GOING PLACES: The Phenomenal Province of Bohol | EPISODE 2 PUHON
When I was two years old, we moved to Belgium. But my mom and dad made sure that I stayed connected to my roots, so every summer, we would visit Bohol. As a kid, I haven't fully grasped why that was important but I remember being in awe of Bohol’s natural sights every summer that we’d visit. As I grew up, I understood the special connection my mom has to this island province, its culture, and its people.
It’s her home and by extension mine. At 12, we moved back here, and I saw more of the wonders it has to offer. My love for this place has only grown exponentially since. It’s always a phenomenal feeling to bask in the beauty of this little paradise on earth. Makes you think that God must be an artist.
And a great one for that matter. Even now, having lived here for 13 years, Bohol never ceases to surprise and amaze me. There is always something new to discover, on land or underwater.
Always something new to try, always a new opportunity to share food with friends and even strangers, always a new chance to come together in faith. Every morning one wakes up in this little paradise, there is always that new life, new experience, a new sight to behold. When this pandemic is over and we’re all fully back on our feet, may you get to witness Bohol’s natural and cultural wonders, and experience the Bol-anon hospitality. But for now, let us take the ultimate Bohol experience to you.
Travelling during the time of pandemic calls for extra safety measures. For this trip, our team followed the travel requirements set by the province of Bohol and the IATF. We had our RT-PCR swab tests in Manila 2 days before our flight and everyone tested negative for the virus. We also stayed home and avoided contact with other people before our flight.
After Landing in Panglao International Airport, we were guided to a staging area where safety protocols like social distancing, wearing of masks and face shields, keeping the hands clean with alcohol were reiterated. You can’t be too careful during these times! And to make things as contactless as possible, they gave us tourism bubble IDs with QR Codes we’d scan on entry points of destinations we’ll visit throughout the trip. Then came that warm Bol-anon welcome we absolutely didn’t expect.
Aside from the amazing view, what I love about Bellevue is its dedication to sustainable tourism. Everything here is eco-friendly and caring for Mother Earth is on their top priority. So we're staying at the Bellevue Resort here in Panglao, Bohol. It is a five-star accredited resort on the island. And also in the ASEAN Green Hotel Awardee, this will be our home for the next few days and I'm so excited to be here everyone has been so welcoming, and I hope that the girls, will enjoy their stay too. It was only our first day but our schedule was really something.
After we freshened up, we went to the Loboc River! This pristine emerald winding river is one of the major destinations here in Bohol. It’s known for the boat cruises and floating restaurants that serve a buffet of Pinoy and Bol-anon specialties. Calories. Before the pandemic, Amore Cruises can serve up to 2500 plates in a day.
Now, that’s down to 25 plates on a good day. The outbreak disrupted the world as we know it and tourism is one of the industries that was struck the hardest. And Bol-anon tourism isn’t spared. One year ago, yeah one year ago, exactly one year ago, we were told, we were gonna stop operations we fought for a month, we really thought for a month, so I told my employees, 'Just hang on and wait for this pandemic to pass.' But now, we really had to let go of all our employees. Our kitchen, we had 72 employees. I only have 5 left.
And all the boat staff, we have 4 operators here in Loboc. We also had to let go of our people. It was really that bad, until now.
'Cause like before, we used to serve 2,500 to 3,000 guests a day. But now, we're happy we have 2, or 6 in a day. It's been really difficult. But yeah, we just have to be strong, and slowly, like now, recover.
Yeah, but the pandemic also had some like a little positive effects. It gave us time to, like, pause. So like now, for the new normal, we renovated our boat. So if you noticed, we added, yeah, Boholano architecture to the designs of the boats unlike before. So we tried to make it suit with the nature aspect.
So at least, we had that change during the pandemic, yeah. And also, like, we had to revisit our food, our services. We studied where we could improve.
So hopefully, in the new normal, it would be a new Loboc cruise. Not only the boats, but also the dishes. Pausin' it was a necessary step back for a while. I'd like to think that. One step back, so we can take three steps forward. Exactly, that's our mindset.
We can do nothing. One year is over so just to move forward, and be better. At some point of the cruise, a performance by Gotosan Balsa performers, a community of dancers, singers, and instrumentalists, was waiting for us.
[Singing] After indulging in sweets, time for a little cardio. A trip to Bohol wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the famous Chocolate Hills! [Harmonizing] There are many different folklores about the Chocolate Hills I've heard before. Two of them I actually really like. One, is about two giants throwing rocks at each other and the debris then forming our famous Chocolate Hills. And then there's another one, also involving two giants.
But these do flick boogers instead of throwing rocks. Whichever you like the most, that's the one we can stick with. These majestic symmetrical mounds cover about 50 hectares of land. Did you know that they are actually grass-covered limestones? Being home to a number of important geological and archaeological treasures, Bohol has submitted a proposal to be a part of the UNESCO Geopark Network.
