Abatan River Firefly Watching Tour (Cortes, Bohol)

After picking out the ingredients for our dinner at Manga Public Market and delivering it to Lic Lic Fastfood, we returned to our airconditioned coach for the short 15-min./10-km. drive to the Abatan River Visitor Center in Cortes for the Abatan River Firefly Watching Tour. The winding,  beautiful and 20 km. long Abatan River, which opens at the Cortes nipa swamp, the most extensive nipa swamp in Bohol, snakes through the towns of Antequera, Maribojoc, Cortes up to Balilihan.

Abatan River Visitor Center

Abatan River Visitor Center

When we entered the lobby area, a girl wearing what seemed like a tribal costume and holding a clay pot with white incense smoke rising from it, danced around us.  This was part of a native ritual called palina which makes sure that we were protected from bad spirits. This theatrical ritual rite of passage to the Abatan River was said to have been officiated by the legendary warrior Princess Wadji, the guardian of the Abatan River.  Before the 7:30 PM start of the tour, we were offered fresh buko juice as welcome drinks.

The palina ritual

The palina ritual

We were then ushered to our 10-pax, motorized banding, the boat we will use for the firefly tour.  During the relaxing cruise along the river (with our life vests on), our local guide lectured us on the pagatpat (mangroves) in the area, the home of the fireflies, and the importance of protecting them. If a pagatpat was cut or killed, the fireflies would transfer to another area and, most likely, never come back.  This is exactly what happened when the earthquake struck Bohol on October 15, 2013.  The tectonic uplift that resulted caused some of the mangroves to die. Luckily, a number still remain along the riverbank.

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Around 10 mins. into our tour, we all spotted our first group of fireflies lighting up a pagatpat tree, like Christmas trees.  These fireflies, winged beetles commonly called  lightning bugs (Photuris lucicrescens), moved like blinking and synchronized waves in the pitch black darkness of the night, a memorable encounter that was magical and surreal. However, we were prohibited from going near the trees so as not to disturb the fireflies in their natural habitat.

Our 10-pax banding

Our 10-pax banding

We were allowed to take pictures but, as flashes were discouraged, we failed to capture, on camera, nature’s light show that we witnessed.  For those who loved taking pictures like me, this was the frustrating part of this tour. Anyway, even if used our camera flash, we still won’t see them in the picture as our camera’s flash is stronger than the light from the fireflies. Anyway, photos here can’t compare with the beauty of what we saw.  Only Julia, with her sophisticated camera equipment, was able to capture them, adjusting her camera to adapt to the amount of light in the pitch black environment.

Fireflies lighting up the mangroves like Christmas trees (photo - Julia Wimmerlin)

Fireflies lighting up the mangroves like Christmas trees (photo – Julia Wimmerlin)

Continuing down the twists and bends of the river, our boatman constantly pointed his flashlight towards the mangroves, egging the tiny lightning bugs to respond in kind.  Half-way into our boat tour, the small cluster of blinking lights we first saw turned into large groups of fireflies swarming in and around the mangroves.   Coupled with the gentle river breeze, we hardly felt the time pass us by during our hour-long but very relaxing tour as we were amazed and “enlightened” by watching these countless clusters of constantly moving fireflies. It was a breathtaking and perfect end to an already eventful day. Rates (tour, entrance fee, life jacket and boat rental): 1-10 guests (PhP500/pax) and 11-20 guests (PhP400/pax).

Alighting after our firefly tour

Alighting after our firefly tour

The center also offers fireflies kayaking along the Abatan River.  Rates: double kayak (PhP300 plus PhP50 per hour for every excess hour), single kayak (PhP200 plus PhP50 per hour for every excess hour), tour guide (PhP200 plus PhP50 per hour for every excess hour).

River kayaks available for rent

River kayaks available for rent

Abatan River Visitor Center: National Highway, Brgy. Salvador, Cortes, Bohol.  Tel: (038) 510-8255.  Mobile numbers: (0920) 906-7446, (0908) 873-8304  and (0915) 769-9515. Email: manager@riverlife.ph.  Website: www.riverlife.ph. Entrance Fee: PhP50. 

How to Get There: Located 10 kms. (a 10-15-min. drive) from Tagbilaran City seaport or airport and 45 kms. (a 30-40-min. drive) from Tubigon seaport, public utility vehicles (buses, jeepneys and vans) that regularly ply the Tagbilaran City-Tubigon route pass by Abatan River Visitor Center. You can also hire a taxi or van to get there.

