Bohol will not disappoint.
Just like any other island in the Philippine archipelago, Bohol enthralls: with its breath-taking view of turquoise beaches, its powdery white sand, the amazing sea creatures found in its waters, the primeval feel of the trees, forests, caves, and other amazing geological and man-made formations–its all in Bohol! Oh, its travel-worthy roads are as surprising as they are inspiring. (The roads of Santa Rosa, Laguna should take a page.)
An island province located in the Central Visayas region, Bohol is flanked by Cebu to the west, by Leyte in the northeast, and to the south, across the Bohol Sea, Mindanao. Travel by air is a swift one hour and 15 minutes from Manila. Travel by water, on the other hand, is a relentless twenty-five (25) hours (that is, if boat ride is not one of the experiences you wish to enjoy.) And because of the airport’s close proximity to Tagbilaran City, its commercial capital and most populous city, getting to and from Tagbilaran is–without intent to punning–a breeze.
A few minutes from Tagbilaran City proper, by the side of the road that looks out to the sea in Baranggay Bool, is the Sandugo (“one blood”), a bronze memorial to the peace pact made between Datu Sikatuna, a native chieftain of Bohol, and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a Spanish conquistador who in March 1565 traipsed to the island. The Blood Compact is thereafter celebrated in the Sandugo Festival in July. (Whether the pact had been an auspicious event for the Boholanos we will leave to the historians.)
The Chocolate Hills is of course a must-see when one is in Bohol. According to geologists, these cone-shaped hills are “weathered formations of a kind of marine limestone lying on the top of impermeable clay soil,” and references are made with their similarity to the Hundred Islands of Pangasinan in terms of formation. A view of this geological wonder may be witnessed by climbing the steep steps to the viewing deck, where the sometimes green, sometimes brown hills, depending on the time of the year, are almost a hand’s-breadth away. Too bad for us though, it rained that April morning we climbed the steps to the viewing deck, and the numerous and spectacular “mounds” were surrounded by smoky clouds hanging low.
Taking a meandering river cruise along the placid Loboc River allows one to feel momentarily in tune with the “song” of the primeval forest trees that line either side of the river, the same feeling one gets when one is amongst the hundred or so mahogany trees planted along the side of the road, the famed“man-made forest” of Bohol. Here, the water of Loboc murmurs, and downstream, disturbing the stillness are the joyous voices of the ukelele-cradling youths, providing songs and dances to cruises that pass by them. The sight of the “miniature” waterfalls, called Busay Falls, signals the end of the boat ride, and the “balsa” heads back to the Loay Bridge. (Digression: one bridge near Loay is a curiosity: it was never completed because doing so would mean destroying an ancient church that stands in its way. We were baffled by that story told us by the driver of our van, as though the people responsible for these things had never thought or planned as far ahead as that before commencing construction. Anyway. The bridge thereafter became a source of merriment for my son Jacob and his friend Ckianna because his father christened it “s—– bridge” and their fits of giggles accompanied us all throughout the trip back to the city.)
Doing the Hanging Bridge in Loboc is a forbidding challenge not for the weak-hearted or the weak-kneed. The bridge, made of split bamboo laid in a crisscrossing style, has inspired many a bad dream, and why not: it is a scary 20-meter drop to the mossy, greenish pool below (although we found waders there!). My heart was caught in my throat when my husband’s shoe got caught in the slats, and I worried about the bridge not being able to support JC ‘s sheer weight!
Apart from all these interesting places, Bohol offers very interesting fauna. It is home to the tarsiers, the small furry creatures with huge liquid eyes, which species, we were told, are slowly dying out; the colorful starfishes that come in oranges and blues and almost transparent silvers and that burrow in the sands of the beaches (one curious starfish I christened “asterisk” as, instead of five limbs, it had six); the menacing sea urchins and their poisonous, spindly spikes; the languid civet cat, and the playful dolphins of Pamilacan and Balicasag Islands.
Can there be a trip to any island province in the country without a visit to the ubiquitous, but magnificent churches and cathedrals? In Tagbilaran City alone, an imposing church commands majestic view of the plaza, its walls though blackened with soot and age, are sturdy and stalwart, a reminder of our Catholic, therefore Spanish, heritage. At night, amidst the familiar darkness of a slumbering province, the Cathedral of the Diocese of Tagbilaran City is alight in an ethereal blue. There is also Baclayon Church, built in 1727, a national heritage for having withstood two world wars, and, to my mind, will withstand maybe two more. At the front, placed conspicuously enough are the ten commandments in the Visayan language, as well as a placard admonishing the faithful to wear modest attire always when going inside the Church of God. Like the dutiful parishioner that I was once, albeit a “stranger” to this Faith, and eager to approach the altar with luminous images, I wrapped my bare arms and knees in cotton cloths provided at the entrance, almost guilty to be entering a church in, well, immodest garment. As is customary of the period, the inside of the Church is dome-like and spacious, and the eyes are riveted to the transepts where Catholic hagiographic words are inscribed round. A certain hushed silence, not unlike the stillness of the mind in the presence of the sublime, is palpable in these churches, here as elsewhere: in the Basilique Sacre Couer in the Montmartre in Paris, as in the “Cathedral vivant” of the Notre Dame near the Sorbonne; in St. Joseph Parish in Sta. Rosa, Laguna as in a Dominican Cathedral in a plaza in Vigan.
By far the most enjoyable and, to the travel-weary city bodies of the kids in the group, resembling remotely “familiar” is–no, not the trip to the “SM City”-like Island City Mall or the Bohol Quality Mall,–but the trip to Panglao Island, one of the islands that dot the southern tip of Bohol. Containing all the resorts–from the costly Bohol Beach Club to the cost-cutting tourist, the affordable Dumaluan Beach in this watery side of our island-nation, Panglao is an hour’s drive from Tagbilaran City. The location was called“panglao,” a poetic Filipino word for “melancholic,” for the place used to be that, but not anymore. Now, rows of neatly-lined welcoming thatched huts, suggesting merry habitation, front the broad expanse of the beach, its water shimmering in the blazing sun. The kids took to the cool waters of Panglao like the aquatic creatures that they are, and with a splash we capped our April 8-12, 2011 Bohol trip thus.
Bohol, truly, will not disappoint.