Saturday, May 7, 2005

Bohol – A Great Tour!

If you are looking for the best guided and annotated tour in the Philippines, you will only find it in Bohol. I will stand on that declaration with my chin high up!

Howsoever you arranged for it, your tour will be the same - a grand look around the various natural and man-made wonders of the place, PLUS a barrage of historical information you will itch to write every detail down on a notebook. Best if you bring your palm or XDA!

I have taken this tour three times (in three years) and each of those times I got so excited and too absorbed into the sceneries, the stories and the histories about the place. While the tour guides im
part basically the same information, there is always something else new that I discover (or remember for good)!

First time I went was with a big tour group – a whole bus load of about 40 tourists. Second time I went there, I was traveling with a special friend – only the two of us! And the third time, I was with seven of my adventurous friends! In all those tours, wherever I asked, I always ended up with a professional tour guide. 'Professionals' meaning they were formally trained to be tour guides and they really know every inch of this place and every decade or era about this place! They are way too far from the hawkers of the Batangas Pier, or the boatmen of Boracay or those shabbily clad and sometimes even shirtless folks in Pagsanjan inviting you for a boat tour! Well, yes, the tourguides of Bohol can be compared to those of Corregidor – meaning professionally trained, speaking good English and have the proper decorum and care for the visitors’ safety, comfort, convenience and enjoymen
t – and not just for the visitors’ cash!

I wish there is something like this anywhere I go in the Philippines. And these tour guides are no less accredited by the tourism department with their IDs prominently hung as outsized necklaces! In all those occasions, I arrived at this place from Cebu, but there will be not much of a variation if you jetted right into the island from Manila or wherever else.

So how does the tour go along?
It starts early in the morning, about 7AM on arrival of your ferry boat at Tagbilaran City – the capital of the Bohol Island/Province. The port is clean and devoid of the incessant and irritating hawkers like it is in the ugly ugly Batangas City Pier. Right outside the gates of the Tagbilaran Port you will see your tour guide already displaying your name (or your group’s name) on a thick paper or cardboard – just to let you know really that he/she is waiting for you. After courteous greetings and introductions, you will be herded to your vehicle.

O
n my first tour, we were on to a bus with fine air conditioning but the windows had shatters in many parts seemingly ready to disintegrate on the next shudder or shake of the bus! The tour guide was up front with a microphone that would fail from time to time! That microphone was even wrapped with packaging tape at the base – meaning it had started to malfunction sometime ago and the operators did some quick fixes. But the tour guide was lively and even had a quiz for us to answer while on the trip! The prize, a native delicacy made out of cassava that looked like suman or its tasty cousins. And by the way, while we were asked to board the bus, all our luggage and heavy stuff were loaded unto a van that went straight to our resort! Quite convenient and no one lost anything!

On the second tour, yes we were also met by our tour guide cum driver and were comfortably seated on to a fine clean and crisp-smelling white Toyota Corolla. Our driver cum tour guide may
have that tricky look but I discovered soonest that he was just as excellent. This tour guide had long curly hair that (for me) needed a haircut. This look was matched by equally longish beard and thick mustache – and finally accented with an old-style RayBan! The total physical appearance was nothing different of the many cab drivers in Metro Manila. At least he did not have the usual smell of taxi drivers! In my mind I thought he was just another driver – even almost a mugger. A bit of apprehension there since my companion was a foreigner. But when he started talking to us, the tone of the voice and manner of speech alone was immediately recognizable that this was a learned man. Indeed he was!

Interestingly, since during the booking I requested for a Japanese-speaking guide, upon seeing us, he started talking in fluent Nihongo! He thought me and my companion were both from Japan. When I finally revealed that I was Filipino with just a few drops of the jap blood and that my companion also spoke good English having studied at the University of Hawaii, he laughed and switched to fluent English. During the tour, when I revealed I was fluent in Bisaya, and that my buddy could already speak Tagalog and a few Visayan words, he looked up to the clouds and muttered: “’taya oy’! Akala ko pa naman ma-praktis na akong nihonggo”! But we assured him
his Japanese was just fine – even very courteous (the way it is taught in schools)! Henceforth our dear jeproks-looking driver and guide was unstoppably talking to us in four different tongues – Japanese, English, Tagalog and Bisaya (Bojolano entawon). Like the other guide on my first visit, he was nonetheless well-versed of the dates names and places – the entire history of Bohol. Only difference was, many times he would say a detail in English, and then translate it to Japanese – and our constant reply was: “OO NA”! And we were all laughing as he drove us along the tour while blabbering about this and that, those and these! Quite a good guide really! And yes, I judged him too early! Shame on me!

