November, 2011
“Bohol is an island province of the Philippines located in the Central Visayas region, consisting of Bohol Island and 75 minor surrounding islands. Its capital is Tagbilaran City. With a land area of 4,117.26 square kilometres (1,589.68 sq mi) and a coastline 261 kilometres (162 mi) long, Bohol is the tenth largest island of the Philippines.” (source:

We visited Bohol in late November, 2011. Kuya (my elder brother) has already been there with his family before so we used the same car rental that comes with driver they used. For P3,000 the car rental’s driver took us to some of the major attractions on the island from 9am to 5pm.

The tour was without a doubt full of surprises and nonstop fun. From where our resort hotel was located in the town of Baclayon, we started driving along the coastal road called Tagbilaran East Road, through the town of Albuquerque, then turned left on Loay Interior Road which headed into the island's center where the Chocolate Hills are.

Along Loay Interior Road, about a 40-minute drive in the countryside, are most of the attractions -- Chocolate Hills, Simply Butterflies Conservation Center, Man-Made Forest, Tarsier Watch, Loboc River Cruise, Hanging Bridge, and The Python Sanctuary.

Simply Butterflies Conservation Center (SBCC) was for me the sleeper-hit. It is one of my favorites. Initially, though, I was skeptical. When our tour-guide/driver told us we were going there, my thoughts were, “Butterflies? Um, why would we want to see butterflies? We’re not kids anymore.”

But once there and the conservation center's guide, Peter, approached and started giving us his talk, I was absorbed. He seemed to know more behind his scripted talk. Indeed, when I asked a few questions, he offered more information. (That’s a tip right there. Their scripts maybe dumbed down. Ask and ye shall receive more advanced information.) I read two recent books by American publishers that touched on evolution and ecology, and our tour guide, Peter, may well have been reciting from them*.

Perhaps because I found the admission prices so cheap -- literally pocket change if you’re spending in dollars -- my expectations have been set low. I do not like using the phrase “world class” because it really doesn’t say anything, but what we found at the attractions on the island were on par with if not better than many of the attractions we’ve been to elsewhere in the world that cost so much, much more.

Then on the trip back are Baclayon Church, Blood Compact Statue, the Blood Compact Actual Site, and a multi-story souvenir shop that sold great quality souvenir items at cheap prices called Aproniana. If you ever come to Bohol, buy all your Philippines souvenir T-shirts there. Forget about Shoemart's SM Kultura or the souvenir stores at NAIA -- they sell traditionally designed T-shirts that are by now baduy at highly pretentious prices -- Aproriana's hippie dyed T-shirts have brightly colored, really cool, and witty I-Love-Bohol designs, logos, and slogans that cost so much less.

During the tour, Tatay (my father-in-law) asked the driver about the Boholanos’ dialect. Rene, our driver, said it’s the same Cebuano from the neighboring island of Cebu. But, Rene added, the Boholanos’ tone was different.

With the way he said that, it almost sounded as if he was implying that their tone was better-sounding than the Cebuanos’ and perhaps the correct one. It was hard to tell but I thought I detected some pride -- especially when he followed the discussion by naming famous Boholanos: Cesar Montano, Yoyoy Villame, and Carlos P. Garcia -- as if maybe there’s a hearty competition going on between Boholanos and Cebuanos that went on for ages in the two islands’ histories.

I have never been to Cebu. Being one of the most progressive cities in the Philippines, I imagine Cebu and not Tagbilaran in Bohol would by a big margin be the bigger draw for tourism in the region.

Still, I can’t help but wonder. Chocolate Hills and the Tarsiers are unique to the island and they’re not even half of what the island has to offer. With the other man-made attractions, maybe the Boholanos are trying to outdo their neighbors and are succeeding -- at least to me they are.

Whatever the case, with the attractions we saw in Bohol -- especially with the kindness and trustworthiness displayed by the Boholanos we met who were likely not being coached from corporate headquarters to be nice but instead were just being their hospitable, humble selves -- I would say that visiting Bohol may make you put off plans for visiting other locales in the region Cebu included until a future date, at least until after one’s enchantment with Bohol had worn off, which might not happen for a very long time.

And even then, you might be surprised when instead you find yourself deciding on visiting Bohol a second time.

