Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bolting out to Bohol (Part 1)

Blood Compact Shrine
Bohol. It’s one place I find synonymous with having a ball, a boon or a boost. Why? Because this island province in Central Visayas conjures up images of heaven here on earth replete with all the bonuses that I, and perhaps other trippers as well, want to see in a tropical island destination: pristine beaches, emerald waters, lush marine life, world-class amenities, heritage landmarks, among others.

Tarsier, one of Bohol's pride
It comes as no surprise then that this tourist-friendly destination near Cebu ranks as one of the Philippines’ prime eco-tourism hotspots. Every year, around half a million tourists from here and abroad troop to Bohol to buck up in the blitheness of its sun, sea and sand as well as bask in the beauty of its natural attractions and vestiges of its Hispanic past. And who in his right mind would pass up the chance to be in the so-called “Jewel of the Philippines”? 

Chocolate HIlls

Bilar man-made forest
Dumaluan Beach
Whenever I feel bored, bothered, or boxed in, I’d always think of bolting out to a faraway destination to get a quick fix. And if my schedule and resources warrant it or if some kind-hearted patron comes to the rescue, I’d hastily grab my backpack and head off for some great escape. Almost always, Bohol turns up on my list of options.

Loboc River
I so love going to the island province for three reasons: one, the Chocolate Hills and other scenic natural attractions are alluring; two, the historical and cultural landmarks are aplenty; and three, the locals, in general, are amiable even to strangers. The oval-shaped island’s accessibility is also a plus factor to this adventure junkie; it can be reached from a number of takeoff points using different modes of transportation, be it land, air, sea, or combinations of these. 
Bohol Strait
Getting around my destination of choice is also quite easy as there are a number of tricycles, motorbikes, multicabs, jeepneys, buses and  even taxis that can take you wherever you want to go. Mind you, the drivers there won’t give you that feeling you’ve boarded a tourist trap or something to that effect. 

Since 2003, I’ve made it to Bohol on three occasions either for a professional or a personal sortie. Each visit always outclassed the last one, showing me a distinct side of the place I missed during the previous trip. I’d usually take off from nearby Cebu since it gets me to my destination in about two hours by fast craft. So far, I’ve explored its central, western and northwestern parts. This means revisits are in order if only to explore other places I haven’t covered. Yikes, I wish I’ll have the wherewithal for those future sojourns! 

This summer, I got the chance to bolt out again from the humdrum of the daily grind, bouncing back to Bohol for a weekend vacay (my fourth time!). Initially, I thought it’s going to be a solo adventure with me left on my own devices to explore the island. But I was fortunate to get the services of a tour guide/driver/photographer named Julius and a cave guide/shoot director/photographer named Eman who helped me turn all my plans into reality.

Loay Church
For nearly two days, I went on with the tightly-packed itinerary with the help of these two fellows, hopping around the capital as well as the quaint towns of Alburquerque, Baclayon, Balilihan, Bilar, Carmen, Loay, Loboc, Maribojoc, Dauis and Panglao to see Bohol’s renowned heritage churches. Aside from visiting Bohol’s centuries-old houses of prayer, what kept me abuzz while I was all over the island? Too many to mention! 

 Hinagdanan Cave
Nonetheless, here’s a list of things I’ve done not only for this trip but also during my previous sorties which I hope would guide other tourists bound for Bohol. Not only will these provide them an awe-inspiring tableau of the island’s treasures but also make their escape to Bohol something that couldn’t be quickly erased from memory. So, here we go: 

Bohol Provincial Capitol

Trek all over Tagbi. All roads in Bohol usually lead to Tagbilaran, the capital and gateway to the province. Known as Tagbi to both locals and tourists alike, it also serves as the hub of the island’s business and trading activities as well as the center of governance. Named as one of the country’s “20 Most Competitive Cities” in 2005 and 2007, Tagbi has been hailed by the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA) as one of the eight Philippine Dream Cities. 

Tagbilaran City Hall
Still a young urban center, Tagbi is made up of about fifteen barangays, four of which comprise the city’s urban and central business district. It may be wanting in agricultural lands and fishing grounds but the city makes up for these deficiencies through its strategic position as Bohol’s hub for education, trade and commerce as well as the seat of the provincial government and main gateway to the whole island.