On my third visit, our dear tour guide (with driver beside her) met and loaded us unto a brand new Toyota Hi-Ace. The van smelled as if it got out of the factory just yesterday! Here, our ever smiling tour guide was a healthy youthful lady who has a Bachelors Degree from UP Diliman – Major in History. Gosh! Ganun ka-tindi ang tour guides sa Bohol! Like the two other guides I have toured with, she was constantly talking as if afraid she won’t be able to tell us many other things during the 8-hour tour. And her style of annotating the tour extends way beyond the vehicle’s confines. Even as we marvel at a site or tinker with some souvenirs, she would be just
on the side telling us about how those things were made, the materials they are made of, where they are usually done and how long and so on. Example: posing for a group picture, with (of course) this tour guide behind the camera, she was saying “that hill which is the background of your picture was recently used to shoot a TV ad for a certain phone company”. This was said while she tried to focus us into the frame! Another example: as I caressed one of those little tarsiers, I could hear her voice describing the scientific facts about the animal, like “each eye is bigger than the brain”… “They eat only insects like grasshoppers”… “They are nocturnal”… and many other things! Oh this guide was not only fun to be with. She is also intelligent. She could easily sense if one of us was about to doze off and would politely ask if she should stop talking and if everyone would like to take a nap and so on! What else can you expect, she is a "Maroon"! And you cannot be graduated from UP just like that! She must be one of Bohol's treasures!

Enough about the guides, ok? They are just the best in class!
So let’s get on with how the tour goes!

The Starters!
Immediately as your vehicle departs from the pier, the tour guide will start reciting general facts about the island, its past, its people, present economy, climate, infrastructures and so on.

As you skirt a part of Tagbilaran on the way out to the countryside, your attention will be directed to the many tricycles on the streets. Uniquely, it is only in this place where a city ordinance was decreed that any such tricycle – private or public – must sport a quote from the bible or other religious expressions such as “God is Love”. Others are stylish and still others are even more clever like displaying just “John 8:32”! These are usually written on the back side of the vehicle but many even have those quotations in front and inside their passenger cabs.

You will get too busy ogling at all those tricycles you happen to pass by trying to catch what is written on them. Then of course the tour guide will tell you that there is also an ordinance where the maximum number of adult passengers per tricycle is just three adults – two inside, one at t
he back of the driver; and so on and on.

Your first breath of exhilaration comes as the vehicle exits Tagbilaran City on a road by the sea where your guide will direct your attention to an island and say, “that island you see across the sea to our right is the famous Panglao Island. On the other side of that island are stretches of white sand beaches and the many resorts that Bohol has”. The topic then shifts to describing the things and activities that you can see or avail of on that island and beyond. This is happening as you traverse a part of the road where your view to the left are hills with thick foliage, houses here and there and the sea of southern Bohol to your right. Technique: just listen to your tour guide but keep on looking outside as the views are really lovely!

Sikatuna and the views beyond!
No sooner, you will sense that your vehicle seems to be pulling over at the side of a road where there are no houses. Of course by just a glance or gesture, you will know that your tour guide and even the driver would like you to go out of the vehicle. You excitedly jump out to the street and climb about 3 steps up from the roadside and presto, the blood compact site! So the significance of this site is described in detail including the reason for the famous act, the names of the Spaniards and the natives who are enshrined by those big brass sculptures and many other details. Of course picture-taking!

Bohol tour-guides seem to have an unwritten rule that they must always be on hand to take a picture of the whole group! This is not so in Corregidor where your tour guide would mostly be waiting for you inside the Tram.

Behind the blood compact marker is the vast sea. On a clear day, you can actually see the haze of a small island. Your guide will be quick to tell you that the island is one of the best dive sites in the archipelago! That is the Pamilacan Island where dolphins, dugongs and whale-sharks are most often part of the divers’ vista. So the interaction naturally flows into how anyone can go to that island, where are the dive centers that offer trips to Pamilacan, how much, how long, etc., etc.,!

Back in the vehicle, your tour guide completes her spiel about the blood compact. You are then made to realize that this is why they call Boholanos the friendliest of Filipinos!
If in the island of Mactan Ferdinand Magellan was killed by Lapu-lapu resisting the foreigner's visit, here Rajah Sikatuna warmly received the barkada of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. And to seal the friendship, they both cut their wrists to let blood drop to their drinks before declaring a toast! And (I had to write this as a draft on my phone messages), the report of Legazpi to King Philip II: “"each party draws two or three drops of blood from his own arm or breast, mixes it with water or wine. The mixture must be divided equally between two cups, and neither person may depart until both cups are alike drained” or something like that! Of course you will be told that the bigger-than-life-size sculptures were made by the national artist Napoleon Abueva who comes from Bohol.

