Bohol, Visayas, Philippines – As we were planning this trip, Stuart and I discussed some of the things we wanted to do differently this time. One of them was to spend more time in less places – not to be on the move every two or three days like our last time out. But when we awoke on our third day in Siquijor and it was overcast and looking like rain again, we make a quick decision to leave and take the ferry back to Dumaguete and then on to Bohol, another island in the Visayas. So much for staying still.
Bohol is home to the Chocolate Hills, one of the most advertised tourist destinations in the Philippines. The 1,268 rolling hills are the result of uplifting ancient coral reef deposits followed by erosion and weather. In summer, the hills turn from green to chocolate brown – hence the name.
The Lonely Planet describes the hills as “overhyped” and “underwhelming” so we initially decided to skip Bohol and the hills. But we kept meeting travelers who said they were “awesome” and “worth the trip”. So we left our bags at a hotel in Tagbilaran ,rented a motorbike, and took off for a three-day ride around Bohol.
Not far outside Tagbilaran is the Tarsier Research & Development Center. Tarsiers are these really small, super weird looking primates. They can rotate their heads nearly 360 degrees, have huge eyes, and can fit in the palm of your hand. A guide lead us on a short walk through the center’s grounds where he pointed out three tarsiers (these things would be impossible to spot in the wild!) that we were allowed to oggle and photograph before we went inside the center and watched a somewhat informative video – while the guide went back on break.
Next we headed for the town of Carmen near the Chocolate Hills. We planned to spend the night nearby and were lucky to find a “Bed & Breakfast” outside of town, because it didn’t look like Carmen had much going on. The “Bed & Breakfast” was just a room in someone’s home, but it was a beautiful house with high ceilings and huge windows overlooking rice fields – very different from the small single room houses we were used to seeing.
There seemed to be only one place to have lunch in Carmen: a roadside stand, called a turu-turò (point-point), where they served pre-made food from pans sitting on a counter and you just point to what you want. We are usually wary of food that has been sitting around, but there was really no other choice. It turned out the be delicious and really cheap – about $2 for both of us to eat some beef in brown sauce, some rice, and a liter of Coke.
Stuart really liked the beef and wanted to know what it was called so he could order it again. He asked the woman and she said “beef”. Stuart said he knew it was beef but wanted to know what the meal was called. She looked around then slowly, and loudly, said “COW”.
Then on to the Chocolate Hills which were: ok. There were just a lot of grassy rolling hills and a lot of tourists. But amazing? Not so much. We wanted to get away from the tourists, so we looked for dirt roads that wound around the hills, and picked a random one to try – stalling until sunset when we could get some tourist-free pictures. After riding down a bumpy dirt road (with the last crash fresh in my mind) l got too worried about falling, so we gave up and turned back.
Just as we hit the main road the chain on our motorbike broke. Hmm… No AAA here, no gas station within walking distance. Luckily for us Filipinos are pretty nice and helpful. As we started walking the bike down the road, a guy stopped to ask happened and told us that his friend, a mechanic, down the road could probably help.
So we walked the motorbike down to where pointed and were fortunate the mechanic was still there – most places had already shut down. He looked at the chain to see if he could fix it but decided it was beyond repair. So he sent some of his buddies to the nearest shop to get a new chain.
Meanwhile, the mechanic started taking apart part of the bike so he could replace the chain. Each piece he took off reveled something else wrong with the bike. It got to the point where he was incredulous that someone would actually rent out this bike.
While he was installing the new chain, he also fixed a few other things – he must have spent well over an hour- and it was past dusk when he was done. The mechanic didn’t ask for money, and when Stuart offered, the mechanic said, “pay me if you like”. So we did.
The ride back to the “Bed & Breakfast” was a long one. Fog was rolling in and the motorbike’s headlight was pretty pathetic – Stuart ended up wearing my headlamp over his helmet to light our way.
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Chocolate Hills aside, the drive through Bohol made the decision to come here worth it. The inland roads meandered through rice terraces, little villages, rolling hills, and then along the coast giving us stunning scenery as we made our way to Anda Beach in the southeast part of the island.
Of course the beach was beautiful, and when it wasn’t raining we swam and explored the many coves near our resort. The “dry” season in the Philippines was turing out to be a little wetter than expected so we learned to take advantage of nice weather when we had it, because it could rain anytime.
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Back in Tagbilaran, we went for dinner at a place that was supposed to have great food, but I don’t remember much about what we ate (something with a lot of garlic). What stood out to me was the group of guys who entered the restaurant carring three roosters. Roosters that these guys just held in their laps while they ate.
Cock fighting is big in the Philippines – they even air the “sport” on TV – so I guess brining your rooster to dinner is nothing out of the ordinary. The restaurant staff didn’t seem to mind.
There were, however, three caged cockatoos in the corner that did seem to mind. A lot. One bird, upon noticing the roosters, puffed himself up and starting screaming at the top of its lungs and bouncing around the cage. This went on for maybe half an hour. No one asked the guys to leave, no one tried to calm the birds, it just went on like it was normal. Maybe it was normal? Who knows?