One of Tagbi's malls
Here’s one city that’s bereft of natural resources yet still on the rise, capitalizing mostly on the tourism boom to fuel its engines of socio-economic growth. Tagbi is a showcase of Bohol’s economic metamorphosis in the last few decades as evidenced by the business and commercial establishments that have sprouted. So far, it has three large malls, and a handful of smaller shopping centers offering a variety of goods and services, including two homegown mouth-watering delicacies—Peanut  Kisses and Edelweiss Torta!  

Scattered all over the city are several hotels, resorts, and restaurants, which have contributed in making it a preferred venue of national conventions, conferences, seminars and related events. No doubt about it, Tagbi is an interesting place, a certified tourist magnet, an ethereal haven for the world-weary. That’s why I like Bohol’s capital a lot—not too crowded, not too fast-paced, not too intimidating.

Meander around museums and mansions.  Though reeling from the stupor of the gruelling trip to Tagbi, I mustered enough strength to get out of my hotel to catch some fresh air. Reaching the town center, I walked around searching for a place to grab some eats and scout for a tour guide-driver. Then, I found myself standing at the doorsteps of the National Museum in Bohol where I got to see once again many traces of the island’s colorful past. 

History buffs will find a trip to that historical bunker, once the home of President Carlos Garcia, a delightful way to know more about the province and its origins. Several memorabilia of the late chief executive, who happens to be one of Bohol’s most revered sons, together with other historical, botanical, zoological and archeological artifacts found in the province, are housed in the museum. 

It was my second time to visit the provincial depository, which is located just a stone’s throw away from the capitol, where I got to take another peek at the rarities found inside. The brief tour left me in awe once again as I examined the artifacts attesting to Bohol’s prehistoric past, including the two slabs of wood that once formed part of a 500-year old house post of a pre-Spanish settlement and the skeletal remains of a Boholana! 

Speaking about rarities, my recent tour in the island province included a trek to one of its ancestral houses, that is, the old home of the once prominent Clarin family in the town of Loay. Two members of the clan, brothers Jose Arsenio and Olegario, were once elected senators of the Philippines during the 1930s-40s. Jose Arsenio was said to have been instrumental the construction of the first all-steel bridge over Loboc River in 1914.
Clarin Ancestral House
Noted for its traditional Spanish-Filipino architecture, the Clarin ancestral house is typical bahay-na-bato (stone house) made of coral stones, with wooden posts, walls and capiz shell windows. Declared as a National Heritage Site, it’s probably the most visited among Bohol’s ancient abodes. 

Built in 1840, the house has been converted into a museum (under the auspices of the National Historical Institute) showcasing several antique furniture and memorabilia owned by the Clarins. Roaming around the house, I had a great time going over several old stuff which I think badly needs preservation efforts if only to protect them from the elements. 

Relics inside Bohol Museum

Hunt down historic havens. Bohol made a mark in Philippine history because of two major uprisings when we were under Spain. I’m referring to the rebellions incited by Tamblot and Dagohoy, both of which had the colonizers cracking their heads on how to quell the budding insurrection taking place in various parts of the islands. It was these revolts, numbering over a hundred for a long span of time, which somehow roused our ancestors to turn the tables on the abusive Spanish regime.

Led by a babaylan (indigenous leader functioning as medicine man, seer, shaman and “miracle worker”), the Tamblot Uprising of 1621 stemmed from conflicts between the Filipinos’ old beliefs and the new religion imposed by Spain. Though short-lived and unsuccessful, this religious revolt is one of our earlier attempts to stand up against a foreign power. Ironically, the Spaniards won by pitting an army composed mostly of Cebuano soldiers against the Boholano rebels.

While surfing the Internet, I chanced upon a pic of a monument supposedly dedicated to Tamblot but it didn’t spell out the exact location. But there’s a wood carving of Bohol’s folk hero which I stumbled upon while roaming around the museum in Tagbi. If there’s none in the works yet, I hope Boholanos would put up a prominent shrine for this intrepid babaylan who dared defy the colonizers.

