Churches, as the title says.
A few at this time, but should be added to as long as cameras continue to be clicked.
Churches, as the title says.
Churches, as the title says.
A few at this time, but should be added to as long as cameras continue to be clicked.
There are so many things in life that I am blessed with, and one of these is to have a very good friend in Patrick McDonough, former Peace Corps Volunteer in Bontoc, Mountain Province, Philippines and currently of San Diego, California. It was in Bontoc where he met his wife, Marjorie, a resounding punctuation to his love of the place and its people. Marjorie’s sister, Beverly, happens to be my wife, and so, Patrick and I became part of the same extended family.
It so happened that last April, Patrick and Marjorie decided to come home to the Philippines. Part of their itinerary was a visit to Palawan, and Patrick wanted us to go with them. Hesitant to add to my growing debt of gratitude, I initially declined Patrick’s magnanimity. I had to give in, however, when he pointed out that all he needed me for was as a drinking buddy and for inane conversation, two things that I am really good at.
Palawan did not have a choice. It was either I joined them or the trip would have been called off.
Our destination was El Nido, a scenic place that boasts of prime snorkeling sites and postcard tropical scenery. We certainly were not disappointed, as we took hundreds of pictures of the beautiful white sand beaches all over the place and the wondrous sunsets at each end of the day.
We would have preferred to stay a beachfront hotel, but the first ones we inquired in were rather pricey, considering that we were such a large group. So we settled for a hotel about a hundred meters from the beach, a hotel still under construction, the Big Creek Mansion.
The hotel has a friendly staff, and it was they who helped us save on meals. For a large group, the cost of each meal was getting prohibitive, so we asked the hotel staff that since they were not yet serving meals other than breakfast, perhaps they could cook lunch and dinner for us for a minimal fee. They agreed, so then we had to go to the local market to buy the ingredients for many sumptous meals of seafood, grilled, boiled or saucy delicacies.
The market sold lots of fish, of so many kinds, including coral feeders that in one of our not-so-inane discussions, we wondered whether how much the corals and the reefs themselves were damaged just so we could get something to eat.
So he and I went to a beach a distance from the center of El Nido. To get to this beach, we had to walk about 300 meters from the road along a motorcycle trail, through endemic flora that piqued our interest, though we had to forgo this passion. We also passed through a grove of coconut trees, and we had the fortune of seeing a squirrel that the locals said fed on coconuts, puncturing the husk and shell with its long front teeth and sucking the soft meat and milk inside. We saw the squirrel jump from tree to tree, a phenomenon that added to our fascination.
On the beach, there were several resorts that offered room and board, at a more reasonable price than those of the beachfront hotels in the center of the town. Our company however opted not to transfer, ruing the hassle of packing and unpacking again, as well as having to lug our baggage to the new site.
Along this beach were several fishing boats, and for a nominal fee we rented a small outrigger so we could go fishing. The boat was really small, but we only learned that it was too small for two persons later when we were out at sea.
There was a small island nearby, and in the water between this small island and the main island of Palawan where we were, was shallow rocky bottom filled with coral formations, most of which were bereft of the tiny animals that once lived in them. It was heartening to see that some of these formations were still alive with corals, and the fishes that hid in the formations was a heartening sight, promising a nice fishing experience.
Indeed, a few casts of the line hooked some lapulapu, though we deemed the fish too small for dinner so we threw them back into the water. We planned to catch bigger ones so we rowed further out to sea, with the intention of going to the other side of the island.
As we were rowing, we saw several fish jumping out of the water, an indication that a predator was after them. Shortly thereafter, we saw a fish jumping and skimming over the surface of the water, followed by a barracuda jumping and skimming after it. The sight itself was exhilarating, and we would have been content with it, only there was a fishing pole with us, and we intended to use it.
Further out to sea, Patrick cast the line several times, getting no bite. We settled in for a long morning, casting our makeshift anchor and repeatedly casting the line. Finally, a bite. When Patrick reeled it in, it was a barracuda a little over two feet long. Patrick said that we were lucky that the fish did not bite through the line.
