahay Falls yet. So let me take you now to Cambugahay Falls, but I would still be talking about the friendliness of the people. It was at Cambugahay Falls that I most felt the sympathy of the residents. Why? Because, well, I made a fool out of myself clambering up one of the falls wanting to jump off, only I couldn’t make the jump and had to spend long minutes sitting on the edge of the falls fretfully looking down and wondering what was I doing there in the first place. And during all that time, I had a small audience of sympathetic locals who were kindly (okay, laughingly, but in a kind way, mind you) encouraging me to make the jump. There was this manong who seemed especially interested, and after executing a couple of head-first dives down the waterfalls, sat down to watch the proceedings, smiling and making motions on how I should position my body so I don’t hit the water at full speed. My friends, not to mention a few daredevil kids, have made at least a couple of jumps each, and Don was trying to say the most encouraging things which I would not listen to, and I was still there. It took me many minutes before I was able to jump, and it was only the thought of turning around and doing a walk of shame in front of all those people that forced me to finally gather courage and do the most ungainly waterfall jump you’re likely to see in a long time.
Yes, the falls weren’t even that high to begin with.
My only regret about Siquijor was that we were not able to fully explore the place, but I guess that gives us a reason to come back.
Way of the Cross, Mt Bandilaan National Park
St. Isidore Labradore Church
Coral Cay Resort