Boarding an Airphil Express flight from Cebu to Puerto Princesa, I cannot contain my excitement on our last leg of our one-week vacation. We were to cover three destinations during these seven days and so far we have already conquered Bohol and Cebu City. Bohol proved to be an exciting opener as we had to engage ourselves with nature’s wonder and the region’s historical significance to the country. It was a mix of nature, history, and religion. Cebu was more laid back – a stopover of some sort, where we enjoyed just the right bit of the city. Cebu City was a breather for me and my family. And yet our adventure just kept getting better as we settled ourselves onto our seats as we head off to the country’s last frontier, Palawan.
THIRD PIT STOP: Puerto Princesa (Beach Bum’s Under Palawan’s Sun)
Puerto Princesa is the capital city of Palawan dubbed as the country’s last frontier as the region is the home of a diverse selection of flora and fauna that is endemic to the country and to the province. The province of Palawan is bounded by the South China Sea on the west and the Sulu Sea on the east. The city is the main gateway of the province and it is about an hour away from Cebu. Puerto Princesa has a total land area of 253, 982 hectares which makes it one of the largest cities in the coutry and it is also known as the “city within a forest”. The city is a model city for ecotourism as the city is able to effectively manage its development while preserving its natural resources and beauty.
Touchdown: Puerto Princesa International Airport
It was a bright and sunny afternoon when we touched down at Puerto Princesa International Airport. As our plane taxied along the runway, it was quite interesting to see the lush greeneries that surround the airport – we are not talking about grass but trees. The design of the airport was the old designs of Philippine Airports but interestingly it was also properly maintained. The glass design of the airport allowed natural lighting to get through the building giving it an impression of a wide expanse. What was unique about the airport is that as you drive out or drive in to the airport, you would notice the line of trees along the road that officially welcomes you to the city within a forest.
Checked In: Legend Hotel Palawan
Just a minutes from the airport and located near the city center, the Legend Hotel Palawan is one of the major hotels in Puerto Princesa. It offers amenities such as restaurants, swimming pool and conference halls for seminars or weddings. It also offers tour arrangement through its arm Legend Tours that offer packages for City Tours, Honda Bay Tours, and Underground River Tours.
Checking in at the hotel was breeze and arranging for a tour was easy as both counters are in the same lobby. Do take note though that their Honda Bay Tour and Underground River Tour are whole day tours so you need two full days to experience both. I also suggest that you book your Underground River Tour weeks ahead as the tours would be requiring permits. We had to forego the Underground River Tour as we can no longer accommodate it with our tight schedule. It was a blessing in disguise that my little girl is not really fond of spelunking so taking it out of our plan was a lot easier. We opted for the Honda Bay Tour scheduled for the following day.
The room assigned to us were not as impressive as I have thought but it was decent. Do not expect the rooms to be really impressive but it does offer the basic necessities for travellers.
Food Stop: Balinsasayaw Restaurant
Since we arrived in Puerto Princesa late in the afternoon, we had nothing much to do. We already planned out our Honda Bay Tour for the next day and the City Tour on our third day. I should have researched more about the city was my biggest regret at that time. We ended up taking a tricycle to the nearest mall from our hotel. Funny that we headed up to the mall while we were in Puerto Princesa.
As the evening arrived, we decided to dine in one of the many restaurants located in the city. Puerto Princesa has a lot of restaurants that attract visitors and tourists. One that stood out for us was the Balinsasayaw Restaurant, as it was also recommended by our tricycle driver, where we can taste the famous Nido Soup.
Balinsasayaw Restaurant derives its name from a swiftlet endemic to El Nido , Palawan. The bird is famous for its nest. Locals climb through the jagged sides of rock formations to harvest this nest. The nest is made from the bird’s saliva and it is the main ingredient of the Nido Soup.
