Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgen Mary (Baclayon, Bohol)

Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

From the Bohol Bee Farm, it was back to our airconditioned coach for the short 15-min. (11-km.) drive, via the Dauis-Panglao Road and Tagbilaran East Road, to the town proper of Baclayon.  Here, we made a stopover at the town’s Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgen Mary, one of the oldest churches in the country, the best preserved Jesuit-built church in the region and one of the best examples of Philippine Baroque combined with Western and Eastern influences.

The collapsed bell tower surrounded by scaffolds

The collapsed bell tower surrounded by scaffolds

Stacks of retrieved coral stone

Stacks of retrieved coral stone

Just like a number of Bohol’s Spanish-era churches, it too was damaged during the devastating October 15, 2013 earthquake which caused the collapse of its simple Early Renaissance portico facade and its formerly separated 21 m. high, quadrangular coralstone bell tower (connected to the church by the portico in 1875). Fortunately, its nave remains largely intact.  An international team of heritage restoration experts have assessed damage to this as well as other Bohol churches and it could take around two to three years for the damaged churches to be restored.

The church interior, looking towards where the facade used to be

The church interior, looking towards where the facade used to be

When we arrived, braces and scaffolds to shore and support the unstable structure (to prevent any further damage from future earthquakes) were being installed and temporary storage facilities were constructed.  Loose coral stone blocks retrieved from the clearing of earthquake debris have been amassed and stacked at the spacious church patio for future documentation, labeling and use in future restoration work.

The main altar with its painted ceiling

The main altar with its painted ceiling

Luckily for us, the church interior and its small adjacent Baclayon Museum can still be visited. , The ceiling and intricately-carved, gilded altar and icons plus two side retablos (altar backdrop), all dating back to the Jesuit era, were all spared from destruction.  The floor’s glazed azulejo tiles, imported from Mexico and Spain and installed in 1875 after the completion of the portico, were also spared.

Left side altar

Left side altar

Right side altar

Right side altar

The museum, located at the second floor of the former convent (now the Immaculata High School), displays centuries-old relics, religious artifacts and antiquities dating back to the 16th century. The church inventory books have helped in dating some pieces. However, we weren’t allowed to take photographs inside.

The Baclayon Museum

The Baclayon Museum

Its impressive amount of preserved liturgical material includes an ivory statue of the crucified Christ looking towards heaven; relics of St. Ignatius of Loyola; a statue of the Blessed Virgin  said to be presented by Queen Catherine of Aragon; old gold embroidered ecclesiastical vestments; books with carabao skin covers; and librettos of church music written in Latin on sheep skins.

Stairs leading up to Baclayon Museum

Stairs leading up to Baclayon Museum

There are also cuadro paintings executed by famed 19th century Filipino painter Liberato Gatchalian in 1859. Among the Baclayon cantorals (large handwritten music books) on display is the Misa Baclayana, a musical setting for the Mass which has been revived and is part of the repertoire of the Loboc Children’s choir.

Bohol Bee Farm (Dauis, Bohol)

Bohol Bee Farm

Bohol Bee Farm

After breakfast, a dip at the lagoon pool and an ocular inspection, with Rooms Division manager Mr. Leo P. Go,  of the resort’s Honeymoon Villas, it was now time to check out of  Panglao Bluewater Resort.  After thanking our gracious host, Mr. Pete Dacuycuy (who left for Manila ahead of us), we again boarded our airconditioned coach which was to bring us to the next town of Dauis.  Here, we were to have lunch at the homey and relaxing Bohol Bee Farm.

Potted herbs and vegetables

Potted herbs and vegetables

This self-sustaining, nature-themed and eco-friendly resort  is filled with rustic wooden furniture and a unique lush, green environment.  Alugbati vines grow on the trellises while the frontage is filled with small plots of various organic herbs (oregano, dill, fennel, basil, spearmint, pandan, magic rose, thyme, chives, lemon grass, peppermint, parsley, aloe vera, stevia, coriander, rosemary and tarragon) and vegetables (romaine lettuce, celery, eggplant, mustard, etc.), all used as ornamental plants and lining the walkways.

The cliff with the sun deck and swimming area below it

The cliff with the sun deck and swimming area below it

This agricultural haven, situated on top of a cliff that drops dramatically into the sea (the swimming area below it is accessible by a flight of wooden stairs), was once dedicated to bee cultivation but the bees perished and the farm was moved to Inabanga.