And who can forget the Dagohoy Revolt of 1744-1829, which has gone down in our country’s history as the longest rebellion ever? Instigated by Francisco Dagohoy, a cabeza de barangay (village head) from the northern town of Inabanga, the uprising (which lasted for 85 years!) resulted from the injustices that the Jesuit priests inflicted upon the townspeople such as forced labor, excessive tax collection and payment of tributes, to name a few. 

If I can recall it right, it was the refusal of a Jesuit priest to give a Christian burial to Dagohoy’s brother that served as the final straw that broke the camel’s back, prompting Dagohoy to rally the Boholanos to rise up in arms against the Spaniards. There’s supposedly a marker dedicated to Dagohoy in the town of Danao. Too bad, it’s way out of my itinerary so I had to skip seeing the shrine. Anyway, it’ll be one of my missions in my future visits. 

Blood Compact Shrine
Burst into a beacon of bonding. There's this historical shrine just outside Tagbi proper which I had the chance to see during my very first visit to Bohol. The “bloody” landmark commemorates the first international treaty of friendship between the early Filipinos and the Europeans—the Blood Compact or Sandugo—involving Sikatuna, Bohol's chieftain, and conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, representing the king of Spain, which took place on March 16, 1565. 

Sculpted by no less than National Artist Napoleon Abueva, a Boholano himself, the shrine lies in the village of Bool, which is just three kilometers away from the downtown area and is  quite accessible since it’s located along the coastal highway. After picking me up at my hotel, Julius drove me there to kick off my tour into the countryside. Seeing the shrine for the second time, I noticed that a hotel is now in the works adjacent to it.

At that hour of the morning, only a handful of tourists were around so I was able to engage myself in a no-rush photoshoot with the life-size statues of the Sandugo’s main protagonists. Braving the sweltering heat of the summer sun, I took shots all over the shrine whose main feature includes the sculptures of five men gathered around a table, with Sikatuna and Legazpi performing a toast. Julius also took snaps of me together with the sculptures.

While standing on the marble platform where the images are mounted, I was treated to a picturesque vista of the Bohol Sea and the nearby island of Panglao. It was one rare moment I managed to capture in my Nikon. Gazing at the stoic images, I recalled the controversy among history writers surrounding this historic moment.

Historians like Dr. Sonia Zaide, for instance, argued that the said treaty between Sikatuna and Legazpi wasn't the first. Several years earlier, Portuguese maritime explorer Ferdinand Magellan and Rajah Kolambo of Masao (which is part of present-day Butuan City) had made the first blood compact on March 29, 1521! 

I wonder if the issue has already been settled. Anyway, I’m just a dabbler in history so I’d rather leave it to the experts to separate the factual from the fictitious. Whether it’s fact or fiction, Boholanos, however, continue to celebrate the historic bonding between Bohol’s king and the Spanish conquistador through the month-long celebration of Sandugo Festival held every July. Incidentally, sandugo means "one blood" in the vernacular.

(to be continued)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Genial in GovGen (Part 2)

En route to Cape San Agustin, we had a brief stopover at the coastal village of Montserrat. On a clear day, the village would have looked picturesque when captured in photos but on that gloomy afternoon it seemed rather drab and dull. Still, we managed to take a few shots of that part of the town. 

From Montserrat, our next stop was the sleepy village of Magdug where we were enthralled to see a gargantuan tree that’s said to be three hundred years old! For the next few minutes, it was once again photo ops time for the adventure-seeking bunch.

Wasting no time, we drove farther towards the southernmost town of GovGen where the awesome Cape San Agustin is found: Lavigan. For the most part, I felt comfy as we trod the paved portion of the Tibanban-Lavigan coastal road but when the bumps and humps became constant and the unpaved paths turned dangerously narrow, a twinge of anxiety suddenly welled up inside me. What if one of the drivers made the wrong move and plunged the vehicle deep into the ravines? I shivered at the possibility. Pushing the morbid thought out of my mind, I tried to catch some sleep.

Two hours down the road, the vans came to a stop. The drivers said they could only take us up to that point. This meant we had to hike for about thirty minutes to get to the lighthouses of Cape San Agustin. The sloping trail to the lighthouses was far from a bed of roses as the rain had made it muddy and slippery. Still, we forged ahead, inching our way up into the clearing. Later, we reached the spot where we rested and had our snacks.