The restaurant’s ambiance is superb as it features native nipa huts which complements its environmental theme. Service in the restaurant is fast and efficient although the food is not something that I raved about. Food was good but not that exceptional and but if you are really keen on tasting the famous soup from Palawan then Balinsasayaw Restaurant is a must stop for you.
Day 2 in Palawan: Beach Bumming
For most of the days, I really had to drag my two ladies out of bed every morning. These kind of adventures excite me but for the two ladies that I was with – the bed is a huge magnet that they get attracted to. We had to get ready to conquer the beach so I had to get them out of the bed early to catch the van that would bring us to the jump off point of our Honda Bay tour.
Our jump off point was the Sta. Lourdes Wharf – about thirty minutes away from the city center. The group made a short stop in one of the shops along the highway where guests can rent water shoes, snorkeling paraphernalias, fins, and even bread for fish feeding. The tour is managed by guides who will brief you on the facts about Palawan and Honda Bay to keep you alert through the duration of the land trip.
Honda Bay is located along the eastern side of Palawan. The bay and the group of islands within its territory has become an attraction for swimming, diving, and snorkeling because of its white sand beach and its underwater scene that bursts into life even on shallow waters. It is now a protected area of the province as it also serves as a breeding ground for fish and other sea creatures.
As we boarded our large motorized banca at the wharf, we were excited to explore two islands – Pandan Island and Luli Island.
The pristine waters and the white sand beach was already enough to get me and my little girl excited as we docked along the shores of Pandan Island. The island was going to be our home for the next hours as we were going to spend most of our time on this island. It is suffice to say that the beauty of the beach was no match to the beauty and the experience that we will be having as soon as we hit the waters of Pandan Island.
Pandan Island is one of the larger island in Honda Bay. It is also one of the most developed island along the bay - complete with picnic huts and a superb view of Honda Bay. The island is famous for its powdery white sand and is a good stop for swimming and snorkeling.
We were more than excited to hit the beach and were also excited to experience what lies underneath the waters of Pandan Island. Word of caution though, have your kids wear the right fit of lifevest for safety as the depth of the waters along the beach increases rapidly. We were more than amazed to see how the underwater life is teeming in Pandan Island. The schools of fish were not afraid to interact with humans. Fish feeding can be quite an exhilirating experience as the fish are not shy to swim alongside humans. These underwater creatures swarm around you when you feed it. Too bad though that my little girl was not comfortable around these creatures.
The half-day spent in Pandan Island was a good time for family bonding. We enjoyed the powdery white sand beach, the underwater life, and the great view that Pandan Island offered. It was so much fun taking wacky and jump shots along the beach. It tested my eye for good shots. It was all worth it even if it meant that we got baked under the sun.
After Pandan Island, we headed off to one of the famous sandbars in Honda Bay – Luli Island. The name of the island was derived from the Filipino word “Lulubog Lilitaw” which means sink and arises. This was how locals describe the sandbar as it goes underwater during high tide to later resurface during low tide.
The sandbar is not as powdery as that of Pandan Island. It snakes towards the mangroves at the far end of the sandbar. I reckon that it is about a five to ten minute walk to reach the mangrove through the sandbar. My wife and my little girl were already tired from the morning activity so I opted not to explore the length of the sandbar.
Luli Island is ideal for snorkeling as the shoreline is dotted with live corals that serve as the home and breeding ground of fish and other sea creatures. It is a bit difficult to swim without water shoes as you have a high chance of hitting the rough surface of rocks and corals and injuring yourself. Again, the fish in the area were not afraid to swim alongside humans.
Tiange-Tiange Pasalubong and Souvenir Center
We were dead tired from our day of exploration so we just decided to reserve our energies for the next day’s itinerary. But knowing that we might not have enough time the next day to get “pasalubongs”, we decided to spend the afternoon at “Tiange-Tiange”.