Onwards, your vehicle enters the town of Baclayon, a town that sits beside the sea. It’s a breezy town as you can see the palms and the trees swaying to winds from the vast sea. Don’t be surprised that your tour-guide will just tell you a few things about this place and the vehicle won’t even make a stop! They will probably tell you “we shall be back to this place later in the afternoon”. There is a reason to this – which I was able to piece together after three tours. The Chocolate Hills are too far away and best viewed with the sun still high up! Plus lunch must be by the river. So the morning’s tour objective is to be at the famous Chocolate Hills as early as can be!

Wrong spelling or not? The ALBUR experience!
As you move on with the tour just rushing through Baclayon, the views are still the same (ocean to the right, thick foliage to the left). Then the discussion shifts to a little town with not so many houses along the road. Is it Albuquerque or Alburquerque? Wrong spelling? Well, the debate stops when your group finally sees consistent public signs that the town’s name is really Alburquerque. On my third tour, the highlight in this little town was a quick drop by Albur Ceramics. The town’s principal source of livelihood is the production of clay pots, vases and other similar products owing to the abundance in this area, of a kind of clay ideal for making them pots and ceramics. Hmm, on my two previous tours, these were just mentioned. But on the third one, we actually stopped to watch how those brown pots were made! We even bought some pots made in Alburquerque! Remember the "r", okay?

The Lipstick topic!
As you cruise along the road and it starts to veer away from the seaside near or at the town of Loay. Onwards, you will get to feel restless as the travel seems endless. But the tour guide will have too many stories to tell and too many facts to educate the tourist. I like the “atsuete” thing!

It starts with the guide asking if everyone knows about this cooking ingredient called atsuete. Some will say yes, some will say no. Of course the guide will go to the extent of describing it and declaring that it is called “achuete” in Spanish, ベニノキ(beninoki) in Japanese, “annatto” in English or “bixa orillana linon” in scientific terms. It is also the same "azuete" in Samar and Zamboanga! But when the next question comes: “have you seen or do you know where atsuete comes from?”, all usually keep silent or shake their heads.

And as if on cue (probably its really on cue!), the driver stops the vehicle, the guide opens a window and grabs some little fruits (sometimes even a whole branch) from little trees innocently standing by the roadside. Its actually awkward to call them trees because they seem to be very small. However they are also too big to be like the usual plants! Well, those are trees, so those are atsuete trees! Then the fruits (actually pods) that look like rambutan with finer hair are distributed amongst the tourists. The fruits are red when ripe just like rambutan. But unlike the rambutan, they are very light and does not seem to contain anything but air. Then, the tourists are asked to carefully open the seemingly hollow fruits and inside are the atsuete seeds! I learned that these seeds are dried to become the cooking ingredient called atsuete.

Your guide will keep repeating instructions to take extra care as the seeds have a red “juice” which could stain your clothes or the vehicle’s interiors. During ancient times, I learned from these tours, our forebears used the red colored liquid from the seeds to redden their lips. Thus, the atsuete is also called the lipstick tree! See? I had to be in Bohol to learn what the lipstick of yesteryears was - before Avon & Kukuryu existed, and what makes pancit malabon yellow - even to this date!
Yellow? Teka lang!

Then the topic flows into why you are holding red seeds but dishes that use atsuete are orange or yellowish or even brown like palabok, caldereta and kare-kare. Then it is explained that the seeds are sun-dried which changes their color into brown or orange. And these seeds are either used as whole dried seeds or the powdered type.

The Ube talk!
The stories now dwell on food, so the discussions are always likely to flow into “ube”, the staple root crop of Boholanos! If your tour-guide misses this part, be sure to ask. They have quite a number of tales, topics and stories about ube! Of course they will describe that this root-crop is called the purple yam (English) or tumai kuru (Japanese – but I think its not!).

Anyway, the story is that this root crop was venerated as a sacred crop during ancient times in Bohol. During a famine, it is said that ube was the only crop that grew on Bohol soil which saved them from death. Thus, their respect for the root crop lest it stop growing on their land.
The guides will tell you that, in fact, right to these modern times, when anyone in Bohol accidentally drops an ube to the ground or floor or table, they would mutter their apologies and kiss it! Can you believe that?! "Sori po... mwah mwah meahhh! Gosh! It is the only staple food included in their Bohol Hymn and they even have an Ube Festival plus a Miss Ube beauty pageant. What is the festival about? A contest on various ways of cooking ube, contest on the biggest and heaviest ube and many other ube things! If you have not heard yet though, on the economic front, Bohol province is actually the largest producer of ube in the country!

