Sunday, June 28, 2009

A tour with happy (mis)adventures 02: Bohol

Day two, Tuesday, there we were… barely able to catch Ocean Jet for Tagbilaran. Seldom that I panic very early in the morning. Good that ‘Cebu Trip’ already pre-purchased our tickets for us, together with the tour arrangements on Bohol. It was a huff huff thing as we were the last passengers to board the fast craft that departed 6AM. It was a bright morning and the trip was uneventful. Nearing Tagbilaran, there was a light shower but the ride was as calm as we dreamed it to be.

On arrival however, our tour operator and driver/guide, met us with a little bit of bad news. The return trip of the craft we arrived-in was being cancelled and that our trip later that afternoon could also be affected depending on how the weather behaves. It was signal number one in the Samar provinces. But when we looked to the skies, it was a bit gloomy yes, but it did not seem like a storm was anywhere near. And I overheard employees saying that the captain of the fast craft was fuming mad why we were allowed to sail if such a cancellation due to weather problems was expected. I gathered he wanted to be back on Cebu for some important family affair hehe! Anyways, Ned (the tour agency owner, contact of Cebu Trip) promised he would station himself at the port for any developments while Jessie, our designated driver/guide takes us around. Off we went.

And it started to rain. Ahhh! At Dagohoy’s blood compact site, we did not dare go out of the van. It was drizzling – though some Koreans were out there having a pictorial of a lifetime hehe! At least the rains stopped as we approached the tarsier interaction areas. Oh hey, everything does seem to change here every time I come by. This time, we went to two Tarsier interaction areas. The first one was on the right side of the road by a little shack that sold some souvenirs. First time I saw that one. The second (after a few kilometers) was that usual left side of the road near the river. And it has grown bigger now, with clean toilets. Hmm, there are more Tarsiers than usual but still, for the untrained eye, it is not easy to spot them, even if they might actually be inches away from your ear or forehead! Oh, this time too, I heard one Tarsier chirp. You’d think the sound that comes from a Tarsier is “improper” since it sounds more like a bird than an animal hehehe!

From here on, Jessie’s style was to drive us fast all the way to the Chocolate Hills with no stops. Then from there, we stop at each of the tourist spots as we retrace our way back to the Loboc River Cruise jump-off point. I said that was fine since I have been in such a style sometime ago.

Passing the man-made forest, I felt a bit disappointed that we could not go down so my three companions can savor the wonder of the trees canopying the highway. It was raining. On arrival at the Chocolate Hills lookout area, it was a pesky on-and-off heavenly concert of very light drizzle. Y’know that kind that is almost a mist but would get you wet just the same? AND, it was a bit windy and chilly up there. Always is actually, but that kind of wind does not go well with rain. It becomes too cold for comfort – at least for us sun lovers who went to Bohol in our summer gears hehe! We were all laughing at how silly we looked in the rain – in sleeveless shirts or tube tops and short shorts! So, we hit the souvenir stores and the Island Souvenirs branch there made a raking as we had no choice. We had to buy tees to fend the cold. I even bought a brown cap!

We still did the lookout despite the on-and-off drizzles. And yes, this time I made sure I did the path that do not have stairs. Ah, many folks who visit the chocolate hills lookout hill do not know that there is a concrete path going up without passing by the hundreds of concrete steps. Where? Facing the entrance/stairs, its to your left. Yep, to the left of that handsome policeman’s little enclosure. The path goes up and lined on both sides with flowering plants and grass. Yep, it even also passes by the two landing/resting kiosks. Just don’t jump as the path is at the edge of the hill or your companions will pluck you hundreds of feet down where the carabao is aimlessly walking in circles hehe!

Hey, I noticed that the big restaurant with a view also did a fine cashflow that morning! Why? Why else! All of the tourists (and there were still hundreds eh) went there to take shelter, and while doing so, bought coffee or drinks or sandwhiches, etc… we did! Many of us even did most of the shootouts in there!