The one-stop shop for “pasalubongs” and souvenirs, Tiange-Tiange Pasalubong and Souvenir Center houses a wide array of items ranging from pearls, woodworks, shirts, sweets, and small items that you can bring home from your Puerto Princesa trip. The best part of the deal is that you can check out your bargaining skills when haggling for the best price.
My wife enjoyed checking out the pearl earrings sold at Tiange-Tiange and she did quite get a great deal for a set of pearls. Meanwhile, I enjoyed getting a personalized Palawan statement shirt that will remind me of our adventure in Palawan.
Foodstop: Ugong Rock
We headed off to one of the bar and restaurant located along Rizal Avenue – Ugong Rock. The ambiance was good and the acoustic performers that night gave the place an extra chill for the evening. Since my family are all musically inclined, we enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Ugong Rock. The restaurant offers Filipino cuisine and grilled items however food was also not something that I can rave about. But if you are looking for a cool place to chill – Ugong Rock is the place to head off.
Day 3 in Palawan: Zipping through the City
We were all excited when we boarded our van that will bring us around the city of Puerto Princesa. We had the van all for ourselves as most city tours are done in the afternoon and we were doing ours in the morning. As it was a special tour, we didn't have a regular guide to help us through but our driver was a le to walk us through the tourist spots that we visited.
Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center
This 8-acre facility in Barangay Irawan was first established as the Crocodile Farming Institute in 1987 that studied the Philippine Crocodile. Later on the facility took on the challenge on focusing its resources on the study and conservation, not only of Philippine Crocodiles, but of other wildlife endemic to the region and to the country hence the change in its name.
It takes about 30 minutes of land travel from the city center to this wildlife facility. The park is open to guests daily and they have an hourly schedule of facility tour. I suggest that you sign in to the next available tour as soon as you check in to the premises and while waiting you can explore the different booths in the area that offers different souvenir items. There are booths that offer crocodile meat products for those who are up for a gastronomic adventure. You can also have your picture taken holding a live baby crocodile if you are brave enough to do so.
The tour of the facility starts at the holding area where guests are welcomed by a huge skeletal remains and hide of one of the biggest crocodile that was found in the country even before The capture and death of Lolong. The receiving hall also features the fossilized remains of a sperm whale. The guide starts off by giving us a brief on crocodiles and the role of the center towards the preservation of these reptiles. We were then given the do's and don'ts during the tour before we proceeded to the Hatchling House.
The Hatchling House is a huge area where guests can view the different stages of a crocodile development from the newly hatched to a few months old. The juvenile reptiles are segregated based on their maturity. As guests walkthrough the house, the guides constantly reminded us not to extend any body part into the basins as the juveniles might mistake it for food.
From the juvenile crocs, we then had a chance to view the more mature and bigger crocodiles inside their concrete pens. A metal bridge was installed over these pens where guests can view the Philippine Crocodiles. Interestingly, Philippine crocodiles can grow as long as 7 meters in length.
As we ended the tour, we headed up to the nature park found at the back of the complex. A huge area of the facility was designated as a wildlife sanctuary where guests can hike the nature trail to observe other animals. The park is the home of various animal species like the Hornbill and the Palawan Bear Cat. We were pressed for time so we really didn't get the chance to go around the nature trail.
One thing that I really enjoyed when we visited the center was the meeting "Ella" - the resident Palawan Bear Cat. We had the chance to have a face to face encounter with this docile creature endemic to the region. We had the chance to have a photo taken with Ella as she sat on my shoulder.
Mitra's Ranch / Sta. Monica Ranch
Situated atop a hill in Sta. Monica, this ranch owned by former senator Ramon Mitra offers a spectacular view of Puerto Princesa. The main feature of the ranch is the house built by the family that overlooks the city and the bay. Although the property is open to the public, the house is not open for public viewing as it is still being used by the family but there are certain occasions that they allow guests in certain areas of the house to view the memorabilia of the former senator.
