While Coron offered us a good sense of the gorgeous nature that the Philippines are endowed with, Bohol showed us the Filipino sense of humour. We got to Bohol via a 2 h ferry from Cebu (we flew back to Cebu from Coron), it was a really comfortable ride. We took up a one day tour package and our guide brought us to at least 10 different places at a reasonable price (I can’t remember how much it was). I will just write about the more interesting ones. We stayed in a family room at Lost Horizon Beach Dive Resort – the hotel has a pretty convenient location as the beach and its restaurants and amenities are just a short walk away. Different from the Malcapuya Beach, the beach in Bohol is very touristy with a myriad of restaurants, souvenir shops and massage parlours.
The main industries in Bohol are tourism, agriculture (rice) and fishing. According to our guide, Bohol is one of the few islands in the Philippines that is well-endowed with river tributaries. Consequently, it is an area which produces a substantial amount of rice for the country. Speaking about rice, the typical Filipino food seems to be barbecued meat and rice. It is quite delicious but I did miss vegetables after a couple of days. Another thing which makes Bohol quite special is that Bohol is where the blood compact between between the Spanish explorer Miguel Legazpi and the Filipino king Datu Sikatuna. It is considered to be the first friendship treaty between the Spaniards and the Filipinos. Why Bohol? According to our guide, the blood compact at Bohol was an accident as the Spaniards were actually headed for Cebu but the strong winds forced them to sail northward towards Bohol instead. As a result of this accident, today we see numerous old churches in Bohol among which is the Baclayon Church (second oldest church in the Philippines). Sadly, due to the 2013 Bohol earthquake, many churches have been either reduced to rubble or some kind of disrepair. Apparently, the Philippines government wants to construct an airport in Bohol, I do hope that they will learn from the mistakes of these broken churches and build something more earthquake-resistant.
Our first stop in Bohol was the famous chocolate hills. They are apparently made of limestone, I still do not understand how they come about but they are pretty. In the drier months, the hills will look brown and that is where they look like “chocolates”. The chocolate hills have been considered by some as the Eighth Wonder of the World too. Sadly, we could not look at them for too long due to the very limited parking spaces so we had to leave after about 40 minutes.
We visited the Bamboo Hanging Bridge crossing the Sipatan River in Sevilla an hour or two after the chocolate hills. Strangely, it began to rain soon after we left the hills. We had to make a decision if we wanted to skip the Bamboo Hanging Bridge. In the end, we decided, heck, we should just cross the bridge since we were there. I don’t think the Hanging Bridge is a scary suspension bridge but because of the rain, we really had to take care when we crossed the bridge. Bamboo is among the most hardy materials in the world but it is also quite slippery on wet days.
It was still raining when we got to the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary. I was quite glad it rained here if not it would be impossible to spot the really small tarsiers! The people in charge kindly put umbrellas around the sanctuary for the tarsiers to take shelter. Tarsiers are apparently very shy and timid animals and visitors have to refrain from using flash photography in the sanctuary lest it scares and stresses the tarsiers. When stressed, tarsiers commit suicide by banging their heads against the tree trunks. As you can imagine, tarsiers are on the Red List of Endangered Species. This sanctuary is not quite the usual zoo; it allows tarsiers to move in and out of the sanctuary as and when they want to. In a sense, it really serves as a “sanctuary” for the tarsiers. We thought it was a pretty decent idea because you still want tarsiers to live well in the wild in their habitats.
We visited two other places that deal with animals in Bohol – Butterfly Garden and Python Sanctuary. The guide at Butterfly Garden called himself Justin Bieber and he told us interesting facts about how butterflies have sex and hermaphroditic butterflies (butterflies with both sexes). I remember how he named a hermaphroditic butterfly Lady Gaga and started singing “Bad Romance”. That was quite funny. Anyhow, it was a decent attempt at educating the public about butterflies. On the contrary, the Python Sanctuary was a really strange place. The biggest python snake in captivity, Prony, passed away a while back but they immortalized Prony by putting its very long skeleton on display and performing taxidermy on Prony (stuffing the dead python for display). There is little/ no conservation or education slant at the Python Sanctuary. I remember how Marimar quickly rushed us through the sanctuary, introduced the animals casually (e.g. this is the cat, this is the eagle), mimicked the sounds of the animals which she just introduced and left us at the python area for her “showtime”. Her showtime is really funny, take a look at a youtube video of her performance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZIJs68z0YY). She lip-synced and danced along like a real jungle diva! We didn’t enjoy ourselves so much there but in retrospect, that might be all we remember of Bohol 10 years down the road.
We took a Loboc River Cruise and had our buffet lunch on board while a man entertained us with his singing and guitar. It was all perfect and great until the boat stopped us at a “native village”. The “natives” commodified their culture and for a nominal fee, we get to dress as tribal people, shoot arrows etc. It makes me feel sad when I saw topless children who held iguanas and begged tourists to pay to take a photo with them. How can we help them without affirming this unhealthy lifestyle?
We next visited the Baclayon Church – the second oldest church in the Philippines. In Philippines, Roman Catholicism is very much alive. The radio plays prayers periodically and our guide would pray along, a prayer for a safe journey is played before the Bohol-Cebu ferry disembarks, the newspaper dedicates a section for people to give thanks to the God. Some parts of the church are still in a state of disrepair so people are worshipping in a nearby house for the time being. What is most interesting about this church is the water stain on the walls of the churches. Our guide says this water stain looks like St Peter rather miraculously. I am not sure how St Peter looks like but I must say the human face on that water stain is quite cool
Our last stop for the day was Hinagdanan Cave. It was quite an interesting and fun experience – once we got into the cave, a guide took our cameras, adjusted the settings appropriately, told us to make different poses at different spots and took many photos of us. We had a lot of fun there so I think we gave the guide quite a generous tip. It is a pretty cave too. The guide told us that people swim in the water there. I am not sure if he meant it as a joke but it must be quite a mystical experience to swim in a cave. Well, maybe next time!