Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Bohol Nine Yards

(Sorry, I ran out of clever titles. But I tried googling the phrase and it turns out nobody in cyberspace is as corny as I am. I should get plus points for originality.)

For Chinese New Year 2008, the troops headed for Bohol and Cebu for sights, sounds and sun.

Day 1: Arrival

We caught the midnight flight to Cebu, direct from Singapore via Cebu Pacific (kudos to one of the great developments in travel in recent history, budget airlines). The flight was relatively smooth, although I absolutely must point that the change in pressure (that causes your ears to pop, among other things) gave me a terrible headache. It's that excruciating feeling of your head about to explode. Anyway this happened just before landing.

We arrived at Mactan International very early in the morning. The officials at immigration provided for some wake-up by dishing out side comments:

Immigrations guy: (looking at my passport) Figueroa!
Guy loafing near immigrations counter: Figueroa ... mga alahero yan.
Me: ?

After clearing immigrations:

Guy: (looking at me pass by) Intsik pala mga Figueroa.
Me: !

So yeah, baggage and customs were pretty smooth. There was a currency exchange counter near the exit, which gave ridiculously unfair rates (as expected). Fortunately, I was able to withdraw some money at the BPI ATM outside, using my Citibank card. I learned afterwards that the rates were much, much better even if it's a different bank. We got cabs that went into the city of Cebu-Mandaue, looking for 24hr Jollibee outlets. Eventually, we settled on the downtown branch. The cab ride was a weird experience as our cab driver perfectly understood Tagalog, but kept replying in Cebuano. I assume it was because most of the entertainment media in the country are in Filipino, which is essentially Tagalog.

Pier 3-Supercat-Tagbilaran

We had about 15-20 minutes for Jollibee breakfast before we went to Pier 3 on the Supercat to Tagbilaran. It was 450 pesos, one-way. In hindsight, we should've gotten a return ticket instead, which costs just as much. The trip took about an hour and forty-five and the movie they played was Night at the Museum, which was mildly entertaining.

We were welcomed by a little drizzle on Tagbilaran port that lasted a few minutes. Gathering our things, we chartered a van that would take us to Panglao Island.

Panglao-Alona-Lunch-Dinner

A good half an hour ride took us from the Port of Tagbilaran through the charmless island capital city to the rolling hills and chalk-white beaches of Panglao Island, where we checked in at Flower Garden Resort.

The resort is a good five minute walk away from Alona beach through Alona Palm Resort. While admiring the spectacular beach views, we found lunch at Trudis Place. We also found out that there was a brownout at the time.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the beach and had dinner at the iconic Alona Tropical restaurant. Grilled food and lots of rice was served to cap the day. Mixed cocktails and junk food followed soon afterwards.

Day 2: Bohol Tour

The next morning, after an excellent breakfast of one-peso pandesal with ma-ling and scrambled egg, we began our cultural trip of Bohol.

Sandugo-Baclayon Church

We were surprised that the package provided a very informative tour guide for us whose name escapes me right now. The first stop was the Blood Compact or Sandugo Shrine (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandugo) in Tagbilaran. The next was Baclayon Church and Museum which really had nothing so special about them other than the fact that they're very-very old.

Tarsiers-Chocolate Hills


Right beside Loboc River, where the nipa trees and kaong reside, was the famous tarsier sanctuary. Inside were a couple of insomniac tarsiers (as they were nocturnal), a flying lemur who doesn't like to move-it-move-it, and a couple of monkeys.

The next point of interest, and a natural wonder in its own right, was the Chocolate Hills in Carmen. On the way, we were able to taste a local delicacy called Alupi, which is made out of coconut, sticky rice and a couple of other things. We were greeted once again with a light drizzle on the way up to the uber-hill where there's a lookout deck to the picturesque view of the hills.


Man-made Forest-Loboc River

Backtracking to the mouth of Loboc river, we had a chance to take excellent photos at the man-made mahogany forest.


