Our second day was planned out to be a whole day affair out of the resort - we were not hitting beach but we were exploring the countryside beauty of Bohol. So we had to bundle up our stuff for a long day on the road. We rented out a car for the whole day exploration and, unlike other tourist spots in the country, one needs to rent a car or van to be able to conveniently explore the beauty of Bohol.
A TOUCH OF HISTORY AND NATURE: EXPLORING THE COUNTRYSIDE (Day 2)
Our itinerary kicked off with a two hour scenic drive to the town of Carmen. We were to hit the farthest and one of the most visited site in Bohol, Chocolate Hills, and then head back towards Tagbilaran. The drive me got excited because we passed through some interesting sites that we were to stop over and explore when we head back. It was also a refreshing travel as you get to enjoy the picturesque countryside of the province.
The site of the famous Chocolate Hills from the observation deck is just breathtaking as you get a full view of this natural wonder. A total of 1566 hills, according to our guide Nilo, is scattered along the towns of Carmen, Batuan, and Sagbayan. The hills were a product of years and years of coral deposit uplifts, rain, and erosion that later on became one of the iconic images of the country's tourism drive. It definitely gave Bohol a face in the international scene as it is recognized globally as a unique natural land formation.
An observation deck was built in one of the highest hills, located in Carmen, to offer tourist and visitors a bird's eyeview of the terrain. Climbing the steep stairs that leads to the observation deck is a great exercise and is worth it as the view from the top will keep you amazed whatever direction you might want to look to. The climb to the deck need not be rushed as there are rest stops along the way and besides you just have to enjoy the breeze and the view.
The viewing deck is also a perfect location to do take jumpshots or trick shots as you can play around with the scenery - jump over a hill, lean on it...whatever it maybe...let your imagination take its course.
Too bad though that the complex is not properly maintained by the government. Vandalism and facility deterioration needs to be addressed. I am just surprised that a frequently visited tourist spot has a poorly maintained facility. I hope that it can get a facility upgrade soon.
As we headed back to Tagbilaran, I get an up close view of a couple of hills along the highway. It is as beautiful upfront as it is when you are viewing it from the top. Enjoying the view, I had a thought in mind...with a thousand of these hills around, wouldn't it be awesome to own one?
Just a few kilometers from Chocolate Hills, a living testament of the Boholanos commitment to preserving nature can be appreciated - the Bohol Man-Made Forest. The forest is a two kilometer stretch of densely populated mahogany forest along the highway between Bilar and Loboc. It is the first and the only man-made forest in the country. It was a community effort to plant mahogany trees in the area as a response to the reforestation plan of the local government. The plan was participated by both young and old Boholanos and resulted to the growth of rows and rows of mahogany trees which had grown almost of the same size.
Little did they know that the community program that started decades ago will turn out to be one of the tourist destinations of the province and the best way to enjoy your visit is by stepping out of the car and enjoying the cool climate and fresh air of the forest. Walk the grounds or sit down under the trees to enjoy the cool weather. Just be cautious as there are cars zipping by as it stands along the highway.
Tarsier Conservation Center
A mix of excitement and energy filled the air as we were walking along the dirt trail inside the center. We were told to minimize the noise and to avoid flash photography so as not to disturb one of the smallest primates in the world - the Tarsier. This nocturnal creature is a protected specie as their natural habitat are being threatened and destroyed hence the need for a program for its conservation.
The Tarsier Conservation Area in Loboc is a program that serves to address the concern on the preservation of this endemic creature of Bohol. For a minimal fee, it educates the guests about the Tarsier, its environment, and the need to work together to preserve this primate that could easily fit on my hand. It also allows guests and visitors to have a face to face encounter with the animal in their natural habitat.
I enjoyed our tarsier encounter. My little girl and I had a great time walking the forest cover and watching the tarsier in its environment. My little girl was squealing that the tarsier was cute and there were a lot of times that I had to mellow her down. It was nice to know that she had already seen a tarsier at her age. It was such a privilege for me to be able to have a face-to-face with these nocturnal creature that has served as an icon for Bohol.