The large property is best enjoyed by sitting down while you are enjoying the view and the breeze coming from the sea. There are a number of activities that one can try out while in the ranch like horseback riding or ziplining for the more adventurous tourists.
A few minutes from Mitra's Ranch is a haven for those who love sweets and pastries. Baker's Hill started out as a simple bakery and later on eveolved to be one of the attractions in the city after the owner's decided to develop the area. The land was converted into a huge park reminiscent of stories from a children's book - complete with cobblestone pathways, manicured lawns, and life-size statues of celebrities and fairy tale characters. A restaurant inside the compound is good stop for refreshments and snacks.
My family enjoyed strolling around the park and enjoying the cool breeze. I enjoyed the details that went into the manicured lawns of the place and most especially the flower arrangement on a basin of water. It is not only a good place to get great pastries but also a good place to enjoy being a kid again.
Puerto Princesa Baywalk
As we headed back to the city proper, our driver drove us through an open park near the city center. The park is the city's version of Bay Walk. The local government had gone through a lot of initiatives to develop the seaport area to provide the community with a place where they can stroll and relax. Now it has not only provided the locals with a place where they can relax but it has also provided local micro-entrepreneurs a venue where they can market their services and wares - from bicycle rentals to food stalls.
The best time to visit the park is in the late afternoons when the whole park bursts into life with various activities and food stalls. It is also a great place where one can view the sunset. Too bad though that we visited the place at almost noon hence it was not as exciting as it was described to us.
Immaculate Conception Cathedral
The blue hues of the cathedral stands out as you enter the city center. The Immaculate Conception Cathedral stands as a mute witness the colorful and at times cruel history of Puerto Princesa. Established in 1872 by the Spaniards, the cathedral was able to preserve the gothic design through the years.
It is the home of Puerto Princesa's patron saint - the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The city celebrates its devotion to their patron saint every December 8 so you can expect a lively atmosphere at around this time in the city. What stands out for me are the steeples of the church as it reminds me of the Baguio Cathedral. Too bad though that I was not able to check out the church's interiors.
Plaza Cuartel got me distracted from the cathedral. Since I am a history buff, I was just simply attracted to this former garrison as soon as I stepped out of the van.
Plaza Cuartel is the site of one of the gruesome murders of American Prisoners of War during the World War 2 - the Palawan Massacre. The plaza served as a Japanese Garrison during the war where POWs were kept. As American forces took control of the archipelago, the Japanese forces ordered all American POWs into the air raid shelters where the Japanese poured gasoline into the shelters and set it on fire. Anyone who escaped the furnace were either shot down, bayoneted, or decapitated. 143 Americans perished while 11 survived by swimming to nearby Iwahig.
Except for a memorial in honor of those Americans who survived and died on that fateful day, no other trace of the gruesome murder is evident inside the park. The park now looks very peaceful and relaxing with the greenery and benches installed. It now serves as a peaceful reminder of the cruelty of war.
As we were waiting to board our flight back to Manila, I looked back to our three days in Puerto Princesa. It was a time where my little girl enjoyed the swimming as she had her share of hitting the beach. It was a good exposure for her to appreciate and learn the importance of preserving nature's bounty. It was good to have all these wildlife interactions with my little girl as I was hoping that she would pick up a lesoon or two about environmental protection. My wife enjoyed her search for pearls while I enjoyed my itch for travel and a taste of the beach and history.
Puerto Princesa was a complete package for our family. We all enjoyed our visit despite the varying interest between me, my wife, and my daughter. There are still a lot to explore in Puerto Princesa and in Palawan and I promise to head back soon.
Post Travel Notes:
The three destinations over seven days covered a wide spectrum of adventures and misadventures for me and my family. It taught me a lot about traveling with the family:
1. Family trips is about covering everyone's interest.
It is important that you get involved with the interest of your partner and your kids as you will learn a lot about them and you will understand them more.