Ube in Bohol they say is different from Ubi. The latter is only applied to ube grown and harvested on the island of Bohol – which is also called Kinampay – and which is recognized in the country as the best variety of ube as it has a deeper purple color, tastier and more aromatic.

One of the ube legends is rather lengthy though I remember it is a story about a poor couple in the barrio of Ubay who were rewarded by an angel for their kindness with a plant that had purple colored tubers that smelled and tasted good when cooked.

But wait for the most interesting ube story – and if your guide misses this, do insist that it be recounted to you. Ask about how the folks plant ube! There is an amusing ritual that will perk up everyone’s day. The act and the chant (or is it a poem?) is a bit kinky! Gosh, our forebears! They really knew how to compare things! Here goes the "chant" but you have to listen to the story and ask your tour guide to demo how it is done!
"mu-dako ka'g sama ni'ini, ug moliki ka'g sama ni'ini"
translation: "you grow like this and you split like this"
DON'T ever miss the actions that correspond to "ni'ini" or "like this"!!!

Such a hilarious ritual that will make you ask the guide as to when might you have a chance to witness an ube planting ritual! Their answer will be a disappointing "no you may not observe" due to the "circumstances" or the "acts" that the ube planters are performing! Censored!

An enchanting forest!
No sooner as the the ube stories wind down, your attention will be called to look outside and see the reason why at midmorning the road seems dark. You are by then passing through a good part of the first and best man-made forest in the country. The area is in the town of Bilar where thousands and thousands of mahogany trees stand erect at a uniform distance from each other. This interesting part of the road is about three kilometers long that gives you an impression that the highway is cutting through a jungle. The vehicle will stop for those who want to take pictures amidst the dense forest. And as you move on, your guide will be telling you about how this forest came about. No, this is not a folk tale!

This man-made forest was started way back in the 1960s when the then president (Macapagal?) launched a reforestation program. Seems like only Bohol took it seriously! Thus, they now have this almost 900 hectares of mahogany forest. Interesting to see that the trees are so tall but evenly spaced from each other and foliage is thick only at the treetops. And this is even by the roadside.

As you move forward, too many more tales, legends and facts are coming your way. Lucky if your tour guide will ask you to taste their native delicacies sold by stores along the way.

The Chocolate Hills
The stories are of course capped by about two different legends on how the Chocolate Hills came about! Listen to the fight of two giants and learn about the romance between Arogo and Aloya! If you have no pen and notebook, these are some of the things that will really make you wish you had them. But my XDA did just fine!

After the legends, comes a barrage of scientific facts and debates. There are also two opposing geological claims as to how the Chocolate Hills came about! Well, whether they are limestones or corals previously underwater, the fact remains, they are now chocolate hills! By the time these are being said by your guide, you will probably start to see snippets of the hills far beyond! This is also that time you are told how the tag “Chocolate Hills” came about and who said so; how many hills are there exactly; how tall is the tallest and how small is the smallest; how wide are the hills scattered in; why only grass grows upon them; why they don't look brown; and many many more! I now know all those, but am not tellin' here! Go and see!

Now even if you think the Chocolate Hills visit is the highlight of your day’s tour (I always don’t), you will have been told you are supposed to stay at the viewing deck for just a few minutes. About 15 minutes actually – which naturally progresses into almost 30 minutes especially if you’re fond of taking too many pictures in one scene as I do? Thus, upon arrival at the site you must start climbing the 200 plus plus steps to the viewing deck atop one of the hills. It’s a long climb but there are kiosks on some landings where you can stop by to catch your breath and even already take pictures of the breathtaking views! Heed your tour guide as the rush is for you to arrive at the river cruise exactly during lunch while food is still hot. And you still have the Tarsiers to drop by at. Shopping at the viewing deck complex is not too great. Usually more expensive anyway.

After your guide is successfully able to herd you inside the vehicle, it’s a downward leisurely trip going back. And it’s on the same road where you came in through. Because of that physical challenge going up to the view deck and back, your guide will most probably ask if you want to doze off as the vehicle re-traces its way back. If you don’t do so, then she will continue blabbering about too many other things Bohol. This is the time where you will know many things more about your guides, their families, their activities and so on. And they gladly tell you about it anyway. Even the political and artista tsismis are covered if you start asking!

After a while you again pass via that enchanting road along the man-made forest which is becoming like a tunnel as the trees grow more of their leaves. It is said that beyond those frontline trees are Tarsiers free on their own wild habitat. But there is also a protected sanctuary not open to visitors – you will know why in the next topic.