Definitely, a tarsier encounter is a must when you visit Bohol but I also hope that with the encounter we will realize the role that we play in the preservation of our environment.
Want to try out some cheap thrill while in Loboc?
Ask your driver for a short stopover at a hanging bridge located at the upper portion of Loboc River. The twin hanging bridge was constructed by the local government for the convenience of the residents who had to cross the river for their daily errands. It is now in use, not only for easy access of the residents, but also as a tourist attraction in the area.
Although I have conquered my fear of heights, I still get jitters whenever there is a challenge that involves heights. I must admit that crossing the brdge, which stands at 25 meters above the still waters, got me a bit shaken up but I was not about to pass up on the challenge. With a minimal fee that goes to the upkeep of the river and other local projects, me and my daughter crossed the bridge hand in hand. It was a jittery experience but was all worth it. Apart from the jitters that it gave me, the bridge also offers a beautiful view of the Loboc River undeneath. The other side of the bridge houses stalls that offer souvenir items and and you may also opt to watch a local "peel" off a coconut using his teeth for a minimal fee. Pretty amusing, right?
Loboc River Cruise
Cruising along Loboc River, I cannot help but imagine how good it would be to actually own a house along this river. The place is tranquil along this winding river. With the exception of a couple of barges that serve as floating restaurants that blasts off with music, the place would be ideal for a simple and peaceful life in the province.
The Loboc River Cruise is one of the major attractions in this sleepy town of Loboc. It is not really about the sites to see but it is the experience of cruising the river while enjoying buffet lunch. The cruise takes you along the stretch of the Loboc River for an hour while you enjoy an array of Filipino food choices prepared by the locals of the community.
One of the highlights of the cruise is the song and dance presentation prepared by the locals to entertain guests of the cruise. The locals clad in Filipiniana costumes and branding local music with their ukeleles invite the guests to join the revelry by dancing the tinikling, a folkdance where dancers avoid getting snapped by two bamboo poles. It is a definite highlight as the air is filled with energy and excitement both from guests and the locals.
The food was not really that great but the experience is the one that makes it worthwhile. The ambiance, the fresh air, and the relaxed feel of the tour is a welcome break from the morning rush. I also enjoyed the cultural presentation and the way they gave the guests a glimpse of the rich culture of Filipinos. I enjoyed the interaction of the locals and the guests as we sashayed to the rythm and their beat. Most of all, I am impressed as to how the community was able to develop a program that provided livelihood to the locals by banking on what resources that they had.
Just right across the pier of the Loboc River Cruise stands one of the oldest churches in the province - the Church of San Pedro or better known as Loboc Church. The first structure was built in 1602 but a sturdier structure was built in 1638 after the first structure was burned down. The church exterior is simple and faces the town plaza which gives it a refreshing provincial feel. It is one of the churches in the country that I have seen where the bell tower was constructed as a separate structure from the church, in this case, across the street.
Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to see the interiors of the church as the church is not open to the public during weekdays. As our guide, Kuya Nilo, explained, the Loboc Church is closed to secure the artifacts of the church from theft as these date back to the Spanish times and are considered antiques.
Butterfly Sanctuary and Animal Sanctuary
I believe that programs geared towards the conservation of our environment is deeply embedded in the hearts of Boholanos. Various organizations have thrived on educating visitors on the importance of conservation through wildlife interactions and appreciation. I am not really fond of animals but I really enjoyed the enounters with the wildlife and Bohol is definitely a sanctuary for these animals.
The Butterfly Sanctuary offers tourist a glimpse on the lifespan of butterflies - how they start of as larvae to the time that they spin a cocoon until they finally breakout as a butterfly. The interactive exhibit allows guests to observe the behaviors and even to hold these live creatures. It is very informative and allows you to see butterflies in their natural environment.