2. Family trips are opportunities to learn and teach.
The exposure that we had on wildlife preservation and history is a great way to teach kids about these things. I am glad that my daughter can talk about her swimming with the fish, touching a crocodile, etc. are memories that she will be able to share as she grows up and I am glad that we were there with her.
3. Family trips are bonding moments.
Traveling with the family can get to be very stressful so do not let it happen. Do not get pre-occupied with what to do or what is in the itinerary. Go with the flow and enjoy the moment. Have fun with the family because that is what it is all about.
I really wished that we had more travel opportunities when we were younger. Come to think of it, one of my fondest memories when I was a kid was our Jollibee stopover at Dau, Pampanga whenever we travelled to Manila. Family trips have a huge impact on our kids and we should maximize that opportunity to create memories for our kids.
Hmm...now I am thinking of our next destination...
Our first three days on vacation in Bohol got us into a mix of various adventures and emotions. It was just a fully packed three days that got us from one adventure to another that gave us the thrill and the chill. Our third day in Bohol got our hearts pumping and our adrenaline rushing that when we boarded our ferry, we were just asleep during the 2 hour trip to Cebu.
SECOND PIT STOP: CEBU (HIGH LIVING IN DOWNTOWN)
We arrived in Cebu at 7 pm, about four hours delayed, due to the suspension of our earlier trip because of a weather disturbance. We quickly boarded a cab that will bring us to the hotel where we will be staying for two nights. I got a good deal online for this part of our trip that gave us two nights accommodation with daily buffet breakfast and a buffet dinner. So for travelers out there, try searching for online deals when planning for a vacation as it will give you a lot of savings.
Checking In: Crown Regency
"This is the life!"
That was all I can say when we checked in to our room at Crown Regency along Osmena Street. It was one of those vacations where most of our time will be spent inside the room more than outside. Apart from the great room, it also offered a great view of Cebu's skyline as our room was located at the 28th floor. It was a definitely a good deal that I got online.
Crown Regency is just one of the many hotels in Cebu City. Located at the heart of the city, it is very accessible to almost all tourist destinations in downtown Cebu. It is also the tallest building in the city and is the home of the Sky Experience Adventure where thrill seekers can conquer their fear of heights.
As we were preparing to head out for dinner, I got the vibe that Cebu was going that part of our vacation where we can just relax and chill.
Fuente Osmena Circle
Taking the elevator down from our hotel floor, we were given a spectacular evening view of Cebu's Capitol Building and its surrounding areas. We were too tired to explore Cebu that night that we just decided to have dinner before retiring to our beds.
On our way to the place where we will be having dinner, we passed by the Fuente Osmena Circle. I told my wife that we were at the heart of the city. This rotunda park has seen the action of the city's major activities. We were lucky to have visited the city as it was gearing for the yearly Sinulog held every 3rd Sunday of the January and the rotunda was also ready for the celebration. The circle had small altars installed along the road in reverence to the Santo Nino to whom the celebration is being offered to. One can pay respect to the Santo Nino on these small altars by offering flowers and prayers. By the way it was set-up, you could feel that the city is gearing for a big celebration.
The highlight of the park is a fountain which is the focal point of the park. The park was named after Cebu's beloved son, the late President Sergio Osmena, to recognize his contribution in the development of Cebu. The surrounding areas of the park are peppered with business establishments and hotels. We chanced upon a peddler selling tissue holders and jewelry holders from recycled materials. We could not resist but stop to check out what he had to offer and we ended up buying some "pasalubong".
Fuente Osmena Circle is one place that is probably seen by most tourists and guests but is not noticed. But it is a nice park to briefly stop over and explore as it is an example of how Cebuanos show their respect to the prime movers of the city's development.
A visit to Cebu will not be complete without indulging your taste buds as the city is also famous for its food and one food stop that is a must place to visit is Larsians. Located near Fuente Circle, Larsians is a famous barbecue joint of Cebu and it is one place that is frequently visited not only by tourist but by the locals, as well.