Tarsiers! The cute little ones!
Soon your vehicle stops at a small house with a big garden by the riverbank. And this is the tarsier viewing area. I think it should be more appropriately called a Tarsier Interaction Area or Station. Before your guide can even mutter a word, you’ll find yourselves all racing out of the vehicle to go see the tarsiers for real! This, I am sure will occur as it actually happened consistently even to me in all of my three visits! I don’t know why, but there is just a rush of excitement that you feel when about to see those big-eyed docile little monkeys.

Now the fun part! When viewing the little ones, you do not have to restrict your ears listening to the voice of your tour guide. As there are other tours in progress, naturally their guides are also talking, describing or telling stories about the Tarsiers. If you detach yourself a moment, the most prominent voices that you’ll hear in the area are actually those from various tour guides. So you hear Tagalog, Bisaya, English, Korean, Japanese, French and so many other languages talking about the same thing all at the same time. And any guide will readily answer your queries even if you do not belong to his or her troop! There are also the caretakers who roam the place to assist you and answer your questions.

Oh during my first and second visits, them tarsiers were mostly housed inside a big cage near the shack that has a souvenir shop. The cage (which was made in a way so that its center was a real growing tree) was big enough to fit 10 people standing inside. No one was allowed to enter though. But about three of the Tarsiers were out of the cage just freely sitting on the palms or shoulders or heads of caretakers and frequently tourists. You can hold them, kiss them, cuddle them and have your pictures taken as you did so!

On my third visit (and this is more fun), the cage was not anymore there. The Tarsiers were let loose on the big garden across the house! Don’t panic yet, they won’t go anywhere! The garden is now made like an aviary (much like a butterfly garden) where the area is covered on all sides and at the top by chicken wire. So you and your tour guide have to enter the area and find them Tarsiers silently resting (until stirred by tourists) amongst the plants and small trees. They are freely roaming but very easy to spot since tourists continuously huddle near them. If there are only a few of you in the area and you can’t seem to find these little beings, the guides or the caretakers can spot them for you. And don’t be surprised some of them would actually be meekly clinging to a branch a few inches from your feet or ears! There is a new rule though. Tourists are not anymore allowed to remove Tarsiers from where they are and hold or cuddle them or put them on shoulders for photo-ops. You can still touch them, kiss them, caress them or feed them – but you have to let them be where they please to be – no more cuddling. Thanks if they jump unto your hands or shoulders.

Feed them? Yes you may feed them! The caretakers sell insects (dead or alive) such as grasshoppers on a stick for about P10 each. You then poke the stick near any of them Tarsiers and voila! They will grab and eat the insect – if they’re not yet full, that is! This is the only time where you see them acting and moving fast. They grab the insects swiftly as if those insects were also freely roaming around! Of course them Tarsiers don’t understand (yet) that those insects are already captured and pierced by a stick and doled to them like in a silver platter! So they still quickly grab and bite the head of the insect first!

As always, everyone is constantly cautioned to avoid touching or pressing the top of a Tarsier’s head. I learned that that part of their skull is hollow (no bones – like in babies?) so touching or pressing there could affect their behavior (probably feeling pain or irritation) that sometimes they may get aggressive and bite you!

Amidst all the fun, you will hear from the guides that these are “captive” Tarsiers and there is a big difference. The learning is simultaneous as you play with them. You just have no choice but to hear the annotations! These Tarsiers, being captives, are already used to interacting with humans. In the wild they will hide from you. These little creatures that can fit in a human hand are already considered as “enormously” bigger than their "free" cousins. What with too many tourists feeding them almost every minute! They cannot be returned to the wild because they have adapted to certain environments in the captive world – like instead of sleeping the day off they are either entertaining us people or eating insects when it should have been sleeping time! Thus, their “nocturnality” may have already been a bit reversed, thanks to us the tourists who keep wanting to see them! And, this is the reason why the "real" Tarsier Sanctuary is off limits to tourists.

As you interact with the Tarsiers, you will naturally learn from the many multi-lingual “voice-overs” you hear from the tour guides that Tarsiers are called "Tarsius Syrichta" in the scientific world. That some scientists say they are monkeys and others say they are not. That some say they are “prosimians” and not "primates". That they can turn their heads 180 degrees like owls. That any eye is bigger than the Tarsier brain. That they have very long tails sometimes as long as 9 inches which are mostly hairless and are curled upwards to the back when they jump. That they can jump to as far as 10 feet from tree to tree. That they usually produce just one offspring. That the males do not take care of their babies – it’s always the mother. That the males are like lions who mark their territory with their urine. That the Tarsier sound is a shrill! And so on.

Then all of a sudden you luckily hear one Tarsier do some kind of a sound which is like a bird or an insect chirping! WOW! It’s not easy to catch that sound during a brief visit!

