It’s better in Bohol!

I was duly forewarned by a friend who had visited the Philippines that it would be possible to spend a month here and still not have seen and done everything you’d want to. On a two-week holiday, tough choices have to be made: Cebu or Bohol? Whale sharks or tarsiers? Snorkelling or ferrying?

snoozy baby beastie

snoozy baby beastie

Having read discouraging reports of the way the whale sharks are currently treated in Oslob in the south of Cebu, and being unable to plan in a trip to Palawan, where things are apparently less disruptive to the natural environment and the whale sharks themselves, we opted for Bohol, tarsiers, and ferries. Teeny, tiny tarsiers have been high on my list of things to see for a while anyway, so this seemed an excellent option.

The other major attractions on Bohol are the chocolate hills. These are 1700-ish perfectly hill-shaped hills which have formed on top of the hills that form the interior of the island. To imagine, ‘perfectly hill-shaped hills,’ think about the mound shaped lumps a five-year-old might draw to depict hills. Yes. That’s what I’m talking about, but for real. Alternatively, I’m reliably informed they featured as a level in one of the early Super Mario games, so if you’ve played it and recall them, that’s also what I’m talking about. It’s not currently known how these hills were formed, but colourful legend ascribes them to the calcified tears of a great giant who lost his lady love. Awww.

Chocolate hills

Chocolate hills

Bohol is not a huge island, but it has several interesting sights, and this time we rented a motorbike to make the most of a day touring under our own steam. The chocolate hills are 50 kilometres into the centre from the main city, Tagbilaran. The road passes the site of the ‘sangudo’ or blood compact, where Miguel Lopez de Legazpi swore on his own blood that the conquistadores were only there to have a little look around and do some pleasant trading, if only the locals would be good enough to escort them around a bit.

There are a number of very small towns of between ten and twenty thousand people, each with an impressive looking church. Bohol suffered an earthquake of a magnitude of 7.2 only a year ago, so many of them are in disrepair, or sport incongruously shiny-shiny new tiled roofs above crumbling stone facades.

Further in, the road also winds through a huge reforested area. It appeared to be mostly bamboo, and the temperature in the forest and for quite a distance around was dramatically cooler, verging on chilly; another impressive reminder of the power of nature.

From Carmen and the chocolate hills, we tried to find the turnoff in Loboc to head for Corella and the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary. Bohol is famous for its tarsiers and has a number of places where you can see them. However, as with the whale sharks, many have very negative reviews of their treatment of the animals, whereas this one seems to be the only place which was set up as a refuge and place for conservation of and research into the preservation of these super-cute, endangered tiny primates.

The sanctuary is pretty free and easy for its furry inhabitants. The fences around the area are definitely to keep us out, rather than them in, and tarsiers range freely into the sanctuary and out into the surrounding forest as they please. These teeny furballs-with-eyes, although smaller than my hand (and I’ve got quite small hands), are solitary little buggers and require up to a hectare of space to themselves, so the sanctuary generally only has four or five around at any given time. Each morning, the guides and volunteers walk around the area and spot where they have taken up residence for the day (they are nocturnal animals, and park themselves on a shady branch for their day’s slumber) so they can take visitors around quietly and with minimum fuss to avoid wearing out the star attractions. We were lucky and saw two adults and a snoozing baby.

This adult saw us coming

This adult saw us coming

We’d arrived at pretty much the end of the day, so after a look around the research centre we headed off once more, this time to try and make it to the island of Panglao, just off the south-western tip of Bohol and joined to Tagbilaran by two short road bridges.

Panglao has become known for its dreamy, clear turquoise waters and sandy beaches, but this has lead to rapid and not particularly well planned development, thus overcrowding the beautiful beaches with concrete villas and bars. It’s still very pretty and relaxed, with a small strip of white beach remaining (we headed for the famous Alona beach, so perhaps we missed nicer ‘hidden gems’) and numerous boats bobbing gently on the rippling water of the bay. We stayed for some quick refreshment and a bit of gold-and-pink, palm-fringed sunset, and then headed back to town while there was still some light, roads on the island being mostly unlit, and our headlights being dim.

Dim, however, is not the word to describe my experiences so far in the Philippines, which have been shiny and bright with various adventures. From jeepneys to ferries, and teeming city to sleepy seaside. Today was another travelling day with a ferry from Bohol to the Islas Negras and the remarkably nice university town, Dumaguete, en route to the shangri-la island, Boracay.

Dreamy boats at Alona beach

Dreamy boats at Alona beach

And for the travellers…

We found useful travel information on Wikitravel and opted for the Starcraft ferry from Cebu (pier 1) to Tubigon in the north of Bohol. This cost just over 200 PHP and took an hour. We then jumped in a colectivo bus (GTExpress) for 90 PHP to Tagbilaran which took another hour. This was a saving of almost half of the cost of the ferry direct from Cebu to Tagbilaran, and was also about 30 – 60 minutes faster.

In Tagbilaran we were advised to go to the seaport for a good choice of motorbikes and found a range, from scooters for 300 PHP to the ever-present Honda Wave 125 for around 400 PHP for 24 hours (about $10), or if you want more power a Honda 200 will set you back 600 PHP for 24 hours. We took the 125 and it got the two of us around with no trouble.

You can also negotiate with a taxi driver to take you to the places you want to see for the day. Someone offered to take us around for 1600 PHP (around $40). 

and for one final treat…

The hilarious Ze Frank’s ‘True Facts’ – the tarsier

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Holly Beddome
    Oct 20, 2014 @ 02:00:04

    What a wonderful adventure! The Phillipines is on my list of potential vacation spots- I think Japan would still be a bigger priority, though. I LOVE those hills! Do they actually have cocoa trees growing on them?



    • Pieces of 8
      Oct 21, 2014 @ 16:48:15

      We visited Japan during Chuseok week, a post I’ve yet to get around to! Good choice – I want to go back and spend more time there, too.
      As for cacao, I don’t think it grows there. There certainly isn’t any obvious industry around it. I haven’t been able to find a reason for the name, but that’s a very good guess!



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