The 2wo-tiered swimming pool

The 2-tiered indoor swimming pool

The farm promotes healthy eating and we were here to sample a delicious and unique buffet lunch, which uses organically-grown vegetables, at its restaurant overlooking the sea.  On our way to the restaurant, we passed the resort’s lounge area and two-tiered, indoor swimming pool.

The restaurant

The restaurant

Too bad, resort owner and chef Victoria “Vicky” Wallace-Sandidge, a Bohol-born and New York-based nurse-turned-farmer, wasn’t around to entertain us.  Married to African- American Thomas Edward Wallace, she had two children (Mellanie and Abdul) with him but was widowed in 1988.  In 1991, she bought a 4.8-hectare property and established the Bee Farm two years later. Here, she promotes organic farming which doesn’t use expensive conventional fertilizers and harmful pesticides for the farm’s crops. Vicky sits as an active member of the Bohol Initiatives for Sustainable Agriculture and Development (BIFAD).

Organic garden salad

Organic garden salad. Notice the edible flowers? They say that any flower being sucked by bees is not poisonous and, therefore, is edible

Cabcab with pesto & green tomatoes

Cabcab with pesto & green tomatoes

We started our lunch buffet (reasonably priced at PhP600/pax), amidst the cool sea breeze and stunning ocean view, with glasses of fresh lemongrass juice; a very spicy, colorful and tasty organic garden salad (romaine lettuce, turnips, mustard greens and indigenous flowers topped with honey mustard dressing); an appetizer of light, crisp cabcab (mashed cassava pulp dried and deep fried into thin wafers or crackers) with a dip of pesto & green tomato; and a bowl of seafood soup.

Grilled fish

Grilled marlin

Honey-glazed chicken

Honey-glazed chicken

Spare ribs

Spare ribs

The main dishes consisted of grilled marlin, honey-glazed chicken and spare ribs plus seafood lasagna, organic red rice with camote, and squash bread with homemade spreads. Dessert was healthy and very delicious, homemade ube and malunggay (moringa) ice cream.

Seafood lasagna

Seafood lasagna

Squash bread with homemade spreads

Squash bread with homemade spreads

After lunch, we proceeded to the Buzz Shop, their gift and souvenir shop up front which sells all sorts of organic products.  On sale are various vegetable breads and muffins (squash muffins, carrot muffins, camote bread, honeyed muffins, etc.); fruit and vegetable chips (cassava, banana, etc.); spreads (honey, mango, pesto, choco, etc.); a variety of teas, both in leaf and powdered form (including the very  popular honeyed ginger tea); black berry wine; native vinegar; kape mais (coffee made from roasted corn and wild berries); and dried cabcab.

An array of food products

An array of food products

They also sell wild honey from the farm; bee propolis, pure honeybee pollen, honeyed tableya, honeyed garlic; honeyed mustard salad dressing and honeyed hot sauce.   You can also buy soap (milk, papaya, lemongrass, etc.); buri and raffia woven products; beewax lip balm; virgin coconut oil; and honey or pollen-based shampoos and lotions.

Souvenir shop

Souvenir shop

We have already sampled the homemade ube and malunggay ice cream but we still visited the small Buzzz ice cream shop to check out their other very exotic offerings (PhP40 for 1 scoop and PhP80 for 2 scoops) – chocolate, durian, avocado, pandan, tomato, mango, guyabano, spicy ginger and buko (young coconut). Their ice cream is the star of their very unique and interesting halo-halo.

Buzzz Ice Cream

Buzzz Ice Cream

After our pasalubong shopping and prior to leaving, Mr. Ariel B. Logrono, a staff member of the farm took us on a 30-min. guided tour. He first gave us a lecture on different organic farming methods.  The resort practices vermiculture, mostly using their waste products mixed with animal manure for vermicompost.   After 6 months, it is then used as fertilizer.

Listening to Ariel's lecture on organic farming

Listening to Ariel’s lecture on organic farming

They  also practice the concept of companion planting, a form of polyculture wherein different crops are planted in close proximity to each other.  The theory is that these plants assist each other in nutrient uptake, pest control, pollination, and other factors necessary for increasing crop productivity.

Companion planting.

