13th Dec 2010, in Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines
Today was spent touring Bohol. We engaged through the hotel a driver and a car, for 2500 pesos, to take us to all the sights in a day. The standard package that all the tour companies offer will include the famed Chocolate Hills, a butterfly park, a man-made forest, the hanging bridges, a river cruise cum lunch in Loboc, tarsiers, the Bacylon church and the sandugo monument. Not bad for a full day tour, even though the main attractions were the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers, the rest were more or less filler.
When taking a car hire, everyone and their neighbour will offer to take you on the standard Bohol tour. It’s better to go with the hotel or a proper tour agency, rather than the trishaw rider’s brother/uncle/friend. There are some laws about having licenses to be a driver/guide, plus private vehicles have plates coloured differently. Only those with yellow plates or rainbow colourful ones can carry public passengers.
From Tagbilaran, we traveled inland towards the Chocolate Hills, a unique natural geological phenomenon here in Bohol, of over 1300 hillocks than dot the countryside. Formed centuries ago below the sea out of limestone, the hills were created when plate movements led to their formation. They get their name because during the dry season, the top of the hills dry and turn brown, hence Chocolate Hills. Sadly, we saw only the green hills.
A small buttefly conservation centre, a man-made forest (mahagony seeds planted over 40 years ago to prevent erosion) and a hanging bridge (initially made for some families on the other side of the river) become attractions for tourists.
Lunch was a kitsch affair, touted as a cruise on Loboc river on a boat where we would have a buffet lunch. At 400 pesos, I felt the food was sub-par, and the guitar strumming performer didn’t help much to improve the environ either. Possibly a highlight would be a ukelele strumming local performance choral group that sat by the side of the river and put up a performance for us. Very packaged, and touristy, I ended up buying a 400 peso ukelele. Talk about tourist traps.
After lunch, we headed for a “Kingdom of Tarsier and Other Animals”, to check out the other highlight of Bohol. The tarsier, one of the smallest mammals in the world, is found in the Philippines, and most easily spotted in Bohol. Cute little buggers, the tarsiers have gigantic eyes that take up half their face.
Their uniqueness means many tourists come to see them, and this inevitably leads to illegal tarsier poaching and the such. Hence, government regulations means places such as these are allowed to keep only 10 tarsiers. The enclosure is pretty big, allowing the tarsiers to jump from tree to tree, but visitors can come in and stand within centimeters of a tarsier. This particular establishment stops tourists from taking flash photography and tells them not to touch or startle the tarsiers, but the regular flow of tourists will mean that some of these little guys end up traumatised and as ominously pointed out by the handler, “they commit suicide”, that is, they refuse to eat till they die. =(
After the tarsiers, we trooped to the next couple of attractions, both pretty anticlimatic actually. The Baclyon church was not bad, one of the oldest most well preserved churches in the Philippines, set up in early 17th century. We did a stop by the Blood Compact monument, to signify a treaty made by the Bohol chieftain and a Spanish explorer. I was more interested in the fact that blood compact here is the Sandugo, also the name of a footwear brand in Bohol. The slippers are good quality.
Car sent us back to the ferry terminal, where we took OceanJet this time. (Supercat has newer boats, but Oceanjet has wifi on board). Back on Cebu, we found a metered cab to take us to a rest house near Ayala Center, an impressive megamall. And that was all for Malapascua / Bohol. Until the next backpack trip to Bangladesh (now THAT should be an interesting one), bye.