(Here's a guide that discusses essentially what we did:

* Specifically:

(1) How caterpillars evolved to become awful-tasting. One bite from a bird and the bird will go, “blecch”, and fly off to find other, better-tasting prey. But, surely, the caterpillar that was just bitten for a taste was killed. So, in effect, a caterpillar sacrifices itself to save the tribe. Natural Selection may not be about a single organism’s evolving to become fit to survive, but rather, Natural Selection may also be about a group’s evolving to become fit to survive. Altruism -- the act of giving kindness to strangers -- therefore exists among animals.

(2) How we are changing the way we care for crops -- and the "pests" that may not be pests after all. In the past, the agriculture industry killed caterpillars (among other insects) because they eat and destroy the crops. But later we found out that the butterflies that the caterpillars turn into help in pollinating. So we really need them. What SBCC is doing is carefully pick the caterpillars from the wild, bring them into their conservation center where they are allowed to feed on plants, then once they turn into butterflies, are released into the wild again.

Click on a picture to enlarge.
On the morning of our tour, I went across Tagbilaran East Road to this wharf, where many fishing boats lay.
Our resort hotel, Coconut Palms.
There were many little crabs -- I forgot what they’re called, Tatay told me they’re not crabs -- that ran sideways and hid beneath rocks with their eyes protruding and ostensibly watching me whenever I changed positions to take pictures.
A nipa-thatch-roofed barbecue stall bedecked with cellphone-minutes ads.
Chocolate Hills of Bohol.
On the way there, I asked our tour guide if it was possible to hike in the hills themselves. I thought it must be. It’s a big area and the locals must traverse the hills all the time forming a trail.
He said something like, not really, but some ride their ATVs. I was a little shocked by this because ATVs might ruin the hills’ perfect mounds.
Then I realized also that what he meant by “not really” was more like, not generally advised. Because of the hot climate, hiking is probably not a leisure activity among the locals. Instead, theywalk long distances through hills, forests, and whatnot out of necessity.
What he didn’t tell me, perhaps to surprise me, was that the viewing deck was actually on top of one such hill. So we get to enjoy the surrounding 360-degree view of the Chocolate Hills and get to climb on top of one, too. Really neat.
Peace Pole at Chocolate Hills.
Rice fields in Bohol.
Butterfly at Simply Butterfly Conservation Center.
Man-Made Forest.
On our way there, I asked our tour guide why would anyone make a forest when it's already a forest?

I thought I had him stumped because he seemed to search for an answer. I thought I had asked a question no one had asked him before.

Finally he said someone planted mahogany trees there which were not native to Bohol.

I thought that was a good answer.
Tarsier. Dubbed, “the smallest monkey in the world”, the Tarsier is not really a monkey because it's a carnivore -- it eats insects.
Start of Loboc River Cruise.
Loboc River.
Live music performers on the river cruise.
The river cruise ends at a waterfall, after which the boat makes a U-turn for the trip back to home base.
One of the side attractions on the Loboc River Cruise is a full orchestra and dance theater. After their immersive song and dance numbers, my Tatay put P20 (less than 50 cents) in the donation box. Another tourist did the same. So you see, especially coming out in great numbers as they do, they’re not exactly making a killing doing what they love doing.
I may look scared in this photo but I wasn't really scared. I was just play-acting pretending to be scared for the benefit of the people outside the cage. In fact, while my one hand is stroking the python, on my other hand is my pocket video recorder. I was doing this in the event that the python snaps to attention and swallows my arm, then at least I would have caught it on video.
Kidding aside, I was surprised at how loose the snake’s skin felt. I can move it around in circles as if the skin was not attached to the flesh underneath.
Baby Asian leopard at the Python Sanctuary. The face has the stripes of a tiger while the body has the polka dots of a leopard.
Monkey at the Python Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is actually a mini-zoo of sorts.
Baclayon Church interior.
Stained glass lighting on the pews.
Baclayon Church altar.
Baclayon Church nave and gallery.
Baclayon Church.
Baclayon Church confessional.
On the day of our departure from Bohol, I cross Tagbilaran East Road again for more shots.
Fishing net.
We hit Aproriana again for more souvenir stuff. Our hotel minvan did not mind at all when we asked if we could stop here along the way to the airport. I seemed to me they were more than willing to do so, adding to their pride of everything Bohol.
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