At last, after more than a year of living in Switzerland, I was able to go home to the Philippines for vacation. I wanted to visit Ilocos and Palawan this year, but I found it more interesting to explore Bohol first, especially when I realized that I can also make a side-trip to my other favorite city at the south part of the country, which is Cebu. I was definitely yearning for white sandy beach leisure, so Bohol turned out to be a fitting place for a getaway.
The trip was somewhat my long overdue gift for mom on her 60th milestone, too. Like me, she also deserved a much-needed vacation. Despite our petty squabbles and quirks in traveling, mom has always been my equally reliable, fun-loving, ever-curious travel buddy. She’s always got the age-defying energy and zest to go places. She’s an Energizer bunny!
Day 1 – The Always-Late Cebu-Pacific and Alona at Night
Cebu-Pacific is becoming a pain in the neck in all of its local flights I’ve taken so far. For this particular trip, I did not only experience a long travel delay, but I also encountered a billing dispute and a reschedule of my flight going back to Manila. Luckily I received my credit card bill before I left for the Philippines and there I found two transactions posted for Cebu-Pacific. Despite the hassle, I still felt relieved when both Cebu-Pacific and my credit card provider properly assisted me and made the necessary changes.
Yet the agony with Cebu-Pacific didn’t stop there. At the airport, mom and I, along with the rest of the passengers for Manila-Tagbilaran flight, waited for more than 2 hours. Apparently the waiting took even way longer than the travel time. Sadly, it’s becoming a norm with Cebu-Pacific and ironically being late is becoming a pet peeve of mine (the growing Swissness in me).
Bohol is the tenth largest Philippine archipelago, situated southeast of Cebu and southwest of Leyte island in Central Visayas region. Tagbilaran is the main point of entry, particularly to the nearby Panglao island where the pristine Alona Beach can be found.
The road trip from Tagbilaran airport to the beach proper took us roughly 30 minutes with a private shuttle arranged by the resort-hotel. For a commute, there are a few minibuses, taxis and rented cars/vans, but the most common way to go around in Bohol is by trike (motorized tricycle) or habal-habal (motorcyle back ride).
I chose to stay at Panglao Regents Park because it is relatively cheaper than other hotels. The resort is not at the beachfront that’s why, but walking to and fro would only take 3 to 5 minutes. Also, it has its own swimming pool, which most beachfront resorts do not have. Having a pool at the hotel-resort is somewhat important for me. The room is basic but clean and organized. The interiors and fixture are sturdy and functional, and modern in design; it looks obvious that the hotel is relatively new. The restaurant looks interesting, but I found its menu a bit pricey.
The resort staff is courteous, helpful and responsive to our needs. Except when we asked for a 20% senior citizen’s discount for my mom, the hotel staff unfortunately, didn’t give us any. They said I made reservations online and they’re paying extra for the online system. It didn’t make any sense really. I insisted that I was paying for the rest of the amount and the discount could be deducted from it. They were kind enough to veto.
Actually, it’s not only this hotel that ignored us asking for this privilege. Even a few restaurants in Bohol where we dined in also turned us down. Simply put, they just don’t wanna. My mom got terribly disappointed that one time she approached a group of local policemen around the area and complained about what happened. Though we think our complaint would just fall on deaf ears and these folks would do nothing about it (the smile on their faces won’t mean they’d go the extra mile I tell you), mom still pushed her luck thinking that we also might be wrong and concerned locals would do something about the issue. Oh yes, we still have a tinge of faith.
I felt like it was déja vu when we went to the beachfront of Alona at night. I even thought we might have taken the wrong plane and it took us to a place called Boracay, because Alona does look like it! The beach is surrounded with lots of bars, restaurants and lodgings. At night, the beach is filled with candle-lit tables; large food buffets are set ready to be feast on; and acoustic and pop music bands are performing to entertain. After a brief walk around the area, mom and I had our first dinner by the beach.
From local cuisines to international ones, there are so many food varieties to choose. Food prices range from 100 to 500 pesos per person. For mom’s meals and mine, I paid around 200-300 pesos each, including drinks. A full-course meal by the beach even, oh that’s heaven.
Unfortunately, there’s not much food adventure. Unlike in other provinces like Iloilo or Cebu, we found no dish or meal that uniquely represent Bohol. Just like me, mom asked around several times, but the locals only mentioned peanut kisses. For food lovers like us, that’s quite sad. Yet then again, fresh foods go abounty, so we still ain’t complaining!