Manga Public Market and Lic Lic Fastfood & Sutukil (Tagbilaran City, Bohol)

Manga Public Market

Manga Public Market

After viewing the sunset (and the tectonic uplift along its coast) at the Punta Cruz Watchtower in Maribojoc, we all head over to Tagbilaran City where we were to experience dampa-style dining by first buying fresh seafood at the Manga Public Market (below the old city hall along the road to Cortes) and then have it cooked any way we want it (called paluto or “have it cooked”), for a minimal fee, at a nearby eatery for our dinner. Just after 4 PM, fishermen who have returned, deposit their daily seafood catch at the market.

Parrotfish

Parrotfish

Upon arrival, we wandered the aisles of the market, checking out what’s on offer. We found tables piled high with fresh seafood delicacies such as lapu-lapu (grouper), baby sea eels, kitang/samaral (rabbit fish), sea cucumbers, bottles of fresh sea urchin roe, five kinds of seashells,  squid, crabs, octopus, etc.. Josue picked out lapu-lapu, squid, some kinason shellfish and fish.  While he was doing so, we bought some crispy, ready-to-eat chicharon (PhP50 per 100 grams) as pasalubong for our loved ones back home.

Octopus

Octopus

After Josue paid for the seafood, we all headed, across the street, to the Lic Lic Fastfood & Sutukil (sugba, tuwa, kilaw) which is about 20 m. down the road, towards Tagbilaran City.  In the kitchen, at the back of the restaurant, Josue clearly and precisely explained to the cook how we liked your meal prepared.

Crispy chicharon

Crispy chicharon

The fish was charcoal grilled, the lapu-lapu was prepared in sweet and sour sauce, the shellfish in some soup with loads of ginger while the squid was stewed in its own ink (which intensifies its seafood flavor).  We also requested for some pinakbet and steamed rice.

Our paluto

Our paluto

As this is a very basic restaurant, we didn’t expect silverware, crystal wine glasses, exceptional service or amazing ambiance. This place is all about the deliciously prepared food we partook of after our Abatan River Firefly Tour.  We weren’t disappointed and we returned to our resort with our tummies full. Truly, a must-do, one-of-a-kind dining experience in Bohol.

Feasting on seafood at Lic Lic Fastfood

Feasting on seafood at Lic Lic Fastfood

Manga Public Market: Carlos P. Garcia Ave. North, Manga District, Tagbilaran City, 6300 Bohol

Lic Lic Fastfood & Sutukil: Carlos P. Garcia Ave. Northa District, Tagbilaran City, 6300 Bohol.  Mobile numbers: (0929) 394-6803 and (0910) 301-2139.

Punta Cruz Watchtower (Maribojoc, Bohol)

 

Earthquake-damaged Punta Cruz Watchtower

Earthquake-damaged Punta Cruz Watchtower

From Hinagdanan Cave, we returned to our airconditioned coaster for the 22 min./21.7-km. drive, via Carlos P. Garcia Ave and Tagbilaran North Road, to Maribojoc where we were to watch the sunset at the Spanish-era Punta Cruz Watchtower, located at the most westerly point of Bohol.

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Built in 1796 as a defense against pirates, the Castillo de San Vicente, as it was called then, has ramparts shaped in a perfect isosceles triangle over which rises a short hexagonal tower.  From its windows at the top, coast watchers can see as far as Cebu, Siquijor, and Mindanao.

Plaque installed by National Historical Intitute

Plaque installed by National Historical Intitute

Maribojoc was severely hit by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake on October 15, 2013.  Many houses were destroyed or damaged and its historical Spanish Church of the Holy Cross was completely destroyed.  The watchtower also sustained significant damage, especially on its upper portion. Inscriptions on top of the main entrance were destroyed.

The viewing deck and cross

The viewing deck and cross

Sunset at Punta Cruz

Sunset at Punta Cruz

Before the earthquake, the watchtower and the sunset was the only thing that appealed to visitors.  Today, Punta Cruz watchtower is no longer directly along the sea. From the view deck in front of its time-weathered wooden cross, we saw that the old coastline has receded some 50 to 100 m., a result of 400 hectares of sea-bed being lifted more than a meter due to tectonic uplift.

