Finally after all the craziness that is life these past 2 weeks, I begin my tale that is my Bohol family trip. Bohol, the eponymous island known for the subliminal Chocolate Hills, is like the gift that keeps on giving. Not only are the hundreds of Kisses-like mountains a highlight, there are so many sights and activities for tourists local and foreign alike.
Bohol has been touted as the next best beach location next to Boracay, with Alona Beach as a baby version of White Beach. Located in the Visayas region, a plane ride from Manila takes you to Tagbilaran City, where the main tourist attractions lie. A 30 min. drive takes you to Panglao island where most of the beach resorts are.
The sand is sugary white just like Bora, but with less bars and crazy Manila people who look like they’re in Makati but in bikinis. Although we came during the habagat, or rainy season, its charm is still visible.
Of course, what would I do when placed on a beach, let alone clear blue water with beautiful visibility? Hello, I’ll dive. The parentals, of course, did not realize my hidden agenda until I boarded the plane with my dive luggage in tow. I asked my friend, diving legend Gigi Santos, who is President GMA’s dive instructor, for leads on who to trust in terms of diving; because the last thing I need is some seedy dive master who might try to sell me to the next fisherman.
Darwin, the owner/manager, was quite accommodating, given I was slightly makulit (annoying, persistent, annoyingly persistent) because I heard such great things about the diving in Panglao. I, like any female, also kept changing my mind and calling him on the smallest of things; he kept his cool and made sure I got what I needed.
So from Alona Beach I head off to Balicasag island, the dive mecca about 30 minutes by boat. Since I was the lone diver in the family, I was lucky to have the dive master all to myself.
Went down Black Forest as well as the Cathedral dive site, which on a good day would be the top 2 sites to see. Of course I took the opportunity to take in some of the underwater creatures better coz I had DM’s full attention. Here are the highlights:
I took my lunch in the island. Divers know that when you are excited to dive the surface interval means eat and run. I had talakitok (Jackfish). Nothing spells happy like freshly caught fish cooked to rustic perfection
When I finished my diving, I headed back to Eskaya to start the real family vacation. First on the itinerary? The Loboc River Boat Cruise:
We took a pitstop at a little raft where these kids in perfect synchronization, played kundiman (traditional love songs) while dancing to native dances such as tinikling (the feet tapping bamboo dance). These kids were way cute and talented, and was a nice departure from the ever so annoying pinoy imitation songs which steal beats from Umbrella, Beautiful Girl and other hip-hop songs.
We later found out that Bohol is known for setting up the Bohol Academy of Music, a scholarship for less fortunate kids. In this school, students are taught to play an instrument, while helping them get thru college FOC thru talent and band inclusion. It was quite an inspiring site as the conductor led children from all ages thru songs old and new. There were even two tiny trumpeteers who stole the show with their comic antics.
The next day marked the real Bohol Tour. Thru my go-to guy Darwin, I was able to secure an official guide from the Department of Tourism. Wilby, I must say, proved entertaining as well as informative. We rented a Coaster because we were a big group, but my brother Joel and his fam decided to skip it. More room for us!
Supposedly in 1565, Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and Raja Sikatuna drew blood in this location, aka. Sandugo, and became “friends”. Sure, we know how that friendship turned out. Now I don’t know the authenticity of the site, but whatever, the monument was set there and it was a great photo op.
There is so much history in Bohol, and clearly, there is so much pride in the Boholanos; during our trip the island was celebrating the TBTK or Tigum Bol-anon Tibuok Kalibutan (A Gathering of Boholanos from all over the world). This annual celebration brings native Boholanos from all over the world back to Bohol to celebrate their roots.Pride in Bohol also stems from good government. Fifty years ago, then Gov. Chatto upheld environmentalism and decided to plant over 500 Mahogany trees on the road that led to Chocholate Hills. Now in 2009, the trees are so big that it envelops the road and brings a awe inspiring tingle when you pass it by.
Previously one of the 7 Wonders of the World, tsokolateng burol better known as Chocolate Hills is a National Geographic Monument and supposedly a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Comprised of 1776 little mounds which turn brown when the summer peaks, these hills are actually not made up of soil but limestone and coral remnants. CORAL! This means that the vast area where these hills sit atop dates back to millions of years in the Ice Age, which melted and them uplifted the ground wherein we walk on now.
Ok I have to admit, I was scared of these critters. First of all, those huge owl like eyes. Then the little gaze they give. And of course, they are MONKEYS! From experience, monkeys and I just do not go well together. But they are soooo tiny and cute I couldn’t help but fall in love with them
Tarsiers’ fossils date back to over 45 million years ago and has the longest running fossil record of any primate genus (don’t ask me what that means, I wikipedia’d it). They are actually very sweet and tame, feasting on crickets and other insects. The cool thing about them is they have no peripheral vision, which means the can turn their heads 180 degrees. They’re really sensitive creatures and when they are stressed or harrassed (like when someone-who-will-remain-unknown tries to touch them), they are known to commit harakiri and twist their necks to their death I should know, my brother-in-law took one back to his place and in less than a month, bye bye tarsier… They like to be in the wild and that’s where they should be.
After buying Tarsier keychains, we headed off for lunch at the Rio Verde Floating resto. Yes, it is another riverboat cruise around the Loboc river, but the difference from the previous is like night and day, literally.
Of course, we can never feel hunger, so we stop by the cafe which has been restored by Madame Bea Zobel. Her arrival into Bohol sparked a renaissance of Bohol sights and arts which is so visible in all the tourist spots. Under the big Acacia tree, we had some lemongrass tea and just chilled out.
After the tour, we head back to our resort where the three marias (myself and my sisters) got a massage at the spa. Then we had dinner and had a mini surprise cake for my dad. There was a little quartet serenading us during our meal. Talk about spoiled.
SPEAKING of food. This was our meal that weekend:
Friday lunch: spice lechon (roasted whole pig) from Jerico’s trip to cebu
Fri Dinner: Riverboat cruise buffer
Sat Lunch: riverboat cruise lunch
Sat Dinner: MORE lechon from my brother’s friend in Bohol
Sunday: more leftover lechon
All in all, Bohol was an experience worth traveling for. For tourists, it is a jampacked getaway of beach and tourist destination. The best thing about Bohol is the warm friendly service and the toilets. THE TOILETS! Everywhere we went, the toilets were spic and span, from the riverboat cruise to the Chocolate Hills viewpoint up until the churches. Now I know non-Pinoys won’t understand, but it is a luxury in malls in Manila to have TP in the restrooms, you even have to pay to g into the snooty lounge to get soap and TP, but bohol even had aircon in the bagno. Seriously, you know how I need a clean toilet.
To dive in Balicasag, call Darwin of Pro Safari Scuba. He will hook you up, even with transportation by personal van, coaster or boat. He can get you a DOT tour guide as well, which I suggest you do, and if so, ask specifically for Wilby. He’s the shiznitz. Pro Safari Scuba