It has undergone a major facelift compared when I visited it last. It is good to see that the local government has finally taken steps to improve the facility for this attraction that gave it a better and healthier ambiance. The set-up is still the same with the stalls stationed on the side of the complex and at the center is the grill area. In between the stalls and the grill area is the dining area. The biggest improvement is the ventilation that lessened the smoke being retained in the dining area.
The experience that Larsian brings is different. My family and I enjoyed our grilled "entrees" with our bare hands. It was great to see my wife and kid enjoy eating the "puso". What makes eating in Larsians fun? I really don't know but it is something that is uniquely Cebuano.
Walking Around Downtown Cebu (Day 2)
One thing that I really enjoyed in Cebu was waking up in the morning. I like walking to the window and I get to see the great view of the downtown Cebu and the neighboring Mactan Island. I just love Cebu mornings!
The activities that we were suppose to do on the first day was all moved to the second day because of the delay on our ferry trip schedule. I had to work on our new itinerary and was excited to get around the city. It wasn't my first time in Cebu so going around was not new to me, even to my little girl, as we have both been to Cebu. I was excited for my wife.
As I was mapping out the itinerary, my wife was excited to check out shops that sell beads. My wife engages in buying and selling stuff and I once brought home some beads from Cebu which got her interested to checking out these shops for possible finds. Her sister also mentioned that we could find a good selection along Colon Street. So part of our itinerary was to also to include these shops.
Minor Basilica of the Holy Child
I remember visiting a shop in downtown Cebu on one of my visit where I got the bead necklaces that I brought home with me. It was near one of the famous churches in the archipelago, the Basilica of the Holy Child. We decided to start of our search along that area.
The Minor Basilica of the Holy Child is the center of the festivities during the annual Sinulog. It is the home of the oldest image of the Santo Nino in the country to whom the Sinulog celebration is dedicated to. As the city comes to life with the beat of the music and streetdancing, the festivities attracts throngs of tourists and devotees yearly to witness the Cebuanos devotion to the Santo Nino. And with every "Pit Senyor" chant, comes a prayer of thanksgiving and request for a better year ahead.
It has been said that the location of the Basilica is exactly the same spot where the image of the Holy Infant Jesus was miraculously found. Now, the church has attracted devotees from all walks of life to seek the Santo Nino's guidance and blessing. One would notice that devotees would wave their hands to the Santo Nino before leaving the church as these is their way of showing their reverence to the Holy Child.
Just right across the church is a huge complex that is the venue for huge gatherings and celebrations as it can accomodate thousand of devotees that join in the celebration. The complex also has a museum and a library where one can go through the rich history of Christianity in the Philippines.
The Minor Basilica of the Holy Child do get a lot of visitors on a daily basis so when you visit expect throngs of people within its compound. You can also expect devotees who will approach you to offer prayers for you for a minimal fee. A visit to Cebu will not be complete unless you visit the Basilica to marvel at its beauty or to offer a prayer of thanksgiving.
Just right across the doorstep of the Minor Basilica of the Holy Child, visitors and tourists can view Cebu's tourism icon. If Bohol has the tarsier then Cebu has the Magellan's Cross - a symbol of how the Spaniards conquered the Philippines.
Magellan's Cross is housed inside a small chapel just right outside the Basilica. The centerpiece of the chapel is the Tindalo cross that encases the original cross. The original cross was encased because the original cross was being chipped off by guests as a souvenir. The chapels ceilings also depicts paintings of early christianization of early Filipinos. You will also be approached by devotees that offer prayers for your petitions for a minimal fee.
Magellan's Cross is not only a tourist spot to visit in Cebu but it is also a symbolic representation on how the Philippines was conquered by the Spaniards through religion. Religion has deep roots in the country and it was in Cebu City where it all started.
