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Bohol Bounces Back

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The massive earthquake that struck the Visayas in 2013 has left many of the region’s prized architectural structures — much of which are century-old Catholic churches — in ruin. But today in Bohol — one of the provinces hit by the quake — tourism seems to have picked up a healthy pace. This much I can say as we drove along the province’s scenic coastal and inland roads, and visited beaches and islands and rivers and hills that looked as divine as if there had been no threats of earthquakes at all.

And Bohol — the unassuming, quiet sister in a family of utterly beguiling Visayan islands — has enchanted us with more than the usual vistas of chocolate-colored hills. Those looking for a reason to come back should take note: the unassuming sister also has a penchant for adventure, and then some.

Pack your bags for Bohol, because believe it or not, the province is well up on its feet and is ready to dish in adventure after adventure, both for the adrenaline junkie and the novice traveler.

SUP IN LOBOC

So you’ve dined on one of those huge, motorized, floating bahay kubos cruising along the Loboc River. But you probably have not experienced this 13-kilometer stretch on a Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) — an increasingly popular sport you can now do along one of Bohol’s best known spots. Definitely one of the province’s most scenic, Loboc River’s placid waters offer the perfect place for paddling. You’ll pass by villages and most likely chance upon local kids whiling the time away bathing on the river, jumping into the waters from ropes tied on trees by the riverbank. The simplicity of it is striking, its promise of relaxed fun absolute: SUP does not only make for great exercise; it is also one of the most environment-friendly activities tourists can do anywhere. Swim on the river as you please, seek cover from the trees straddling the river when the sun gets too hot.

In Bohol, the sport was introduced by SUP Tours Philippines, owned by couple Frederic and Joan Soupart, both of whom are certified SUP Instructors. Frederic — a Belgian who speaks fluent Bisaya — has called Bohol home for 10 years now; and SUP Tours Philippines employs only local Boholanons as a way of giving back. A one-hour session starts at P800, with options for half and whole-day excursions, as well as all-inclusive tours around Bohol, Bohol and Dumaguete (12 days), and Bohol and Coron (12 days).

T BIKE ZIP AT CHOCOLATE HILLS ADVENTURE PARK

If pedalling from 150 feet up, with the Chocolate Hills not far away, is your idea of an afternoon not wasted, then head for the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP) in Carmen, just a few minutes’ drive from the Chocolate Hills viewdeck. Their flagship activity, the Bike Zip turns out to be more fun than daunting, especially with an expansive view of plains and hills for the entire 550-meter stretch.

CHAP, which sits on verdant sloping grounds, also has other activities that big groups or families will enjoy. The activities are looped to allow those daring enough to progress from one to the other: from crossing wooden planks suspended in mid-air (Island in the Sky) to getting past V-shaped rope bridges (Burma Loops); from pulling yourself up from a 22-meter single cable (Tyrolean) all the way to sliding down the park’s Mini Zipline. For that icing on the cake, the park also has a zorb ball — a two-layered plastic orb big enough to accommodate at least two people strapped to the sides of its inner layer, rolled down a 100-meter slope. Many of CHAP’s rope courses for adults also have child-friendly versions for kids aged 6 to 12, all with the supervision of trained specialists.

TREK TO CANDIJAY WATERFALLS AND RICE TERRACES

Chocolate-colored limestone hills in Bohol are commonplace, but rice terraces? In the town of Candijay, some 100 kilometers from the capital Tagbilaran City, terraced rice paddies rise out of small hills surrounding villages. The humble family-run Eleuterio’s Resort in Barangay Cadapdapan sits on one of the best vantage points for a panoramic view of these manmade wonders, as well as Bohol’s distant mountains. Not far from here, the Can-Umantad Falls — a 15-minute downhill trek from Eleuterio’s — is a towering sight that offers much needed respite from the rather long drive (and steep, albeit quick, trek) to get to it. While half a day is perfect to see both the rice terraces and the waterfalls, there is an option to stay the night at Eleuterio’s basic rooms, and see this sleepy corner of the province wake up the next day, when the terraces will surely be bathed in luscious golden light.

SOAK IN THE MYSTIQUE OF LAMANOK ISLAND

Some two hours from Tagbilaran, Lamanok Island could very well be a world away. The so-called mystical island of the town of Anda, Lamanok is home to century-old burial jars and coffins, stories of a banished witch, and Stone Age hematite hand prints on its cave walls. Spiritual healers or shamans visit the tiny island regularly for rituals, usually offering chicken — or manok — as sacrifice. There is also the tale of Ka Iska, a banished witch, that adds to the island’s rather eerie atmosphere. Banished to the island by locals according to old tales, Ka Iska is believed to still be haunting the island, along with other spirits. A threehour tour of the island can be arranged through the Municipal Tourism Office at Anda, with a uniform tour fee of P300 per person.

