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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bohol Island Vacation (Part 1)

I finally had my long-planned vacation to Bohol last April 8 to 10.    The real story behind the dates was, however, I first thought the Holy Week fell on that week.  I have already booked my flight when I learned that Good Friday fell on the week before.  Luckily,  there was another long weekend on those dates due to the Araw ng Kagitingan holiday on April 9.

Anyway, we went to Bohol by Philippine Airlines,  Our flight left on time but arrived five minutes late of the original schedule.  The flight was uneventful, the skies were clear and we encountered no turbulence at all.  It was only on the descent that the plane shook a little.

Tagbilaran Airport is typical of provincial airports; not so big and not as modern as the ones in big cities and provinces.  The people are very helpful, but aside from Tagalog they speak another Philippine dialect, Visayan or Cebuano.

After getting my lone baggage, I contacted Nador, the driver/tour guide my Aunt suggested to me.  He was already at the airport waiting for my arrival.  It's good I contacted him before going to Bohol because I didn't have to haggle with a driver to bring me to my hotel and take me to a tour of the island.

He suggested that we take the tour already before going to our hotel.  I asked him how long the tour will take and he said I could check in the hotel before the end of the day.  I decided to follow his suggestion and took the trip.

Our first stop was the Shrine of the Blood Compact or Sanduguan.  It depicts the blood compact between the local chieftain Datu Sikatuna and Spanish explorer Juan Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565. While the bronze statues feature Sikatuna and Legazpi having a toast, the actual sanduguan was performed with both leaders making a cut on their arm to draw some blood, which was mixed with wine or water.  The act of drinking each other's blood sealed the bonds of friendship between the two leaders and their tribes.  I doubt though if this is still performed today.  Now they do it by signing a Memorandum of Agreement or something.

One thing I noticed with this shrine is that Datu Sikatuna was alone at the left side, while Legazpi was at the center of the tableau with three other Spaniards on his left side, including a priest.  Anyway, from this site one can already see part of Panglao Island where I planned to spend my vacation.

Our next stop was the Baclayon Church or  Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Parish Church.  It is one of the oldest churches in the country, believed to have been built in the 1700s.  It is also one of the best preserved Jesuit Built churches in the region.  The natives who built it used coral stones that were abundant in the island.  Then they used egg whites to cement the stones together.

Upon arrival at the church grounds, Nador pointed a portion of the wall and asked me what I saw. I told him I couldn't see anything different except for some stains on the wall.  He borrowed my camera and took a picture of the wall and showed me the photo.  He pointed to one particular column and told me that when the founder of this church 300 years ago, something miraculous happened, a stained appeared on this column and it resembled the face of the deceased priest.  I looked closer and saw the pattern more clearly: I could make out what appeared to be eyes, a nose and beard of an old Jesuit priest.

I have always been skeptical about these things since reading somewhere that as humans, we tend to look for patterns in the things we see.  That is why we claim to see the face of someone dead appearing on the bark of a tree or even the face of Jesus Christ burned on our morning toast.  Since I was basically under his control, I didn't choose to lecture Nador about this and instead rode along his belief that indeed, it was the face of the Jesuit priest that appeared on the wall of the church to forever look over his flock.

The old convent beside the church was converted into a mini-museum which housed a collection of vestments, missals, religious artifacts and other antiquities.  One item that caught my attention was a giant hymnal written in Latin., photography of any kind was not allowed inside.  There was always someone following me around since I had my camera ready to shoot.  There were also security cameras in the different rooms where the items were placed.    The whole place though is a crumbling old building that needs some renovation work.  It also lacked temperature control systems and this leaves the artifacts in the mercy of tropical heat and humidity.

From the museum, we went to the interior of the church.  I instantly fell in love with its two minor altars and main altar.  The main altar has several images in it, the most prominent of which is the image of the Immaculate Conception.  If I am not mistaken, the altar is a good example of Baroque architecture and style.