Day 2 – The Alona Beach
The Province of Bohol is composed of Bohol island as its mainland with 75 minor islands surrounding it. One of the minor islands is Panglao island, which its popularity is more attributed to its white beach area named after the early 1970s Philippine film sexy star, Alona Allegre. Originally the beach was called Tawala Seaside but when Ms Allegre, who is also rumoured to be as the dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ eyecandy, came to this deserted beach and made a film entitled Esteban (with Filipino actor, Fernando Poe, Jr as the protagonist), in which she portrayed as a mermaid who falls in love with a mortal, all the local men flocked to the beach to ogle the half-clad beauty and cried, “Let’s go and see Alona!”
So from another old fisherman’s tale the name was born. The film actress’ fame left an indelible mark that has helped to make this southernmost tip of Panglao Island equally famous nowadays.
Alona beach area only has 1/7 long-stretch of Boracay’s shoreline and a few hundred meters wide, but its white sand is as powdery fine as the latter. The beach also has more marine life species to find. During the lowest tide, you’d find lots of sea weeds, sea grass, sea urchins, crabs, star fish, sea cucumbers and small fishes. So far, Alona is cleaner, quieter and less commercialized than Boracay.
It was February when mom and I went to Bohol. Definitely it’s an off-peak season, but Alona beach was filled with a good number of visitors. Most of which were foreigners, mostly Europeans. As I overheard them talking to each other, I think a handful were from French-speaking countries. I also saw some Asians, Koreans and Chineses in particular. At that time then, very few Pinoys like mom and I were really on vacation mode.
It wasn’t also summer so it was cloudy althroughout the day; except by mid-afternoon the sun came out. As a sun worshipper myself, I laid down at the beach and briefly gave myself a tan, which wasn’t been enough as it turned out because the sun had about to set. Of course.
Day 3 – Places that Define Bohol
Not only known for its beaches and resorts, Bohol is also popular for nature sightseeing. The Chocolate Hills is just one of the country’s natural wonders and the Philippine Tarsier is the second-smallest primate in the world; and they can all be found in Bohol.
It is not so difficult to find a tour guide or a car or boat rental service. There are lots of barkers around Panglao island that offer different tours in Bohol. The countryside tour, as they dub it, is one of the most sought-after, which comprise of visits to places like the Blood Compact site, Baclayon Church, Tarsier conservation park, Loboc river, and the Chocolate Hills. Tours like this would cost you around 2,000 – 3,500PHP. In Pinas, haggle well so you can get a good bargain, and confidently I just did. Our tour guide, kuya, is calm, easygoing and helpful (sorry for forgetting your name, kuya, consider it my disease). The Kia-made car we used for the tour is at its top form, relatively new.
Kuya suggested that we go to the farthest site first, which is the Chocolate Hills. On the way there nonetheless, we would already pass by the Loboc-Bilar man-made forest.
It’s man-made because this side of the 20-kilometer rainforest is used to be filled with naturally grown trees and giant ferns lining the road. Now this 2-kilometer stretch of this forest stands out because of the uniformity in height of the big trees, the spread of its branches, thickness and design of leaves. When you enter the forest, you will not only get a spectacular view, but you will also feel refreshed by the cool breeze.
As early as that, mom got thrilled already that she was even game to do a jump shot with me. Before we left, two vendors selling souvenir shirts dropped off here and mom bought herself a pair. It’s good riddance as a matter of fact, because we found that they sold it way cheaper than the ones being sold at other tourist areas; and yet mom haggled further, with mucho success, again. At that time then, it was pretty awkward because I was feeling compelled to help these people earn more! But then again, it’s being Pinoys as we are, we like haggling.
The Chocolate Hills is the cream of the crop, a jewel au naturelle the Boholanos are very proud of. More than a thousand of these cone-shaped hills are actually made of grass-covered limestone and during the dry season, these hills dry up and turn chocolate brown, hence the name.
There are scientific studies that explain how the Chocolate Hills were formed, but legends from the townfolks fancy me more. Funny enough, the formation of these hills were attribute to either a giant man or animal (a carabao in particular). One of the legends I find terribly amusing is about a gluttonous giant named Miguel that eats everything in his path. One day, he came across a beautiful young woman named Adrianna. To win her affection, he needed to lose weight so he excreted everything he ate. His fecal matter covered the land and won the woman’s affection in the end.