And Chocolate Hills is one of the wonders included in that geopark among other marvelous sites we’ll get to visit on the next days of our trip. Next up! ATV ride at Sotera’s with Billie! I was proud of Billie for coming with us. I know she’s not big on physical activities like this but we had so much fun. It was awesome driving through big puddles of muddy water. At one point of the trail, we got stuck on the mud but that just added to the experience! What a way to end our first day! On the second day of our trip, the plan was to visit places I haven’t been to yet. Time to cross out items from my Bohol Travel Bucketlist! We had to hit the road very early because it’s gonna be a two and a half hour drive to get to Anda from Bellevue.
Anda is a small municipality in the south eastern part of Bohol. It has world-class white beaches, rock formations, caves, and forests. Lamanoc Island is one of the most famous attractions there.
Lamanoc is called the cradle of civilization in Bohol. It's a sacred and spiritual place with fascinating archeological and cultural sites. It’s also included in the Bohol Island Geopark.
We were welcomed by Kuya Fortunato, our enthusiastic tour guide who right away gave us an idea of what to expect on the island. I tell the people here, Lamonoc is always the place full of secrets. The doorstep to the opening power of the unknown.
Any of this cannot be found in any history book. You can find it here in Lamanoc. This long bamboo boardwalk leads to the boatman’s quarter where we’ll ride a bangka to get to the island. The water is pretty shallow. Tourists can choose to wade through to get to Lamanoc when the tides are low. So better bring the right footwear if you're down for that.
They call it the Lamanoc Island Mystic Tour Experience and I gotta say there’s a certain eeriness and mysteriousness to the place. On our way to the Red Hematite Painting, he kept on asking us if our cameras were working because apparently, there have been a lot of cases where tourists can't seem to use their fully-charged cameras while on the island. That is mixed with a lot of other things too.
Might be blood, might be because “hema” is blood or might be sap from a tree like that But we still don't know the exact data. The abstract painting was both fascinating and scary. it’s remarkable how ancient islanders made use of the resources they had at that time to come up with such a painting. I can't help but picture them stroking their fingers, recording their existence for us to discover.
Beside the painting was one of the many old wooden coffins found on the island. It was protected by this stone barrier. Kuya Forting told us that there’s a stronger spiritual activity beyond the barrier. You crossed the barrier.
We need to bring a chicken here. But went on to say I can try fitting into the coffin. Uhm, no thank you! In some of the caverns, we also saw broken clay burial jars and bone fragments. Apparently, some people broke these jars in search of treasures. It only gets creepier from here.
After that, Kuya Forting guided us to Ka Iska’s cave. Legend has it that Ka Iska or Francesca is a witch who was suspected to prey on pregnant women on Anda. She was banished by the townspeople and hid in this cave. People believe that she died on Lamanoc island and her spirit still roams around. And finally our last stop on the island is the Lamanoc Cave or the Shaman’s Cave. During the pre-colonial time, priests and babaylans made offerings here to the nature spirits or diwatas to ask for bountiful harvests or more magical powers.
And the common offering is, you guessed it, live chickens, hence the island’s name. To this day, that tradition still lives on. Before going to the inner parts of the cave, we had to ask permission from the spirits. And Kuya Forting, uses this small bottle suspended on a string to talk to them. He asked them to move the bottle back and forth if we can pass through. As a way of saying thank you, I also left a little offering in the Lamanoc Cave.
It never really hurts to believe, I guess. And I was grateful for safe passage through the island, and I was hoping for a successful and beautiful experience in Bohol. For all of us. The tour lived up to its name. Chill-inducing sights with rich history and lore, told by the amazing Kuya Forting.
It’s definitely worth the 2 and a half hour drive from Panglao. The road less travelled is actually a segment which i really want to include in this amazing series. Because I consider Bohol my home, but I haven't learned and haven't seen everything yet, that there is too see and that there is to learn here in Bohol. And with this series, with exploring more of this beautiful province, I was hoping that I myself, along with everybody else could somehow reconnect with our history, with our culture, with the beauty of nature here, and somehow, also, discover more of ourselves along the way. Continuing our trip to the Bohol Geopark sites, we travelled north of Anda to the town of Alicia to see the oldest rock on the island and the Princess Manan-aw Cave! At first look, it may seem like any other rocky cliff but the interesting thing about this rock is it’s over a hundred million years old. The rock is believed to have formed between the Late Jurassic and the Early Cretaceous eras.
I wonder what Bohol looked like during the Age of Dinosaurs. Up next is the Princess Manan-aw Cave. It was quite challenging to explore this cave. It was dark inside and the trail was very rocky and tricky but the formations inside are breathtaking. These are sculptures created by Mother Nature using water, gas, and chemical reactions, over a hundred thousand years in the making! It was called the Princess Manan-aw cave because of a rock formation that resembles a princess wearing a ball gown. Now for a sweet final stop for our Day 2! On our way back to Bellevue, we dropped by the Ching’s Calamay, the most renowned maker of the traditional Calamay on the island.