FROLICK ON THE BEACHES OF ANDA

Some 20 minutes from Lamanok Island, Anda’s town proper is home to an unbelievably beautiful public beach — one that rivals even the best-known beaches of Boracay or Palawan. The sand fine and white, and the waters crystal clear, Anda’s public beach is one of the loveliest stretches I have seen. Part of its charm is from its sheer simplicity: with a church on the opposite side, this beach is festooned not with resorts but with coconut trees and local families on picnics; groups playing sack race on one side and local teenage boys playing beach volleyball on the other. Anda’s rawness is its best feature; its distance from the city — a good two-hour drive — is a big come-on for those who want to truly escape the excesses of crowded beaches.

THE BOHOLANO WAY OF LIFE

These relatively new offerings in Bohol all underscore one fact: the province loves ecotourism, embraces it fully, and encourages its visitors to marvel at nature and have a truly enjoyable time without destroying the environment. Ecotourism has always been Bohol’s greatest strength and the greatest pride of its people. As Josephine Cabarrus of Bohol’s Provincial Tourism Office quips, “Ecotourism is our way of life.”

BOHOL: TIPS FOR YOUR TRIPS 

Bohol is always a good idea. This ecotourism hub offers everything from extreme adventure to dazzling beaches, with countless churches, caves and mountains in between. For the Bohol first timer, getting acquainted with everyone’s idea of Bohol is a great start; if anything, this will set the mood for exploring the rest of the province’s lesser known spots.

WHERE TO STAY:

Those who want to be by the sea, with its promise of more relaxed mornings and peaceful evenings, will gravitate towards Panglao Island, some 20 minutes from Tagbilaran airport. And among Panglao’s array of resorts, Bellevue Resort easily stands out. Whether for first-time or seasoned travelers to Bohol, Bellevue’s splendid views of the beach from most of its rooms, and its big, comfortable beds are very hard to beat. It’s also a top pick among families, and for good reason: Bellevue offers group activities such as banana boat rides, kayaking, and parasailing; an infinity pool with a jacuzzi as well as a separate kids’ pool; and a kids’ play area. Bellevue’s executive chef, Eugene San Juan, takes pride in the resort’s extensive menu and big servings, perfect for groups and families.

Bellevue Resort also takes pride in its environment-friendly practices, which have served as benchmark for other resorts in Panglao. As general manager Rommel Gonzales likes to put it — taking a route that’s more eco-friendly is a challenge that they all need to take on very seriously; to make environmental conservation a priority rather than a liability. Provincial tourism council chairman Lucas Nunag echoes this ethos: Panglao’s resorts are working together to encourage resort owners to adapt green practices in their operations. For its part, Bellevue has built its own desalination plant for its water production. It also uses aerators in its faucets and showers to reduce water consumption without sacrificing the comfort of its guests. The resort has also set up an electromechanical wastewater treatment plant, making it possible for them to recycle grey water and use this in the upkeep of its landscaped grounds and ponds. Vegetable scraps are also composted and used as fertilizer for the resort’s own greenhouse, from which the in-house restaurant sources its herbs and vegetables.

WHAT TO EAT:

The sweet, rich ube kinampay or ube halaya is the pride of Bohol, which produces this exquisite purple yam. Take the dining experience up a notch by trying out The Bellevue Resort’s Ube Opera Cake, a sinfully decadent layer of ube chiffon, white chocolate and ube ganache, ube chunks, and strawberry compote. The dish is part of the four-course ube special set menu that has won Bellevue the grand prize in the 2016 Ube Cookfest.

HOW TO GET AROUND:

Spots around Bohol are quite spread out, which makes hiring a car or van — with a knowledgeable local driver — the most convenient way to explore the province. The Bohol Island Operators and Drivers Multipurpose Cooperative is one of the province’s tour transport providers. Contact their chairman, Augusto Pascual, at 0917-306-3388.

PLACES TO SEE:

Philippine Tarsier Foundation

Visit the world’s smallest primate at their natural habitat at the Philippine Tarsier Foundation in Corella, Bohol — the best place to know more about the species, as well as help fund their care and research.

River cruise in loboc

For P450 each, you can embark on a two-hour cruise along the Loboc River while enjoying a buffet-style lunch of local staples. The highly popular cruise passes by villages, has a live band onboard, and stops for seeing the dance tinikling performed by locals.

Blood compact (sandugo) shrine

Albeit small and easy to miss because of its roadside location, the Blood Compact Shrine is nevertheless a monument to the first-ever treaty of friendship between a Spaniard, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, and a Filipino, then-chieftain of Bohol, Rajah Sikatuna. The Sandugo Festival is celebrated yearly, with reenactments and a series of performances marking the holiday.

Chocolate Hills

Though still recovering from the 2013 quake, the viewdeck at the town of Carmen provides a sweeping view of Bohol’s most iconic chocolate-colored limestone mounds. Time your visit towards the late afternoon to see the Chocolate Hills as the sun comes down.

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