What’s not to love about Bohol?
By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated April 15, 2012
MANILA, Philippines - I have been to Bohol four times in the past. Fifteen years ago, I went diving in Panglao. And I came back three more times with the APO for shows where we arrived the day of the show, performed, stayed overnight and left the next morning, seeing nothing except the drive from and to the airport, the concert venue and our hotel rooms. This year, I was determined not to let the summer of 2012 pass without visiting Bohol again, this time as a real tourist.
I finally went back by myself to Bohol three weeks ago and stayed at Amorita Resort, a quaint and beautiful boutique resort with less than 50 rooms on Panglao Island. It rests on a hill and has a majestic 180-degree view of Alona Beach, the resorts below, and the boats moored nearby on the Bohol Sea.
Amorita’s manager James San Diego and his staff welcomed me warmly and brought me to a luxurious villa which was to be my quarters for the next few days. The villa, a gated hideaway with first-class amenities, has a spacious bedroom, a pool and an elaborate toilet and bath. On the bed were flower petals arranged to spell “Welcome.” It was such a charming touch, I was moved to take a photo of it.
Lunch was a five-course meal prepared by chef Raphael Ongchiong, consisting of pork, crustaceans, beef, fish and vegetables prepared the Boholano way with a touch of coconut for a unique gastronomic experience. It was both sumptuous and scrumptious, and I threw caution to the winds, eating quite a lot, even if I knew a full stomach would not serve me well for the active afternoon of sightseeing that was to follow.
Our guide, Eric Joseph Canete, a native of Bohol, was sent by Governor Edgar Chatto to take Amorita’s manager James and I to see the sights. We visited the old historic Baclayon Church where Eric pointed out the significance of the structure, its statues, altars, pews and other details, replete with historical data. He also brought us to the site where the blood compact between Sikatuna and Magellan was made in 1521.
It was, of course, a must to visit the diminutive tarsiers of Bohol in their natural habitat. I snapped a few pictures of these loveable endangered creatures. It was fascinating and at the same time sad to learn that tarsiers are so sensitive that when they are depressed, they sometimes commit suicide by banging their heads on trees, or starving themselves.
We drove more than 100 kilometers that afternoon visiting other scenic places but the most thrilling site for me was the Chocolate Hills. I had only previously seen this attraction in pictures and let me say that actually being there and seeing this natural wonder up close and personal was an indescribable high. I was in awe at what looked like the creation of a very playful and whimsical God. It is a truly unique, jaw-dropping sight, and it is found only in Bohol.
That evening, we went to a community pavilion by the Loboc River where I tried my hand at weaving nipa, a native plant traditionally used as roofing material, with the help of one of the women weavers.
We then proceeded to a simple dinner followed by a leisurely boat ride on the river. In the pitch darkness, we were charmed at the sight of thousands of fireflies that lit up the trees along the river, looking, for all the world, like sparkling Christmas lights. It was a moment worthy of wonder and reverence and I said a silent prayer of gratitude for the tantalizing spectacle before us.
The next morning, I was met at the lobby by a comely young Swiss woman who introduced herself as a dive master. She was going to give me a free introductory dive, but when I told her that I’ve had a diver’s license for almost 15 years, we decided to do a full dive in the ocean. I was quite anxious since my last scuba adventure was actually some four years ago. But thank God, everything went well; my knowledge and instincts were intact, and I enjoyed myself immensely. Bohol’s undersea life is still in relatively great condition; it has many marvels it can be proud of.
After the dive, James took me on a tour he is putting together exclusively for Amorita Resort patrons. First stop was a well-preserved heritage house near the resort. We also went to the Dauis church which really made an impression on me. It stands by the river, staunch and sturdy, its history, interiors, coffee shop, courtyard, gardens, and especially the miraculous stories associated with the church, captivating the visitor. There are stories of visitations by Our Lady some centuries back and how she protected the townspeople from invaders by creating a well inside the church that sustained them when they sought refuge there.
The last part of the tour was a truly challenging adventure. In a huge eco-park and reserve in Catigbian called Date, we hiked up a trail to cross a hanging bridge that swayed menacingly over a deep ravine. As if that wasn’t intimidating enough, we then had to cross a “monkey bridge” as they call it, which spanned another deep gorge. We had to walk on a single cable while holding on to cables on both sides.
As I took a few steps on the cable, vertigo kicked in and I almost backed out. In fact, I turned back. But I knew that I would be sorry and less of the adventurer I fancied myself to be, if I didn’t go through this so I went back on the cable and proceeded slowly with my eyes locked on my guide’s. She helped me cross to the other side, walking backwards while reassuring me that I was doing fine. It was exhilarating.
The last challenge — a 25-second zip-line that brought us back to our starting point — was rather tame after that.
My last dinner at Amorita was served al fresco on a patio overlooking the ocean dotted with little boats all lit up, and the resorts by the beach. Chef Rafael prepared another gourmet feast of kinilaw salad, pumpkin soup, medallion steak, fish and, for dessert, fresh mango with ice cream. It was a dinner to remember.
When I went back to my room after dinner, I smiled upon seeing the now familiar petals on my bed, this time spelling “Goodnight.”
Leaving Amorita, I realize that it is the little things — the warm gestures, the genuine smiles and heartfelt greetings, the unforgettable touches, and the impeccable service — that make a place worth remembering and coming back to. And Amorita’s staff was extremely generous in all aspects of service, comfort and hospitality.
I had borrowed a guitar on the night I arrived, thinking that I might write a song while I was there. A member of the staff gamely lent me his, with a request that I sign the guitar before I left, which I did.
Bohol itself beckons the traveler to return. I realize that I have hardly experienced the place since there is so much this province has to offer and a sojourn of three days and two nights is just not enough to see it all. Leafing through tourist pamphlets and surfing the Internet, I know I have barely scratched the surface of his lovely island. But I plan to return, having promised myself to get to know this fascinating destination more intimately. I am even dreaming of one day owning a tiny shack on a small stretch of a glistening beach on this island.
Bohol is, after all, not a mere one-night stand, or a weekend affair. It has all the markings of a long-term, loving relationship — for keeps. I am hooked. I will be back.
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