The First-Ever Ricnians Travelogue–Day Two: BOHOL OR BUST!

So full of win.

Yes, yes… apologies for yet another hotly delayed blog post. If there was only some way that I can get paid for this, then I would have been on it sooner like it was the eve of December 21, 2012 (check your Mayan calendars, y’all). But what the hell, we still adore our (very limited and minuscule) reading public, so here it is—DAY TWO! Click on the jump to get to the rest of the meat…

Okay, so where did we last left off? Oh, right, that bit where everyone is wondering whether we have the “testicular fortitude”—god, I always love using that word—to wake up with only two-to-three hours of sleep. Before we proceed with the recount, COMELEC-style, of the second-day proceedings in the Bohol or Bust! episode, it is highly recommended that first-time readers be directed to click on Part One HERE, if only for the fact there may be certain “contextual” spots in this travelogue where our dear viewers may miss up on. But since we understand that majority of the people logging on the monsterwebs like to waste their time YouTubing or Facebooking stuff instead of—gasp!—reading (the nerve!), you may just as well go ahead with the rest of this piece, which therefore nullifies the last statement made before this sentence. Okay, enough with the foreplay; to quote directly from a brawny, slightly homoerotic UFC ref, LET’S GET IT ON!

Day 2—April 28, 2012

Every travel blog in the world opens with a sunrise, but goddamnit if it still doesn’t feel right.

04:13—To answer that last question we had postulated in the last post (shameless plug: Please read Day One because the rest of this blog desperately needs hits!)—yes, and yes. As expected, Cielito was the first one—in our room, anyways—to wake up, though Teddy claimed that he can hardly sustain a closed wink because the rest of us were snoring like… yes, pigs should be the more appropriate word we are looking for here (two hints as to who those could be). Eh, well… what can you do? It’s VACATION!

05:04—It probably won’t surprise you that nothing much happened in that ensuing hour; everyone was busy, and we’re all taking baths and packing bags with eyes half-closed all the time—How’s that for excitement? Finally, after about two back-and-forths from the lobby to our rooms on the third floor and back again (we guarantee you that things like these always happens on trips), we finally deemed ourselves ready for another trans-island traversal. Just like last night, we hailed two taxis for each group of four, and made a beeline to the ferry.

The souls willing to brave the mass of humanity for our tickets

05:48—We did get to the ferry thirty minutes before our supposed departure; however, like the best-laid plans, something awry is always bound to happen (Murphy’s Law, if we are to believe Wikipedia). No, we did not miss the ferry, nor did our boat sink (ever wonder how people here treat ship mishaps as commonplace as a traffic accident? Mind-boggling.)—it was something more mundane, but still annoying, nonetheless.

For one, for a city that is supposed to be as sophisticated as any major city in Manila, the last thing one would expect is seeing people clumped in one massive group or making their own makeshift “lines” since there is no port officer present to direct the human traffic snaking from the head of the ticket counter to the back. Yes, even the several Caucasian tourists lining up for their tickets have not been spared from that momentary purgatory, and they are as frazzled as the rest of the poor folk waiting for their tickets. Granted, this may have been an exception to—one can only hope—the more organized transactions happening inside the port, but it sure as hell did make us grateful (well… for a flash, at least) that we experienced far worse pilahanays in our decades-old government offices back home.

Obvious where we’re going, ain’t it?

06:20—Ocean Jet has an admirably succinct tagline: “Ocean Jet gets you there fast and easy”. Of course, you’d be dreaming if you even thought for a second that that statement does not contain at least one contradiction. Per the normally agreed Filipino standard, we departed in a fashionably late… err, fashion. We did battle with a lone cockroach that seems resolute to stand its ground on the top cushion despite being surrounded by huge backpacks that are enough to crush its exoskeleton to a minute, powdery substance. As for the in-ferry food… well, y’all know the jokes always levelled against travel food, so let’s leave it at that.

