Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bohol Adventure Part 1

Four BACKPACKERS traveled more than a thousand kilometers to the province of Bohol: the home of the famed Chocolate Hills and the indigenous primate; the tarsier.

Part 1: Bohol Tour!
by Ivan Ignacio


We landed in the City of Friendship: Tagbilaran City via Philippine Airlines. Unlike the crowded Manila and Cebu City, Tagbilaran is a humble small city where you can still feel that rustic vibe. It is the only city in this relatively small island. Despite owning only one city, Bohol has the most number of municipalities in the country. It is surrounded by Cebu on its west, Siquijor on its Southwest, Leyte on its East and Camiguin down South. We later learned that the name of the province was derived from 'Bohok' which means cave. According to the locals we interacted with, Bohol is home to numerous cave systems, one of which we visited on our fourth day. 

The island is known for its scenic spots. The most famous has to be the Chocolate Hills, making it third in the list of our nation's National Geologic Monuments. It is also a favorite for its magnificent beaches and islands. Most of these aquatic wonders are concentrated in Panglao Island in the southern part of the province. The tarsier is also contributing to the fame of the island. Several conservation centers are found throughout Bohol to protect these nocturnal primates.

Bohol is also home to several historic spots and old churches. Sadly, due to the most recent earthquake, these churches were destroyed. October 15, 2013 is a date that our fellow Boholanos would forever remember as it really hit the province hard. The last part of this article will feature the horrible destruction of churches and houses that we witnessed during our tour in the island.


We met Kuya George outside the airport who served as our driver and tour guide at the same time. Before heading to the hotel, we asked him to recommend a famous restaurant in town. He gave us two options and went for the one nearer the bridge connecting  Bohol mainland and Panglao Island: Crab House.

Crab House is a pretty decent restaurant. Based on its name, its specialty are crabs - and they really offer huge crabs. Inside the restaurant is a pen where you can come face to face with the crab that you're going to chow down!


On March of 1565, a monumental pact took place in the island of Bohol. An alliance was sealed between Datu Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi (of Spain) which was the first treaty of friendship between the Philippines and Spain.

The symbol of friendship was captured in an ancient ritual called Sanduguan. The two parties slit their wrist and have their blood flow in a cup then mix it with wine. As a sign of unity, they will pour the wine in their goblets and drink it.

The Blood Compact site in Tagbilaran City, Bohol encapsulates this moment. It is one of the promoted historic spots in the island.

Kuya George told us an interesting tidbit - pointing out the way that Datu Sikatuna held the wine cup which is different from Legazpi's. Before the Spanish occupation, the people of Bohol (and most parts of the country I suppose) drank from coconut shells so Sikatuna did not really know how to properly hold a goblet.


I don't know if you have heard of Prony the python - she was advertised as the largest python in captivity. The reticulated python was captured by a Boholano in the town of Albuquerque in 1996. For seventeen years, it gained popularity and contributed to the booming tourism in the island. Sadly, four months ago, the famous python of Bohol succumbed to unknown reasons. Probably because of its age as pythons in captivity survive only up to fifteen years.

The ExZOOtic Animal Park in Loay, Bohol was once the home of Prony the python. Despite Prony's death, the park still houses two large pythons and is still worthy of visiting. Aside from the pythons, the park features some other interesting animals such as crocodiles, civet cats, leopards, squirrels (yes, squirrels in the Philippines!) etc.

One attraction is an opportunity to interact with the Ati tribe, an ethnic group in the neighboring Panay island. You pick a weapon and get to pose as a tribesman with them. The park collects 30Php entrance fee while the Ati tribe and python interaction have boxes for donations. BP Weng enjoyed posing with the Ati tribe so much that she donated -??-Php for the tribe. Fill in the -??-


The Bohol attraction that I enjoyed the most - the Loboc River Cruise!

Snaking through several towns with its wide, clean and green water, the Loboc River is definitely a treasure that draws a lot of people - locals and tourists alike. We saw it from the plane when we were flying over the area. It was like a small Amazon river. 

We arrived in Loboc town and was greeted by a melancholic ambiance of the effects of the October earthquake. The old Loboc church did not escape the wrath of the calamity and was razed to the ground. The only elevator in Bohol got destroyed as well. The last part of this article will compile the aftermath of the earthquake in the province. 

Going back to the Loboc River adventure, we crossed the bridge and registered for the 11:15AM cruise trip. 450Php was collected for the cruise which included a buffet and an environmental fee. Enjoying a buffet lunch while cruising down the majestic river - exciting!

Our plan was to casually start eating when our boat leave the dock. However, we noticed that the other passengers started to chow like there's no tomorrow. Out of fear that we'll get the unpopular bunch in the buffet, (worse not getting any at all!) we joined the fun and stuffed our plates with bounty of food. 