Ma’am Ching has been making this original Calamay recipe since she was 13 years old back in 1966. That’s 55 years ago! There’s no better place to learn how to make one of my favorite Bol-anon delicacies than Ching’s! Calamay's made from brown sugar, fresh coconut milk, and glutinous rice. They stir these ingredients together in a large kawa over firewood for 7 long hours to get that signature gooeyness! Once the perfect texture and consistency is achieved, the Calamay is skillfully transferred to coconut shells for cooling using two forks.
Then, the calamay-filled coconut shells are lined on a cooling rack. And then finally, they’re sealed using that iconic red paper we all know and love! Crack test! Twist and stretch test! Taste test! Approved! The theme for our third day is UNDER! Underwater and underground! We stopped by Bohol Beach Club to meet my divemaster for the day Paolo Fonacier who’s also the owner of the resort. It was a 50 minute ride to Balicasag Island, a popular diving and snorkeling sanctuary here in Bohol. But time flew by so fast because Pao is quite the conversationalist. So once I took the instructor course in 2017, I've been teaching ever since after. It didn't feel like work anymore, it all meshed together.
More often than not, instead of having an office four walls, one door, one window, I don't have to share an office with 600,000 other people out here I share the biggest office in the world. There's always suprises, every dive, it's going to be different, like yesterday, there was a whale shark, okay surprise! I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the whale shark sighting today. Because it's not a well known fact but whale sharks, mobula rays, devil rays, they're wild also they're not from Oslob It was a tough time, the first few months, I had to get used to the fact that the resort was pitch black dark, for the first few months. So kinda creepy. Good news it's slowly coming back, the restrictions are getting released. Pre-covid it was... diving everyday, sometimes 2-3 dives a day.
Typically, there'll be island trips going to Balicasag. They have to be vigilant, but at the same time, we can't stay on lockdown for another year. We have to open up. 15 minutes away from the island, we did a refresher of the scuba diving hand signals! Also, just remember the hand signs also. Everything's okay, answer the question, this is okay. Not okay.
We go up, we go down. We're going this way, and we're going that way. Look at me. Another way we can do this, look at me. Shark. Big one.
Behind you. I don't know if I wanna know that. If I do this, and I have this one, That's tell tale signs of a whale shark because of the biggest one. Not like Meg is gonna come out to get you. I'm okay without signing. No, also, this way.. There's no..
I don't know with the typical sign, because there are signs for fish also. For example this is barracuda, because it's stripes. Also, it's this big, about the size of your arm, so if it's like this, it's barracuda, turtle could be like this. If you're lazy, it could be either two thumbs like this, or like this. For? Turtle. Pawikan.
They are the lawnmowers of the ocean in Balicasag. They make sure it doesn't overgrow, because if it overgrows, and there's too much seagrass, it could actually kill, and suffocate the corals. So, this kinda keeps them in check. I can't speak for the ocean, the ocean can be a bit of a temperamental sort of person also.
We're gonna do the giant stride entry for today. Okay? What you're gonna do is put on your VCD. Cover your face, cover your mask Make sure your VCD is inflated. Entirely? Yeah, entirely. You stand up there, in the front.
Now, do not pull up, jump one. Just pull a giant stride. The right hand will be supporting your face, regulator. Now, once you're in the water, you'll float, because your VCD is inflated. Whenever you're ready, we go down. If you feel the pressure, equalize, okay? Then, underwater we go! It was my first time to dive in the waters of Balicasag island.
It was beautiful. It really is a whole new world down there. I was happy to sea some sea turtles. A lot of them, actually. And I was keeping my fingers crossed the entire time to see some whale sharks, but maybe we'll have better luck next time.
Pao was right. The ocean was indeed quite temperamental. The undercurrent was strong, and we had to resurface earlier than planned. Let’s go back to the island, land creatures! After our dive, we went to Mithi Resort to explore the Cambagat Cave.
An underground cave with inviting cave pools. I would’ve swam and dived into the pools but it has been a long day and it’s time to try Mithi’s ube dishes! Ubi is one of our staple crops here in Bohol. In fact, we love it so much we dedicated a whole festival for it! The Ubi festival. One of the highlights of this year’s celebration, was the ube cook off among the major resorts and restaurants in the province.
U-BE surprised how versatile and delicious ubi can be! Let’s dig in! UBE talaga! Ultimate Bohol Experience. The natural wonders. The hospitality. The stories The community. The food. This is my home and I’m glad I got to explore it more and share my experiences with you.
And though we only really bonded together on our last day, I had an absolute blast with these lovely ladies! Watch out for their episodes as well! Throughout the trip, I formed a deeper appreciation of how phenomenal Bohol is and how important tourism is to Bol-anons. You already know what the word "puhon" means right? So what's your puhon at the moment? What are you most hopeful for? Everyone coming back and at the same time they would learn that okay we need to more careful, we need to take care of ourselves. In general, I just want to see people again.
I know all of us have been affected by the pandemic in some form or another, but I wanna take this opportunity to invite you to visit our beloved home when things get better. Add Bohol to your travel bucket list! It may be later, rather than sooner, but this too shall pass, puhon.