I brought my wife to a necklace shop where I bought the beads that I brought home and she was looking for something different. She mentioned that her sister said that we can find more varieties to choose from, along Colon Street. I was not aware of any shop along that stretch during my previous visit but it was worth exploring so we headed up to Colon Street, Cebu.
Colon Street is the oldest street in the country. Named after Christopher Columbus, it was once the "it" place for fashion, entertainment, and business during the early times. Presently, the street still holds a lot of business but the area is a bit rundown. You can still see some old building marker that provides a brief history of the old structures that are still standing and had survived the times.
Walking along Colon street can be quite an experience as it gives you a preview of the buzz of Cebu's downtown. It gives you that chill that our ancestors have walked the same street decades back.
Cebu Find: Cebu Necklace
After having a walkthrough downtown Cebu in search for these beads and necklaces, my wife opted to head back to the shop where we first started. The shop is located just right across the stalls that sell religious items at the back of the church. My wife was able to get good finds from the shop.
After half a day of walking around downtown, we were all tired that we decided to hit the mall instead to cool down rather than heading up to Mactan Island. We went around Ayala Cebu to do a little shopping before heading back to the hotel to go for an evening swim.
The evening was more laid back as we had buffet dinner in one of the restaurants in the hotel. The restaurant was located on one of the top floors of the hotel and it offers a magnificent view of the city. Our trip to Cebu was more relaxed and had us staying in the hotel and enjoying its amenities. It was a time that we veered away from rushing from one tourist spot to another. I had regrets that I was not able to show my wife around Cebu and Mactan but I think she liked our trip to Cebu this way. It served as our breather.
Looking at the sparkling lights of Cebu, I cannot help but think how beautiful Cebu is and it is no wonder how much I loved the city after I first visited it that I just had to keep coming back. What can I say...I love Cebu!
I told my wife that whatever happens, she should make sure that she stays close to the boat. I tightened the lifevest of my wife and my little girl and I assured her that everything will be alright. Our excitement with our little expedition out to the sea has turned to anxiety as our little banca was being battered by huge waves. My little girl was enjoying the rough ride, not noticing that I was already starting to worry. Finally, we got a break into still waters. I gave a sigh of relief. Then we heard a loud thud under the banca and the motor of the motorized banca died out on us.
THROUGH ROUGH SEAS AND BEYOND (Bohol Day 3)
Bohol turned out to be one surprise after another. We found ourselves enjoying the nooks and crannies of the province where we found ourselves admiring the uniquely shaped hills from above, enjoying the rich flora and fauna of the provinces, and even heard stories of the past from old churches. Each day turned out to be an exciting adventure after another and our last day was something I will not forget.
I woke up excited as our third day in Bohol was the planned dolphin encounter activity. It was the day that we were venturing out to the sea and watch dolphins in their natural habitat. Apparently it rained just a few minutes before we stepped out of our room but seeing the clear skies, I felt that it was probably just a morning rain and there was nothing to worry about. So when our boatman arrived to pick us up, we were more than eager to venture out to the sea.
We ventured out to the sea, along with other boats, to search for dolphins. Dolphins are very playful creatures of the sea and my first encounter with these gentle mammals was during my first visit in Bohol. They show off their antics even in the wild by frolicking and jumping out of the water beside sea vessels. This delightful experience was what I wanted my family to experience first hand in the wild.
Unfortunately after about an hour out on the sea, we still had to get a glimpse of the dolphins. I started notice that it was getting gloomy and the waves were starting to swell. Our "manong" said that dolphin sighting might not be possible today as the waves were a bit rough for that morning. He said that we can proceed to Balicasag Island, about another 30 minutes of sea travel.
The thirty minute banca ride was one rough ride to the island. Halfway through the trip, it started to drizzle and the waves started to swell. My little girl started getting jittery and started crying. I was already considering of heading back to Alona Beach but our bankero looked confident with how he was maneuvering our banca. Balingcasag Island was already in full view. Finally, the sun broke out and the waves started to mellow down.