Our stomachs were already full when the cruise commenced. Aside from the buffet, another great thing about the Loboc cruise is that they hire singers who sing songs that are perfect for the moment. Imagine yourself in a relaxing boat ride along a clean, green river surrounded by hills and the simplicity of nature while listening to good music. BP Heinz could not wait to enjoy the vista and hurriedly took pictures of the nice view of the river. The views were fantastic!

The last part of the cruise was when we stopped by a floating platform where Boholanos dressed in colorful costumes awaited us. These locals performed in front of us! They sang a medley of Boholano and Thank You songs and presented some ethnic dances. During the midst of the performance, the girl dancer danced with BPs Kenji and Heinz on two bamboo sticks known as the Tinikling. This was what I enjoyed the most. I was looking at the faces of the local dancers and they were enjoying what they were doing! Their smiles were genuine and they were really welcoming. This was when I told myself, "I Love Bohol".


After a nice river cruise which satisfied our tummies at the same time, we boarded the van and headed to the next attraction. As much as we wanted to doze off, we had to maximize our time exploring the other wonders of Bohol. And up next was the adventure that we crave for: Zipline!

The Loboc Ecotourism Adventure Park  is located near the Loboc River Cruise. The Adventure Park offers two attractions: Cable Car and Zipline. During our visit, the cable car was not operational so we had no choice but to opt with the Zipline for two segments.

Although its distance is only 520 meters, its still a must try because in that length, you will see the amazing view of the Loboc River down below. As a matter of fact, it was the zipline with the most beautiful view for BP Heinz.


Up next is the attraction in the town of Sevilla: the hanging bridge!

It was interesting to notice that the province of Bohol is pretty much organized when it comes to tourism. Kuya George mentioned that a lot of Boholanos rely on tourists to earn sufficient income. Perhaps the reason why it was very apparent that tourism is one of Bohol's priorities. Kudos to the local government which from what we have heard has done an excellent job for the province over the years.

When we got to the Loay-Sevilla-Carmen junction, we immediately saw the big tarpaulin promoting Sevilla's hanging bridge. It has this eye catching tag: Are you ready to defy gravity? It quickly captured my curiosity - how extreme is the Hanging Bridge? Hmmmm...

Turning left for Sevilla town and trailing with the extension of the Loboc river on our left side, we approached the tourist attraction. Another tarpaulin promoting the Sevilla bridge is situated near it. There is an entrance fee of 20Php for tourists who wish to cross the bridge.

The Sevilla Bridge is just like your ordinary hanging bridge - crossing the bridge suspended over the river. But what made it more special is the fact that the tourism of Bohol made it seem like you have to see and experience it. Locals who reside on the other side of the bridge crossed it without a fee which solidified my thought that the bridge was initially constructed for that purpose. It has been serving the locals before it became a tourist spot.


After twenty years of curiosity on how a tarsier looks like, I finally got the chance to stare at them... in their natural habitat!

The tarsier is a nocturnal primate that is indigenous to South East Asia. In our country, a huge concentration of these creatures are found in the island of Bohol. This abundance has been one of the major reasons why people fly to Bohol - to see these shy and cute creatures.

To return the favor that the tarsiers brought to Bohol, a lot of efforts to conserve, preserve and protect them were being implemented province wide. They treat these creatures with respect and care as if they continuously bring luck to the townsfolk. And they really do! Every souvenir store has got to have a tarsier inspired stuff for sale. Hey, more than half of my pasalubongs were tarsier inspired! And most if not all tourists that enter the province won't exit without checking them out in any of the several sanctuaries where they are being exhibited.

We visited the Tarsier Conversation Center in Loboc, Bohol. To be quite honest, I was not as thrilled when we were roaming around the forested area as I was when we were heading there. My expectation sort of flopped when we were told that we would only be seeing six tarsiers. All along I was dreaming of entering Tarsier Land where we would be able to see hundreds in their natural habitat. Turned out that the Boholanos love them so much that the policy is to just bring out a few for tourists to see. Inside the center is a huge fenced area where 600+ tarsiers freely roam around and breed. 

Overall, I was still very happy with my personal interaction with these minions from Bohol. They were very sloth-like, clinging with their long torsos on branches of tree. Well, they were nocturnal creatures so if you would like to see them in action, you have to sign up for the Safari Night Tours being offered in the province as well. The only action time that we witnessed was when they move their head in another angle. And yes, they can move their heads 360 degrees! 


Between the towns of Loboc and Bilar lie a wonder which is both natural and man made. The two kilometer forest is an amazing sight that offers tranquility. 