However, what may be perhaps our most, greatest gripe of all is that—for people of our, ahem, size and stature—the ferry really has puny seats. Yes, puny as in “little”, not “cute”. We can go on and on about how it’s a mistake for a travelling ferry to limit its seating space to its paying clients, but man, being angry all the time can be exhausting. Let’s just reserve the flaming to the comments section.

07:48—The ferry has departed more than a half-hour late into its schedule; at the very least, we can be thankful that the crew was wise enough to not completely drain the remaining patience of its passengers by making them wait for another hour. While we were alternating between sleep and REM-sleep, our senses were being assaulted by the second Johnny English film played in the center aisle’s TV. Mad props to Rowan Atkinson, but his schtick can get really old really quick… or maybe we were just getting too old for this kind of slapstick. The girl at the left of our aisle laughing her fool head off didn’t seem to mind, anyway.

One more time, please.

08:50—This is surely a day for firsts. With the exception of the Ricnians’ resident culture vulture (guess who), that was the first time we had set foot on the island of Bohol. And surely, this may also be the first time that any of us had been greeted with a driver holding a short bond paper with a pen-scrawled ‘WELCOME RICNIANS FOUNDATION’ sign right in front of the port entrance. Does that mean we’ve hit the big time already? Yep, it is good to dream once in a while.

09:17—It took about a good while before we had finally started the tour, since Cielito and Neshammah had booked our return tickets for the next day. While we were waiting, our dear driver found it appropriate to blast a Sampaguita song over the van’s speakers… you know, the one where it was used as the “themesong” for Anne Curtis’s drama a few years back? Sampaguita=Nature Theme=Awesome.

This pic really reminds one of the ’90s… you know, from a particular song that touts about the virtues of driving?

As we were making our way through the heart of Tagbilaran City, it really was remarkable how clean the city is. No, not just simple clean-clean, but clean in a relatively spotless way—there’s not even a scrap of candy wrap nor a waft of exhaust to be seen anywhere in the city.  What was more remarkable that despite having the typical trappings of a small, provincial city—yes, there’s a Gaisano situated at Tagbilaran, if you have to ask—and even on the fact that the people there are about to celebrate their local fiesta, it still seems like the whole populace has gone into an extended Holy Week mode. So far into the trip, this is exactly the kind of “breather” that the rest of us have been looking for.

09:30-ish—We just passed along the first landmark we have ever encountered in Bohol: the “site” where Datu Sikatuna and Vasco de Gama supposedly enacted the Blood Compact which enabled Spain to impress us with three hundred years’ worth of cultural inferiority. However, our guide was looking for something more “spiritual”, and thus we have set foot on our first ever tourist stop in Bohol: Baclayon Church.

Since a Mass is going on inside, we have to pocket our smiles a bit.

We really envy the folks who live in the island. The Spanish conquistadores may have brought us a great many thing—the greatest of which is our understandable zeal to want to lay prone in front of crosses and saints—but you do have to admire the craftsmanship that their contractors have imbued with in some of the more remarkable structures that the Spanish period has ever produced. Sure, this may not be grade-A, classical antiquity stuff that we are boasting, but it’s still a close second in our minds.

Squint. Not working?

Much better.

If you’re also keen on honing your abstract art skills, the walls at Baclayon Church (I still think it’s an intentional pun to the equally famous Baclaran Church) can provide you with hours of puzzlement as to whether the image that you think you see in a particular angle is really the image that your eyes are supposed to see. Two of the more indelible marks that we have encountered on the church are those that represent the classic Madonna and Child pose and—perhaps the most enigmatic of all—an outline of a head with a beard that could be interpreted in many ways. For the faithful present in front of The Wall (yes, I just made a Game of Thrones reference), this can be a Jesus image; for others, it may be nothing more than a trick of the elements saved for centuries of posterity. Nevertheless, just like a good riddle, the “real” fun lies in finding out how the whole church was constructed some three hundred years ago. Conspiracy theorists, start the game!

Anyone up for a game of inappropriate phallic caption-writing?