The Butterfly Sanctuary is also a great place to take nice pictures with these little creatures. The guides can help you out with the pictures as most of them are more than happy to share their creative sides with guests. Too bad though that my little girl was scared of the butterflies.
Just a couple of meters away, one would find another animal sanctuary. This time the sanctaury allows face to face encounters with ostriches, snakes, and other animals. I was not really keen on gettting too close to these animals as I just love watching them from afar. But it is a great exposure for kids as it teaches them a lot about the role that they play in taking care of the environment.
I just had to ask Kuya Nilo to make a short stop at a place that caught my attention while we were on our way to Carmen that morning. I made a mental note of the place and I was on a lookout for that monument and was I really overjoyed when I finally saw it - The Sandugo Monument.
The history bug bit me once again as I took pictures of the historical site where a memorial now stands in remembrance of the forging of the alliance between Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna. The site does not catch much attention though, even if it is located along the highway, but I never bothered to ask why.
Sta. Monica Church (Albuquerque Church)
A touch of history and a splash of religion are the things that gravitate me towards exploring old churches. I like the intricate design, the history, and the story that these churches convey. It is artistry that was driven by the belief and trust to one Supreme Being. By this, I have to admit that I am an old soul.
My attraction towards old churches made me decide to do another quick stopover at the town of Albuquerque in Bohol. I just had to stop to admire the beauty of the Sta. Monica Church. Established in 1869, the church still stands as a dominant structure of the town which is hard to miss as your car passes through the highway. Its exteriors are simple with three arches at the front with the belfry just right on top of the church's entrance.
Sadly, I was not able to explore the interiors of the church as the church is closed for security reasons.
As you enter the town of Baclayon, a dominant structure along its skyline welcomes you as if it watches over the town - the belfry of the Baclayon Church.
Built in 1595, the stone structure of the Baclayon Church took 10 years to complete. It is considered to be the 2nd oldest church in the country just next to the San Agustin Church. Visitors are welcomed by the simple architectural design of the church highlighted by three arches at the front. The squat belfry was constructed beside the church facing the sea that probably served as a guard post against pirates coming in from the sea. Adjacent to the church is the convent and a museum.
As you enter the church, two things will stand out of its interiors - the altar and the ceilings.
The altar shines like gold as you marvel at the three tiered retablo with its intricate designs and gold linings. It is indicative as to how the community puts value on church ornaments. Your eyes will be treated to a visual mirage of paintings on the ceilings of the pulpit. Interestingly, the Baclayon Church also houses the 3rd oldest bamboo organ in the Philippines.
The Baclayon Church is also believed to be miraculous as images of Padre Pio and the Mother and Son are said to have appeared on the walls of the church. These images can be seen until now. In fact, Kuya Nilo gladly took our pictures with the said images as our backdrop.
Blood Compact Site
Our last stop for the day explained why the first Sandugo site was not given much attention. The Blood Compact Site in Tagbilaran City is said to be the actual site where the blood compact between Datu Sikatuna and Miguel Lopez de Legazpi transpired. The site is complete with life size statues of those who took part of the event. It is one of the major events celebrated by the province as it is seen as a pact of friendship between the Spaniards and that of early Boholanos.
It was a day of a mix of Bohol's bountiful natural resources and rich history. It was a day where we got ourselves exposed to understanding our role in the preservation of our ecosystem to benefit future generations as we have seen in the man-made forest. I was also amazed that livelihood programs can prosper in the advent of an ecofriendly tourism project like the one in Loboc. More importantly, it was nice to see that we can learn from the stories from the past to make wiser decisions at present times. Bohol is such a beautiful place. It is a sanctuary for nature lovers and for history buffs.
My family and I welcomed 2013 doing what I love the most - travelling.
* My apologies for the late blogpost as I should have posted this sooner. I offer no excuses except for my procrastination over the past months. I only realized it this week that I have a list of travels that I need to post on my blogsite. In any case, I hope to catch up on my travel blog by the end of this month before I gear up for another adventure.