The area reminded me of a miniature Twilight set up, only teeming with Mahogany trees instead of the huge century old Oak trees. We stopped by and stepped outside our van and felt the cool vibe that the forest brings to this part of the road. Considering that it was hot that noon, we did not feel it because of the thick canopy that shade the area from the heat of the sun and the fresh breeze coming from the tall and proud trees.

Kuya George narrated that these trees were once seedlings planted during the regime of the late Diosdado Macapagal. Over the years, they blossomed into a remarkable line of vegetation that is worth checking on. I'm pretty sure that the souls of those who took part in this venture are surely proud of the output of their hard work.


Another sanctuary is in the town of Bilar. Instead of showcasing pythons and tarsiers, they  boast of caterpillars and butterflies!

The Simply Butterfly Sanctuary is a nice stop if you're roaming around the island. This was not my first tour around a butterfly sanctuary so I kind of have an idea of what to expect. But what stood out in our visit was the funny tourist guide who was trained well to make their visitors' stop here memorable. 

What to expect inside: a refresher of your Science 1 class with the life stages of a butterfly. You'll also see live action of caterpillars, pupas, cocoons and butterflies. During our visit, there were few butterflies in the area. As per our guide, they died out of stress when super typhoon Yolanda did an island hopping in the Visayas region. Poor butterflies.

According to Kuya George, a lot of tourists that he accompanied in this sanctuary tend to have the best laugh as compared to the other tourist destinations in Bohol. Not because of being tickled by a caterpillar, but because of the hilarious guides that are well trained. And I don't think that we owe it to their training for guideship because I think our dear Boholanos are innately nice, kind and wacky. 


We saw the blood compact site, pythons, squirrels, tarsiers and butterflies. We passed by a mahogany forest built with man's ingenuity. We ate a buffet while cruising around the beautiful Loboc river and even ziplined on top of it! We interacted with the Ati tribe and laughed with the funny locals of Bohol. It could have been a fruitful day already and we could have headed back to the resort with lots of beautiful memories of Bohol already. What more can we ask for? But a stop in Bohol won't be complete without visiting the famous Chocolate Hills!

Concentrated in the town of Carmen, the Chocolate Hills are geological wonders which along with Banaue Rice Terraces, Mt. Mayon and Ma. Cristina Falls plagued the Sibika and Kultura (Civics and Culture) books of elementary schools. These are limestone mounds covered with grasses. The hills are green during the wet season, and are brown during the dry season. The best period to take a glimpse of them would be during summer months when they look like mounds of Hershey's Chocolate Kisses, hence the name Chocolate Hills

Unfortunately, due to the October earthquake that shook the island, some of the hills got destroyed. One of the casualties happened to be the famous view deck in Carmen, Bohol. When we got there, we saw how part of the view deck collapsed because of the magnitude 7.2 earthquake. On our way to Sagbayan, we saw one of the hills, cracked in half and limestones scattered around it. But still, it was a nice sight to behold. I maximized my experience that even if BPs Weng, Heinz and Kenji went down already, I stayed for another ten minutes just to stare at the marvelous vast sight. It was only Day Two and I was already very much mesmerized with the beauty of our country, the beauty of Bohol.


The epicenter of the October 15 earthquake was at Sagbayan, Bohol. We took the road to Sagbayan to visit the Sagbayan Peak. And on our way, we chanced upon the remnants of the effects of the earthquake. It was horrible - people were living on tents because their houses were damaged. Although it was not as bad as the Yolanda aftermath, it was still sad to see the condition of our fellow countrymen.

The Sagbayan Peak was unfortunately closed when we got there. The park should close by 6:00PM but it was only 5:30PM when we arrived. The staffs packed up early as there were only a few visitors since the October earthquake. 

Throughout our stay in Bohol, we have heard a lot of stories about the earthquake. In the town of Antequera, several children died because they were on a nature trip when the earthquake happened. In Sagbayan, children got trapped inside a cave, and died. The bridge in the town of Calape collapsed. We've seen landslides, sinkholes, and fault lines. The town of Loon where the church was at Ground Zero received the most fatalities with 67 deaths. 

Kuya George had his stories as well. He was dropping off guests from Panglao Tropical Villas to the airport when the earthquake struck the province. He and his passengers did not feel the earthquake. But when they got to the pier, they saw the damages brought by the calamity and were surprised. His passengers got stranded that day because the ferry services were stopped that day. Kuya George fetched his mother after that. His mother had to walk two towns because the bridge connecting Calape and Loon collapsed.

The most sorrowful part was what happened to the old churches of Bohol. All of them collapsed because of the 7.2 magnitude earthquake.

It was already evening when we got back in Tagbilaran City after our land tour. We ate dinner and headed back to the resort. It was a very productive day as we saw a lot of amazing tourist spots in Bohol.


Up Next: After being mesmerized by land, it's time to splash in the water and check out the water activities in Bohol!

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