Anyway we were reveling in the catch, and Patrick was again casting the line. I was excitedly fidgeting around getting our camera and then trying to get a good angle for a picture. In the meantime we did not notice a motorized boat passing by, whose wake was just reaching our small boat. Because of the confluence of these circumstances we suddenly found ourselves in the water with the boat overturned and everything wet.
After righting the boat, Patrick snorkeled around looking for our gear. Luckily it was shallow water of about ten feet. While Patrick was swimming around, I bailed the water out of the boat. After everything was found, and the water in the boat back in the sea where it belonged, we tried to get back on the boat, but, for the second time, the boat flipped over.
After we went through the recovery process and bailing out again, we decided to go closer to the smaller island’s shore before we tried getting back on the boat. We did get back on the boat eventually, though the humor of the entire exercise was getting to us, as we were laughing all the while.
Needless to say, the barracuda got away, and we did not even have a picture to show for it. Later on, as we were relating the story to the company, we could not blame them if they thought it another fish story.
The experience was invigorating, and except for the camera and a cellphone that ceased to function, was a funny and happy one.
Afterwards I thanked Patrick for inviting me on the trip, and for giving me one of the best days of the rest of my life.
It was the day that we scheduled for snorkeling, something that never before have I tried. Guides suggested that we go several of the small islands near El Nido, but we opted to go to just two of the best snorkeling sites, and we were not disappointed.
Going to the islands provided us with stunning vistas of the sea and the main island, as well as the islands we passed by.
The two snorkeling sites were indeed prime spots, giving us the opportunity to see so many varieties of fish and corals and other marine life concentrated in a small area. It was unfortunate that we did not have an underwater camera with us so we could have taken pictures. Despite the lack of photographic record of the underwater experience, we enjoyed every minute of snorkeling, tirelessly floating and swimming around as we basked in the majesty of nature.
We had our lunch on what the locals named Helicopter Island, named so because it looked like a Huey without rotors from afar. It also boasts of prime snorkeling, with the fish found just a few meters from the shore.
Indeed the whole experience of Palawan, the beaches, the marine life, the people, the land, and the company will always count as memorable. Despite Patrick’s being embarrassed with my eternal gratitude, I thank him and Marjorie for it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Three of our kids were on holiday, with enrolment for the next school year two weeks away. The fourth, who was working, had some days due for vacation. It was an opportune time for the family to get away together and bond. The only drawback was that the Mom couldn’t be able to join us if we went.
Ever gracious, the Mom let us go, and told us to enjoy ourselves.
Bohol has always been on our bucket list of places to visit, and we parents actually promised the kids that they should go there as a graduation gift. The youngest of the brood just finished elementary, and so it was just fitting that the graduation gift be finally realized, for all the graduations that the children have gone through.
So we boarded a plane for Tagbilaran, Bohol.
After touchdown in Tagbilaran, where we were picked up at the airport by a car, we immediately went to The Red Palm (Panglao Red Palmera Resort) at Doljo, Panglao Island, arriving there at around 10:30 AM.
The resort was recommended to us by a friend, Flora Maglana Rosales, a classmate from high school, who knew the owners of the resort, Stella and her husband Rodrigo Polentinos. The referral is another example of the age-old non-digital Filipino social networking.
It was through the resort that we made arrangements for the tours that we would thoroughly enjoy during our stay.
The Red Palm is situated just beside the sea, where guests may walk less than a hundred meters, under a grove of coconut trees, and find themselves on a white sand beach, almost to themselves, except for a few of the local fisherfolk who anchor their outrigger boats there.
As it was, immediately upon checking in, the kids went to the water. The water was shallow. In fact, one could walk a hundred meters into the sea and still find one’s head above the water. Being mountain people, the sea has always held a mystique for us, and one of the kids intimated that just relaxing at the beach would make her day. The kids also tried out the snorkel and flippers we brought with us, expectant as we were of the snorkeling site we were to visit on the third day of our trip.
The Red Palm staff asked us if we would rather have lunch on the beach, under the coconut trees, and we happily agreed. So it was that we dined on sumptuous “sinigang na hipon” and chicken fillet.