With my apologies in place, allow me to head back to my blog proper...yes...I started this year by going places and the best part of it was I was with my family. There will always be a challenge when planning for a family vacation. Unlike my solo travels where anything goes, drafting an itinerary for a family vacation requires a lot of research and careful planning. The trip needs to appeal to every member of the family and, if you have kids, it also needs to be child-friendly.
When I started planning for our family vacation, I only had one thing in mind...I wanted to spend a week with them doing every adventure we could think off while enjoying the beauty of the place and communing with nature. As the plan started falling into place, the trip would cover three destinations, three flights, a ferry boat ride, and a lot of land travel.
FIRST PIT STOP: BOHOL A MIX OF HISTORY AND NATURE
I remembered visiting Bohol way back in the 90's and I only remember going there to attend the town fiesta of my grandfather's hometown. So when we touched down at Tagbilaran Airport, I felt like the visit was long overdue.
The province of Bohol is located in Central Visayas and is bounded by the islands of Cebu, Leyte, and Mindanao. Tagbilaran City is the capital of the province and serves as the main gateway of Bohol. It is the home of one of the most photographed tourism icon of the country and the smallest primate in the world - the Philippine Tarsier. Together with the famous Chocolate Hills, its rich history, and the pristine beaches of Panglao, Bohol is definitely one of the places to visit for nature and history buffs.
Arriving in Tagbilaran City, I was pleasantly surprised with the province's airport. I was expecting a more modern airport since the province is one of the prime tourist spots of the country. Unfortunately, the airport fails in comparison with other provinces like Bacolod, Iloilo, or even Caticlan, who have all managed to upgrade its airport facilities to accomodate the inflow of tourists. I really hope that a plan to upgrade the airport is in the works so as to give tourist a better first impression.
Our plans quickly shifted when we stepped out of the airport as we were met by drivers offering van or car rentals, even tricycle drivers offer to drive you around town or to the resort or hotel where you are to stay. Since I was travelling with my family, I decided to get a van, through Kuya Nilo, to bring us to our resort in Panglao Island. It was a decision that later on turned out to be beneficial for us throughout the duration of our stay in Bohol. While making arrangements with Kuya Nilo for our transportation needs to get to our hotel, he gave me an offer that started our Bohol adventure.
Panglao: The Beauty Above and Below (Day 1)
Panglao Island is best known for its pristine beaches which can compete against that of Boracay. Just a few minutes drive from the Tagbilaran Airport, Panglao island has its own share of history and nature. The initial plan to head straight to our resort shifted towards disovering the sights that Panglao Island has to offer.
Dauis Church Complex
One of the three oldest churches in the province, Dauis Church was established in 1697 and features a neoclassic and neogothic architectural design. The church is breathtaking as the community was able to preserve exterior and the interiors of the church. The location of the church also adds to its beauty as it is located near the sea. A watchtower can also be found at the back of the church. During the earlier times, it warned the community of pirate attacks. With the breeze coming from the sea, it definitely refreshes the tired soul of tourists and visitors of the church.
Dauis Church stands as a dominant structure of Dauis. The simple facade of the church is a complete contrast of the intricate paintings of biblical scenes on its ceilings. The chessboard design of its flooring, an alternate mix of black and yellow, mirrors the intricate chessboard design of its ceilings. It is amazing how the community was able to preserve the old charm of the church despite the developments in the area.
Right beside the church, is the another mute testament of the place's history - the church convent. It served as the official residence of the Jesuits and later on by the Holy Spirit Sisters of Tagbilaran during World War 2. Now the convent still stands as a testament of the town's religious and historical value and its contribution to the country's history.
Our visit to "Simbahan ng Dauis" was a great way to start our adventure. The place was serene and it refreshed our tired mind and bodies from the night's celebration and our early morning flight. As we drove away from the church, I marveled at the sight of its belfry, with its pointed steeples, as it looms over the town. I cannot help but say a little prayer of thanksgiving for bringing me and my family there.