As you go fonder of them Tarsiers you then hear your tour guide barking “let’s go”! Time for lunch! He he he, so you have no choice but to return to your vehicle and move on with the tour! Oh Tarsier!

The Loboc river cruise!
Then you chug along the national road as if going back to Tagbilaran. But in a while the vehicle stops and you are again out to the side of the road by the river! LUNCH! And this should be one great lunch! About 40 or so of you tourists are loaded unto an outsized roofed platform seemingly strewn over two little bankas! The platform with bamboo floors is like a little restaurant with a buffet table on the center and a scattering of tables and chairs around it! Now a motorized banka is behind all this contraption pushing it up through the Loboc River! What a grand way to have lunch!

It is actually a party! And it is called the Loboc River Cruise!

Your guides will at first panic grabbing the best table positions where you will have the best views – and usually it is the front area that is considered “prime location”! Once all of you are seated, the raft (or boat, whatever) departs for a leisurely ride upstream. Then somebody (a crew or sometimes a musician) gets up to express some ceremonial welcome and wish you all to enjoy the ride and the lunch. Then he declares “Lunch Is Served”. And you all rush to the buffet table as if food will be wiped out by any person ahead of you!

On my first tour, the whole boatload was all of us the whole busload! So it was a crazy party! On my second tour, since there was only three of us (me, my buddy and the driver/guide), we were kind of socializing with the other folks. And we did get to know many of our fellow tourists! Some of them are good friends now who might be reading this article! On my third run, all 10 of us (including the guide & driver) were strewn on a long table where our guide pampered us too much like we were on death row! She was the one asking us what it was we liked and she was the one getting them from the buffet table! Thus, the result, too many leftovers on our plates as the food was really like good for a hundred! We were even asked to take with us a whole bunch of fresh and ripe bananas from the boat to the van! I must say that was too much hospitality! Oh on the 2nd and 3rd tours, we were eating on fine porcelain and silver ware, while during my first tour, we were eating on paper plates (the kind that has a silver lining) and plastic utensils.

So what is with the river cruise really? Hmm, nothing much than a royal picnic while cruising through the river Thames! Hah! This one should be better! You only have forests and a silent clean river with dark green waters and where the forests actually kiss the river. Of course you will encounter a scattering of local folks swimming or just lazing their time by the banks of the river.

Soon as the boat starts crawling upstream, a group of musicians start the party with some fine local and foreign tunes! On my 1st run, it was a quintet of guitar wielding men and a lady with tambourines dishing out local visayan tunes, Philippine folk songs and even Madonna numbers! On my 2nd tour, the entertainment was care of a group of three men and two ladies who dished out songs either a-capella or with taped music played on a karaoke machine. They even sang for us two Japanese numbers right beside our table and sang Korean songs to the other guests!

My 3rd run was heart-rending. Our hosts cum entertainers were nothing but just an old singer-pianist probably in his fifties (now using an "electronic" organ) and a young girl who has just graduated from the world-famous Loboc Childrens Choir! Graduated means at 13 years old she has just grown a year older to be a child so she cannot anymore be part of the choir. Upstream, as she sang romantically melodic local love tunes and Broadway pieces, the tourists noticeably grew silent with hearts seemingly sinking into the river but rowdily applauding after each piece. I did see one of our companions break into tears when this kid belted out “I Dreamed a Dream” followed by “On My Own” both from “Les Miserables”. Her voice seemed to float like the air languishing at Loboc river yet also seemed liked a bullet that permeated to the deepest parts of the forest. Her singing just pierced through every soul on that boat. Even the foreigners went crazy when this old-man-and-child tandem sang the duet “Bakit Ngayon Ka Lang”! Grabe!

But in all tours, the songs do climb to the fiesta beat as the boat returns from its most upstream limit which is some kind of a group of heavy streams or little waterfalls. And until you’re back in your vehicle, this tune would be playing in your head… “balik sa Bohol balik…”!

So onwards with the tour!

The Baclayon Museum & Church
After that unique lunch cruise, your tour guide will pronounce that you are going back to the town of Baclayon for a tour of the Cathedral and Museum. This is that town that you just breezed through earlier in the morning! And going there (on my 3rd tour) we had a lot of food inside the van which our dear tour guide brought from the lunch cruise! Whew! Gluttony was the order of the day!