And went back into the water.
We arranged for a tour of the Panglao island for the afternoon, so the kids grudgingly got out of the water.
The first stop of the tour was Panglao Church, which boasts of a stone lookout tower built by the Spaniards centuries past. The church itself was built in the tradition of that age, as a fortress where the colonizers and the colonized would retreat when the bells of the lookout tower were rang to signal the coming of attackers.
The tower is now dilapidated, with the stonework threatening to crumble down, the reason why sightseers are not allowed to enter it, and for the chain link fence around the tower preventing the over-curious from reaching the tower base.
Behind the church and tower was the sea, presumably one of the sources of the threats that the tower sought to espy. Ever easily lured to see wonderful sights, we feasted on the vista until we had to leave for the next stop.
The Nova Shell Museum was definitely saturated with thousands of, you guessed it, shells! We took pleasure in listening to our guide’s monologue of the varieties of shells, their scientific and local names, where they were found and how deep their natural habitats were, and how much they cost. It was simply unfortunate that not one of us was into the hobby of collecting shells. Nevertheless, we were entertained, and regaled in the sheer dedication to collecting the shells and the endless fascination with them.
Since we come from Sagada in the Luzon highlands, a town that hosts many interwoven limestone caves with wondrous sights, we were doubly curious as to how Hinagdanan Cave, our next stop, would compare. Perhaps because of this natural bias, we were not amazed since Hinagdanan Cave was just some 50 meters deep, with few remarkable rock formations. Perhaps its most endearing feature was the pool at the bottom of the cave, a pool that fills up at high tide, and where we saw several people swimming. On one wall of the cave, somebody painted the image of a python, where tourists were encouraged to have their picture taken.
It was there in the cave where we bumped into fellow “native tourists” from the Luzon highlands, a chance meeting that made the Hinagdanan visit much more interesting as we discussed the odds of us meeting in Bohol. We were also told many times that it was in this cave that some scenes of “Ang Probinsiyano,” starring the late great film icon Fernando Poe, Jr. were filmed.
The souvenir shops near the entrance to the cave sold numerous goods and food treats that we browsed through in anticipation of the necessary souvenir shopping that we must do before we go home.
The Bohol Bee Farm was also a resort that offered rooms to guests, swimming pools, and a tour through their apiary. They also had specialty shops for honey-based products that offered a variety of different honey flavors according to the dominant nectar source of the bees that made them. Different fruit jams and jellies, bread, and exotic ice cream flavors were also sold there.
The shaded pool and another view of the sea added to our fascination.
We declined the offer of a tour of the apiary, since apiaries are not uncommon in the mountains.
By then it was nearing sunset, and we were hungry, even after the many food samplings that we went through. Alona Beach in Panglao is where many hotels were found, and it was where the nightlife in Panglao happens.
The eating places along the beach offered similar fare, also similarly priced. Diners were asked to buy displayed uncooked seafood, which were then prepared for their enjoyment. We thought the prices outrageous so near the sea, and we could not stay our hunger to wait while they prepared the food, so we opted for a la carte preparations on the menu.
As we were waiting for the food at our table, watching the many people enjoying a walk on the beach in the darkening light, we found out we were lucky to have chosen to eat at that very spot.
Near our table, there was a set-up for singers to entertain guests, and on that night a soloist with an acoustic guitar started singing folk songs, songs that are familiar to the people in the Luzon highlands. The music certainly made the dinner much more delectable. After we ate, we remained at our table listening to the music, and we thought perhaps we could request the singer to render one Bob Marley song, as reggae definitely spices up the beach atmosphere.
We made the request, and he sang not one, but several Bob Marley songs. We sang along with gusto, not minding that we sang louder during the refrains and choruses, applauding at the end of each song. Our enthusiasm infected the rest of the dining guests and passersby making the evening truly lively. The singer must have been very glad to have made us a lot happier.
Back at the Red Palm, the younger kids changed into swim clothes once again and got into the pool, staying there until they felt they had to take a much-needed rest.