Companion planting at work. Grasshoppers feeding on their favorite leaves but leaving the nearby herbs intact

We were also given a highly educational tour of the Crafts and Livelihood section of the resort, our guide demonstrating and giving inputs on the process involved in each activity. Here, the Bohol Bee Farm staff are encouraged to do livelihood activities such as raffia making, basket making and sewing,  enabling them to give a little back to the community.

Crafts and Livelihood Section

Crafts and Livelihood Section

Seasonal basket and raffia decors

Seasonal basket and raffia decors

At the center, we observed members of the cooperative operating looms and sewing machines as they turned raffia and buri palm leaves into fabric sheets, bags, place mats, purses, slippers, curtains, seasonal decors, table runners, tissue holders, hats and other merchandise.  The loom weavers made it look so easy, their shuttles zipping back and forth without hardly any effort. A 10-foot long sheet of raffia fabric usually takes 3 to 4 days to complete.

Observing loom weaving

Observing loom weaving

Bohol Bee Farm: Brgy. Dao, Dauis, Panglao Island, 6339 Bohol.  Tel: (038) 502 2288 and (038) 510-1821 to 22. Mobile number: (0917) 710-1062, (0939) 904-6796 and (0917) 304-1491.  E-mail: vickywallace@boholbeefarm.com.   Website: www.boholbeefarm.com.

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.

DSC05208

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.

DSC05176

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.

Arrival in Panglao (Bohol)

Panglao Bluewater Resort

Panglao Bluewater Resort

Come evening, after the end of our Bohol Countryside Tour, it was now time for us to check in at the 5.5-hectare, extremely quiet and refreshing Panglao Bluewater Resort.

Check out “Bohol Media Familiarization Tour

Mr. Pete Dacuycuy (in white shirt) with the media group

Mr. Pete Dacuycuy (in white shirt) with the media group

Our home for the three days and two nights we were to stay in Bohol, all 7 members of the media team, plus 3 Department of Tourism personnel and our tour operator and ground handler Ms. Edna M. Faustino, were to stay in some of the 54 elegantly appointed, spacious, very Zen and modern airconditioned guestrooms.

Check out “Resort Review: Panglao Bluewater Resort

The Premier De Luxe Room I stayed in (118)

The Premier De Luxe Room I stayed in (118)

On arrival, we were welcomed by Rooms Division manager Mr. Leo P. Go and resort consultant Mr. Pete Dacuycuy and offered welcome lemon grass drinks and cold towels while waiting for our Premier De Luxe rooms to be ready. The ladies all stayed at the ground-level Poolside Wing while the guys all stayed at first-floor Poolview rooms. Our breakfast, lunch and dinner was at its full-service Aplaya Restaurant

Check out “Restaurant Review: Aplaya Restaurant

Panglao Bluewater Resort: Bluewater Rd, Sitio Daurong, Brgy. Danao, Panglao, 6340 Bohol.  Tel: (038) 416-0702 and (038) 416-0695 to 96. Fax: (038) 416-0697.  Email: panglao@bluewater.com.ph. Website: www.bluewaterpanglao.com.ph.  Manila sales office: Rm. 704, Cityland Herrera Tower, Rufino cor. Valera Sts., Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City, Metro Manila.  Tel: (632) 817-5751 and (632) 887-1348.  Fax: (632) 893-5391.

Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (Carmen, Bohol)

Chocolate Hill Adventure Park (CHAP)

Chocolate Hill Adventure Park (CHAP)

After our delightful Loboc River Cruise, we all returned to our airconditioned coaster for the highlight of our Bohol Countryside Tour – the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAPS) which is owned and run by Camanayon Hill Development Corp.

The park entrance

The park entrance

Situated in Carmen, it is the latest eco-tourism and adrenaline pumping adventure park in Bohol. The sprawling 4-hectare park offers thrilling adventure activities like hiking trails, tree top adventures and the famous, exciting  and very unique bike zip line dubbed as “The Rush.”  The 37-km. drive, via the Loay Interior Rd., took about 40 mins. and we arrive at CHAPS by 4 PM.

The wooden bridge leading to the receiving area

The wooden bridge leading to the receiving area

From the park entrance, we first crossed a short wooden bridge, over a natural pond, to a main receiving hall that houses the reception desk in the middle,  a small open-air restaurant  (Cuisina ni Tesai) offering Boholano dishes plus some souvenir stalls on the left and an events place on the right.