We went to one of its two viewing spots, the Chocolate Hills Complex. We had to take hundreds of steps to get to the observation deck to have 360-degree panoramic view of the Chocolate Hills. It was raining at that time then and the fogs were partly covering the hills. It wasn’t also summer too, so we felt like we were at Green Hills instead.
Bohol is a sanctuary for one of the smallest primates on earth, the Philippine tarsier (tarsier syrichta). It’s been mostly said that the tarsiers are the smallest monkeys in the world. Yet the truth is, it is not a monkey! Ironically its classification is even mind-boggling. Some scientists consider tarsiers to be in a suborder of primates while others classify them as prosimians due to their features closely associated with lemurs. Among the locals, the tarsier is called with various names – mamag, mago, magau, malmag, or magatilok-ok. The Philippine tarsiers are not yet categorized as endangered species, but if present conservation programs are stopped, they would be considered as such within five years.
It was still raining then when we went to the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary, so small umbrellas were provided for us. The umbrellas were really small it’s just only my head that got covered. For the safety of these primates, it was intentional. Good thing though, picture-taking is allowed but no camera flash. There are perimeter fences around so touching and feeding tarsiers could be avoided. Tarsiers can live up to 20 – 25 years but these can die earlier if they get stressed out. To get in, a visitor has to pay 50 pesos; so I hope the money goes to continuing their conservation efforts. It was really nice to see a Master Yoda look-alike tarsier in person!
The itinerary was just perfect. It was almost lunchtime when we reached the Loboc river for a cruise. We went to the Loay starting point (the other one is at Loboc municipality), since this stretch is longer and the floating restaurants travel upstream (from the starting point). The cruise took almost an hour and reaching the Busay Falls, which is just a meter in height, signaled the return of the boat back to Loay.
The floating restaurants can accommodate 40 to 50 persons and charge around P300 for a buffet per head. Another P100 fee is also collected by the city government for maintenance, safety and security.
As the cruise started, a man with his guitar started singing. First he started with a Boholanon welcome song, then he sang a mix of English and Tagalog pop songs later on. It’s really a fiesta in a banca, as I may describe it, and as always, I ate lots of crabs, since this is one of the seafoods I missed the most. There were also some kakanin (native rice cakes), local desserts and fruits served. I just noticed however, that they’re scrimping on the drinks, as they just served not nearly a quarter of a liter of soda to quench my thirst. I guess you could order for another, but it could be pricey.
The Loboc river cruise is what I enjoyed the most from this countryside tour. Topped it with good food and entertainment, the idyllic rural setting is what I most likely appreciated. There were a few small bancas, bahay kubo (nipa huts) and a kalabaw, a Philippine carabao that I hadn’t seen for a long time!
Definitely, one of the things I want to do when traveling, especially in the Philippines, is visiting local churches, both old and new. And why not? The Philippines has more than 600,000 churches and 20 million chapels spread all over its more than 7 thousand islands. That’s how Catholic Filipinos are. I’m not quite a devout one but I still couldn’t help myself to be mesmerized with every church I visit. It must be because these churches are part of our history, ingrained much into our culture; with that it’s just too hard to ignore.
Luckily, Bohol is one of the interesting provinces to go for church hopping.
The province has a good number of very old churches, dating even back to the early years of Spanish rule. There’s roughly 30 churches; luckily still, I was able to visit 3 namely, Loboc church, Sta. Monica parish (Albur church), and the Baclayon church, which is considered as one of the oldest churches in the Philippines and the best preserved church that the Jesuits originally built.
Our trip ended at the Blood Compact Shrine that marks the historical event of the sandugo, a Visayan word meaning “one blood,” where the Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna took part to seal their friendship as part of the tribal tradition.
Day 4 – Farewell Bohol, Hello Cebu
Supposedly I was planning to go for island hopping tour on the last day for some dolphins and whales watching, but the 6.9 magnitude earthquake that hit my mom’s birth town in Negros Oriental that happened days before our Bohol-Cebu getaway prompted us to forgo this activity. It’s our last day anyway, to get cozy around and relax a bit more at the beach.
Overall, mom and I enjoyed our stay in Bohol.
And that night, we found ourselves in another island. It’s Cebu!