Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bohol Countryside Tour and Food Trip

After our morning tour in Antequera and Maribojoc towns, we picked up our friends A & E from Tagbilaran Airport at 11:00 am, before we proceeded to the usual countryside tour in Bohol. Our first stop is the Blood Compact site in Barangay Bool, along the main road which is still a part of Tagbilaran City.

"Sandugo" or blood compact is the native custom of the early Filipinos when formalizing treaties or act of friendship based on respect and equality. The two main characters would make a cut on their hand or arm, pour the blood on a cup which may also contain wine, then they both drink that liquid mixture. It is believed that the first blood compact between two races was done by Cebu's chieftain Rajah Humabon and the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, before the latter was killed by Lapu-Lapu in 1521.

In March 1565 when the Spaniards headed by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, landed on the shores of Bohol to do some repairs and load up freshwater on their galleon ships, they were accepted by Bool's local chieftain Datu Sikatuna. The two leaders performed the blood compact (pacto de sangre in Spanish) on 16 March 1565, then recreated thru a sculpture above by Boholano national artist Napoleon Abueva in late 20th century. To impart the blood compact's significance in our history, the authorities should have installed markers narrating the story, for the benefit of clueless tourists.
According to the historians and Boholano elders, the sculpture's site is not the exact spot of the blood compact. However, the sculpture's place was probably chosen for the commanding view of the sea below, and not for its authenticity.

Prior to sailing back to Spain, Legazpi's team badly needs freshwater and other supplies, and they have landed to a land bounded by 2 rivers on either sides. The area below in Loay is the original site of the blood compact, but its more inland and does not provide a touristy view. 

After admiring the Abueva's masterpiece, we checked the century-old Baclayon and Alburquerque churches here. Along the way, our driver-tour guide-photographer Paul Incon, made a quick stop at a small blacksmith shop along the road. Here, we briefly watched how the blacksmiths produce knives and bolos (machete), by heating "mwelye" or iron bars then hitting them with hammer when soft enough.

Visitors are welcome to try hammering the thick steel plates. Finished bolos and knives with wooden sheaths are available for sale at negotiable prices.

Finally we arrived at Loboc town to try their lunch buffet on board an improvised large boat. There are about 4 boat operators with same prices of Php 400/pax, inclusive of lunch buffet and entrance fee. My son who is 3 years old dined for free.

Once all the dining tables were taken, the floating restaurant sailed northwards to pick up food items in chafing dishes. Buffet was served afterwards, while the waiters asked the guests to choose between a 330ml bottled water or 8-oz. soda drink. I got upset on how a few Koreans cut into the queue of guests in the buffet line.

The lunch buffet has enough variety, but the general quality of food is disappointing. Most of the prepared food has no identity on their flavor. The steamed fish and the supposedly hot dishes were served cold. The crab dish seemed to have been cooked many days ago with unpleasant aftertaste. Only one small drink is included on the buffet meal, so I have to buy another soda drink and bottled water, after finishing our desserts.

By the time we're done with lunch, we arrived at the small waterfalls which is also the higher end of the navigable part of the river. The floating restaurant has to make a u-turn at this wide spot.

We stopped to a part of the river where local people played music and young ladies performed some dance routines. Tourists will be encouraged to join the dances or play the small guitars. They may have been doing these performance for many years now, but they are doing a mediocre job. 

It may have been a wiser choice to try the lunch buffet cruise under the Loay bridge, even though the supposed Eskaya tribe attraction on that cruise are actually Aeta people from Luzon region. Perhaps the dinner buffet cruise with the performance of the award-winning Loboc children's choir, is a much better alternative even at slightly higher price.

The only redeeming factors of the lunch buffet cruise are the pork dish in coconut milk, the palitaw dessert (glutinous rice patties with sugar and coconut shavings), and the novelty of having lunch in a floating restaurant.

