Bonding Holiday: Bohol Island Tour

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Sunrise at the beach near the Red Palm.

Early morning in May in Bohol is low tide, and the sea near the Red Palm Beach Resort in Panglao Island receded some 100 meters, revealing a sandbar and marine life otherwise submerged during high tide. The view of the sunrise is serene, providing a marvelous opportunity for taking photographs of nature’s subdued beauty.

It was the day that we were going to take a tour of the bigger island of Bohol, and we were warned that we will be on the road a considerable time to reach the different tourist spots. It would have been much more exciting and enjoyable if we did the commuting ourselves, finding interesting sites as our peculiar interests would take us. It would also be fun and informative to talk to ordinary people (not just to the tourists and tourist-oriented locals) and to find beauty in less-trodden paths.

We later came to realize that the guided tour was necessary to cover as much ground as possible, Bohol being, after all, a large island. To be more laid back in exploring it would take weeks, while all we had planned was for a one-day foray on the island.

Marine life exposed during low tide.

The guide suggested that we go immediately to the farthest place of interest from Panglao, the Bohol Chocolate Hills, to avoid the possible rains that come with the season. Knowing no better, we really had no choice but to agree.

Bohol Chocoloate Hills

212 steps to the Chocolate Hills, Carmen, Bohol Viewdeck

The rains have also caused the vegetation on the chocolate hills to rejuvenate, so that instead of brown hills, we came to see green ones, lush with grasses and bushes. The hills would be brown when the weather is dry for a month or so, since the hills are porous limestone hillocks that are covered with little topsoil, so that dry weather would deprive the vegetation of moisture, turning them brown and giving the hills a chocolaty color.

Be that as it may, the hills, even when green, do provide spectacular vistas, appearing to stretch endlessly to the horizon. Descriptions of the sight may be in so many words, but all these would be lacking, as they would not approximate the wonder of this natural formation.

It is humbling, as all natural wonders are, making us feel insignificant and unremarkable, just a tiny speck in the planet, our existence shorter than a nanosecond of time.

So we revel in the sight, and try to somehow grasp it with our trivial attempts to capture it in photographs, adding our inane poses and trying to draw attention to ourselves, stealing some of the magnificence from nature.

The Chocolate Hills, green when we went there as the rains watered the vegetation on the limestone hills.

Yet this magnificence is no less when we look at the small creatures that nature gives us, and we would be given just that during our trip.

The “jump shot” that is popular at the Chocolate Hills. some enterprising fellas set up a studio where you can get into different poses and “photoshopped” into the a photo of the hills.

We chose the winding path down from the viewpoint.

Simply Butterflies Conservation Center

This location gives visitors the opportunity to observe the life cycle of butterflies at its different stages, and if lucky, as we were, a more informative guide is assigned who would not just inform but entertain as well.

Thus while our party was not ignorant of the life cycle of the insect or of general knowledge about it, hearing it retold was not boring, as the guide, named Jobert, shared information with aplomb and peppered it with humor, innuendos and interactive ingenuity.

For instance, he would humanize the androgyny of certain specimens, calling them “bakla” in a way that the insects seemed to momentarily assume the loud and scandalous Filipino version of male gays. In the next breath, however, the guide would then differentiate androgyny from the phenomenon of hermaphrodites in the natural world.

In another instance, when we went into the netted enclosure where the live butterflies were kept, he shook the nets and the bushes, shouting “Trabaho! Trabaho!” or in English, “To work! To work!” like the butterflies were employees loafing off needing exhortation.

Our experience in the place was certainly entertaining.

Androgynous butterfly. Note that one side of the wings exhibit the female sex while the other is that of the male sex.


Man-made Mahogany Forest

We stopped by a man-made mahogany forest, a remarkable creation of humans, remarkable because doing it must have necessitated political will (often lacking in the Philippines), a lot of effort and funding, and to see the trees survive to maturity is a major success.

On the other hand, it is remarkable also in the sense that it is a futile effort on the part of puny humans to approximate nature, or to recreate nature to serve their ends. Mahogany trees are endemic to the Americas, and the total effect of their introduction to the local habitat could not be fathomed.