As your vehicle clambers down into the town of Baclayon – which means you are again on a road facing the sea, your tour guide starts telling of a story about how a certain movie personality proposed marriage to his beau – a fellow movie celebrity. It purportedly happened one summer dusk on that “breakwater” (called parola by the locals) right across the church grounds when the lovers were visiting the place. The story tells that as Ceasar Montano and Sunshine Cruz were happily consuming the views out from the “parola”, a platoon of waiters all dressed to the toes came bringing a table and chairs and food and wine which were readily laid out right at the site. Thereafter came the famous Loboc Children’s Choir en masse to sing for them as the two lovers had an instant candle-lit dinner at the area whereupon he asked her: “will you marry me?” The story does tend to be more dramatic when you are actually at the site looking at the little wharf that faces nothing but the sea with the enormous belfry of the Baclayon Church behind it! Romantic this Ceasar Montano i must say! Well, he comes from the place and Visayans are always tagged as romantics anyway!

So then you are herded to the Baclyon Church Museum. Sorry, all cameras must be left at the entrance guards. Then you go up to tour the museum and convent where the priests are still actually residing. Old vestments, bibles, church paraphernalia and other religious artifacts are ably explained to you by a museum guide – usually the curator herself. Do control your itchy hands in this area. Many of the artifacts like vestments, hymnals and other materials are aging after hundreds of years and are just in the open not properly or scientifically cared of. So the chemicals and other foreign matters in your hands might add to the deterioration of those historical artifacts. Many are already encased in glass cabinets though. Behind the museum is a little perch called the “tribuna”. It is high up above the usual church pews but definitely has a direct view of the altar. This place is supposed to have been the area where bigwigs and other priests of the time go to attend mass so they were not in full view of the indios!

After the museum tour (which by the way is all upstairs) you are herded to the insides of the Baclayon Church itself. Do get your cameras from the entrance guard upon descending. The altar, the wooden pulpit, the many trimmings inside the church will be explained to you not only by your tour guide but also by another able guide provided by the church! When no church service is in progress, you will even be invited to go up the wooden backdrop (that is the whole altar actually) and pay your respects right beside the venerated saints.

Outside you can have an actual feel of how the church is slowly chipping off in time. In the churchyard, go closer to the walls and you will definitely see recent proof of the coral stone bricks that the church is made of slowly chipping off into powdery sand. From a distance they look like paint detaching from the walls but on closer look, those bricks are actually chipping off about half an inch thick of its material! Its like a mountain slowly eroding by the constant blowing and brushing of salty air and frequent rumbling of earth when trucks and buses pass by. Oh well, let’s hope the church authorities there are able to save that enormous building of coral stone bricks called the Baclayon Church. Its belfry is one of a kind. Its so huge and very imposing right in front of the church. It is actually a different structure altogether from the church. Meaning it stands alone and on its own but just a few inches from the front of the church.

Sun is setting and its time to go! So your dear tour guide will once again pack you into the vehicle and off you go re-tracing your way back to Tagbilaran. However, along the road, there could be another stop on an unimposing house which is actually the main office or factory of one of the island’s best souvenir shops. So you go around with a plastic basket to buy everything from t-shirts to peanut kisses and ube jam.

Panglao Island
If you did the pasalubong shopping in that remote barrio, then off you go finally towards the city. But alas, you do not yet enter the city streets. Instead, the vehicle veers left to the sea! Yes, to the sea! The road you are traversing-on will have sea water on both sides. Your guide will be quick to explain that in the past, this road used to be a sandbar where everyone can walk on during low-tide which however became part of the sea during high-tide. And that sand bar (which is now a concrete road) connects the island of Panglao to the main island of Bohol.

As your guide will have told you earlier, Panglao Island houses virtually all of the “known” great resorts in Bohol like Alona, the Bohol Beach Club and the PINR (Panglao Island Nature Resort). No, no, no, this part of the tour is not (yet) delivering you to any of them fine resorts. You are headed to a cave!

The Hinagdanan Cave
Yes, the Hinagdanan cave! However it came to be, only nature can tell. Going into the cave you enter a hole on the ground where locals already made concrete steps for a more comfortable descent. During my first and second visits, we had to climb down a metal ladder. Inside the cave as your guide will tell, are a lot of bats and their smell! It is a cave big enough – probably as big as the UP Chapel. However, instead of a chapel, all you see is water where foreigners and locals can be seen taking a dip on its shallower parts. Somewhere up in its dome you will see an opening that let’s light through but just faintly so the cave was wired by the locals so that fluorescent lighting is available for everyone to see the stalactites and stalagmites! This cave might actually have a chamber on the opposite side from where tourists can stand on probably leading to wherever but no one has yet explored those darker alleys! And not me, I will not!

Out of the Hinagdanan caves you will finally be cruising home – either to the resort in Panglao where you are billeted or back to the pier where you will take the ferry back to Cebu. And its nearly evening! On my 1st tour, we were whisked to the Bohol Beach Club – which is still some distance from the cave. On my second it was to the PINR which is very near (I guess you can even walk!) while on the 3rd it was back to the pier so we could ride the Ocean Jet back to Cebu!