From Loboc river cruise, we went to the newly-established Tarsier Conservation Center. Giving in to the clamor of the environmental and animal rights group, the authorities did the right thing by transferring the tarsier viewing area closer to their natural habitat. There is no entrance fee, but donations are welcome.

We saw about 8 tarsiers in this fenced wooden area, each on their own trees as they have this territorial behavior. Taking photos are allowed, but without flash to reduce glare on their large eyes. Touching them is also prohibited. Most of them are asleep as they are nocturnal creatures.

On closer inspection, they are similar to the pygmy tarsier from Indonesia. They are cuter and more primate-looking than their cousins in Madagascar, the mouse lemurs. At the mercy of the outdoor natural lighting, it is hard to get a clear picture without a flash, and this is the only clearest photo I got when my camera went to its default setting.

Since tarsiers are nocturnal and usually asleep during daytime, I guess I'm lucky to see and take a photo of a tarsier with eyes wide open below. I have to squeeze between small tree branches to take this shot of a tarsier perched above a tree.

Then, we travelled northwards to the town of Carmen, one of the 2 towns that offer views of the famous chocolate hills. Visitors would not miss passing the town of Bilar, where a man-made forest also became an attraction. 

Along the way is the Butterfly Center. They have staff to orient people about butterflies and give a guided tour of the area. They would also take a simple but creative photo, as if you have butterfly wings on your back.

My son likes their tarsier mascot a lot.

After about 45 minutes travel from Loboc, we finally arrived in Carmen to see the breathtaking chocolate hills. You will know that you are getting nearer when you start to see various mounds of land, but with trees growing on top of them. The chocolate hills are composed mainly of limestone with thin layer of soil, so only grass grows on their surface. When its dry season without rainfall, the grass turns into color brown, earning their name "chocolate" hills.

According to government's estimates, there are more than 1,700 chocolate hills on the middle of the island province. Here's one of the best views once you've reached the top of the highest hill, after climbing it by foot from the parking area.

The view is really mesmerizing. The cool breezy weather on top is refreshing. We stayed here for at least 15 minutes taking photos, some in jumpshot with the broomstick to mimic witches hovering above the hills.

It rained hard as we left Carmen, arriving in the hanging bridge at almost 6 pm. The bamboo floor on top of the metal cable bridge is slippery due to the rain. It crossed my mind that perhaps I'm stupid to pay Php 20 to try crossing the slippery bridge, and spend more money buying souvenirs on the other side. Well its the thrill we paid for, and we are rewarded with the lower purchase prices of the souvenirs on their shops. 

We were the last customers on the hanging bridge, as it was getting dark. We decided to have dinner at Bohol Bee Farm, then drop off our friends in Alona Beach, both in Panglao island. On our way back to Tagbilaran, we made a quick look at an animal center with snakes and other animals. We also had a brief glimpse of the Loboc river cruise at night, when we passed Loboc town. Paul surprised us with a mini firefly show a.k.a "ghost hunting" on a roadside near a small bridge.

Arriving at Bohol Bee Farm (BBF) at past 8 pm, I was quite surprised that it was jampacked with guests. We availed their seafood set menu of the day composed of green salad, wheat bread with various dips, shrimp soup, grilled seafood platter, brown rice, and drinks. 

We finished our meal with ice creams of various flavors (spicy ginger, avocado, malunggay), for a total bill of less than Php 1,200. The ice cream cone above is made of cassava. Who would have thought that organic food can taste this good? Wife can't get forget the bread with dips, so she bought a loaf of wheat bread and pesto dip to bring home. The spicy ginger ice cream below is worthy of its name, with a richer and hotter taste than the chilli ice cream I tried in Albay.

Thanks to our driver-photograher-tour guide Paul Incon for his friendly, flexible, and exceptional service at reasonable rate. You can reach him through his contact details below.

Whew! Such a long article. Next post is Hinagdanan cave and some other sights in Bohol.

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