Siquijor: Don’t (Always) Believe the Photos

Siquijor is a Filipino island that is developing quite a reputation among both Filipino and foreign backpackers. After having spent there 2 and a half days, it’s easy to see why. It’s a small, manageable island, ideal for motorbike touring, and boasting the right combination of sea and other nature sights. 

And yet, my first day in Siquijor was a day of letdowns which made me miss Eastern Bohol and Palawan and, less superficially, reflect on what a misrepresentation we often make of travel life when  sharing only postcard-perfect photos in order to honour hashtags such as #paradise and the like. Really, it’s false -or only half true- but we still seem to be trying our best to feed the monster. (Me included, as you will shortly see.)

Take Cambugahay falls, for instance. One of the most instagrammable stretches of nature in the whole Philippines. A true paradise, one might say, when seeing the three-level pools from a drone, or seeing beautiful male and female backpackers dive carefree into its turquoise waters.

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#Paradise, no doubt. Photo credit: wheninmanila.com

 

Well, I got there around 4 pm, to be welcome by some attendant asking for a 40 peso parking fee. Not a good start, if you ask me. A few minutes later I was down the long flight of stairs, discovering the different falls with their pools and feeling…disappointed.

Maybe it was the crowd, maybe the number of go-pros with selfie sticks and their users, seemingly more concerned about taking the perfect shot than about swimming or diving. Maybe it was just me,weak and not in the mood while recovering from horrible vomits and diarrhea after a case of food poisoning in Dumaguete. Who knows.

In any case, I swam out of a weird sense of traveler duty, and left for a drink and sunset in the San Juan area.

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Pretty, certainly – but not my kind of paradise!

Sunset from Paliton beach, I thought. Another sight I had seen on Instagram and travel blogs many a time when preparing for, or shall I say dreaming of, my Filipino travels.

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Yes, that was the plan. Photo credit: shoestringdiary.wordpress.com

But again, I had a disappointing moment as I got to Paliton in low tide, to find a dirtier and definitely less stunning version of Talisay beach, in Anda (Bohol). What the hell – I’ll confess that I had thoughts of the beautiful and far more reliable beaches in Spain, as close as a four hour drive from my house. Mea culpa.

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MY Paliton – not the one I expected.

My point is not that Cambugahay falls or Paliton beach aren’t insanely beautiful at their best. Or that, when traveling, one should aim for the best travel shots. Still, frankly, I find it suspicious that blogs and social media include so few photos of these assumed paradises looking far from their best. Just search for any such destination on Google images and you’ll see just what I mean.

Why? Are we independent travelers afraid to admit that this one sight or island or experience didn’t live up to our expectations? That we didn’t hit the right day, or the moment wasn’t right for us, or even, perhaps, going to that destination was a mistake altogether?

Luckily, my second day in Siquijor was a fantastic day of roaming around on my bike, swimming in the most pristine waters I have ever encountered and, even, making friends. But even then and there, I caught myself editing a photo in order to remove the inevitable trash from the picture.

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Tulapos Marine Sanctuary. Wonderful swimming, with or without the trash.

And I guess that’s a fitting image of the way we often tell our travel stories. Many wonderful beaches in SE Asia are full of trash, yet we choose to pluck them out of our photos just like we don’t usually recount the hardships, disappointments and even boredom of so many of our travel experiences.

And yet independent travel is largely a hit or miss experience, and it makes sense to reflect that truth in our photography – does it not?

 

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