10:20—Next on the tour was a stop on one of the island’s famed zoos—in our case, we ended up in the XZootic Animal Park. Despite the red-light sounding name, the zoo has also proven to be popular with the tourists, if only for the reason that you can go and bait your head in front of an albino snake’s jaws without annoying it in the very least. The sedated snakes are the “highlights” of the place, though the folks managing it are also keeping varieties of birds, lizards, ostriches, and wildcats in their respective cages and pens (if someone can point us out what their “proper” names are, we’d be eternally grateful). No tarsiers yet, though—those babies would have to come after lunch.

All that hype–and all we got from the snake was a polite nod.

11:07—One of the hallmarks of every “vacation” is the seemingly perpetual excuse to always eat one’s meals early… you know, like any hardworking farmer is wont to do. Of course, we’re inspiring everyone to indulge in this cliché if all of your meals took place in the middle of a scenic river. Such is the charm of Bohol’s  arguably third-most popular attraction: the Loboc River.

Everything about it looks like it was a scene freeze-dried from the 19th Century… well, except for that tower on the left.

There can be no precise way to describe Loboc River in a single adjective. Yes, it is clean, but not in the way that a normal river in a, say, province looks like when it is left alone—it is quite obvious that the people there care enough for the river to make it look unspoiled as long as there are tourists to infuse the island with capital. And the part where they encourage people to eat inside the “Floating Restaurant” while the pump operator at the front “spins” the boat in circular paths is wickedly genius. A Korean couple was big-time enough to also rent an entire boat for themselves—which typically seats around six-to-seven long tables—while a guitarist serenades them with a set of ‘70s folk pop and Beatles standards (we knew because our boat also has a native guitarist in tow).

Pretty soon, it’s gonna be icing on that end of the spoon.

Of course, the managers are savvy enough to let the folks enjoy their meal and have a nice, long burp before embarking on the “journey” (which only involves having the boat travel from one end of the river and back again). Along the mid-point of the mini-trip, the boat stopped on a pseudo-outpost occupied by a group of children and a smattering of adults with guitars and banjos. If you have seen enough Philippine travel shows to last you a lifetime, then you should be certainly familiar with the Loboc Children’s Choir. And by god, the kids can really give a performance—most likely a result of countless after-school hours spent practicing inside the classroom, or the gym, or the auditorium, or… err, wherever school-age children are expected to gather to be trained. While a part of us was glad that we did get to see the kind of talent that these kids are known for, some of us really felt guilty about it. Teddy even made a non-PC crack about the way the local kids are being “obliged” to show up for every performance that we dare not replicate on this post, since we know that the people of this great country can be easily offended by even the most casual statement—even if it is alleged to be true. Okay, that’s too much bleeding-heart advocacy for one sentence already.

Some of us were so big-time that we did not hesitate to “donate” five hundred pesos to the kids, and what we got in return was a girl mean-mugging back at us (apologies if the image below is inexplicably too small, but I just have to include it).

... and what we got in return was a girl enthusiastically mean-mugging us.

Note: Not the real animal

12:35—We’re stuffed full to our pants (or more accurately, shorts), and the sun is arguably at its highest point already. If we had our way, we would have gone straight to the hotel and slept the whole afternoon off; but no, that’s not the backpacker way… and moreover, our guide doesn’t work nights. So the next stop on the Bohol tour was—let’s all say it aloud—TARSIER TIME! It’s at Bilar that the Tarsier Conservation Center is located—a sprawling compound of a forest that is walled off by layers of tarpaulin for fear of the tarsiers getting anxious and killing themselves en masse. Seriously, that is one of their most prominent traits, and it has afforded us with one of the more “quiet” moments that we have ever encountered in the whole island; we were even noisier inside the church, which says a lot about how the caretakers of the tarsier sanctuary take their jobs seriously.

Although it doesn’t look like it, the little dude’s scared shitless.

Ever seen a tarsier keychain before? Hard as it may be to believe, that is, more or less, the actual scale representation of a real tarsier body. And yes, they’ve even got those massively googly anime eyes that looks like it occupies a third of their whole body. As expected, the visitors are barred from touching them, and even flash photography is vehemently discouraged inside the area. The latter stipulation has actually put some of us in a position of moral superiority, since we took it upon ourselves to “scold” some of the people—yes, even the older folk—who dared to took a picture of the little critters with the flash on. On second thought, isn’t there a party-list group for tarsier representation yet? The national elections are next year, after all. Just sayin’…

Thank god Ric lent us his camera.

