Backpacking Bohol

Backpacking Bohol. Written by Jervis Manahan for SubSelfie.com.

I rarely go out of town during the Holy Week, as I grew up in a devout Catholic household. But my birthday coincided with Maundy Thursday this year. It’s been my tradition to travel on my birthday week partly to escape office pizza requests. But mostly, I find it romantic to turn in a new year on a new place. It’s a tranquil way to grow old.

For this year, I chose to go to Bohol.

I must admit that Bohol isn’t part of my bucket list of travel destinations. I initially wanted to go to Batanes or Thailand but since the Holy Week is also the peak season of travelling, ticket prices were already skyrocketing when I booked last February. To spice up my experience, I decided not to book anything — no hotels nor group tours.

For my previous trips, I used to get travel packages to save me from the hassle and extra costs but I found it too much of a tourist trap this time around. So I headed on my journey with no expectations; packed some summer clothes and a lot of courage and excitement knowing that I’ll be a year older when I get back in Manila. The Bohol trip lasted only for four days, but the succeeding three days was part of the Holy Week, so I got an entire week off work. For the record, this is the longest work-free phase of my life since I joined the workforce in 2012.

The Countryside

Since I was on a shoestring budget, I ditched the cars and taxis and opted to rent a tricycle instead. Upon arriving, hospitable Boholanos offered help in finding me a room in Tagbilaran. I didn’t find it hard looking for accommodation so after a few moments, I was off to the countryside tour!

Bohol is known for the Chocolate Hills so I thought it would be a good first pit stop. It is located in the town of Carmen, an hour and a half from the capital city. The sun was scorching as we’ve arrived there midday. I found it quite underwhelming (because its colors weren’t really that of a chocolate at that time), but nevertheless, gorgeous.

I toured other popular destinations as well, like the Tarsier Conservation Center, the Butterfly Sanctuary, the Blood Compact Shrine, the Hinagdanan Cave, the Bohol Bee Farm, and the equally famous Loboc Floating Restaurant. It’s quite expensive though for an ordinary buffet and a 30-minute river cruise.

Bohol's pride
Bohol’s pride
tarsier-Jervis-Manahan-SubSelfie-Blog
A tarsier.
Hinagdanan Cave.
Hinagdanan Cave.
Bohol Bee Farm.
Bohol Bee Farm.

I went home to Tagbilaran and called it a good first day. If there’s one thing lacking, Bohol isn’t really the place for gastronomical adventures. I tried exploring the city by foot to look for good local delicacies but found none (and ended eating in a fast food chain), a stark contrast to the neighboring island of Cebu which has many food treats.

Loboc Floating Restaurant.
Loboc Floating Restaurant.
Buffet onboard.
Buffet onboard.

A Different Visita Iglesia

If there is something Bohol can be proud of, it would be the exquisite churches that dot their countryside. Sadly, most of them are still under restoration after the mighty earthquake that shook the province back in October 2013. I cannot miss on these churches so I went on a different type of Visita Iglesia. Due to time constraints, I was only able to visit three: the Baclayon Church, the Dauis Church, and the Tagbilaran Cathedral.

Baclayon prides itself to be the oldest coral stone church in the region, and among the oldest in Asia. The Jesuits built it in 1727 and it remained sturdy until the earthquake. The main body of the church is off limits due to the retrofitting, but the sanctuary and the museum can still be accessed by travelers. It is still quite a hot destination especially for foreigners.

At first glance, it’s nowhere near its usual majestic and glorious state. It’s now dusty and old, even scary at some point. The altar is still intact and the religious statues are still in place. I spent a few minutes alone in the eerie hallways of the church and it’s quite a surreal experience.

The museum is located in a small space beside the church, and houses old ornaments and religious relics. Taking photos weren’t allowed inside.

Baclayon Church
Baclayon Church

The next day, I visited Dauis Church which is in Panglao Island, a 30-minute drive away from Tagbilaran. It is undergoing a two-year restoration period; but unlike Baclayon, the sanctuary has collapsed even though the main body survived. Masses are held elsewhere, as the ongoing construction is too dangerous for parishioners.

The ceiling of Dauis Church.
The ceiling of Dauis Church.
Under repair.
Under repair.

The Tagbilaran Cathedral has the least damage among the three churches I’ve visited, but there are still scaffoldings in it. They still hold masses there. The people were busy preparing for a Cenakulo at the time.

I can only hope that government efforts will successfully restore these churches to their old grandeur. It’s devastating to see how centuries of colorful history can be destroyed in a matter of seconds, when nature unleashes its wrath. The churches of Bohol pose a great challenge for our heritage conservationists, because how do you actually bring back grand churches to its original form, especially now that significant parts were almost flattened to the ground?

Tagbilaran Central Church.
Tagbilaran Central Church.
Scaffoldings in the altar.
Scaffoldings everywhere.

The Beaches

Apart from the Chocolate Hills, Bohol is also famous for its white-sand beaches in Panglao Island.

The Alona Beach attracts thousands of tourists yearly, mostly foreigners. It has a similarly uncanny vibe with Boracay, with establishments lining up less than a hundred feet from the shoreline, but it is less commercial. Hotels in Panglao are pricier than those in Tagbilaran, but it’s quite worth it. The beach front is a haven for those seeking an alternative to crowded spots such as Boracay, but it sports the same bustling nightlife.

There are a lot of activities you can try out as well, such as dolphin and turtle watching. Bohol is home to schools of playful dolphins and they are usually visible during early mornings. An hour of boat ride will lead you to Balicasag Island: a good snorkeling site.

But for me, the crowning glory of Bohol is the Virgin Island, with its exquisite sandbar reaching almost half a kilometer from its mainland. For those wanting to experience Maldives on a budget, the Virgin Island is a perfect alternative.

The sandbar of Virgin Island
The sandbar of Virgin Island

There are wondrous things we discover when we travel. Our boat is composed of just eight people including the boatman. One of my boatmates, Xandin, is from Rwanda, a country I only heard in geography lessons. She went all the way from Africa to study nursing in Dumaguete. Xandin told me about how hard life was in Rwanda, and how different it was in neighboring country Kenya. Too bad we didn’t snap a selfie.

Our boatman also shared the same birthday with me. He asked if I wanted to go to Siquijor as he can actually bring me there but I had no time as I was scheduled to fly back to Manila the next morning.

Sunburnt.
Sunburnt.

The Unexplored Places

There were still lots of places and things I’m yet to explore such as the Danao Adventure Park, the ATV ride in Carmen, and adventure zones in Loboc. Checking its map, I was only able to explore the southern part of the island. I promise to go back when I get the opportunity.

So why do I travel during my birthday? This trip reminded me of the beauty of exploration as we age. There are so many surprises along the way and it is in getting lost that we grow the most. The Bohol escapade is mostly unplanned, but it didn’t disappoint. It’s a reminder too, that getting older is a matter of putting more life to your years. And Hans Christian Andersen nailed it, that truly, to travel is to live.

Until we meet again, Bohol.
Until we meet again, Bohol.

[Entry 132, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Jervis Manahan.

Jervis Manahan is a News Reporter for PTV 4. He is also a Contributor for SubSelfie.com but is part of the original roster that founded the site. He was previously a News Writer for 24 Oras and Unang Balita and a News Researcher for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. Broadcast Communication 2012, UP Diliman. Read more of his articles here.

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