Cusina ni Tesai and souvenir shops

Cusina ni Tesai and souvenir shops

The events place

The events place

Here, Josue took a head count on those who would avail of the adventure packages. However, Joy, Czarina, Julia, Lara and yours truly were here for “The Rush” – the bike zip which takes biking to another level.

Hiking up the wooden boardwalk

Hiking up the wooden boardwalk

From the pavilion, we all hiked along a wooden boardwalk that meanders over a brook. Along the hiking trail, we passed by a serpentarium that houses a few snakes (python, green Oriental whip snake, etc.) found around the area during the construction of the park plus some sugar gliders and hedgehogs.

The Serpentarium

The Serpentarium

We made a stopover at a cottage where a nurse checked our blood pressure (mine was 140/90). Lara had to back out for reasons I will not divulge.  We were also given a briefing on what to expect on the bike zip.

Ladies at the briefing cottage

Ladies at the briefing cottage

After climbing all 268 steps (including crossing a hanging bridge 4 at a time) along the hiking trail, we were already a little out of breath when we reached the viewing deck.

Crossing a hanging bridge

Crossing a hanging bridge

Since the massive magnitude 7.2 earthquake of October 15, 2013 destroyed parts of the old viewing deck (as well as a few of the 1,776 Chocolate Hills) in the town of Carmen, the one at CHAP’s became the de facto viewing deck (the hills are much farther away though) while the old one, which has a much grander view, is being rebuilt.

Czarina, the author, Joy, Kath and Euden at the viewing deck

Czarina, the author, Joy, Kath and Euden at the viewing deck

The Bike Zip is a 275-m. (550 m. round trip) long zip line, 150 ft. above the ground, using a mountain bike to cross from one hill to another. After all suiting up with helmet, harness and hairnet (?), we all climbed the stairs going up to the tower. The bicycle, minus the rubber tires, is securely joined to the zip line so there’s no problem balancing. All we had to do was pedal and feel the ride.

The bike zip tower

The bike zip tower

I was supposed to go first and I was already mounted on the bike and ready to go when I suddenly got chills and almost chickened out.  I have somehow conquered my fear of heights, having gone ziplining a number of times, but seeing how high I was from the ground, the scenario seeing the hills high up in the sky made me shudder.

Getting ready to hit the zip

Getting ready to hit the zip

I allowed Joy to have first crack at it and, as soon as she made it to the other side, I gathered the courage and followed suit.  The ride was scary at first as I had this feeling that, at any moment, my bike would fall off from the zip line. It took some time to for me to feel at ease with the ride but, once I got the feel for it, the ride slowly became enjoyable and exciting.

Traffic along the bike zipline

Traffic along the bike zipline

The ride truly gave me a different experience of seeing the famous Chocolate Hills.  They say that the windier and rainier it is, the more exciting the bike ride is. Due to the rush of emotions, now I know why they call it “The Rush.” It was truly an exciting, one-of-a-kind experience.  After Joy and I, Czarina and Julia followed our lead.  After our bike zip, we interviewed Mr. Jing E. Velaso, Managing Director of CHAP on the parks’s current facilities and future plans (including overnight accommodations).

Experiencing the rush

Experiencing the rush

The park has a 9-course rope challenge adventure course – “Islands in the Sky,” “Burma Loops,” “Burma Planks,” “Hanging Bridge” (2 stages), “Earthquake,” “Vine Walk,” “Jacob’s Walk,” “Tyrolean” and  the “Zipline.” You  get to “Zipline” upon completing half of the course and then the “Ttyrolean” traverse for the rest of the course. Upon completion of all courses, you rappel your way down.  These trails test one’s strength, balance, endurance, strategy and patience.

Media team with CHAP Managing Director Mr. Jing E. Velasco (center)

Media team with CHAP Managing Director Mr. Jing E. Velasco (center)

Rates: The Rush (Bike Zip): PhP400, The Snake Ladder (Tree Top RCA): PhP200, The Pentagon (Tree Top RCB): PhP350, Gymnaskids (Child Rope Course): PhP300, Eco-Hiking Trail: PhP200,Chicken & Fish Feeding: PhP50.

I survived

I survived

Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP): Sitio Camanayon, Brgy. Buenos Aires, Carmen, Bohol. Mobile number: (0917) 304-1341  and (0932) 667-7098.  Email: chocolatehills_adventurepark@yahoo.com.  Entrance Fee: PhP60. Open daily, 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM.