13:43—After a couple of hours being barraged with the ozone-killing heat, it is nice that we are going somewhere up—to the world-renowned Chocolate Hills, specifically (on a side note, we had been munching on Hershey’s Kisses since the rest of the day began, perhaps as a sign that we should “stick to the theme”. Thanks, Doodz!). If you have ever went up Baguio before, the route up through the Man-Made Forest rivals that of its Northern Luzon counterpart. The trees are really lush on either side of the road, and some of these are so tall that you can’t see anything above except a dark shade of green. Some tourists acting like typical tourists even went out of their vans and started taking pictures with the trees on the background, presumably to fool their family and friends that they have somehow ended up in Norway during the course of a weekend.

Wonder how I came up with the “Norway” reference? This is the reason.

14:15—Would we be mistaken in describing the area surrounding the Hills as looking like something out of Tagaytay? Yes, I know I’m running out of adjectives, but that’s still my impression, regardless. Anyway, with the exception of Manong Guide, we all made the trek to the top where the view can be fully appreciated. It’s a good thing, too, that we’re still strapping young lads; otherwise, we’d have ended up being overtaken by everyone on the steps, because it really is a looonnnggg way to the top. The things you have to do to get a decent picture…

The calves are tired, but we’ve got to take a wide shot, dammit!

Of course, you can’t expect to get that far up from sea level and not expect to receive something in return for all the hard work; in our case, we were granted the chance to wish on the top. As is typical on some of the places in the Philippines where a little bit of “historical significance” is supposedly involved, a “wishing well” is situated right in the middle of the topmost area, which is flanked on its side by a bell. Local legend claims that if you prayed right before dropping a coin inside the well’s probably-not-that-deep recesses, then whatever you may asked for may be granted. And just to make a point that you have been generous enough to part with your sentimos, you can also get the satisfaction of ringing the bell as hard as you can. Just don’t expect a voice to pop up saying “You’re welcome!” in a cheerfully bright voice, although in retrospect, that would have been awesomely creepy in a Korina Sanchez Undas Special.

Yes, the hills are as perfectly formed and as expansive as what our young minds have read in our Sibika books. And since we practically spent the whole day braving the heat, the surrounding breeze was really a welcome addition. However, there was really one thing that disturbed us the most while we were enjoying the view, and it has something to do with the modern traveller’s insistence on doing the requisite “jump shots”.

It was not obvious from this shot, but that dude (enclosed in a black marker) was made to jump like Lebron right on the edge of the cliff.

For one, there’s a precipice that allows one to come close to the edge of the whole area and appreciate the Hills for all of its natural beauty. Just because the edge wasn’t enclosed in a barrier did not bother us; however, there was a certain “official” photographer of the area who was encouraging—no, scratch that, FORCING—folks who want their pictures taken to do a jump shot while they are posing on the edge of the cliff. The photographer, being the consummate professional that he is, refuses to settle on a simple leap of the body—he really makes them jump as high as they can, with both knees bent perpendicularly and all. If that’s not enough, those folks can also jump in the air while holding a broom between their legs, just to make an impression that they are “flying” over the Hills. Granted, it’s not a straight drop from the edge to the bottom of the hill, but it’s still enough to maim anyone who’s reckless enough to do Rob Van Dam’s Rolling Thunder spot while freefalling from the top of the hill to the bottom.   Okay, rant over—NEXT, PLEASE!

15:15-ish—We took the same winding road that led us to the top of Bohol to get to the next destination on our supposed itinerary, which is the island’s bamboo Hanging Bridge in Tigbao. But lo and behold, the “real” highlight upon crossing the bridge was not another majestic view of the island, but something much better–pasalubong centers (what else were were you expecting?). Because if there’s one thing that a modern Filipino traveller can’t do without, it’s bringing back stringed boxes of sweet and salty treats.  The “best” part about all of this? You still have to pay twenty pesos to cross an extremely wobbly bridge. Capitalism, ho!