New coastline at the left

New coastline at the left

New coastline at the right

New coastline at the right

Bohol actually added more land to its area when the water permanently receded as wider coastlines were exposed. The high tide mark had changed such that the tidal flat (hunasan) dried out and the shoreline widened.  No longer submerged by seawater, exposed brain corals and branching coral recruits within the Punta Cruz Marine Sanctuary started bleaching.

Our media group

Our media group

How to Get There: From the Tagbilaran Integrated Bus Terminal in Dao, take a bus going to Tubigon.  These pass along Punta Cruz.  Upon dropping off at Punta Cruz, walk down, for about 500 m., to the watch tower.

Hinagdanan Cave (Dauis, Bohol)

Hinagdanan Cave

Hinagdanan Cave

After our late lunch and short rest at our resort, we were back on the road again on our airconditioned coach, making a short 13-km./15-min. drive to the next town of Dauis where we made a stopover at Hinagdanan Cave.  Upon arrival at the parking lot, we first noticed a number of hawker stalls selling T-shirts, trinkets and other souvenirs, at the end of which is the ticket booth where visitors pay a small entrance fee to enter and explore the cave.

The entrance booth

The entrance booth

Accompanied by a local guide, we entered this cave via an unbelievably small opening with steep concrete stairs (with railings installed), through which only one person at a time can descend or ascend.  The cave was quite dark, slippery and wet, not really recommended for elderly or those with disabilities.  Its single, 100 m. long cavernous chamber is studded with stalactites,  stalagmites and other rock formations typically found in limestone caves.

The concrete stairs leading down to the cave

The concrete stairs leading down to the cave

According to our guide, Hinagdanan Cave was accidentally discovered when the owner of the area discovered the hole (now a skylight) while clearing the decaying branches on his land. The owner then threw a stone into the hole. Hearing a splash, he realized that a pool existed underground. He then built a ladder to get into the cave. Later, they named the cave Hinagdanan, meaning “laddered.”

Stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling

Stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling

Our guide was quite funny and witty with his scripted jokes (his delivery though made it funny). He was also proficient and trained enough to use a DSLR camera, knowing all the spots for nice pictures, the correct camera settings when taking pictures inside that dark cave, all the angles and the f/stops to make sure you get them.  We accepted his offer to take our pictures, using Joy’s camera. He took some really good shots inside.

Grotesque rock formations

Grotesque rock formations

If you’ve seen larger caves like I did, then you’ll probably not be impressed with this fairly small cave (maybe a maximum of 30 persons can be inside at the same time) as it wasn’t really grand or magnificent in terms of size.  However, it is exciting and interesting enough for those who are not really into caving but would still want to experience going inside a cave.

The beautiful cave pool

The beautiful cave pool

Inside is an picturesque, underground spring-fed swimming pool, with a depth of 15 ft. in the middle, illuminated by two natural skylights. Since it has an ocean exit, when it’s high tide, water seeps into the pool and raises its water level.  The owner also placed lights inside the cave so visitors don’t end up fumbling around. The cave and the water are cool and there was no strange smell inside the cave as there are no bats, just swallows.

Our media group

Our media group

I have visited this cave some 11 years ago and the cave still looked the same, minus the guides and souvenir shops that have mushroomed in the vicinity. Just like a number of our Philippine geologic treasures, some of its rock formations have, over the years, been vandalized or marked up with graffiti.

The souvenir stalls above ground

The souvenir stalls above ground

Hinagdanan Caves: Brgy. Bingag, Dauis, Bohol. Admission: PhP30.

How to Get There: Hinagdanan Cave is located 10 kms. from Tagbilaran City and 2.5 kms. from Dauis town proper, near Pangalo Island Nature Resort.

Pamilacan Island (Baclayon, Bohol)

Pamilacan Island

Pamilacan Island

It was now Day 2 of our 3-day media familiarization tour of Bohol.  After a very early breakfast at Panglao Bluewater Resort, we were slated to do some dolphin watching off Pamilacan Island, followed by lunch at Balicasag Island.  The tide was still low and our large motorized outrigger boat was anchored some distance off.  To get on board her, we took turns riding a tandem kayak until all were on board.  The sun was already up in the sky when we got underway.