Ah another thing… that is a big parking area at the foot of the stairs, but this time, tour vehicles are not allowed to park there. They are advised to go a little farther down hill and wait for you. Now, even if you’ve got your driver’s phone number (signal there can be erratic at times), get his vehicle plate number. When you are ready to go and you can’t contact him, give the plate number to those guys in a table at that center kiosk of the parking lot. They have a walkie-talkie to call that area downhill so your driver may be contacted. In our case, Jessie was alert enough to have given me those instructions. I learned all about it from him! Well then, if you were driving your own vehicle, it’s a different story as you will be allowed to park up there. I don’t know why and what’s the difference!

Okay enough with the chills over at the choc hills, we headed back. And yes, we stopped and got off at the man-made forest this time – even if it was raining. And by some miracle of miracles, Jessie actually had exactly five umbrellas in his van! Whoa! So, he gave one to each of us, the fifth for him to also brave the rain and take our pics! Then again, that part of the highway was too dark since it was a rainy morning under the canopy of the tall trees. We took blurred pics just the same hehe!

Next stop, we did not anymore care if it was raining, the hanging bridge! OMG it was “slippery when wet” hehe but we still had to go there. The bamboo strips that makes for the “floor” of the bridge were shining with rain water. But we were advised it was safe, so we went on. Yep, I did not like myself on that wet swinging bridge many meters high above a river raging with a lot of rain water. Whoa! I felt like a… whatever! So, I busied myself watching my companions and talking to a manang whose house is at the entrance to the bridge. She was grilling bananas! Yep, barbecued bananas. I’ve seen something like it somewhere in Mindanao and yes, they taste like, well… grilled bananas!

Lunch! Yep, on the Loboc River Cruise amidst a creamy brown river! Oh hey, they’ve put some organization into these cruises of late. There is a common departure area, made like a port very reminiscent of that one in San Isidro (Northern Samar) before the buses ride the roros. And there is now a centralized ticket area, and the boats are parked orderly. This area is now downriver near the bridges. Yes plural, I mean near the bridges both the 1) existing and 2) the shamefully unfinished bridge that had become a landmark by its own infamous merits!

Still the same old cruise, still the same sumptuous buffet and still the same kids swimming by the river at times coming to the boats either to just hang in there or beg for money! One kid was swinging high up on a vine and even waved at us with his feet from mid-air! That was dangerous but just the same a wow hehe! The boats are now tidier and bigger. Our entertainers this time was a tandem of middle-aged dudes with a guitar, singing your usual karaoke fare, so my attention was generally not on them. And yep, there are now at least 3 or 4 entertainment rafts. Those are the rafts just floating anchored at one area loaded with guitar-wielding men and women who sing and dance with their lively visayan music, then your boat dock or connect with the raft and you have the opportunity to dance and sing with them or have a photoshoot! I love them esp the older folks who still take part in these. Oh btw, tip generously since that is the only earning they get for whatever it is they do to entertain you!

Yep, we still did Baclayon church, omitted the pasalubong shopping and went forth to the final bad news. At the time of our arrival at the pier Ned was there to confirm that very bad news: “as of that moment, coast guard has never lifted the advisory not to let any boat sail”. The secretly frantic to almost panic things ensued…

What do we do? We have a plane to catch from Cebu to Caticlan tomorrow morning. Where do we stay? We have no extra clothes as this was just a day tour. Will we have priority on the first available boat? What are our chances? Why are others going somewhere else? Where are those boats and why can they sail? Why are others talking about the big boat at 9PM? Will it be allowed to sail? Is it safe? What do we do here in Tagbilaran? Is there nightlife here? Daaaa!

All things considered, we had to stay overnight in Tagbilaran. I insisted on that, and for my three lovely guests not to attempt anything else. And, this was one of those cases where I was happy with paying a slightly more expensive organized tour by reputable service providers than a D-I-Y dealing with fly-by-night cheaper options.

The facts of the matter to consider:
Coast guard said they’ll issue a final advisory at 5PM once the PAGASA Bulletin arrives
Ned would bring us to the Bohol Tropics Lobby or restaurant as we wait for the advisory
At 5PM coast guard said it was a no-go for small crafts (including our Ocean Jet)
The big boat was a 9PM big ship that arrives Cebu in the morning. Allowed to go.
The other place is Tubigon (town) where pumpboats still cross even with the coast guard advisory
Ned knows the folks at Ocean Jet Terminal and sure to get us seats once allowed to sail

I decided we stay overnight and wait for the Ocean Jet. Rationale: we arrive probably about the same time as the big boat that will ford the rough waters at night. And Tubigon was not an option for me, no, not me!

