WHERE TO GO NEXT. Over dinner, we were deciding whether to go to Bohol or Boracay for our next trip. Boracay with its world-class tourist resorts and stretches of white sand beach is enticing and interesting for travelers who enjoy mingling with the same old Makati Greenbelt crowd.
But what lured us to choose Bohol aside from realizing the fact that I can go to Greenbelt anytime in board shorts was the opportunity to visit Bohol’s antique churches and ancient watchtowers, historical landmarks, unique geological formations, endangered fauna, floating restaurants and shimmering beaches with sugar-fine white sand that can rival Boracay.
WELCOME TO BOHOL. It was the last day of July when we had flown by Philippine Airlines to Tagbilaran. One of our friends made previous arrangement for our tour. Upon our arrival, we were met by our tour guide. We immediately recognized him among the excited crowd at the airport’s parking area because of cartolina he was holding up with the words “Welcome to Bohol Glenn and Anne.”
Upon getting into the van, Mang Ting introduced himself as our guide for the next three days. Our guide speaks good Tagalog. We later learned that he spent several years in Manila before settling in his hometown and serving as mayor.
The former town mayor slash tour guide gave out the details of the itinerary for the day and narrated the history of their town while driving us east of Tagbilaran along the seashore drive towards our first stop- The Blood Compact Shrine.
PACTO DE SANGRE. Mang Ting told us with pride that the people of Bohol are descendants of the tattooed Pintados tribe. Although fierce and superb spear fighters during the Age of Discovery, early Boholanons are generally peace-loving people. This Boholanon trait is reflected in the sculpture of National Artist Napoleon Abueva depicting the blood compact between island chief Datu Sikatuna and Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565.
Abueva based his masterpiece from Juan Luna’s painting Pacto de Sangre that now hangs in Malacanang. According to historical accounts, a sharp dagger was used to cut a small incision in both Legazpi’s and Sikatuna’s arms. The blood that oozed out from their cuts was mixed in a cup and the two drank their blood from the same cup. The historical toast to friendship between Legazpi and Sikatuna paved the way to Bohol’s indoctrination to Christianity.
BACLAYON CHURCH. Leaving the Abueva masterpiece, Mang Ting drove us to Baclayon Church. Built in 1596, the church is arguably the first stone church in the Philippines. Its contender for this distinction is Manila’s San Agustin Church which was founded much earlier in 1571. However, the first San Agustin Church was built of nipa and not stone, and the present stone structure started in 1587 and completed in 1607, which by that time, Baclayon Church had already been standing for 10 years. The debate was settled when church historians found evidence that Baclayon Church was built constructed in 1721.
Being a knowledgeable guide, Mang Ting revealed to us that egg whites were used in the construction of the church, which also explains why broas has become a popular delicacy in Bohol since it’s made of the unused part of the egg -the egg yolk.
From the exterior, Mang Ting, led us inside the church through an entrance in the convent that has been converted into a museum stocked with religious and secular treasures. The focal point inside the church is the gilded main altar and two side retablos, which dates back to the time when the Jesuits built the stone church in 16th century.
BILAR WOODS. It was nearing lunch time when we left Baclayon. Mang Ting sped off to bring us to Loboc since he didn’t want us to miss lunch and the river cruise. On our way to Loboc, we made a quick stop at Bilar’s Hanging Bridge and Man-made Forest. It was decades ago when the people of Bilar sought the need to replant trees in fear of the dangers of land erosion.
The people’s initiative resulted to an impressive forest that form natural canopies from the scorching Bohol sun. Mang Ting told us that owls and the endangered tarsiers seek refuge in their these forests. He promised to bring us to a tarsier sanctuary in Loboc for a close encounter with the cute creature.
LOBOC. Thanks to Mang Ting’s daring driving skills, we arrived in Loboc early for lunch. That gave us the time to start touring Loboc beginning with its church. Loboc Church is a beautiful example of colonial religious architecture. Massive in scale but gracious in design, its façade is decorated with cherubs and wreaths carved on limestone.
Loboc converted a part of its convent into a museum. A room in Museo de Loboc has been reserved for the highly acclaimed Loboc Children’s Choir where they hold there practices and voice lessons. These are the treasures of Loboc.
Near its four-storey octagonal-shaped bell tower we noticed the concrete bridge, hanging midway across the river, aimed directly at the church. Our guide explained that the construction of the bridge was intended to be an expensive alibi to demolish the 400-year old church to allow the contractors recover some legendary treasure buried underneath the church. Naturally, the townspeople protested and fought for the preservation of their heritage.
LOBOC RIVER. Tired and hungry after all the walking, we boarded the floating restaurant for an eat all you can lunch. Sated, the spruced-up barge started its engine for the river cruise. Loboc River is touted as the cleanest river in the Philippines. Bohol officials made regulations to make sure that the river is kept clean. In summer months, the river has a blue green color. But the July rain turned the water brownish green.
RIVER CRUISE. The boat chugged along a narrow winding river until the river widens out into the canyon. The lazy cruise passed by a curtain of dark green foliage and a forest of coconut trees. When the we reached Busay Falls, the cruise made a turn around before the barge was moored close to a bamboo raft where a local rondalla group serenaded us with Visayan folk songs.
TARSIER. After the cruise, Mang Ting brought us to a tarsier sanctuary near the river. We have never seen an animal as strange looking as the tarsier. Locally known as mawnag, they look like miniature monkeys, with big eyes that occupy almost their entire face.
Although they look like creatures from outer-space, they are very fragile beings -they quickly die in captivity. In Bohol, they are left to wander around.
Satisfied with our first close encounter with a tarsier, we left Loboc for Carmen to see the Chocolate Hills.
ICONIC CHOCOLATE HILLS. The Chocolate Hills were undeniably remarkable because the formations nearly look identical both in size and shape. They are considered as National Geological Monuments and continue to stir theories regarding their formation. Scientific theories range from weathering of marine limestones to sub-oceanic floor movement. Whatever forces formed them, it doesn’t matter. They are simply amazing!
There are at least 1,268 individual mounds scattered throughout the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan. Two of the highest hills have been developed, one has an observation deck, and another with a facility to accommodate overnight tourists. We scaled the 213 concrete steps leading to the observation deck for a panoramic view of God’s spectacular creations.
EPILOGUE. The spectacular view of Chocolate Hills capped day one of our tour in Bohol. From Carmen we drove back to Tagbilaran then to Panglao Island where we checked in one of its numerous beach hotels. The next day we were scheduled to tour the islands of Panglao and Balicasag.