IT’S been a little over a year since the devastating 7.2-magnitude earthquake struck Bohol on October 15, 2013, destroying or damaging many of its iconic Spanish-era churches, as well as other infrastructure. However, slowly the province and its people are picking up the pieces and getting on with their lives. Joining a media familiarization tour with seven newsmen and bloggers, we explored Bohol’s now revived tourism potential, which includes alternative destinations such as the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park and the Bee Farm. Boholanos have also turned the tragic aftermath of the earthquake into tourist attractions (such as the tectonic uplift along the coasts).
Upon landing at Tagbilaran Airport, we were soon on our way on our Countryside Tour. Our first stop was the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary, where we saw, observed and photographed, up close and personal, three Philippine tarsiers, Bohol’s mascot, in their nature habitat. At the Visitor’s Center, we met up with the celebrated “Tarsier Man”, Carlito “Lito” Pizarras, a former tarsier hunter turned conservationist who is now the field supervisor of the sanctuary.
From the sanctuary, we made our next stop at the newly restored Church of Saint Monica in Alburquerque (nicknamed by the Boholanos as “Albur”).
Here, we were awed by its painted ceiling which was done by Ray Francia from April 12 to August 3, 1932, and recently restored by Manila-born but Spain-based artist Guy Custodio. The church’s massive pillars are actually large tree trunks.
It was now past noontime, so we proceeded to the Loboc Tourism Complex (across which is the seriously damaged Church of Saint Peter the Apostle), where we were to have lunch on board a double-hulled, flower-bedecked floating restaurant as we cruised along the Loboc River.
While we dined, boodle-style, on Boholano cuisine, we were serenaded by a bossa-nova singer. Our boat also made stopover at a riverside pavilion where traditional folk dances, such as the kuradang and tinikling were performed for our viewing pleasure.
The highlight of our Bohol Countryside Tour was the four-hectare Chocolate Hills Adventure Park, where a number of us tried the famous, exciting and very unique bike zip line, dubbed as “The Rush.” The park also features a restaurant, hiking trails and tree-top adventures. Our home for the three days and two nights we stayed in Bohol was the extremely quiet and refreshing Class “AAA” Panglao Bluewater Resort.
Here, we stayed in some of the 54 elegantly appointed, spacious, very Zen and modern air-conditioned guestrooms. The resort also has a restaurant (Aplaya), two swimming pools, a well-maintained Zen garden, a cliff with a view of the sea, bar (Baroto Poolside Bar), watersports center (Aquamania), boutique, facilities for disabled guests, gift shop, meeting facilities and children’s playground.
The morning of the next day, we went on an island-hopping tour to Pamilacan Island where we had a merienda of kamote (sweet potatoes cooked three different ways) and corn coffee, went on a snorkeling tour and visited its Spanish-era watchtower.
In the afternoon we visited the small Hinagdanan Cave in Dauis, with its picturesque, underground spring-fed swimming pool, and watched the sun set at the Punta Cruz Watchtower in Maribojoc. At the latter, we saw where the sea-bed was lifted more than a meter due to tectonic uplift. As a result, the coastline receded some 50 meters to 100 meters.
In the evening, we shopped for seafood at the Manga Public Market (which was prepared and cooked for us and partaken of at Lic Lic Fastfood & Sutukil) in Tagbilaran City. Prior to dinner, we observed fireflies lighting up the trees along the Abatan River in Cortes.
On our third and last day, we had a healthy lunch at the Bee Farm in Dauis. Here, we tasted malunggay ice cream, observed loom weaving and organic farming techniques, and bought their signature food products for pasalubong. This was followed by a visit to the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon whose facade was seriously damaged during the earthquake. Here, we toured its museum which displays an ivory statue of the crucified Christ, relics of Saint Ignatius Loyola, a statue of the Blessed Virgin (said to have been presented by Queen Catherine of Aragon), vestments, books, and church music. Prior to being dropped off at the airport, we again shopped for souvenirs at Aproniana Gift Shop, also in Baclayon.