Sibuyan island, in the East of the Philippines‘ Romblon province, is notable for one of the densest and most biodiverse rainforests in the world, with hundreds of uncatalogued endemic species of birds, mammals, reptiles and plants. There is also an indigenous people, the Sibuyan Mangyan Tagabukid, living in isolated villages in the jungley interior.
You can get an overnight boat to Sibuyan from Batangas, the port a couple of hours south of Manila. Sometimes they go straight to Sibuyan, sometimes via the other islands in Romblon Province (Tablas and Romblon). There are also pump boats here from Masbate further to the east. From Roxas on Mindoro pump boats go to Odiongan on Tablas Island, from where you can get a jeepney to San Agustin followed by a ferry to Sibuyan. Note, however, that going from Odiongan to Roxas I had to wait 4 days for the pump boast and when it finally sailed it broke down, rather scarily, halfway between Tablas and Mindoro. It therefore may well be quicker to go via Batangas (near Manila) if traveling between the two islands. From Cadiclan on Panay boats also go to Odiongan. Boats from Romblon Province or Manila arrive on Sibuyan at Magdwang, whereas boats from Masbate arrive at Cajidiocan. In both places there are a couple of guest houses that any local can show you the way to and always have free rooms. Jeepneys link the two towns and even if you miss one a taxi shouldn’t be too expensive.
Few tourists come to Sibuyan. Part of the reason is the ferries, which are often cancelled due to extremely rough seas (one even sunk in 2008, drowning 700 people). Another is that, despite the biodiversity of the interior, there is little tourist infrastructure such as jungle lodges for wildlife-spotting. Spotting any interesting species on a trek is therefore a matter of luck, time and patience.
Sibuyan’s Mount Guiting Guiting is considered to be one of the Philippines‘ most difficult peaks to climb so unless you are very experienced it probably should not be attempted without the aid of a professional agency and guide from Manila.
Visiting indigenous villages is also difficult individually as they are hidden away in the roadless interior and somewhat wary of outsiders. This is not to say they are not friendly – on the contrary, they are extremely welcoming if you arrive with someone they trust. A good guy for this is Demet Romion from Cajidiocan, known to all locals as Manung Demet. He works for PANLIPI, a Filipino NGO that tries to protect the rights of indigenous people in a country where what few rights they have are ignored and abused on a daily basis. Most locals in Cajidiocan will know him, as does Vicky, the owner of Vicky’s guest house in Magdwang.
The status of the Sibuyan Mangyan Tagabukid as indigenous people separate from the coastal dwellers is debated. Some say that an anthropologist invented the idea to get extra funding, but this may well be a rumour spread by mining companies working illegally but unpunished on indigenous land. Demet Romion is adamant that they are a distinct people and he remembers visiting their villages as a child at a time when they still wore loincloths. Certainly many of the stories I heard of interaction between coastal and jungle dwellers are typical of the exploitation of tribal people by “civilised” people in third world countries.
Click here for my blog about Sibuyan island. It’s 3112 words and 20 photos.
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