The serene waters of Balicasag Island was in complete contrast to the waves that we encountered earlier but it was a relief. Balicasag island do not have sandy beaches, in fact, its shoreline are dotted by rocks except for a few breaks of white spots that are composed of shells and dead white corals. However, the true beauty of Balicasag is found under its waters.
Initially, we explored the shores of Balicasag Island where we were treated with finding an abundance of blue starfish. My little girl was enjoying these finds and was gladly flashing it for the cameras. After we got settled in, we decided to venture out to explore the waters of Balicasag.
Balicasag Island is best appreciated when you are under the sea. I guess it is one of the best dive spots in the area as the underwater scene is just teeming with life. We enjoyed snorkeling in the area and the good thing about it is that you really do not have to venture very far from the shore to appreciate the beauty of the underwater life of the island. It was a visual delight.
After spending an hour under the sun, we decided to head back to shore to have breakfast that we ordered earlier. I must say...nothing beats having breakfast by the beach. We also had the chance to check out souvenir items from peddlers. My wife's bargaining skills were put to a test and she passed it with flying colors.
Virgin Island from Afar
After exploring the shores of Balicasag Island, we decided to proceed to our next location - Virgin Island. Virgin Island is best know for its white sand bar which is in contrast to the rocky shores of Balicasag. It was about a 30 - 40 minute boat ride from Balicasag.
The supposed travel time turned into an an hour of travel that was full of apprehension and worry. Our banca was battered by huge waves, one that I was not expecting at the time of the year. My little girl was enjoying the stomach churning ride not minding that I was already starting to worry. My wife kept glancing at me for assurance as I have also noticed that even our boatman was having a hard time. We did manage to reach a break into still waters as we were approaching Virgin Island. I was starting to relax until we heard a thud from under our boat. We had hit a coral reef that rendered our boat immobile for almost an hour.
It took some time for our boatman to figure out what to do and even with that I decided to pass up on Virgin Island and head back to Alona Beach for my family's safety and for us to be able to catch our ferry to Cebu. The ride across huge waves was just too much and we had to do with just admiring Virgin Island from afar. The trip back did take longer but with no more incident involving our damaged motorized boat.
Tagbilaran City Tourist Pier
As I was rushing inside the pier, I knew that we missed out on our 1pm ferry after our morning exploration took longer after having experienced a rough ride and a damaged motorized boat. I was surprised to be informed that our 1pm ferry trip to Cebu was not allowed to depart and all other succeeding boat trips were on stand by because typhoon signal number 1 was hoisted over the region. It was a mix of shock and relief for me as my family and I was out at sea that morning even with the weather disturbance - now that explained the huge waves that battered our boat that morning.
Nevertheless, luck was on our side as we were accomodated to the 5pm trip for that day. Our arrival in Cebu would just be delayed but I was confident that the Coast Guard will lift their orders by that time allowing us to depart from Bohol that afternoon.
As we settled down at the passenger departure area, I noticed a marker inside the room that piqued my interest. I went on to check and discover that I was standing on a historical site in Bohol. The pier is the site where American Forces landed to liberate Bohol from the Japanese forces. The marker was set-up to commemorate the liberation of Bohol on April 11, 1945.
The marker sits unnoticed inside the departure hall. Unless you sit in front of it, guests and tourists would not be able to notice the marker. Most of them, would probably have walked in and out of the hall not knowing that they were standing on a site that played a key role in Bohol's history and making it what it is today.
Bohol was one surprise after the other. It was a mix of fun, excitement, thrill, and at one time...scared the sh*t out of me. I enjoyed the different tastes of nature, history, and religion. It was definitely a great start to our week-long vacation as a family. One set-back though was that we had to contend with renting out a van for us to get around Bohol but I had to consider the convenience as I was with my family. In any case, if I am given the chance...I would probably head back to Bohol to rough it up again.
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.