With the start of the PADI Instructor course looming we took the opportunity to explore Bohol before I would have to get down to some serious hours in the classroom. We’d seen various flyers for tours and plumped for one covering the basics of wildlife, food and scenery
Every country we’ve visited has its own flavour and Bohol in the Philippines is no different, I’m not at all sure what I expected but I love what we’ve found. The properties, ranging from big fenced in villas to single level bamboo huts, all appear neatly kept and there is not the noticeable roadside rubbish that mars so many of the Thai Islands. The main roads are all serviceable varying from perfectly laid to gravel and dirt the more off the beaten track you go, many we found are tarmacked to within a few metres of an adjoining road leaving a treacherous strip of gravel in between. There are plentiful dogs, goats, cats and cows and the occasional pig and horse in the gardens and fields alongside the roads. Along the way the countries we’ve visited have each had their own form of cheap local transport and the Bohol version are awesome willy wonka looking motorbike sidecar things they call tricycles. Most are brightly coloured with a line of scripture along the front and they look universally uncomfortable but we’ll have to take one before I can pass judgement ☺
After about sixty minutes driving in our comfy car through some quite lovely scenery we arrived at our first stop to admire the local wildlife in the form of the adorable tarsier. In case you do not know a tarsier is a tiny super soft mammal with huge non reflective eyes, really long fingers and toes and super long (scientific term) tails, although they look like one they are not monkeys. They also have incredibly acute hearing, a high pitched song and are really super lovely. Sadly I’m not sure that the ‘wild and free’ place we went to see them was as wild as free as they might want you to think. Sleepy Tarsiers were dotted around a few feet from the path under deliberated constructed palm shelters with clear signs pointing to each one. I imagine they are placed here each morning, when they would normally be sleeping and clutch onto the trees while tourists ooh and ahh and snap their photos before being returned to goodness knows where overnight, so not really ideal.
Next was a pit stop in the Man Made Forest, a two kilometre forest of mahogany trees that was planted in the 1960s in a reforestation drive by the then President to counteract decades of slash and burn farming. Giants of wood soar skyward twenty to thirty metres tall blocking the sun and leaving the air cool and slightly damp, thick twisting roots reach down to the wide road that winds through these magnificent trees. It’s eerily quiet and I read somewhere that while the forest is beautiful the mahogany trees planted are not native to Bohol and therefore do not appeal to the local wildlife creating a biodiversity dead zone which is truly unfortunate.
Leaving the chill calm of the forest we continued on our journey through the countryside as it ranged from fields of crops to dense forest and back again coconut and banana trees evident most of the way until our next destination in the middle of it all, twenty square miles of conical karsts called the Chocolate Hills. It’s the rainy season now so they are a landscape of gorgeous verdant green gently rolling hills stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction, houses nestled at the bottom surrounded by hand sewn and harvested rice paddies. In the dry season with their grass covering dried by endless hours of sun the hills are said to resemble mounds of chocolate, hence the name. I’d like to see them all dried out purely to see if they’d make me as hungry for chocolate as I think they would ☺
Our final stop was for a floating restaurant riverboat cruise down the beautiful green river. I am not sure we went to the best part having driven over a truly stunning stretch of river with floating restaurants (Including one with shaped like a turtle) lined up at the side but our trip was most definitely a memorable experience. We’d timed our arrival perfectly and four hundred and fifty pesos per person paid we were shepherded down to the waiting boat. Like many of the boats we’ve seen in the Philippines a concerted effort has been made to create as much space as possible on the smallest of hulls. In the dive boats it’s achieved with huge bamboo outriggers balancing the over extended cabin sat atop their hulls and here it was a large square open sided box secured to two narrow hulls and with another boat attached at one end to push this ungainly vessel along. Escorted to our assigned seating we took our plates and tucked into the huge buffet that ran along the middle of the boat, fried fish and chicken, pork satay, crabs, noodles, rice and an array of fruits and vegetables made a veritable feast and our first meal out since arriving. Among the fifty or so other diners we were the only westerners bar one elderly chap and his teenage companion; I don’t think I’ll ever not be grossed out by the usually shirtless octogenarian whities going along with their so very MUCH younger Filipino consorts. I know we’ll all be old one day but I plan on being so with someone equally wrinkly! ????Anyway as soon as we had taken our seats, our laden plates in front of us we pulled away from the dock and the entertainment started, and what entertainment it was. Ear splitting singing from our very own mobile lounge singer…it was pretty awesome and we amused ourselves by singing along to the American classics he belted out. The river we travelled along was a bit nothingy but the food was edible and with the music it was an awfully funny way to spend an hour. I’d definitely still like to try a trip along the ‘real’ green river if we get a chance.
There was the opportunity of a butterfly house and a snake farm but having seen both butterflies and snakes before and pleasantly chilled we headed back to our lovely temporary home. It’s a brand new super clean one bedroom apartment in a newly opened and not quite finished retirement property that is a mix of bungalows, apartments and studios to rent or buy. There’s a whacking great pool at its centre and a restaurant and shop onsite. It’s also our first time with anything close to a full kitchen since December and we are revelling in home cooked meals. The only thing that could make it any nicer would be if it were even remotely quiet. One thing the Philippines certainly has in common with the rest of Asia is an innate obliviousness to noise that on the one hand I find maddening and the other I am incredibly jealous of. Throughout our travels we’ve stayed all over, in towns and cities and in the most out of the way places and the noise level has been consistently high. In the middle of nowhere in a seemingly idyllic retreat chickens and dogs are a given, you can also pretty much guarantee that one of your neighbours has a set of sub woofers the envy of any local nightclub and will delight in using them on a nightly basis. As much as I adore Asia, ear plugs are a must Xx