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Bohol, in the Eyes of a First-Time Beholder Essay

Perched on a very young palm tree, the tarsier fidgeted as I aimed my camera on its direction. It was only a few centimeters away, so easy to touch and yet I reminded myself to avoid the temptation. I read in an article how traumatizing it can be for these velvety creatures to be held, that they would hurt themselves to death after being “violated” by curious tourists who are never content with taking pictures. So imagine my surprise when it landed very near me to catch the cricket hiding behind the leaves. Without even thinking, I brushed my fingers on its brown fur in what seemed to be a second or two; it didn’t flinch, but the click of the camera (there was no flash since it was daytime) alerted it, and it darted back to its highest hiding place in the palm tree.

Like that unlikely encounter with the tarsier, my trip to Bohol was something worthy to remember. Thanks to the invitation of a friend, poet and journalist Michael Ortega Ligalig, my memory of Bohol was not limited to beaches, Chocolate Hills, and yes, tarsiers. But there is no denying that Bohol is teeming with natural and man-made assets. If you are artsy and into culture, Bohol can offer you a lot with its cultural and historical riches. If you are into nature and adventure, there are surprises that the island can offer.

Churches and Heritage Houses

For somebody like me who is fascinated with old things and history, Bohol is like a gold mine with its old churches and heritage houses. Almost all of the 47 towns have old, massive, stone churches that have survived natural ravages, wars and even climate change. I asked to be brought to some of the most fascinating ones, like the Baclayon and Loboc churches.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception or the Baclayon Church is one of the country’s oldest churches. First built in 1595, the Jesuit frailes built the Neoclassic structure piece by piece using adobe and coral that were joined together by adhesive made from egg whites (imagine all the chicken eggs used to build such a magnificent structure!). From the front door, one could see the marble tombstones that were embedded on the walls and pylons, the names of the dead intricately written in Spanish. The retablo or the church altar was also an imposing piece of art, though we were unable to see the church’s pipe organ. It also has a museum similar to that of San Agustin in Intramuros. The fee is not very expensive, but cameras are not allowed. Still, one can take pictures of the saints on the ground floor joining the museum and the church, where they kept a coterie of human-size religious images or statues.

St. Peter Parish Church or Loboc Church is the second oldest church in Bohol. Originally built in 1602, a stronger one was built in 1638. Located near the famous Loboc River cruise, it has survived a number of floods. Inside the church, murals depicting religious events can be found on the dome right on top of the main altar. A Spanish coat-of-arms can be found near the entrance of the convent which today houses the Museo de Loboc. This museum houses a few religious images and artifacts, like registry books from the 1800s and choir books. There is also a magnificent bell tower adjacent the church. One can also find a bridge that was never completed; it would have joined the two parts of the town separated by the river, but it would mean demolishing part of the church. It is also the home of the famous Loboc Children’s Choir.

There are also plenty of heritage houses all over Bohol, particularly in Baclayon and Dauis. Owned mostly by merchant families and old political clans, its interiors are characterized by wide and thick wooden floor planks and wide stairways with wooden balusters. The interiors often feature wooden sala and table sets, cabinets and dressers and rocking chairs, while the walls often hold portraits of its departed residents. Some of the houses include the ancestral houses of the Clarin, Villamor, Malon, Luza, Sofia and Abueva, and some of them actually accommodate tourists for a bed-and-breakfast experience.

Beaches and Diving

Bohol is getting its fair share of tourism fame with its pristine white sand beaches, the most famous of which is Panglao Island and Dauis, although there are plenty of other beaches minus the flock of tourists and expensive. The most famous is Alona Beach, an 800-meter stretch of white powdery sand located south of Panglao Island. Many full-service beach and dive resorts reside there.

The sea around Pamilacan Island is frequented by whales and dolphins, as it is also a favored breeding and feeding site of tuna, snappers, groupers, mackerel and surgeonfish, making it a perfect spot for those who want to see the teeming natural fish population at work.

There are a number of diving spots that offer priceless views of the sea beneath. Balicasag is known for its rare, beautiful seashells and its beds of corals are considered one of the best dive spots in the country. On the other hand, Danajon Bank is the only double barrier reef in the Philippines and is one of only three such sites in the Asia-Pacific region, spread across almost 130 kilometers of seabed and consist of three large reefs.

Flora and Fauna

Because of its geographical features, Bohol’s endemic flora and fauna makes it a hot spot for nature lovers. The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella town is a 134-hectare land that has been set aside as a protected area for its most celebrated creature considered the world’s smallest primate. However, there are many mini-“tarsier zoos” that are maintained by resorts. These resorts or mini-zoos often put these tarsiers in small cages and crowded, considering the wild nature of these animals. While my friend assured me that these resorts have “adoption certificates” from the local environmental offices, I still find it disturbing to find these magnificent creatures caged like birds.

In the town of Albuquerque, there is a mini-zoo that claims to hold the biggest python in captivity ever known. Its name is Prony, approximately almost 30 feet and an estimated weight of about 300 kilograms. They also have a variety of birds species like parakeets, pigeons and other avians. However, a star attraction would be the entertainer which we humorously call “Kakambal ni Prony.” Clad in shiny gaudy costumes, she would dance near the snake’s spectators.

We were also fortunate to visit the Mahogany Man-Made Forest in the town of Bilar, a two-kilometer stretch of densely planted mahogany trees located in the border of Loboc and Bilar.

River Cruises

The ultimate part of our trip would be the scenic Loboc River Cruise. We took the nighttime cruise as my friend advised because of the lamps that would light up as our boat would pass by. The boat fee includes a buffet meal that included seafood, meat and desserts.

As the boat commenced its trip, a man with his electric guitar started to sing, his repertoire including American hits from the seventies. My companions and I found the lineup rather distracting as he started with Don McLean’s Vincent then to assorted songs from Bread and Air Supply. However, as the colored lamp posts began glowing from the sides, we were already transfixed and astonished. We briefly stopped on a floating raft that has a big group of singers belting their original songs. We all got off and started clapping. I interviewed some of the children and the adults who actually make a living from the song and dance number, and it ended with them selling their very own musical CD to the tourists.

The visit to Bohol was short and partly fulfilling. I am decided to pursue this island more and look forward to seeing more of its assets very, very soon.

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