By lunchtime, we were able to take the Loboc River Cruise on the boat-restaurant. Halfway into the journey, we stopped by at a local Ati community that caters to tourists, obviously. After a couple of interactions and photo opportunities, we headed back to the boat which deposited us back where we started. The final stop of the tour was the souvenir store where I bought a couple of sando shirts and sweets.

Alona

It was a good tour that's well worth the money we paid for it. We spent the rest of the afternoon at Alona beach, having foot scrubs and body massages. As it was Chinese New Year, some locals put on a fireworks show from shallow waters much to the delight of the dining visitors.

Day 3: Island Hopping

Dolphin Watching

We had to wake up even earlier on the third day to do some dolphin-watching some kilometers off Panglao Island. Here's where my sorry-ass camera didn't get any action. The main reason being I wouldn't be able to enjoy the natural theatrics while trying to capture them in the viewfinder. It was a good thing because for the first time ever, I've seen at least two dolphins put on a show by jumping high up out of the water and spinning like hell. I swear they could have been in one of those water park shows, but these were wild dolphins.

Pamilacan-Alona

After the "show", we went in the direction of Pamilacan Island for snorkeling, sunbathing, and lunch. Lunch consisted of fried native chicken (not so meaty but pretty tasty), sauteed vegetables, grilled fish and tinolang manok.

By mid-afternoon, we were back in Panglao indulging in halo-halo with ice cream. More grilled food for dinner.



Day 4: Cebu

We packed our overstuffed bags and headed for the Port of Tagbilaran. The Supercat ferry ride brought us back to Cebu amidst cackling and annoying student co-passengers. Cebu is of course, the Queen City of the South. I think it's a Manileño term judging from the presence of the word "South" (when it's really situated in Central Philippines).

Ayala-CNT-Gerry's

The cab ride through the city allowed me to get a glimpse of how much different Cebu is from Manila. How much different? Not much. It's a mess of deco style buildings, tangled up power lines, and makeshift stalls, not to mention the crowded streets. Though not entirely charmless, there's not much effort to either modernize deteriorating buildings or restore historical ones. This could be testament on how much development is being focused on Imperial Manila.

At least the private sector isn't doing so bad. Late lunch was at CNT Lechon in Food Choices in the Ayala Mall. Eeeex-cellent Lechon Cebu. Dinner was at Gerry's Grill. We bought groceries in Metro Gaisano to bring back to Singapore and fill our cupboards with Filipino ingredients.

Day 5: Cebu

The final day was marked by a proper walk tour of the city, the definitive cultural immersion.

Cebu Walk Tour-SM City Cebu

From GV Tower downtown, we walked to a national landmark, Magellan's Cross.

A little aside here. Isn't it weird that Portuguese explorer Fernão de Magalhães (or Fernando Magallanes) is best known in names other than his native language? How would he feel? I mean, nobody calls me Kristiyano Antoniyo back home (nor should they ever should).

Anyway, the cross at some point in time symbolized the beginning of the colonial era of the Philippines. Fernão was of course killed by Lapu-lapu's arnis-wielding posse soon after, as recounted by Antonio Pigafetta. They put up a shrine where the event happened. Lapu-lapu, of course, was a one-hit wonder and as far as I can tell, was never heard from again. But if they had wiped out the entire Spanish expedition with none to complete the journey, who knew how different things might have been.

Right beside Magellan's Cross is the Basílica Menor del Santo Niño. Then, a couple of blocks away is the old Cathedral (I don't know what it's called).

The last part of the tour is Fort San Pedro, a small garrison with nice views of the city.

After the field trip, we went back to the hotel, packed our things, and checked out at around noon. Leaving our luggage at the counter, we went for a final gimik at SM City Cebu where we ate at Chikaan sa Cebu.

Late in the afternoon we got cabs to head back to Mactan International to complete our journey.

There were five of us who flew that night and I think we just about exceeded the allotted 100kgs (20kg x 5 passengers) with our bursting checked-in bags.

Back in Singapore, there wasn't any trouble at all with customs and such. A couple of minutes past midnight and we were already home from one of the best beach vacations I've ever experienced.

Flickr photoset: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ton2fig/sets/72157603910088232/

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