If only we can dance in the middle of a bridge, that shot would have been perfect.

If we were still younger (and, although it’s hard to admit, if we weighed significantly less than we do now), we would have ran through the suspension bridge without blinking; but since our “reckless” days were all but over—and not to mention that it also suddenly rained during that time—we proceeded carefully like the old men and women that we are. Upon reaching the fabled otherside, some of us then went ahead and did their “business” in more ways than one*… which meant that some of us drank sodas on the side while the others went inside the makeshift tenements and bought food, shirts and keychains.

That little bastard was the cause of Teddy’s suffering for the rest of the day. He needs to hang!

One sight that struck me there the most, though, was the presence of the dude who advertised himself as the “Buko King”—complete with banners and newspaper clippings from Germany ( I guess) and the basketball jersey that he’s wearing with his “title” obligatorily stitched on the back. He supposedly holds the world record (if anyone can confirm or deny this with a link, please do so) for “un-husking” the most number of coconuts with the use of his teeth alone. This is just a guess, but it was probable that we saw him a decade or so ago in one of Eat Bulaga’s segments where they have people show up on TV on a daily basis and do things that no normal human being can supposedly do, like opening beer bottles with their teeth or something like that. Mr. Buko King, like an old-school peryahan man, can offer to show his “talent” to any takers, as long as one is willing to pay for the show. This is, by no means, an attempt at even judging what he is as a person, but the skill that he still undoubtedly possesses is way too common nowadays; chances are, you may have happened to know of someone who can open tough things or implements by literally using the skin on their teeth (which most often happens when you drink outdoors with no tiangge in sight). And with the way he still relies on his past fame to eke out a living forcefully reminded me of the Mickey Rourke character from The Wrestler… only (hopefully) not as tragic as the latter. Yes, I am indeed digressing, so we’re moving on…

Another random shot in a Spanish-era structure

15:54—For some reason, we have decided to visit another church before finally taking a dive into, we can only trust, more “appropriate” lodgings.  A Spanish era-constructed church can inspire awe among most people, but since the whole of Bohol is so full of these structures, it can be rather hard to get excited for Panglao Church. If you want an appropriate description of it, it’s probably better if you go back and read the entry on Baclayan Church—it’s a less grander counterpart of it, but still awe-inspiring, nonetheless. So, what else did we do while we were on Panglao? Some of us prayed, while the others went outside and ate some ice popsicles courtesy of Neshammah.

16:38—Finally, sanctuary! It took us a long time to unpack our bags, but we did, and Cielito had managed to score us a rather expensive-looking room in Isis Bungalows right in the center of Panglao Island’s Alona Beach (note: Isis is wife of Osiris in Egyptian mythology, and Alona is probably a real name since there have been several “Alona’s” we have encountered while exploring the beach). Compared to the C’est La Vie “debacle” we had yesterday (plug, plug, plug), our room looks like the zenith of heaven, with cushiony beds, a working TV, and a wide bathroom. Oh joy!

Yep, even she’s relieved.

We haven’t mentioned it before, but the beaches in Bohol are strikingly beautiful—these are the sort of waters where you won’t mind dipping in at least once every two hours, even when swimming at high noon (which we eventually did the next day). As for the place we have chosen to stay in, it sorta-kinda looks like a miniature version of Boracay; the possible exception is that the whole place is not cramped with establishments, and the only “party place” it boasts of has a vibe that exudes that of Iloilo’s Red Paprika (the senior-looking expats may have helped a bit with the image) and—shocker of all shockers—it even closes right before midnight. However, if you are looking for all wholesomeness, then this is really a good place to let your whole family stay in without the risk of running into the prerequisite stray hooker that almost every beach resort here and in eternity is known for.

17:49—The water is indeed cool. Nothing else to report at this hour.