It also serves to accentuate the earlier destruction of the natural-growth forest that necessitated the reforestation of the area with introduced species. That the forest was planted with no diversity also stresses the limitations of human intervention, devoid of nature’s unlimited diversity in natural growth forests.

Bohol Tarsier Conservatory

One creature that would have benefited from the original forest is the tarsier, now considered an endangered species. It was heartening to find that a conservatory was put up for these tiny mammals, a conservatory that allows us humans to view these cute primates in their natural habitat.

Such an attempt to help endangered species survive is a testament to our growing concern over our destructive existence in this planet, a growing concern that hopefully translates into concrete popular action, for our sake.

A downside to the conservatory is that tarsiers are nocturnal animals, and they are endlessly disturbed as a queue of their human cousins look at them with curiosity during the day, when they are supposed to be sleeping. No matter that sightseers are cautioned about making noise, the tarsiers are roused by the inevitable conversations and rustlings as tourists take pictures and stomp through the forest floor.

In a manner of speaking, while the conservatory is for a noble cause, at the same time it trivializes the effort by commercializing it. Judging from the number of visitors, the conservatory is a major commercial success. Add to it the ubiquitous souvenir shops at the entrance that capitalize on the innocent primate.

Such commercialism is even more troubling since the conservatory should take every opportunity to educate their visitors of the crucial role they are trying to play in our effort to help the endangered species, or on the global concerns on climate change, habitat loss, and environmental degradation. This could have been easily done with reading materials, signs, and thorough orientations of the captive tourist audience.

Sadly, we found these desperately lacking, even as we appreciate the conservatory’s noble intentions.

Loboc River Cruise

Our lunch for the day was a buffet on floating restaurants on the Loboc River. Restaurants, because more than a dozen platforms on floaters, each with a capacity of 50 or more diners, and each filled with such patrons at least once a day, would load up on food and people, and would cruise for an hour or so up the Loboc River while its passengers ate.

The different “restaurateurs” offer different menus, on set prices per person. We, being on a limited budget, took the cheapest menu.

Patrons who take the same menu are then given tickets to the same boat.

We assumed that the cruise fee covered all costs of the buffet on a floating restaurant, but we were surprised, nay, shocked, when, at the entrance to the dock, an additional one hundred pesos per person was collected by the municipal government, purportedly for maintenance and improvement of the facilities, among other things. Aside from disrupting our budget, the unforeseen cost  or “taxation” by the local government should have been computed according to the profits of the restaurateurs, and included in the pricing package, NOT as a surprise and hidden cost.

The additional cost is all the more outrageous when we came to know later on that village folk who provided entertainment on platforms along the river were compensated only through donations from the tourists. These village folk, including children, sang traditional folk songs and danced traditional dances like the Tinikling. With the number of restaurants that pass by these platforms, it must be hard work for these folk to provide such continuous entertainment. Yet for all their effort, what they receive are simply the donations their audience drops in the donation boxes.

I fear that only a few on our boatload of 50 people dropped donations in the boxes, and loose change at that. It is perhaps because we presumed that the pricey amount we paid for the cruise and the additional government collection was more than enough to cover the cruise, the food AND the entertainment. That these village folk are not compensated for their efforts is exploitation, and with the children in the cast, a deplorable act and another example of rank commercialism.

This reality somehow dilutes the unique experience of dining on a floating restaurant, the delectability of the buffet, the thoroughly enjoyable presentations of the village folk, and the sights along the river. We enjoyed ourselves, yes, yet we felt a tad guilty for being duped and for being made an instrument of exploitation.

Where the boats turned around and return to dock to load up on food and new diners.

Xzootic Animal Park

The nobility of the efforts of the Tarsier Conservatory became more appreciable in the next stop of the tour.

The Xzootic Animal Park keeps its animal attractions in cages, a far cry from their natural habitat, with the sole observable objective of making people pay to see these animals and have their pictures taken with the jailed creatures. It is rank commercialism and animal cruelty in the open.


The “park” would make the discerning visitor understand the issues being raised by animal rights groups by being a negative example. Sadly, that is not the case, as most its patrons did not show disgust over the spectacle.

For us, however, it was an enlightening experience, albeit sad.

At the end of the day, the tour of the sights of Bohol Island turned out to be, with some discernment, enjoyable and educational on the majesty of nature and of human folly.

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