Hinagdanan Cave is one of nature's handcrafted beauty that stood out for me on this trip. Who would have thought that this small island, known or its beaches, holds a beautiful underground sight in Bohol, and by that, I mean literally under the ground.
The Hinagdanan Cave was discovered when the lot owner started to clear the area for farming and discovered an opening on the ground. The owner threw a rock into the opening and heard a loud splash. The owner then initiated the exploration of the cave by constructing a ladder, known as "hagdan" in local dialect, to be able to get down into the cave - this is where the name of this natural attraction was coined. The original entrance has since been closed after a more convenient alternative has been set-up after the discovery of the other hole on the ground.
The experience begins as you step into a narrow and steep opening where you can marvel at the "spectacular" stalagmite and stalactite formations that were a product of years and years of water dripping from the cave's ceilings and the accumulation of sediments. As you go deeper into the cave, you will be brought to the main chamber of the cave that houses a huge pool that has a depth of 10 feet in the middle. It is a mix of fresh and salt water as the pool is connected to the sea. If you are the adventurous type, you can also try taking a dip into the pool but one needs to take extra precaution as there are no lifeguards in the cave.
It was a really awesome experience as you also get to see the play of lights inside the cave as sunlight gets into the cave through the old entrance of the Hinagdanan Cave. The old entrance now serves as the backdrop of the cave and are being used for "enchanting" camera shots for tourists.
The whole experience is further enhanced by our enthusiastic and interactive guide, Regine. The guy can really give one hell of a presentation and the amount of humor that he brings in makes one glued to the whole tour. He is also a fantastic photographer who would gladly ask tourists to pose, as per his direction, and take the shots. The sight and the guide makes Hinagdanan Cave a must see place when you are in Panglao.
Bohol Bee Farm Resort and Restaurant
Relaxing and Rejuvenating are the two words to best describe the Bohol Bee Farm Resort and Restaurant. The place, with all its natural greens and the fresh air blowing from the sea, can definitely soothe one's tired soul. I enjoyed having a great meal with the great ambiance of the place - it makes you feel really close to nature.
Eating healthy in Bohol Bee Farm can be as exciting as visiting the place. They offer a wide selection of healthy viands with ingredients grown organically. The management enourages farmers to go to organic farming. I ordered pork ribs and I was surprised to see flowers as my side salad and it tasted different and yummy. Dining at Bohol Bee Farm is definitely worth the value that you spend and is a totally different experience.
After the meal, one can roam around the area to enjoy the fresh air and the scenery. You can buy souvenir items, organic food products, and even plants to bring home. The visit to the resort offers a sweet respite for one's five senses and is definitely worth a visit when in Bohol.
After the half day tour of Panglao, it was time now to head up to Alona Beach where my family and I were staying. My little girl was already tired as we also had to stay up late the night before because of the new year celebration so I have already asked Mang Nilo to head up to Alona Beach.
Alona Beach is a small stretch of powdery white sand located southwest of Panglao Island. It is about a 20 minute drive from the mainland. When we got there, it had the vibe similar to that of Boracay but with less of the party flavor and more of the acoustic feel, especially at night. It was more laid back. The one and a half kilometer of powdery white sand are lined up with restaurants, resorts, and business establishments that offer water activities. I noticed that most water activities were diving and dolphin watching activities since Panglao is also the kick off point to great diving sites in the area.
The vibe and the feel of Alona Beach is very conducive for family recreation and for the "barkada" get-togethers where you just wanna hang out for a couple of beers by the beach. The evenings have an acoustic feel and your family or friends can really swap stories and catch up on each other's lives. It is a definitely a better choice if you want to spend quality bonding time with family, friends, and peers.
I thought that Panglao Island gave me a brief on what to expect in Bohol in the coming days. I was wrong. The province of Bohol has a lot more to offer that would let families enjoy their vacation in the province while bonding together. I really hope that my next blog posts will give justice to what I just said. But one thing that was definite was that our tour of Panglao Island gave us a preview of the whirlwind adventures that we were about to embark on.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.