How to Get There: CHAPS can be reached in an hour and a half by riding a bus or van from Dao Terminal in Tagbilaran City.

Loboc River Cruise (Bohol)

Floating restaurant of Village Floating Resto & Cruises

Floating restaurant of Village Floating Resto & Cruises

Upon arrival at Loboc, we all crossed over to the other bank of the Loboc River, via the Alfonso L. Uy Promenade, to get to the Loboc Tourism Complex where the floating restaurants are docked.  It has been 11 years since the last time I had my first Loboc River Cruise with my family and I was curious as to what’s new with the cruise.

The Loboc Tourism Complex - a tourist attraction by itself

The Loboc Tourism Complex – a tourist attraction by itself

This time, I now notice so many improvements in the area. Well for one the floating restaurant terminal is now concreted, there are now lamp posts along the river banks (for night cruises), helpful directional signage and an orderly parking lot, the restrooms are clean and the complex was wi-fi enabled.  This made the complex an exceptional tourist attraction by itself.

Floating restaurant terminal

Floating restaurant terminal

When we got to the boat terminal, we were all whisked to the waiting double-hulled floating restaurant of Village Floating Resto & Cruises.  The setup this time was different from our past typical boat tour.   Instead of different tables for different groups of guests, a long, flower-bedecked table was instead set up with green table cloth and fresh buco in the shell for each one of us.

Being serenaded with bossa nova songs

Being serenaded with bossa nova songs

Our lunch was also to be something different, not the typical buffet.  When our boat got underway, we were first entertained by a local band with a versatile and talented female lead vocalist singing bossa nova songs for our listening pleasure.  This got us in the mood for lunch, however late it was.

Our media group

Our media group

The food soon started coming in, starting with the appetizers – fish kinilaw, puso salad and summer rolls.  This was followed by law-oi soup.  The main course that followed next was out of the ordinary – a humongous boodle feast, to be eaten kamayan-style

Appetizers – fish kinilaw, puso salad and summer rolls

Appetizers – fish kinilaw, puso salad and summer rolls

Fruit skewers, puto cuchinta, ube pannacotta, banancue

Fruit skewers, puto cuchinta, ube pannacotta, bananacue

It consisted of pork humba, chicken inasal, sisig-stuffed squid, grilled vegetables, pinais na isda and corn on the cob plus steamed rice, all laid out on banana leaves.  Our delightful lunch was capped by a series of desserts consisting of ube pannacotta, bananacue, puto cuchinta and fruit skewers.

Our boodle feast

Our boodle feast

In about an hour, our boat reached the endpoint of our 2-km. cruise – Busay (or Tontonan) Waterfalls.  These series of low waterfalls, used to generate electricity for the town, drops 15 m. in 2 stages.  We were already done with lunch when docked near a floating wooden platform with rope railing.  Alighting here, we had the luck of seeing a rare rainbow beneath a nearby small waterfall.

Busay Falls

Busay Falls

The author at the floating viewing platform

The author at the floating viewing platform

The rainbow uderneath a small waterfall

The rainbow uderneath a small waterfall

After a few minutes at the viewing deck, we again boarded our boat and, when all were accounted for, turned around for our return trip upriver.  Along the river, the boat stopped at a small bamboo and nipa jetty decorated with banderitas and colorful guitars hung on the rafters. Here, some locals, dressed in apple-green filipiniana outfits, provided us a culture show, dancing the kuradang and the tinikling.

A kuradang dance performed for us at a riverbank jetty

A kuradang dance performed for us at a riverbank jetty

Tinikling dancers in action

Tinikling dancers in action

Continuing on our return cruise, our band, not to be outdone, also regaled us with a modern dance number. Soon enough, we back at the boat terminal by 3:30 PM, totally refreshed by this showcase of Boholono hospitality, cuisine and culture and quite ready for our next adventure.

The band and staff of Village Floating Resto & Cruises

The band and staff of Village Floating Resto & Cruises

Village Floating Resto & Cruises: Brgy. Valladolid, Loboc, Bohol. Tel: (038) 537-9223  and (038) 501-8078. Mobile number: (0928) 507-7627. E-mail: villagefloatingresto@yahoo.com.