Our next stop was the python sanctuary in the province.  There was this huge python sleeping in a cage guarded by a guy wearing women's clothes and a wig.  The snake was sleeping soundly and the guard said it has just finished eating a goat.  I am not a big fan of snakes so I decided to leave the place and go on with our tour.

Since it was already lunch time, I asked Nador where we could eat lunch.  He said that part of the tour was to have lunch at the floating restaurant at the Loboc River.  We proceeded to the place and paid our buffet fee of PhP350 per person.  Most of the food were familiar Filipino food except one that caught my eye.  I didn't get the name of the dish but it was made of ripe jackfruit sauteed and then mixed with coconut milk.  It is a sweet dish and can pass as a dessert.

The boat ride began after everybody had finished his lunch.  A guy started to sing with his guitar as we slowly moved along the river.  Most of his numbers were about rivers but they are American songs.  The scenery along the banks of the river was marvelous, with mangroves and nipa palms lining it.  The breeze blowing as we move along was relaxing and made the afternoon heat more bearable.

We got into a junction along the river when I was startled by the sound of drums.  The singing guy told us that we reached a village of natives of the island.  We stopped and disembarked to meet and greet the natives who were too willing to have their pictures taken with us.  I liked their costume which was made with materials used for a kind of broom called walis tambo.  One foreign woman though was not impressed and nastily told her husband (but loud enough for everyone to hear) that the natives do not look like natives at all.  I don't know what she means and what a native should look like.  Maybe she was looking for some dark, kinky haired people like the Aetas?

It turned out that that was as far as our boat ride could go.  When we got back on the boat, we turned around and headed back to where we came from.  We passed by the same route so we saw more mangroves and nipa palms along the way.  For his final number, singing guy finally sang a beautiful Visayan song.

After the boat ride, Nador brought us to where we could encounter the Tarsier.  This little primate  is nocturnal in nature and found in Bohol and some parts of Visayas and Mindanao.  I was surprised to learn that it is carnivorous, its diet consisted mainly of insects.  Its big round eyes and bulbous fingertips make them look like aliens.

The little furball I encountered was so sleepy and looked so fragile.  In fact, the tarsier almost became extinct and is now protected.  In the place I went to, tourists were not allowed to touch them anymore and flash photography was strictly forbidden.

We said goodbye to the tiny tarsiers and went our way to the chocolate hills.  Along the way, we passed by a winding road that locals call  bituka ng manok or chicken intestines.  Then we went through the man-made forest in Bilar.  A two kilometer stretch of road with mahogany trees at both sides.  Nador said that the trees were planted 40 years ago by volunteer Boholanos who wanted to keep their island clean and beautiful.  The place reminded me of the University where I studied.

We had our pictures taken among the trees and then we're off again to the chocolate hills. Nador made another stop for us to visit the Bohol Butterfly Sanctuary.  We paid 10 pesos for the guided tour where our guide introduced us to the different species of butterflies they keep.  Unlike in Vigan where the insects were in an enclosure, they are free to flitter around here.  The guide said that the butterflies usually come back to the trees to lay their eggs.

This was our last stop before finally getting to the Chocolate Hills.  I told Nador that I waited all my life for this moment.  However, I was almost discouraged when I found out that I needed to climb up a steep hill to get to the view deck where I could get a better view of the hills.  Nador said that I should count the number of steps to the top and when I reach it, I must ring the bell to signal that I have reached it.

I lost count at 20 but I managed to climb to the top and ring the bell.  I was well rewarded because the view was so beautiful.  Thousands of brown mounds of earth surrounded the place, each looking like chocolate that dropped from the sky.  I stayed on the view deck for some time until it started to drizzle.

I bought some souvenir shirts at the stores near the place.  Thankfully, they were not over-priced. There were ones that can be bought for less than 200 pesos.  The most expensive ones were at 500 pesos.

Next: Panglao Island

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