The Last Islet

Cameras flashed and tablets clicked once more as the group gravitated towards the Parola and posed all over the place for what seemed like eternity, if only for posterity’s sake. 

Having enough of the lighthouses, Olan led us to the edge of the promontory where we had a glimpse of what is known as The Last Islet, a tiny speck of land that stood apart from the edge of the cliff. There, we saw the point where the calm waters of Davao Gulf on the west converge with the raging waters of the Celebes Sea on the south and the wild ones of the Pacific Ocean on the east. Geez, it was such a mind-blowing spectacle! More picture-takings followed.

Unfortunately, inclement weather and inadequate time kept us from exploring Cape San Agustin’s wonderful rock formations on the other end of the coastline towards the village of Pundaguitan. One of these formations, the so-called “Altar”, is said to have been the lone mute witness to the foundation of Christianity in the province where St. Francis Xavier allegedly celebrated the Holy Mass when he set foot in Mindanao in 1550!  Sounds too good to be true, eh?  

While it’s been written by 17th century writers that the saint landed in the island during his expedition to the Moluccas, I have my misgivings. That’s why I added “allegedly” because it’s never been proven beyond reasonable doubt that he indeed reached the place and preached the Gospel in that part of the Philippines, based on accounts of the Catholic Encyclopedia. With or without St. Francis Xavier going there, however, I’m poised to return to that part of the town if only to see those rocks. But that, I guess, must have to wait until the road going there has been fully concreted.   

From the Parola, we left for the beach below the promontory. Known for its pink grains of powdery sand, Parola Beach had me the moment I stepped into its virginal shores, which appeared more like peach to me that day because of the gloomy weather. Bashed by the raging waves of the Pacific Ocean, the beach was one of the highlights of the tour, mitigating the vexations I felt during the two-hour ride to Lavigan. Many of us took a quick dip into the cold waters of the deep blue sea if only to shake off from our tired bodies the dust, dirt and distress of the trip.


Dusk was about to settle when we left Parola Beach. On the way back to Tibanban, we caught sight of the sunset.  At the distant horizon, the sheltering sky exploded into fiery tinges of deep red before it dimmed into dreary shades of purple and faded into black. Before we knew it, nightfall came like some savage monster, voraciously swallowing everything that came its way, marking the end of another thrill-filled day for us. Too bad, I failed to capture that rare moment since my Nikon had run out of power!

The pink sands of Parola Beach
Reaching Tibanban, two of our vehicles had flat tires so we stayed for about an hour until they were fixed. One of the vans, however, wouldn’t budge despite several attempts to make it run, thus, leaving the organizers no choice but to look for another vehicle to take the entourage back to Davao City. It was past nine in the evening when we were finally homeward bound. Exhausted but ecstatic, I reached home at almost one in the morning the following day. All told, it was one more great sunup-to-sundown (or should I say sunup-to-sunup) adventure that energized me to the max.

Just like every adventure I’ve had, there were, however, some downsides to the GovGen tour. And I can think of at least three that marred what could have been a perfect weekend wandering. One, the intermittent drizzles that somewhat prolonged the journey, forcing the organizers to abandon the exploration of the rock formations in Cape San Agustin; second, the flat tires that bogged down two of the vehicles; and third and probably the worst, the miserable road condition of the Tibanban-Lavigan road network.

Parola Beach
By golly! It’s the third snag that really got on my nerves! Good thing, I saw how the local government is exerting efforts to complete the infrastructure there. Otherwise, I would have ended cursing myself for going the distance only to be bashed, battered and banged for two hours. Be that as it may, I’m confident the woes resulting from the dilapidated patches of the road there would soon be over after the concreting works are completed within the next two to three years.

Let it be known though that I took all these snags in stride and considered them part and parcel of the whole GovGen experience. A few times during the tour, Olan asked me if I was okay and if I was enjoying myself the whole time we were there. I always managed to say yes. Not because I wanted to be courteous to him or  to Sarah. I really meant it when I said yes because I enjoyed to the hilt my GovGen escapade, warts and all. :D

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