Oh and by the way on this 3rd tour, following our requests, we were not dropped at the pier by our dear guide but instead they whisked us to a mall so we could do some pasalubong shopping! From the mall we took 3 tricycles to the pier. My tricycle had a quote in front of me that said: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. Matthew 7:1”.

Hmm, ok folks! I still judge that this is the best guided tour in the country - ever!
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16 comments :

  1. hey pinoy traveller! your blog about bohol is very interesting and funny... it felt like i was already in bohol just by reading your article.

    cheers!

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  2. thanks, am flattered! am glad to hear i made someone happy reading the long narratives :)

    really! thanks indeed!

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  3. Hi! Interesting blog. I'm planning to go to Bohol this January and was wondering if you can give me the contact details of the tour operators you used? Thanks.

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  4. I happened upon your blog and just wanted to say that you really captured the spirit of Bohol. It's kind of a second home for me. My sister-in-law owns the souvenir shops near Baclayon, Chocolate Hills, the mall, et al. which are usually included in a tour. Since I don't go on tours when I visit, I learned a lot from your article... like how to plant ube. ;) Wonderful observations and descriptions of places to visit. Hope you get a chance to visit all the places on your list (and write about them).

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  5. Pinoy Traveller,

    Very engaging piece you have. I am from bohol and i dont even know much about our tourism industry..shame on me...keep writing...

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  6. Thanks all for your praises. I just try to describe as much of the experiences that I had as best I can. If you noticed, I seem to be wicked describing my other trips hehehe... but I did not at all want to degrade any of them. Just sharing my views to fellow travelers...

    For those who need contact numbers of the guides, I'd be glad to do so via email... ;)

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  7. pinoy traveller,

    just want to say that your entry on bohol is really very helpful! it's something anybody can always come back to when one wants to go to there. i especially liked the part when you described your third loboc cruise and this old man-former choir member tandem just captured all of your hearts. wish we can catch them there when we take the tour come first week of april of this year...i do have questions pa but i'll just post them on VT.
    Also, it's funny that you compared the tour guides of bohol to the tour guides of corregidor. :) i just went there march 1and2 and i was very impressed with this one particular guy. i believe his name is ramon. he's over 70 but he's really really effective as a tour guide. nobody can talk about the war like a survivor of it can. im sure the U.S. marines who also took the tour can agree with me. nyways, thanks! twas an informative read. KUDOS!!! write s'more and damihan mo pics!:)

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  8. thanks! and one cannot give enough praises for mang ramon with that roaring voice! yes I also like him. and mind you, he is and had always been the choice for annotating tours when dignitaries and celebrties visit corregidor! i even got a pic of him in action!

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  9. Hey Pinoy Traveler, may i have the contact numbers of your tour guides?
    we'll be on bohol on May 21 so i really need them..Thanks!!!

    You're a really great writer!

    my email add: blackfia@gmail.com

    :)

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  10. thank you so much for a very entertaining and detailed review of your Bohol Trip. i like the one with the "japanese" tourguide, where you and your companion said, OO na! -- i can just imagine how funny and kulit he is.

    may I know how and with whom did you coordinate the country tour/tourguides? can I please have an idea how much do I have to pay per person for a group of 4?

    thanks a lot.

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  11. TRIP IN BOHOL PHILIPPINES???HI???if you want van or car rentals just contact MIGUEL TAN...CONTACT NUMBER..09083271583...Thank???

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  12. TRIP IN BOHOL PHILIPPINES???HI???if you want van or car rentals just contact MIGUEL TAN...CONTACT NUMBER..09083271583...Thank???

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  13. Hi Pinoy Traveler, Reading your piece is like being in the same place you were. But of course, there is nothing like the real thing, right? So, please send me the contact details of your tour guides? Also, how much do they charge per day? My email address is tanellene@yahoo.com. Thanks and more power to you.

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  14. Hi Pinoy Traveler,

    Your blog entry about Bohol is really nice and the best among entries I've read. It's very entertaining (binasa ko till matapus) even if I am very much familiar with the story since I am from Bohol. Thank you so much for sharing... It's very inspiring, and from your stories I can really say that your tour guide is one of the best in Bohol.

    I am also a guide here in Bohol (not as good as your guide) hehehe... Anyway Daghang Salamat...very inspiring!


    -Paul Incon

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  15. Hi Paul Incon,
    My pleasure and thanks indeed! This is a story of long ago (been returning to Bohol hence), but yes, the fun stays quite the same with a few more being added by and by.

    Kitakits nya ta og mubalik ko nganha :)

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  16. Oo kits kits pohon mag.abot large Ta ug tour. Thanx

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