I dealt with the front desk as my companions made calls to the airlines and our Bora resort or went online to re-arrange things. Thanks that Bohol Tropics has free internet at the lobby.

I asked Bohol Tropics front desk for a standard room to stay overnight. The quick reply was “only the suites are available”. I almost immediately flared up and was tempted to shout on top of my lungs but controlled myself. What am I? A foreigner who does not know the industry? On a Tuesday and a rainy June 23, Bohol Tropics claims to be full? My foot! Hey, stranded folks from the pier have not yet arrived. We were the only ones at the front desk.

Then Ned said he had reserved a room at this place for a guest who obviously won’t arrive from Cebu due to the boat cancellation, so we could take it – “a good-for-three” room. We took it and asked for an extra bed so the four of us can stay there. Clerk said no! Only three can fit there. We asked to be shown the room. It was only good for two. The 3rd person would be given a mattress (not a bed). But if that was the case, an extra mattress could still fit also on the floor. We demanded to have an extra mattress so all four of us stay in the same room and willing to pay extra.

My patience got tested again. This room in question was just a few paces from the lobby (to the left if you’re facing the front desk) in front of the swimming pool and a few paces too to the restaurant. Handsome clerk got another good idea, he will give a similar room but has wider floor space so the 2nd extra mattress is allowed and at the same cost. Yes, true it had a little bit more space but nothing different from the room we wanted. What good would the few more inches offer to us anyway?! AND, that room being offered is to the other side (right if you are facing the lobby) at the very end of the row of rooms about 50 meters from the lobby – therefore even farther away from the restaurant.

I insisted on the room that we wanted. Handsome clerk won’t budge. I demanded to know why. He said the manager won’t allow it. I asked him to call the manager and let me talk to him. He said manager not available. A final groan from me (and I knew my eyes were fiery again like I wanted to kill somebody) and I said: “look here, it is not as if you are trying to cram us into that little room, we are the ones who say we want it and we are willing to pay the extra charges, otherwise, if you insist in giving us that room over at the far end and just bigger by a few inches, you should provide us with four umbrellas and a truckster (that’s a golf cart btw)”. Hah, that was a mighty long sentence hehe! He glanced at his colleague as if begging to be saved and the lady seemed to have nodded. I won! We got the room.

I paid to Ned, since he already reserved and paid for that room. Paid to front desk for our two extra beds – those are just mattresses on the floor btw. Ned told us, Jessie our driver would still take us to the shopping malls for us to buy extra clothes and underwear and toiletries. He even indicated we could have the van even until dinner. We did. But we knew that Jessie had to go home at another town outside of Tagbilaran. So after shopping for extra clothes and toiletries, we ate at a McDo in the mall and ordered to-go food for Jessie to take to his family. All done, we headed back to Bohol Tropics for the needed showers as we’ve been in and under rain quite a few times.

About ready for the restobar (a band was already performing), I went to front desk to apologize for my crass behaviour earlier. As I shook hands with the clerk, he went teary eyed and sounded like he was to break down. Hmm, feeling ko vaklita ang futita! So, I recovered with funny stories about the whole of our tour and all became well. Time to wallow in my usual dose of SML, went to the bar and shortly my dear companions followed. Hey, am almost sure it was the “reverb” or “echo” of their sound system. Just the same, we thought the croaking from the singers was very unlikely of Visayans. It was not good at all. Very average. But we had no choice hehe!

I strolled to the KTV lounge… OMG it’s a place for men and women who want to pick and be picked! There is a “public area” and there are VIP Rooms. Architecture and interiors at this place are superb and can easily compare to the music lounges at hotels in Metro Manila. However, the dominant scent is that of unmaintained carpet. Either they’re scrimping on the fans or airconditioners or indeed they seldom attend to the rugs. I stayed on just the same. And I was not disappointed hehe! Proof? I returned to the issue of a room at 4AM!

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