19:14—Who knew that looking for a decent place to eat can also double as a trek? Someone had suggested that we should have our chows in a silogan; however, the fact that almost half of us were asleep in the van while we were entering Panglao Beach earlier meant that almost everyone that can recall the silogan’s exact location has, at best, a hazy memory of it. So, there we went until we passed by a Bavarian restaurant and all we can see ahead is a dark road that occasionally shows fleeting flashes of lights from the cars that are speeding through. Dejected, we went back the route where we came from and tried to spot other places to eat where the pocket won’t suffer.

Indi halata nga gutom

We finally found one near the entryway to Alona Beach; it’s named Wok Kitchen, although there is certainly nothing about it in the place that screams “Chinese”. We don’t mind, though; we have enough “new” experiences to last us a year, and the most we can afford at this moment is a meal that won’t leave us begging like street urchins outside on the port the next day. We ate in relative silence, which is broken only by bursts of laughter derived from jokes who, god only knows, what the punchlines to those where.

21:13—We stopped by a convenience store after dinner since, as everyone knows by now, a night won’t be complete without drinking a gallon of liquor. Dirk probably paid for The Bar, but we were certain that Neshammah treated us yet to another icy treat. We trudged our way back to the Bungalow, ready to do a night of debauachery.

This is how we “party”–like thoughtful and sober adults. Yay for tagay!

22:20—As it turned out, there was not much “debauchery” being effected when we got back. All of us were pretty dead tired by that point, and we were just finishing the drinks in a contemplative mood. On the other hand, guess who went by and Skyped us right at this very moment? Yep, it was the Head Ricnian himself, and it’s too bad that the building’s Wi-Fi is terribly slow to disallow us on the Philippine side to make a proper video call with Ric. The rest of the conversation was just a blur to me, though, so if anyone is nice enough to accurately recall what had happened over the course of the next three-to-four hours, drop a comment or pass your post to ricnians_4_lyf@hotmail.com. Yes, I did just make a plug right in the middle of a post.

23:45—We’ve said it before, but the beach doesn’t have that much of a nightlife thing going for it. We’re not complaining though, but it did make us feel like, for perhaps the first time in our lives, we were the creeps intruding the party; most of the people we have spotted on the “club” (which is just a couple of buildings away from where we are staying) are probably all on their forties, at the earliest. Too bad they’re not playing ballroom music, though.

Una sa tanan, of course.

00:14—The drinking has ended, and some of us were already soundly sleeping. Here’s how our sleeping positions looked like: the four big guys are laying on the two beds which have been conjoined together at the middle, and Cielito and Neshammah are sleeping at the cold, hard floor. Neshammah is being the chivalrous one here, which is quite normal for our standards, by the way.

Day Two started with a whimper, and it also ended with a more subdued whimper. In between, it was a flurry of “tourist-ic” activities that severely tested our stamina and how much we are not willing to spend—that’s the more bagit, Philippine way for ya. This has been the longest I have written for a single post, which is a personal record for me (look out, Buko King!). Of course, I won’t regret it as much if you sound off in the comments section below or mail some content to be featured on the site at ricnians_4_lyf@hotmail.com. Let’s make this site a dynamic place to visit or, at the very least, dissuade spam posters from hijacking the page. Okay, message conveyed!

The last one standing: Neshammah

Coming soon: the finale of the three-part Ricnians Travelogue!

*(If you’re thinking of other things, then you clearly need to get your mind out of the gutter).

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The revelation that Manong Driver is a card-carrying member of the “RICNIAN FOUNDATION’
  • The bizarro Baclayan Church
  • The stinky snakes
  • The Loboc River “tour”
  • The zealous Loboc boat photographer who won’t stop bugging us unless we give him a wwwwaaaaaakiiiiiihhhh shot
  • The Loboc Children’s Choir (speaking of which, have they ever been on Showtime before?)
  • Live Tarsiers as keychains
  • The REAL Chocolate Hills
  • The homicidal photographer on said Hills
  • The jiggly bamboo Hanging Bridge
  • Buko King
  • Panglao Beach
  • Lechon Manok
  • Skyping in the middle of a drinking session
  • And most important of all, the patience of our guide and the generosity of everyone else on the trip!

 

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