On our way

On our way

The island’s name was derived from the word meaning “nesting place of manta rays.”  However, it has also been interpreted to to have been derived from the word pamilac, a harpoon (large hooked implement) used to capture manta rays, dolphins, whale sharks and Bryde’s whales. Under the jurisdiction of the municipality of Baclayon, it is situated 14 kms. (8.7 mi) south of the Bohol mainland.

Our spotter scanning the horizon for dolphins or whales

Our spotter scanning the horizon for dolphins or whales

The waters around the island are home to at least 11 species of dolphins and whales, including the playful Spinner Dolphins, Bryde’s whales and the gigantic Sperm Whale. Blue Whales are sometimes seen in the early months of the year. The whale watching season begins in March until the onset of the rainy season in June or July.

Soon to make landfall

Soon to make landfall

The 15 to 20 m. long boat we rode on was possibly a former canter, a boat formerly used for whale hunting.  These have been refitted with seats and roofing for a comfortable ride for 7 to 10 passengers who want to go whale or dolphin watching.  A skilled, elderly spotter, who is also an excellent guide, soon took his place at our boat’s bow, scanning the horizon for any whales or dolphins. Resident dolphins and small whales can be found all year round but sightings are dependent on weather and sea conditions.  Just like my first try in 2003, we were unlucky to find any of them.

The island's immaculately white sand beach

Footprints along the island’s immaculately white sand beach

We made landfall at the island’s beautiful white sand beach located on its northwest side.  Upon landing, we were welcomed by members of the island’s small and closely knit fishing community which has around 200 families living in 3 sitios – one facing Baclayon, another amid an island and a third on the southern coast.  Their main livelihoods now concentrate on dolphin and whale watching tours and subsistence fishing. In the past, it also included whale, dolphin and manta ray hunting. However, with the strict enforcement of marine life preservation laws in the country, this practice was stopped. Their houses, though, are still adorned with jaws and bones of these marine mammals.

The island's barangay

The island’s barangay

When we arrived, a table (with red tablecloth) and chairs were set up under a shady palm tree, beside some picnic sheds.  A merienda of sliced camote (sweet potatoes), either steamed, caramelized or fried, plus rice cakes and corn coffee were prepared for us. The latter looked and tasted like your good old caffeinated coffee but is said to be healthier.

A merienda of camote, rice cake and corn coffee

A merienda of camote, rice cake and corn coffee

After this filling repast, I together with Czarina, Euden, Joy, Kathleen and Lara went on a snorkeling tour on 3 small boats, each with a local boatman who paddled for us.  Czarina joined me on one boat.  The island’s wide flat reef, now a marine sanctuary, offers good snorkelling and diving (it has some great dive sites such as Dakit-Dakit).

Dining al fresco along the beach

Dining al fresco along the beach

After some great snorkeling over coral gardens, we returned to shore early as Czarina wasn’t feeling good.  Back on dry land, I explored the nearby Spanish-era fort which, in the past, served as a watch station for pirates, intruders and other enemies. Triangular in shape and probably constructed in the 19th century, it was made with rubble while cut coral blocks lined its portal and windows. The three corners of the structure were supported by round buttresses.

The triangular, Spanish-era fort

The triangular, Spanish-era fort

Another view of the fort

Another view of the fort

Inside are embedded trusses and a triangular pillar in the middle, indication that the fort may have had a second floor, probably made of wood. A large hardwood cross, with an 18oos date carved on it, once stood near the fort but is now housed in a nearby modern chapel. The fort was said to have formed a network with the towns of Baclayon, Loay and Tagbilaran.

View of the fort from another angle

View of the fort from another angle

The ladies were already back from their snorkeling trip when I returned.  Soon enough, we were back on board our boat for the second half of our island hopping expedition – Balicasag Island.  The waters were already choppy when we left and our boat had to travel slowly as the waves kept pounding the boat.  Soon a number of us (including me), especially the already ill Czarina, were already feeling seasick and, since our destination was still a long way off and it was already way past noontime, it was decided to just return to our resort.  Anyway, I have been to Balicasag Island 11 years ago, going around it on foot and snorkeling its coral gardens.  However, I felt sorry for those who haven’t been there. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

The triangular pillar in the middle of the fort

The triangular pillar in the middle of the fort

How to Get There: Pamilacan Island is located about 20 kms. southeast of Tagbilaran City, 23 kms. east of Balicasag Island and 11 kms. (a 45-min. pumpboat ride) offshore from the town. Pumpboats can be hired at Baclayon port.